Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Water Conservation in the Garden

When landscapes become too dry for your plants to thrive, it is usually because of a specific soil texture or the fault of inadequate rainfall and/or a dry climate.

Considering soil textures, an elevated sand content increases soil drainage. This ends up resulting in the loss of moisture, because water is no absorbed as much by the sand as by the surrounding soil.

Silt loam soils naturally retain water, while clay loams can alternate between being much too dry and being much too wet. Boosting landscape soils with organic material will help both the silt and loam based soils by permitting them to hold more moisture. In order to boost the soil for water retention, you must mulch around your plants with peat moss, and various types of bark and/or compost. It does not matter whether these are commercial or homemade products, both will work well. Applying this mulch just after planting shrubs and trees, to a depth of at least 2 inches, will also help to retain more water for your plants needs.

Rainfall is unpredictable, infrequent, and light in many states, particularly in the Southwest USA. Other states, including the Midwest, may have temporary periods of near-drought like condition as well. The far West US has annual forest fires that dry out the soul as well as remove dead trees from the forests. Whenever rainfall is below average, landscape plants like turf need extra water to prevent desiccation, in which the amount of water lost by a plant exceeds that absorbed by the roots. In short, the plant dries out in the heat, withers and dies. Water should be added to hydrate completely the root areas of your landscape plants; the amount depending on sizes and species of plant. At least one inch of water is needed weekly and if it fails to rain for several weeks, that amount will increase and you can call your local county extension office in order to find out how much water to add to your own specific plants. You can also find most extension offices online, listed under the local county government entities, and often in association with the agricultural department of major colleges and universities.

As an alternative option to the standard garden hose, the watering can, and the bucket brigade, there are various sizes of irrigation systems that are good for dispensing water in regions that are absolutely dry and water-challenged. A garden hose is not usually best for applying water to woody stems, because the high-pressure water from the hose can quite easily break the stems and result in large surface water run-off as well from a water flow that is much too fast. One effective irrigation system is called the drip or trickle irrigation system, and it uses the operation of a slow trickle over a longer time period in order to allow for absorption. This is good in that it replaces the strong, quick flow from water hoses that is lost before it can soak into the soil. Garden centers stock home garden irrigation systems that connect to your own outside faucet and dispense low water pressure that is much better for your plants and soil. They use plastic lines that are set among the plant and flowerbeds with an emitter placed by each large plant. An attached timer turns on the trickle and causes water to seep into the surrounding soil for a selected time period and then automatically shuts down, saving water and work, along with your plants.

Along with your new irrigation system and soil-boosting techniques, here are some sample trees and shrubs that like the more dry climates of the US, especially the Southwest and the states that experience dry soil during the summer. They will compliment your garden and help to conserve precious water.


Koelreuteria paniculata Golden-rain tree
Maclura pomifera - Osage-orange
Robinia species - Locust species
Sassafras albidum - Sassafras
Sophora japonica - Japanese pagoda tree
Ulmus pumila - Siberian elm


Berberis species - Barberry
Chaenomeles lagenaria - Flowering quince
Cytissus species - Broom species
Elaeagnus angustifolia - Russian olive
Hamamelis virginiana - Common witch-hazel
Hypericum calycinum - St. Johns Wort
Juniperus species - Juniper species
Myrica species - Bayberry species
Rhus species - Sumac species
Rosa setigera - Prairie rose
Yucca species - Adam's needle

Plan Your August Sanctuary Now

Are you worried about Global Warming?

Next year in 2007, when you enter the Dog Days of summer, you need not go mad in the heat! Although legend has it that "Dog Days" comes from the weeks in July and August that traditionally drove dogs heat-mad, it is actually taken from Sirius, the Dog Star.

While the ancient Greeks and Romans believed that Sirius-rising brought the most hellish days of the year, you can find cool weather at home in August. Along with fast-growing shade trees, and water-conserving grasses, ground covers, and cool stone, there are several magical accessories that can cool your home landscape so that the Dog Days will include your best days and nights.

One way to keep a cool head is to use a retractable awning attached to an outside wall of your home to create a shaded area. Such awnings come in a wide range of sizes and colors, and create a foldaway extra room without the costs of a house addition. They can also be placed above windows and doors, or nearer the ground for a shaded area for your pet. Since they are water resistant, awnings can catch rain runoff in a decorative rain barrel, and keep a summer cloudburst off the patio, deck, or Jacuzzi. They are energy efficient and reduce interior heat in homes during sunlight hours by 77% according to the American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE, http://www.ashrae.org). They will also keep the sun out of your windows and off your patio furniture to stop sun damage interior and exterior decors.

Complementing awnings, the water mister is a true miracle in the desert. Water misters can be added to the top perimeter of an awning and are more effective than fans alone for covered outdoor patios and dining areas. A misting system can increase relaxation and enjoyment in the hottest of outdoor conditions through quick evaporation engineering. Specifically created mist nozzles place water under high pressure to result in water droplet mists that bring air temperature down by 20+ degrees F or more. If you add an outdoor fan or two, the temperature can be further reduced. You can find mister ideas on the Internet, in items ranging from portable misters, misting fans, and misting birdbaths; to umbrella and patio misters; all the way up to misting tents. There is even a mister to ward off mosquitoes. Misters range in price from under $50 to several thousand dollars, depending upon your needs.

To add to cooler temperatures, hang attractive wind chimes to add pleasing sounds. At affordable prices, chimes can be attached to the top of the retractable awning, or hung from decorative wrought iron garden poles or garden hooks. Wind chimes are created in metals, woods, shells, and ceramics to bring an air of music and art to your yard and Capiz shells can be very colorful. Alternatively, you might choose cool silver or copper chimes, or the wood of a Pacific Island. At night, you can add the soft light of candles set on cool surfaces or floating in the rain barrel with a water lily to create a relaxing getaway in a cooler temperature with the music of chimes.

Light can also be added with patio and landscape lights. Besides electric Asian lanterns, Mexican peppers, and butterflies, there is a range of solar-powered lighting that is attractive and energy efficient. Some of these lights are sculptured flowers that glow at night, while others are carriage lights on tall hooks. Some are Asian teahouses that sit serenely and glow along a cool stone path through your yard. Some even come embedded in the underside of a patio umbrella to light up at dusk. Ranging in price from about $8 for a ground light at Wal-Mart to $150 for a solar-lit patio umbrella on the Internet, there is a price for everyone. If you want to add even more light to your nighttime patio, you can use a chimenea in one of many designs. Larger models provide cooking space, while you can choose a smaller version to burn pinon or other fragrant wood to compliment the aromas of your flowers and outdoor dinners.

Use these ideas to have the best "Dog Days" of your life this summer and include your family, friends, and pets in frequent celebrations of your home and landscape. Stay cool in 2007!

Adding Shade and Moisture in a Dryer Climate

Nevada holds cast, dry lands and the Las Vegas area is one of the driest regions of them all in that state. Receiving an annual average 4 inches of rainfall and 80 inches of water loss as a direct result of evaporation, Las Vegas areas truly experience the most extreme hot and cold temperatures.

We need specially adapted plants there, but Southern Nevada uses nearly 60 percent of its water on non-native plants in home landscapes, so it may be time for a change to native plants. The tips in this article can be used anywhere that the soil tends to be dry and/or the summer heat is very warm to extremely hot. The information and suggestions will bring additional moisture to your landscaping all year around, along with welcomed shade and comfort.

Consider these things before choosing landscape trees and plants for your yard or grounds:

1. Know your local climate - Attend to the temperatures, rainfall, etc.
2. Know your soil - Is it acid? Sandy? Loamy?
3. Know your local water situation. - Do you need irrigation?
4. Choose plants bred for your local climate and soil, preferably native plants.
5. Choose plants that conserve water and reduce water run off that leads to erosion.
5. Plant correctly, providing adequate follow-up care.

Next, think about ways to plan shade and moisture reserves when watering is prohibited in the hottest part of the summer:

1. Porous materials soak water into the ground, so you can use bricks, mulched pathways, and porous stepping stones and driveway materials.
2. Plant shade trees and use trellises and vines on west and south sides of your house.
3. Dig plant beds lower than lawn surfaces and mulch to hold water.
4. Use rain barrels -a summer storm can produce a lot at once. Moreover, short rain barrels can be attractive and you might float a water lily or even floating candles for summer nights.
5. Keep water accessories practical, such as recirculating fountains that conserve water.

Next, walk your property and cover every corner and inch of it and make mental notes. In addition, draw a sketch of it and include trees, plants, and barrels to catch rain from roofs and down spouts. Remember to leave room between plants to grow.

Mulch is manufactured in earth tones and porous stones come in gray, brown, red and black. Repeat your colors in a bench and a patio table top of granite, marble, tile or artificial stone for a cool place to enjoy your landscape.

Choose fast-growing shade trees that thrive in full sun and a variety of soils.

The American Sycamore is good for its visual splendor and growth rate up to 6 feet per year. Adaptable to most soils and climates, its large green leaves turn golden brown in autumn, reaching up to 70 feet tall and 50 feet wide at maturity. Producing white bark in the winter, it is attractive throughout the year and at about $20-25, it is a good buy. Find a nursery that has a replacement guarantee on its trees and you can plant with confidence.

Other good choices include the brilliant Red Rocket Crape Myrtle that will reach 30 by 15 feet. It produces dark red blooms for 100 days a year and is highly drought resistant. Red Maples are adaptable to many soils and climates, with red blooms in spring. They reach 60 x 40 feet and grow up to 3 feet per year.

Royal Paulownia is the fastest growing tree, with up to 12 feet of growth the first year. Its fragrant lavender spring flowers are fresh and beautiful. Another good choice is the Empress Tree that can grow in drought and thrive in even diseased soils. Reaching 50 x 40 feet, it is almost impossible to kill. If you like yellow, choose the Tulip Poplar with its yellow blossoms and fragrant nectar to bring aroma to your landscape. It reaches 90 x 50 feet. All of these are similar in price to the American Sycamore.

Prairie grasses add interesting visuals as well as shade. Easy to maintain perennials, they crowd out weeds and like hot, dry weather; so watering is unnecessary except when young. Attracting birds and butterflies, some choice grasses in blues, greens, and burgundies reaching 2 feet to 20 feet high are Little Bluestem, Shenandoah Switch Grass, Variegated Miscanthus (Morning Light), Northern Pampas Grass, Indian Grass, and Heavy Metal Switch Grass. They cost about $10 for a 3.5" pot or $20 for a gallon container.

Finally, to conserve water reserves even more fully, water-holding ground cover will spread 2 feet and more. These include the lovely greens, yellows and purples of Oriental Limelight Artemisia Hybrid, Silver Mound Artemisia schmidtiana, and Purple Wintercreeper Euonymus that spreads 20 feet wide. All of these are quite attractive and easy to maintain. They are similar in cost to the prairie grasses mentioned above.

Even during the hottest summer in the Sagebrush State or other dry lands in the US, we don't need to be as hot and barren as the desert around Area 51 in August! You can add shade and moisture with colorful fast-growing shade trees, prairie grasses, ground cover, and porous and/or cool stone accessories. So have fun! And remember - A hat, long sleeves, loose plant legs, drinking water, and sun block are a good defense against sunburn and heat stroke. Stay cool in your shady landscape next summer and have fun planning it now!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Winter Garden Art

By Christina VanGinkel

If you live anywhere that, your garden is under snow during part of the year, or even where the temperatures cool to a degree that makes it impossible to at least have a bit of green showing during the off season, adding a few pieces of garden art that will work year round, just might be the thing to keep your garden looking alive. I do not know about you, but I really dislike the idea of my garden go undercover for winter, tough there is nothing to be done about that fact where we live. To keep that part of our yard looking like a barren landscape though, we decided to situate some artwork out there that still makes a stance when the snow flies.

Garden art for the winter months can be a very open suggestion, so I will try to define a bit more, what I actually mean. Think of those structures or items that are large enough to have substance even when there is a foot of snow or even more on the ground, and of things that will withstand freezing temperatures. This of course excludes much of what one often thinks of when they think of garden art. Gazing balls that set low to the ground are out, as are those that sit on pedestals for the simple fact that most will freeze and crack if left exposed to the elements of winter. Also out are those cute frogs, lizards, and small fairy statues that are so popular in gardens. Most are so small that a single dusting of snow will leave them looking like little else than some bumps in the snow. Not to mention many of them are made of materials that will just not withstand the hazards that winter likes to throw at us. Instead, think medium to large, of a material that will hold its own during wind, freezing rain, and snow.

I once had a rabbit planter that was white with blue snowflake designs over the entire surface. It was medium sized, larger than life, and I thought it would look lovely setting on a high spot in my garden through the winter months, filled with something bright and cheery. I never got around to filling it with anything, let alone anything bright and cheery, as the first time I went out to fill it, it had already cracked in two. Just a bit of water had settled in the bottom of it and after an early freeze, it shattered. I had wrongly assumed it was made for the rigors of winter because I purchased it at a garden shop, and it was decorated for the winter months.

I now evaluate anything I think I might want to use outdoors, never assuming anything. I look specifically for features that will not hold water or moisture of any kind. Some items that I have altered for use, I made sure and drilled drainage holes in to make doubly sure that moisture would not build up and cause cracking or breakage.

Some of my favorite altered items that originally began life as something entirely other than garden art, let alone winter garden art, include vintage bicycles with big front or back baskets attached, and old metal watering cans with the bottoms drilled. Even though I really do not think that a metal object, such as a watering can, could be harmed by freezing, I still drilled holes in the one I used to cut down on having to deal with ice build up. As to the watering can or the baskets on the bikes, I can fill them with a touch of color to attract the birds, even hang a wreath around them if I so please. You would be surprised at how rustic yet lovely a green bough wreath with just a few simple ribbon bows or pinecones will look draped over the spout of an old watering can or dropped onto the handlebars of a vintage bike.

Wicker chairs, or other wicker pieces can be excellent additions to a winter garden too. Again, adding a bucket to a chair seat filled with anything from pinecones decorated with bows, to a plate styled feeder heaped with seeds for the birds and squirrels is ideal. Old, vintage ladders are interesting winter garden decorations. Their height makes them visible even when the snow has been falling for hours, and the steps make ideal spots to add more colored adornments. Consider furniture pieces that you might have labeled for the trash too. A friend of mine has what was once a lovely washstand in her garden. In a move one time, one of the legs of it had been broken off when the movers had accidentally dropped it. The bottom had also cracked, and as the piece was a favorite, but of no special value, she salvaged it for use in her garden instead of just tossing it in the trash. She actually varnishes it each summer, to prolong its life outdoors, as she loves setting a flat metalwork platter over the spot the washbasin should set, and filling it with peanut butter and birdseed covered treats throughout the winter months.

One note to consider in finishing, do not leave anything outdoors in your garden over the winter months that might be damaged by the weather if it is of value. I mention this because some wicker pieces might be of collectable value, and unless you are willing to watch them deteriorate over a season or two outdoors, they are best not used.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Old Books; New Ideas

I began my serious education as a gardener about ten years ago. We moved to a house that had a extensive, neglected garden in the back yard. The previous owner had been a Master Gardener who had been the inspiration and source for the gardens in the yards surrounding mine. There were even rumors that neighbors had raided the garden for plants before we moved in. Considering one neighbor grew award winning roses and the other owned a landscaping firm, this rumor gives you an idea just how extensive and interesting the garden I had acquired really was.

I had thought gardening was a trip to the grocery store to buy annuals before I watched spring do its job in my new back yard. The bulbs began blooming first and blooms did not stop until fall . Quite frankly, I was in way over my head and the only two options were to sod the whole back yard or learn about gardening. I chose to learn.

I bought a copy of Better Homes and Gardens New Complete Guide to Gardening (copyright 1997). As each new bed began to bloom, I sat with my new gardening book and searched the pictures for some resemblance to the plants that were growing in my back yard. Most of the plants ,at least, were identifiable but not all. A fair amount of weeds were allowed to grow that first year as I tried to figure out whether they were flowers or weeds. When in doubt I asked the advice of family members, who claimed they were gardeners, or neighbors. A whole bed of weeds were allowed to grow because my sister-in-law thought they may be Black Eyed Susans. They were weeds, but I waited months to make that call, trusting in the advice of an individual who had claimed to be quite the gardener.

I took an insect into the best nursery for identification. The staff of this garden center could not identify the insect which I was finding in abundance in the garden beds. I later found on my own that it was one of the healthiest grubs known to man. Since grubs are rather common, even if mine was rather large, I began to lose faith in the advice of my fellow gardeners. It was suggested that I call my local extension service for advice, but after the best nursery in town could not identify a grub for me , I decided to learn on my own and then seek the advice of others.

Ten years ago, the internet was not the force it is today. Furthermore, computers and I have an ambivalent relationship. Even in college, when I took a computer programming class, the computers began to go crazy while I was in the room and even the college professor could not explain what was happening. I dropped the class. This was more than twenty years ago and it has happened numerous times since. I think I put off a weird electrical charge, it doesn't interact well with technology, but plants love it. My family was not thrilled with the frequency that our home system crashed when I used the computer, so I focused on books and observation. Even today I find neither learning method has been made obsolete by the internet. Garden books, even old books ,have value for the serious garden enthusiast.

The first time I found old books of more value than more recent publications, was in finding out about my Bleeding Heart plant. Plants go in and out of style, just like furniture and clothing. While you may not know it today, with Bleeding Heart plants being sold at Lowes in a variety of colors, ten years ago they were considered old fashioned and could not be found in the gardening sections of your local gardening store. The plant was identified in my Better Homes and Gardens New Complete Guide to Gardening but I needed more information on it since the one I had was huge and thriving in a location that did not conform to the information printed in my book. It was also planted in a location that I found undesirable, since it grew where I planned to build a deck.

I pulled out an older version of the same gardening book I was using and found the information I was looking for. It had more detailed information on Bleeding Heart plants since they were more fashionable when the older version had been printed. I found out how to divide the plant and the best location to transplant it. Ten years and two houses later, that Bleeding Heart plant is still growing in my current garden. Instead of one huge plant, I now have three good size plants that bloom until early July. I still have not managed to get a rebloom in the fall, but I know it is possible due to the research I have done on this plant. Who knows, maybe next year I will have Bleeding Heart all season long.

Recently, an old gardening book kept me from transplanting my Siberian irises. I had seen Siberian iris thrive in a variety of locations. These plants had traveled with me from house to house and I thought I would create a iris garden in my front yard incorporating Bearded irises which I had in abundance at my new house. I planted my irises together and waited for sequential blooms.

Neighbors went out of their way to tell me that my Siberian irises would not thrive and were planted in the wrong location. Current books all told me that they needed marshy conditions and that the conditions that made the Bearded irises bloom would destroy my Siberian irises. I began to seriously consider transplanting my Siberian irises even though I had seen them thrive in non marshy conditions. Before I got my shovel out, I decided to do a little more research in the old gardening books I was given when my mother-in-law cleaned out her basement. In Crockett's Flower Garden ( copyright 1981) I found the information I needed to put away my shovel and wait until spring.

I had guessed my Siberian irises had been prematurely divided, thus explaining their poor performance the first year I transplanted them. I had not expected them to bloom, since they were transplanted in summer but I was concerned the foliage had not grown. Crockett's Flower Garden discussed how his Siberian irises were exposed to drier, sunnier conditions than they like. He compensated by keeping the irises moist ,especially during the spring. I got out my hose, put away my shovel, and I am glad I did. In spite of every neighbor's predictions, I had sequential blooming irises in my front yard this year and the plants look great for next year's blooms. Since my iris collection is on a slope, I can water my Siberian irises without drowning my Bearded irises. Observation of past Siberian iris behavior and an old gardening book let me follow my instincts and create an iris bed that no one but me thought would work. My neighbors do not comment on the location of my plants anymore, they just wait and see.

A variety of books is also great for flower identification. Several wild flowers come in so many cultivars ( varieties) that identification can become a nightmare. Is it a flower or is it a weed? Sometimes this question depends on the year, since wildflower gardens are fashionable one year but not the next. You may also have a cultivar of a flower type that looks nothing like the pictures you will find on the internet or in books. Having a variety of books, increases the likelihood that you will find a picture of the flower that is growing in your backyard.

I had what I think was a cultivar of self sowing cornflower in my neglected garden. My best guess is they were Bachelor's-Buttons but the plants I had were different than any picture I have ever seen of Bachelor's-Buttons or the plants I eventually bought at a greenhouse with the same name. My plants were similar, but different, to the plants labeled Bachelor's-Buttons at the greenhouse, thus resulting in my less than positive identification. All I know is the only way to transplant the flowers I had was to dig up the entire plant bed, including dirt and place the entire clump in a new hole, otherwise the plants died. I think I had a cultivar of cornflower but this identification has come only after looking at numerous pictures of cornflowers. If I still had the plant I would send this one into my local extension service for identification but alas, they did not survive the last move.

Landscape design is another reason to keep hold of old garden books. For amusement purposes only, I looked through the design section of the 1968 version of the Better Homes and Gardens New Garden Book. I was amazed to find the originals of the designs I see on television landscape shows. The retro look that inspires many new designers is there in all its original glory in the 1968 garden book. I am not sure I want to follow the construction advice in my 1968 book but the ideas are fresh and new for today; well at least a modified version of the look is new for today.

I am not sure I want to walk out my door and be transported to 1968, but I did consider some different ideas for hiding my air conditioner and electrical boxes that I had not thought of before. While the only idea I actually used was for creating a planter with a screen on the back , which hides my air conditioner and creates a raised bed for my basil, several of the other ideas are still under consideration. Especially interesting is the idea for screens with fabric inserts that I could change as the mood inspires me. I know I am keeping this book if for no other reason than the new ideas it inspires when I look through it.

Old books contain new ideas, at least new to a new generation of gardeners. They contain advice on plants that may not currently be in fashion but deserve or want a place in your garden. They contain design ideas that may be passe but may work for your backyard. I am keeping all my old garden books because so far they have served me well and allowed me to create even though conventional wisdom says my creations are impossible. If you are given an old gardening book, do not consign it to the trash can. Wait for a rainy day and look through it, the information or inspiration you need may be in its "out of date "pages.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

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Spring Gardening Plan

It has been a number of years since I've planted a vegetable garden. I have plans to have one again in the spring, however. Why plant a vegetable garden? I am sure that every gardener has his or her own reasons but I needed to decide what my own reasons are. It's not like I'm especially fond of digging in the dirt because I'm not. Is it the fact that I enjoy being outdoors? Nope, not that either because I have a real problem with heat and once May arrives the weather is usually uncomfortable for me.

Well it certainly couldn't be that I enjoy pulling weeds or getting bitten by bugs (see, I'm telling the truth when I say I'm not an outside kind of person!). So it must be something else; some other draw that makes me want to plant vegetables and watch them grow instead of buying them in the produce section of the supermarket like I've been doing for years now.

The reason is that it gives me a good feeling to grow some of the family's food. Pure and simple, that's all it is. There is a good feeling that comes along with planting some tiny seeds and in a few months being able to pick the bounty and help it to find its way to the dinner table.

I have wanted to get into home canning for a very long time now, so I may decide to plant some extra things (or a larger amount of my favorites) and try my hand at it. I'm not real sure about that, though, because it may be a bit too ambitious until I see how the garden is going to grow. I will feel so much like Mary, Mary and I'm sure I'll be quite contrary as she was.

In the days of our grandparents and great grandparents and back through time, having a garden or not wasn't a choice that they made each year like I am now doing. When the ground was ready, the garden was planted and there was no debate about it and no other way to do things. I am a big fan of historical things as well as genealogy so that is an additional plus for me, to feel that I am doing something my ancestors all did.

In the past when I've had a vegetable garden, I sometimes had a bit of a problem knowing how much to plant and ended up with excess. One year it was zucchini and I spent way too much time looking for recipes so that I could serve it in new and different ways. I still have to smile at the number of dishes that can be made with zucchini!

Another year it was tomatoes. Now that one wasn't so bad because I enjoy Italian foods. That just meant that many of the extra tomatoes ended up in homemade spaghetti sauce, lasagna sauce, and so on. Some of the excess tomatoes went into chili to freeze and many of them ended up sliced for the table or put into salads. Extra tomatoes are rarely a problem.

I need to be sure not to plant too many onions. I tried recently to freeze some that a neighbor gave to me. (I guess he didn't anticipate that planting too many onions would be a problem!) I just don't like the way they turn out once they are frozen. If you dice them up and then use them for something like chili, they're fine, but I tried slices and it just didn't turn out well. The odor in the freezer and fridge even when they are wrapped very well is a consideration, too.

I enjoy garden peas, but I think I'm recalling from the past that it takes an incredible amount of picked peas to get enough for even a small family. If I plant peas, it will be just enough for a few meals and I think that will be enough.

I might plant potatoes but not corn. For some reason, watermelon or cantaloupe never worked well for me as much as I love eating them. Then again, since this is a new house and different soil, maybe I will try them once again. I won't grow lettuce but will grow cucumbers.

See, I almost have it all planned out already! When it comes right down to it, nothing beats produce that you know is fresh and you will have the assurance that nothing nasty has been sprayed onto it or spread on the ground while it was growing.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Decorating with your Garden's Fall Bounty

By Christina VanGinkel

Decorating your home and yard with the bounty from your garden is one of the best things gained from all your hard work and effort. With fall underway, you may be thinking there is not a lot left in your garden from which to use around the home, but you would be wrong, especially if your garden included a pumpkin patch or gourds. Even if it does not, there are still ways to enjoy the end of your garden's season.

For those with no pumpkins or gourds, just a garden that has seen better days, take a few hours and cleanup the rows, then plant a scarecrow decorated for the season in it. This will not only make you smile and be a pleasure to view both for your family and the neighbors, but it might even keep the late season birds away from eating up any seeds that you would still like to get out and harvest a few of.

If you happen to be one of the many who did plant pumpkins, harvest a nicely sized one, and measure the top of it to a diameter that will easily hold a simple vase. Then carve out the pumpkin as you would ready it for traditional pumpkin carving, but stop when you have the interior cleaned out. Set the vase into the pumpkin and fill it with an assortment of late blooms such as marigolds, or with dried flora. You can also use what I call local gifts of bounty if you happen to live close to an area where you can harvest a few cattails. Snip a couple close to their tops so that they extend just a bit out of the vase and add some thin twigs. This seemingly simple mixture will appear quite elegant in the middle of a dining room table or displayed on a hearth. If you have a vase that has a top, which is made with separations to keep the flowers arranged more neatly, you can even forgo the vase and just set the top into the pumpkin.

Gourds and pumpkins come in many different colors and shapes, so mix things up a bit and assemble a few different ones to decorate a large table. These can also be set outdoors for a late season garden party, or even to line a large walkway or to fix up a display by your entryway in place of cornstalks or some other more common fall display.

Painting on pumpkins is nothing new, but choose a design scheme that is more sophisticated than your typical pumpkin painting. Simple quilt patterns are both easy to do and can bring some great colors to the artwork. Depending on the way your home is decorated, choose a Victorian or western design and paint it on a white gourd or several, and create a centerpiece of twigs and cattails lying flat in the shape of a nest and place the painted gourds on top. A nest of large colored leaves will work nicely too. Fill a large wooden bowl with colored leaves, stick a few strategic twigs in, and place a large pumpkin in the center to hold the leaves down and help the twigs to stick up and outward.

For an impromptu dinner party, bring in a pot of late blooming mums to use as a centerpiece, and peel of a few fresh dried cornhusks to use as napkin rings. Cover thee exterior of the pot in anything that fits your theme or mood for the meal, from a piece of checked flannel, to gold lame. Peel off the very exterior husks of the corn and toss in the trash, as they are often dirty. One layer down, the husks will not only be cleaner, they will be a bit more malleable than the very outside ones and will wrap around your napkins without cracking and crumbling. Add a fresh ripe and crisp apple or small mini gourd by each place setting with the occupants name tied to the apple top or written across the face of the mini gourd with acrylic, non-toxic paint.

Decorating your home and yard with the late blooms and other fall bounties from your garden are just one more way to extend the pleasure from something you have worked so hard at almost the whole year. From the first time you turned the earth over early last spring, to these late fall bounties you are still harvesting, you are doing both your garden and yourself good by making full use of such a splendid part of your yard and home, and even your life. A garden enjoyed so fully, is sure to be a garden that will once again be ready for enjoyment come the first day of a new spring next year.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The First Hard Freeze

The weather forecasters project that tonight will bring the first hard freeze of the season. Earlier this fall a freeze was forecasted and I quickly ran to find cover for my tender annuals, especially my herb garden. An old blanket was carefully placed over my plants in an attempt to prolong the gardening season. Since then the urge to garden has gone dormant, just like the perennials will soon do. I hate saying goodbye to my garden at its most lush, but I am ready to say goodbye for this year and allow my desire to beautify my yard to rest until spring. I am not searching for a blanket tonight; I will just let nature take it's course.

This fall has been rainy and warm. A perfect combination for my annuals to flourish in a way that the dry summer heat slows them from doing. This year my annuals are at their best in mid October and this is not totally unexpected. I plan my annual garden with growth in mind. After the flower show that is spring in my back yard, I have little room for annuals until mid June. The flowers I do plant, I do so with the optimistic hope that they will mature quickly and spread throughout the increasingly empty spaces created as my spring plantings fade. This has not happened during the last two gardening seasons but I seem to forget this when I am buying annuals each May.

I have a rather extensive bulb and perennial garden that pokes its head out in early spring and does not stop blooming until mid June. A handful of crocuses and daffodils in my back yard can been seen while there is still snow on the ground. I always mean to add more crocuses to my garden so I can get the early thrill that comes with flowers blooming in the snow, but they are hard to grow in my yard due to the presence of squirrels and a Black Walnut tree. Hopefully I will remember to plant some this fall but it is difficult when the ground is hard and the urge to garden dormant.

I have not planted many daffodils in my back yard because I dislike allowing the foliage to grow for as long as it seems to in my yard. The current garden wisdom is to allow daffodil leaves to grow until they turn brown, so as to feed the bulb for the next year's bloom. While a daffodil garden is attractive in early spring the leaves can grow until July and they do not allow for subsequent plantings. If your daffodil garden is in full sun, day lilies can be planted for subsequent blooms. Additionally, the day lily foliage hides the fading daffodil foliage, no matter how long it stays green. If your daffodil garden is in an area that becomes shady once the leaves bloom on the trees, you are out of luck.

I do have a designated bed for daffodils but its success is under study due to the effects of a Black Walnut tree's toxicity on certain types of daffodils. Hopefully this spring I will have a front yard full of daffodils but I have to wait several months to see if my garden plan will work out. If I planted the right type of daffodils, not the type that die near Black Walnut trees. In the back yard I have only planted a few of these cheery bulbs and I most likely will not plant anymore.

Tulips, Bleeding Heart, Lungwort, and emerging Hostas make up my spring garden. My Bleeding Heart plants last into July in my back yard. This is the first time I have ever had Bleeding Hearts perform so well for so long. I have read that they can last until fall and in some cases have a second bloom. This has not been my experience, and normally I cut the plants down by the end of June. This year they were healthy looking and blooming until mid July. I let them grow for as long as they looked decent, hoping this year they would thrive until fall and have a second bloom. It hasn't happened yet, but there is still hope since I've never had Bleeding Heart in July before.

My spring perennial garden does not leave much room for annuals found at May flower sales. I plant a flat of annuals, mostly impatients , among my still blooming tulips and emerging Hostas. I plant a few annuals around the bases of the numerous Bleeding Heart plants I have for when they fade. While a flat of annuals seems like a fair amount of flowers while you are planting them, in my back yard several flats are needed to give that finished look that I really desire. In May I really do not have the room to plant more than a flat of flowers, so I compensate by planting in containers. They add the bright punch to my garden, needed as the spring bulbs fade. I hang on to the futile hope that my annuals will self sow and prevent me from needing to purchase several additional flats of annuals, but somehow June is never wet enough and the dry heat of July seems to hit every year.

You will find me searching the bargain aisle for discount annuals come July. The plants do not look their best by July but I know with proper care they will flourish. I take them home; treat them well, and by October I have the lush annual garden I have been waiting for all season. I know I could quicken the process with daily watering and Miracle Grow, but most of my garden plan is drought tolerant and after one summer's water bill which exceeded one thousand dollars, I keep it that way. I keep the containers watered, but ground plants are only watered when absolutely necessary. I have considered installing barrels to collect rainwater so I can economically create a lush garden earlier in the season, but I have not committed to this method of irrigation yet. It is still under consideration.

A warm, rainy September ensures my summer garden looks it's best in October. It has a fullness, a lushness, a beauty, that it does not have the rest of the season. The smattering of fallen leaves amongst the flowers, only adds fall charm. This beauty can last until mid November in the Midwest, if we have a prolonged Indian summer. Mold allergies normally drive me inside when this happens, but the views from my window are spectacular.

Just as likely are snow flurries by Halloween. A freeze does not always kill the entire garden , a surprising amount of plants survive a light freeze without much damage. With protection, such as a blanket or newspaper, your garden will continue to thrive through several light freezes. A hard freeze, especially if the cold weather lasts several days, will end the gardening season. Even if a brief period of warmness follows Jack Frost's first significant appearance, most of your annuals will have faded and only really tough perennials, like chives, will still be around. I have had chives stay green all winter, much to my surprise. I am not sure of their continued freshness and if cut to the ground they normally wait for spring to resume growth.

Since the cold weather reduces fall mold, my urge to do yard work asserts itself. It is an urge to harvest and put the garden to bed for winter, not an urge to extend the growing season. I have already pulled my basil plants and prepared pesto to freeze. It will be an occasional dinner for the next few months and I will not need to go in search of fresh basil, which is not always available in my grocery store. The rest of the herbs will be harvested today though I am not sure if I will dry them in the microwave or attempt a more traditional method of drying. The annuals have begun to be pulled and the perennials cut down. I do this to control the slug population in preparation for spring. I am inspired to do this now and not wait until Jack Frost kills all of my plants. The slugs are easier to find and for me the growing season is over.

I have left the containers for last. I will let the freeze kill these annuals, so I have a good view out my window until the last minute. I know I still have a fair amount of yard work left since my Mulberry trees still have green leaves which are only now beginning to drop from their branches. Furthermore, I want to lay cypress mulch on my garden beds to cut down on my dog and cat tracking mud through my house all winter. I know this will impede my efforts at slug control but a mud free house all winter is worth the extra work of removing mulch from some of the beds come spring.

It is melancholy saying goodbye to the growing season, but I guess I am listening to the still primal part of my brain that says prepare the cave for winter. I want to harvest and store my herbs and put the garden to bed. I still have yard work to do. The leaves will need to be gathered and the lawn mowed for at least another month. The garden clean up work will not be accomplished in one day. I will still have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the fall weather and complete my outdoor tasks. What is dormant is my need to create, the need to beautify my outdoor environment. The need to garden.

In many ways gardening is a creative process for me . I have a challenging landscape to design due to the presence of numerous trees including two Black Walnut trees. I am an extremely frugal gardener and prefer to let nature provide me with my plants rather than buy them at Lowes or a nursery. I am willing to wait until my perennials can be divided to expand my garden rather than constantly buy new plants. While I will need to purchase some new foundation plantings due to an expansion of garden beds and the removal of years of ivy, which previously decorated my landscape, these plantings can wait until spring. This is prudent gardening on my part since mature trees create an odd sun /shade situation in my front yard. I am giving myself another year to figure which areas are sun and which are shade, important considerations when you purchase mature shrubs. Waiting will also let my creative juices simmer and hopefully produce an exciting landscape design for the front of my home which so far I have been unable to do to my satisfaction.

In reacting to the part of my brain which is telling me to prepare for winter, I do not want to fight nature. I have no interest in artificially extending the growing season with cold frames or moving plants inside to over winter. With the exception of my Fica tree, I have very little luck in maintains indoor plants and I have found inexpensive grow lights do not create an environment that produces quality plants. Kale, the only winter plant for this area, does not interest me. A greenhouse would be nice someday but right now I am more interested in interior projects that have put on hold during the gardening season. I want to prepare for winter, just like our ancient ancestors.

This dormant period ends earlier with me than with most gardeners. With the first snow thaw, I become excited once again about gardening. I am the lady you will see in a parka with gardening gloves clearing her garden beds as early as February. It is this early work that allows me to enjoy my spring garden and for some reason I do not mind the cold. These urges will not return until at least February so I have a little time to focus on other things aside from my outdoor garden. I can channel my creative urges elsewhere or merely let them rest until spring, or the hint of spring, awakens them once more.

It is time to put the garden to bed. The first hard freeze is on the horizon and for me the gardening season is over. There is still a lot of yard work to do during the next few months, but as the animals prepare to hibernate in a sense so do I. I am ready to rest until spring, until the first crocus springs from the ground.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Raking vs. Leaf Blowers

Fall is upon us. Soon all of those beautiful, colorful leaves will fall from their branches right on our yards. The annual task of leaf removal soon will begin. The big question on everyone's mind; Do I rake or do I finally purchase that leaf blower I saw at Lowes? It's an issue, I know because once you use a leaf blower, you never go back.

We stuck with raking leaves for years. We felt it was a tradition. A way to enjoy the fall sunshine in the same manner as our forbearers. Our children frolicked in the leaf piles as we stood leaning on our rakes with indulgent smiles on our faces. We raked together, my husband and me, getting exercise as we bagged leaves for hours on end. Are you thinking Norman Rockwell? You should be.

Than I saw an electric Toro leaf blower for around thirty dollars. I was excited it was electric, as I have an unreasonable fear of gas powered yard tools. I was thrilled it was only thirty dollars. It was cheap enough to give the product a try without a major investment. I bought it, over my husband's objection and his claims he would never abandon his rake. I rushed home, found an extension cord and found I needed to read the instructions before I could get the thing to work. You see, this was not just a leaf blower, this was a leaf eater also.

Yes my new toy not only blew the leaves to the curb, it vacuumed the leaves from my garden beds and window sills. I could not perform both functions at once since a bag needs to be attached for the tool to perform it's vacuuming function, but both functions could be done. I spent all day cleaning my yard, more than pleased with my new yard toy.

I kept the yard clear of leaves for most of that fall. The need for an extension cord was a nuisance but the Toro's ease of use more than compensated for this minor inconvenience. The children could still frolic in the leaves and I no longer needed to spend time on my knees cleaning leaves out of window sills. I even began to chant "Toro, Toro, Toro" after a hour of removing leaves, and my leaves were gone after an hour, instead of several hours as it had been before.

My husband tried standing forlornly in the yard with his rake in an effort to stop progress. This lasted only until the manly need to play with motorized yard tools overcame his sense of tradition. One day he asked to use the Toro. An hour later he came inside with a big grin, chanting, "Toro, Toro,Toro". The rakes went into the garage for the rest of fall.

Even if raking leaves is a tradition in your family, as it was in ours, nothing eases the task of lawn care as motorized yard tools. Stick to raking if you want, we are chanting, " Toro, Toro,Toro".

Tips for Planting and Growing a Garden

Written by Michael Toney

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on the size can produce an abundant amount of vegetables and herbs. A garden does not need to be large in order to produce a large amount of vegetables. A garden continues to produce good things to eat over the growing season rather than a one time occurrence. The goal is to have a on going harvest of healthy, fresh foods for you and your family to enjoy. If you plan your garden right you can squeeze a big variety of vegetables in a smaller area. Choose smaller varieties so they don't overwhelm neighboring plants. It may be necessary to completely remove older plants in favor of younger ones. You can harvest and replant continually, if you want. This can be a year-round practice if you live in a mild climate

Generally, gardens are meant to be productive rather than pretty, but there's no reason you can't make them as attractive as you would like. Paths that crisscross the garden allows access to your vegetables and can also give the garden a geometric layout, the result are unquestionably pleasing to the eye, and make maintaining the appearance of your garden easier.
Planting borders of flowers around your garden to attract different bird species and butterfly or not only great for the birds, but a bonus for you . Sunflowers attract different types of birds such as, Cardinals, Chickadees, Finches, Sparrows, Blue jays, and Tufted titmice. Hummingbirds are drawn to the pink, purple, and red tubular blooms, of the Penstemon. The Purple Majesty attract Mourning doves, Finches and Sparrows, these plant can grow up to 5 foot tall, it loves the sun.

If you've never had a garden before, it's sensible to start small. The right spot is very important. A full 6 hours a day of sun is required for good growth and ripening vegetables and herbs. Morning sun light is favorable to afternoon sun, because it'll dry dew, reducing the risk of disease and be less stressful than the hot sun later in the day.

Good soil is necessary and will guarantee healthy productive plants. Organic matter helps keep soil loose, so water can drain at a good rate for growing plants. It also enriches fertility and improves the overall soil's ability to hold moisture. Homemade compost or commercial compost, dehydrated cow manure and dampened peat moss are great sources of organic matter and can be found at local garden center or farm supply store.

To make your own compost bin a 50 gallon drum makes a good compost container. First, remove both ends to make and open cylinder. Set it upright in the corner of the garden or out of the way area. Gradually fill it with compost material such as, kitchen leftovers, alternating 6-in layers of kitchen waste (no meat scraps, grease or bones), garden debris (no weed seeds) and soil. Add a sprinkling of high-nitrogen fertilizer, 10-6-4 composition is ideal, to each layer. A little lime will also be beneficial. Let the mixture age for about 3 to 6 months, adding water regularly. Shredded cardboard and newspaper, weathered saw dust from the lumber yard can also be added to the compost bin. Don't use ashes from the barbecue, dog or cat droppings, or shredded magazines, they may contain sulfur oxides, disease organisms or inks that are bad for the plants. Any animal produces like meat or grease will attract other animals that could destroy the bin. After 3 to 6 months, lift up the drum to release a pile of garden ready humus.

Planting time is when the ground warms in the Spring. Seeds of all kinds can be found at your local garden center, farm supply store, and from friends and neighbors who save seeds. Always read or understand the planting directions before planting. Some seeds have different times and instructions for planting, so always follow these direction for the best results from the plants you chose for your garden. Sow seeds directly into the prepared garden at the recommended distance apart. Some plants will need to be thinned soon after sprouting. This allows preferred plants to grow to the ultimate size to produce the greatest amount to their ability. Overcrowding of seedlings as a rule never produce well because they are all struggling for the nutrients in one small area.

A trick to ensure proper spacing and eliminate the need for thinning is with a homemade seed tape. An added bonus, the seeds will sprout faster. Lay a strip of damp paper towel on top of a strip of plastic wrap, then set out the seeds at the intervals recommended on the seed packet. Cover with another strip of damp paper towel, roll the paper and plastic up together, place in a plastic bag, and store in a warm place. As soon as roots begin to emerge take the tape to the garden and unroll it onto a well-tilled bed, peeling the plastic away. Cover with a fine layer of soil or sand and water thoroughly but gently. Don't worry about the paper, it will act as mulch and will help stop dehydration. The result will be perfectly spaced rows of young plants.

To give seeds a jump start, sow seeds indoors in late winter or early Spring.
The most common seeds to start this way are tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and most herbs. Herbs can also be grown inside in a pot, placed on a window sill and use all through the year and they don't have to be transplanted unless you want to.
To get the plants ready for the outside, place them in the shade of a tree or on a cool sun porch for a few days before planting. Bring them indoors only if frost is predicted. You will need to adjust watering and stop fertilizing until they're planted in the garden.
Try to plant on a warm , windless day and water them thoroughly. Put an inch or more of mulch at their base. Some plants may need a protective covering for a few days, such as milk jugs or 2 or 3 liter soda containers, and there is also protective coverings that can be purchased from the garden center. The coverings can be removed once they have took root.

Some vegetables need some extra attention just for convenience sake. Pole beans and sugar snap peas can be accommodated on a trellis or tepee, and large tomato plants can be bound or supported with wire cages made for this purpose.

No garden is complete with out some insects. Garden beetles can be controlled by cleaning up debris to remove winter hiding places. Dust plants with diatomaceous earth or spray with kelp extract, soap and water, or various concoctions of onions, red peppers, and pungent herbs, steeped in water and strained. Try planting beetle repellent plants, such as mint and catnip, among your vegetables. To protect developing melons and squash, cover with paper bags, stapled or pinned shut. To control onion maggots and bean beetles, scatter wood ashes around plants or on the foliage. Kill mites with a spray of butter milk. Kill slugs with a 1/2 inch of beer or dry yeast. Mealybugs, aphids and other soft-bodied insects will die instantly when sprayed with full strength rubbing alcohol. Avoid spray alcohol on young plants it could damage them. Queen Anne's lace, buckwheat, fennel and sage attract insects such as stinkbugs, flies, hover flies, lace wings, these bugs are helpful at doing their own pest control. So don't cut down those Queen Anne's lace.

New England Gardening in Autumn

Autumn is the time of year when, in New England anyway, we begin cleaning up what is left of our gardens and stowing things away for winter. After a relatively short growing season, compared with the rest of the United States, New Englanders have enjoyed harvesting the plants that were not safe outside until just about Memorial Day. Many New Englanders began their seedlings indoors in late March, while the bitter winter winds were still blowing outside; by the time the last frost had passed, the seedlings were well underway on their growth-life, and had a head start to those who waited longer.

With so much summer daylight in New England, the locals know that although the growing season is short, the days are long, so comparatively, our gardens receive ample amounts of sunlight. Yet, as if nature planned its changes around the calendar, on or about the first full day of autumn, the weather in New England begins to turn colder and within a week or two, the news media begins issuing frost warnings at night. Also in line with the calendar is the changed position of the sun. Where our gardens had received abundant sunshine only weeks before, by the end of September, the sun seems to drop suddenly behind the notoriously tall trees, and the gardens get only a few hours of decent sunlight each day, at best. The shadows become long and the fruit and vegetables seem desperate to be harvested before they wither or freeze on the vine.

Thankfully, nature also seems to send New England a very dry, sunny climate during the autumn months. While spring time and summer time are about a fifty percent mix of dry days and wet days (not to mention, generally cloudy and damp days) the fall gives us all a reprieve, plus, the drying out time allows us to do all the things we need to do to prepare our gardens (and our homes and ourselves) for the coming winter.

So this autumn season has found us New Englanders harvesting the last of our gardens: the tomatoes, green and red peppers, pumpkins, squash, and other goodies. The autumn season has also found us enjoying the last of our annual flowers that we planted back in May. The impatiens, geraniums, marigolds, begonias, and other colorful flowers seem to be brighter than ever, just daring us to uproot them before the first frost. This is also the time when the autumn leaves not only turn their amazing hues, but they fall to the ground on our gardens, yards, driveways and roof tops. Since most of us do not want to find piles of wet, brown leaves on our lawns when the snow melts next April or May, we try to rake them all up now, though sometimes the first snow stops our progress; either way, we do what we can. In autumn, we begin chasing the leaves. It is nearly an impossibility to wait until all the leaves fall from the trees before the raking begins. While the job seems endless, the most efficient way to handle the leaves is to rake a bit each week. That way, when the rains (and premature snows) do come, the leaves will not be left soggy and heavy to move.

This is a good time for New England gardeners to condition the soil in their garden and begin planning their crop for the next growing season. Mark on the calendar when the seeds should be bought, when they should be planted indoors, and when the seedlings can be transferred to the outside garden. Also put on the calendar when the garden should be tilled and prepared for the seedlings.

Lastly, autumn is the time for us to plant all the bulbs we forgot to plant last fall. Most gardening shops have many types of bulbs now, which will bring pretty spring flowers: daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and the like. If you are planting in New England, remember to plant the bulbs at the depth recommended on the packaging, and be sure to cover the topsoil with a layer of mulch to protect the bulb from harsh freezes. That way, come April and May, the colorful flowers in your yard and garden will erase all memories of the harsh, New England winter.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Judging Gardening Blogs

Blogs are becoming an increasingly popular way for people to get their thoughts and ideas out there for others to read. Gardening is no exception. Because gardening is what is known as a high-dollar keyword, meaning that companies pay big bucks to advertise their gardening products, many people are interested in sharing their experiences with their own gardening in hopes of gaining some readers and making a little money.

While it seems wonderful to earn money from your hobby, you as the reader of these blogs need to be careful that you are not being taken in by someone simply trying to make money. There is nothing wrong with making money from a blog, but it is important to question whether the blog offers anything substantial.

The first test for a gardening blog is whether the author describes in any detail the look of the flowers, trees, or shrubs he or she has planted. An excellent blog will have pictures because that is the best way to share the garden with others, but at the very least, a quality gardening blog will give you a clear idea of how the plants look. Watch for these kinds of personal messages because they will help you to discern the real gardeners from the ones who are just trying to make a buck. Real gardeners will share their stories of gardening with you.

Second, a true gardener will have problems. Some plant will get infested. A neighborhood dog will trample the flowers. There will be something that will go awry in a garden because it is an outdoor hobby. Be leery of any garden blogs that always are upbeat or that never discuss any issues with any plants. Part of the benefit you will get from the gardening blog is that you will be able to find out how other gardeners deal with their problems so that you can learn more for your own gardening efforts.

Third, you should look at the ways in which a garden blog talks about the hobby. Does the gardener use jargon that you understand? Does he or she refer to flowers by their common names, i.e., the ones everyone knows? Are you listening to what sounds like encyclopedic knowledge of a garden, or is someone sharing wisdom that cannot be found in books? Use the language and context of the posts to determine whether or not you think someone is sharing a genuine passion with you.

A good blog of any variety also should include links to other gardening sites and preferably to other blogs. Now, just because a blog has no external links does not mean it is bad. It just means that the gardener probably does not spend a lot of extra time reading other blogs. Otherwise, he or she inevitably would find something worth linking to the blog in question. Bloggers who are experienced and are writing about a topic that they truly enjoy will want to share as much information with you as possible, and you will find scores of links to gardening pages and blogs of note.

The final measure of a good blog, and again this advice applies to a blog on any subject, is that it needs to be interesting to you. Sometimes you will read a blog that you think offers valuable information or that shares interesting anecdotes, and you will find that you cannot wait to get back to reading the next installment. Other times, you will read a blog and then move on without giving the blog a second thought. You will know as you are reading which blogs offer information that is beneficial to you and which ones just are not appealing for your situation. Perhaps you are a novice, and the writer is an advanced gardener. Or maybe you live in a tropical climate while the blogger lives in a harshly cold one. With hundreds of gardening blogs available to you, it should not be a problem to find one or two that will pique your interest and provide you with cyber-companionship and information to help you have the best garden you can.

And who knows? Maybe you will be inspired to write your own blog.

By Julia Mercer

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Know the toxic and non-toxic plants

We go from our neighbor's garden and thinking what seem to beautiful looking plants placed in your own home. We try to think of plans for designing it in our garden, enhancing the exquisite view of it and sometimes satisfy our dream garden. However, little do we know that the plants we thought are harmless are toxic as it naturally is.
Seldom we know that some of the commercialized plants are actually has their own toxins that can be dangerous to our pets and even children. We just see them elegantly landscaped in our own garden space. The plants we like having as indoor and outdoor feature in our very home.

1. Lilies- these are highly toxic ingested by cats due to its white alluring color found in ponds and sometimes placed in jar. This is famous plant is little do we know causes severe kidney damage if eaten. The solution for this is just to refrain it from areas where it can accessible. Consider placing it as an outdoor feature from the layers of shrubs surrounding it. Position it beside the gate walls or just about any place where it can prevent from your pets and children at home.

2. Hydrangeas- are known for its huge clusters of flowers and placed in a shaded area. Most common location are underneath the trees and sometimes used as an interior decoration due to its enthralling feature. However, this beauty has its own poison within. It contains cyanide that is endangering the corrals underwater. Since the effect itself is dangerous for water-based animals and can be hazardous to health then better place it away from the kitchen sinks. Situate it away from places where there is an activity of eating. The chances are small children, cats and dogs be entangled by the exotic characteristic it has and might curiosity to swallow. A good idea for this type of plant is place it in a pot and considers it hanging around the posts or columns of the house or the gate poles.

3. Azalea- has leaves of vibrant blossoming colors and evergreens. This plant is a common feature in indoor decoration. Due to the kind of leaves, that brings multihued effect in a room. Seldom do we know that this fascinating plant much filled with toxic to health found to contain gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurological toxins. This is not advised to place it anywhere inside the house.

4. Philodendron and dieffenbachia- going inside an office or in the side table is the where this plants are mostly seen. Unknowingly both plants are toxic. Keep it away from children's reach and animals as well. One cannot compromise this type of natural ornament from our health.

5. Spider plant is another type of plant that can cause poisoning. If ingested it might cause server digestive problems.

6. Sanseviera or snake plant or spear plant- although this plant has mild toxic effect but still can cause anxiety.

We disregard this kind of effects on us due to lack of education or knowledge to the type of plants we used indoor and outdoor. In fact, we sometimes do not know that we endanger our very lives and the lives of our pets by placing it somewhere accessible to them. As a landscaper or an interior designer of your home, be sure to know the kind of plants that are toxic by asking a horticulturist. To be aware of these types of plants will reduce the risk of being poisoned or avoid accidents totally. Other types of plants that are non-toxic and can replace the above plants.

1. Boston ferns- an evergreen small leafy plant that falls rightly around the columns, elegant and sophisticated. Try placing it in a pillar, clipped it with an orchid or the best is let it naturally twirl around the pole combined it with other hanging plants around it. Be sure to trim it occasionally.

2. Begonias and African violets- blooms all year round, it loveliness is timeless. Inside or outside the house, it can be placed anywhere. A nice side table plant, gorgeous for any occasion or normal days. Your dull wall will never be the same again. The Asian motif design you had in mind for your garden be achieved by putting large stones beside fabricated waterfalls creating a soothing effect.

Nothing replaces a beautiful, safe and naturally landscaped garden you always wanted. By knowing which plant is just right and harmless for you and your family.