Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Small Gardens you Can Grow at Home

I've often thought of my yard as a handful of individual mini-gardens.  Each little ecosystem is living in it's own balance and a carefully planned garden can be beautiful all on its own.  You can make these mini-gardens wherever you are, whether you have a lawn to plant or maybe a patio at an apartment, or perhaps you're into inside gardening.  Wherever you'd like to plant your gardens, there's a size and configuration to suit any need and green thumb talent.

Today I'm going to discuss three different gardens that I have in my lawn (I have more, but these are my features for today).

To the right above is my "Peony Garden".  The peonies, strangely enough, were pre-existing when I moved to this house.  They were the only flowers, besides one sad little dianthus and some flowering bushes.  Whoever owned the house before us either didn't like gardens at all, or took everything they could move with them (or had a lot of perennial stuff that died).

As you can see, my peony garden was pretty darn ugly when I first moved in. I was actually surprised when the first sprouts of the peonies came up because I wasn't sure anything was in the garden.  But spring turned into summer and with the first signs of the peonies I started planting other plants.  The right side is lined with chrysanthemums which are also a purple/pink hue and will probably start blooming in another couple of months.

Small stems around the front are irises I planted this year, not sure what they'll look like, I haven't seen them bloom yet.  Behind them are petunias, behind the peonies are snapdragons and a lilac bush.  You can't see the lilac, it's tiny...but eventually I think I might have a taller bush to tower over the peonies.

This garden actually mostly takes care of itself.  Peonies up and bloom and then I'll cut the dead blooms off and they'll be pretty bushes through most of the summer.  The petunias will fill out and the mums will bloom from summer through fall provided you trim the blooms off as they die.  I could avoid any yearly planting if I put in some other kind of annual, but I like the look and smell of the petunias.

The second garden is my geranium potted garden on my porch.  These geraniums (which seen here and merely getting really poofy green with leaves and will start blooming in another week or two, some blossoms are already forming) are mostly 2-5 years old.  (The one on the far right is a trimming from older plants).  I take geraniums inside in the winter and they go into something of a really ugly stasis for the few months of cold, but really perk up with warm weather and sunshine, a bit of Miracle Grow and water.  I actually had more luck when I had a Southern facing window when I lived in an apartment and I could get them to bloom during Christmas indoors.

I'd recommend geraniums to anyone who is a bit leery of gardens in general.  Buy a red geranium.  I say this because the fancy ones tend to die quicker or if you aren't using the same fertilizer that the greenhouse used they tend to change color toward a red anyway (I had a bi-color that's now solid pink and deep magenta also turned red).  Buy a slightly bigger pot than it originally came in, and have fun with colors, especially if you're going to bring it in you'll want something pretty to look at when the plant goes into its winter 'ugly' stage.  Buy a small box of Miracle Grow - it's not that expensive if you buy a "sample" box and with geraniums you'll only need to use the small scoop side once a month while you're watering it.

And DON'T over-water a geranium.  It'll start getting ugly after not being watered for a month, but normally they won't die, they just kind of go into stasis. (Above is an example of the ugly phase, but this is a five year old geranium I haven't trimmed up yet).  Make sure the dirt is dry before you water it again.  If it's wet, it's still happy.  If you can remember to water it once a week, you're doing good.  The blooms will come out and the leaves will fill out with enough regular sun, water, and fertilizer ready for the next summer.  As leaves die off and flowers wilt, pull off dead and trim off extra long branches and root them in a glass of water (like a potato) and you can make a new plant too.

Lastly is my Cat Garden.  This garden is actually about 3 by 2 foot (smaller than a poster).  If you've got just a tiny footprint by an apartment, or maybe a tiny box, you can plant a garden like this one.  It's just a mix of a few different perennials and annuals.  Putting a focal point in like a garden sculpture is often a fun way to add something special to your garden.

I'm usually pretty careful about putting too much 'junk' in a garden.  I have some neighbors who have every spinning thing they can think of, or another that uses white pots that completely cover their lawn!  (I need to get a photo of it this year, it's pretty crazy).  Others use a ton of garden gnomes, or other decorations they leave out all year.  Don't!  If you've going to decorate your gardens with accessories, don't go overboard.  I tend to think you should make sure your item isn't too big, usually a neutral color of some sort, and make sure you take it inside during the winter or it'll look like you're just being lazy (unless you live in a warm climate and can have a garden all year long, then do whatever you want!)

My cat garden consists of the evergreen bush (it stands maybe 2 1/2 foot tall) which apparently needs a trim now that I'm looking at it.  Also three corabells, hens and chicks and a couple petunias (yes, again with the petunias).  I lucked out actually, none of the petunias were blooming when I planted them and the pinks match the corabells nicely.  Make sure you make a nice balance - taller objects in the back (the corabells will get bigger with age and they spike up nicely) and the hens and chicks will stay small and grow across the ground.  The petunias are the only annual and I've considered replacing them with a primrose which would also provide bright colors at least in the spring.

I hope you'll give small gardens a try!  I hope these little pictures inspired you to do some gardening of your own!  Enjoy!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Planting Trees (Things to Keep in Mind)

The world is a better places with trees in it.  Or, rather, on it.  We've all heard the speeches, celebrated Arbor Day and Earth Day by planting a new tree, and it's not a surprise to us because we know plants keep the soil in check, make the oxygen we breathe, supply the pulp to make the paper we use every day, provide shade for our yards, homes for animals...well, you get the idea!

This blog is NOT about that.  This blog, rather, is about how flippin' ugly my yard looked before I planted trees.  Mind you, there were two trees planted between the sidewalk and street since this is one of those 'HOA' neighborhoods, but they really don't produce much shade and I have yet to see a bird nesting in either the white maple or the ginkgo along the side.

Sure, as you can see from the picture, there were a few bushes out front, (and if you look really closely you'll see the tiny little red Japanese maple I planted in front of the porch, but that was only a week or so difference from when I planted the pine.) but overall the yard was one big sparse lot of ugly patchy grass (as you can also see from the photo).

Almost the very first week after we moved in my mother bought us a little Redbud tree.  It's out in the backyard, looked pretty darn sketchy for the first whole summer, lost nearly all of it's leaves and we were worried it would die over the winter.  It looked like this when it bloomed, and now has a bunch of pretty little heart shaped leaves.  I think it spent most of last summer laying in roots.  It even produced seed pods, which my mother's tree I planted over 10 years ago didn't want to do until at least it was 5 years in the ground.

The second tree to go in was the Colorado Spruce that you see in the photo above.  My mother bought this one for us also, picked it out at Lowe's and immediately planted it.  A few weeks later I went to a nearby garden center (Strader's) where I bought the Japanese Maple.  It's been off and on sketchy last year (the leaves went from red to green) and this year it's sort of droopy, we're thinking because of the early spring and various frosts which I'll probably need to watch it in the next years to make sure I cover it during frosts later on.  You can see a picture of it in my post about landscaping.

And finally, the newest arrivals to my household are two beautiful little Blue Spruces.  You can see them to the right of the Colorado.

Now I get to the real reason for this blog.  You need to know your pine trees.  I haven't had one problem around the Colorado since I bought it, that includes trimming the grass around it and mulching around it.  I really didn't think I'd have a problem with two little blue trees either.

In fact, when I went to the store to buy them, I picked them up, put them in my shopping cart, and got so many complements as I finished doing the rest of my shopping that I was starting to worry someone might stalk me out to my car and take them (a lady at the register threatened!)

That afternoon I bought planting soil, mulch, and went out in the chilly air that day and dug my holes and planted the trees, looking at how much better the yard will be when we have nice tall trees.  Well, I actually had another reason for planting them where I did...we had neighborhood kids playing football up and down our side lawn and they were killing our grass.  Not only that but the side of our house is pretty butt-ugly.  You'd think they'd put at least one extra window on the side, but NO!

Later that evening a rash started to break out along my hands and up my arms.  Come to find out, certain people are actually allergic to pine tree sap, and maybe also to their needles.  I found this out the hard way of course, and had to suffer with nasty little water-blister bumps along my arms for a few days until they finally settled down after enough medicine was applied.

So.... the reason for this blog is to really keep in mind what trees you're planting, and are you allergic to them?  If so...don't plant them!  Plant what you know - did you have maples in your yard growing up?  Then go with that.  Go with what you know.  I was never around pine trees more than for a little while here and there at my aunt's house, (none of my other relatives had pines) so I never got to find out the hard way.

But DO plant trees.  These new subdivision things that are popping up everywhere take out every single mature and beautiful tree, plow them down, plant boring trees out by the curb and leave everything else so barren that I'm afraid one day the neighborhood will be taken out by a tornado just because there's nothing to block the wind!  And don't get me started on noise...nothing is blocked without a nice wall of trees!

So there's my tree-hugger speech for the day.  Enjoy!