Apr 182012

Our fairy ring of daffodils in bloom.

We had a beautiful ring of daffodils around our front tree this year. I can’t take credit for it. The previous owners put this in and it comes back year after year, thrilling my daughters with its blooms.

After the blooming, however, the greenery starts to get a little tired. It may also serve as a “nest” for deer who seem to like to lie in it and munch on my daylilies.

Daffodil leaves . . . post bloom and post-deer.

Looking at this mess of leaves, I remembered my post on the perfectionist gardener and the concept of braiding the leaves came into my head. I didn’t think I would ever become one of “those” gardeners. While individual small braids was out of the time commitment question, I went for a huge braid of the entire nest. It’s a bit sloppy but hey, aren’t messy braids the latest fashion trend?

The braided daffodil foliage.

Just a bit of fun . . . and it made it easier to weed underneath!

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Apr 182012

Virginia Native Plants starting to get established in my garden: bleeding heart and Christmas fern.

This month I am out in the garden pulling weeds, planting, mulching, watering and trying to take a high level view on how my efforts are going so far.

Almost two years ago, I gave an overview of the Virginia native plants I was trying to grow. My hope was that they would be easier to grow in our poor, clay soil, good for enhancing the local environment and perhaps deer tolerant. Native plants are surprisingly hard to find! They typically aren’t available at most nurseries and big box stores. I have had to order all of mine online. Native plants also typically come in “bare root” form, which means when you open the shipping box to plant them, all you have is just a bunch of stems to plant underground. While you spend hours doing it, after all that planting effort the average viewer will see absolutely no difference in your garden at all. Kind of depressing.

With regard to my own native plant efforts, I have both good news and bad news.

FAILURES

First, the bad news. These were the plants that never grew. I couldn’t tell you why. Perhaps the soil was too poor. Perhaps I didn’t water enough or the soil was too wet. Perhaps they succumbed to diseases. Perhaps wild animals found the roots delicious.

Teaberry/Creeping Wintergreen

Bare root plants, creeping wintergreen.

Initial fall planting of a row of creeping wintergreen. Never survived to grow the next spring.

This was one of those plants I was really hoping would work out. It’s a beautiful plant, has a wonderful scent and year-round appeal. It is also supposed to be a quick-spreading groundcover and an “easy care” plant. Unfortunately, none of that came to pass.

Black Cohosh/”Bugbane”

Black cohosh bare root plants. None survived to grow in spring.

This was another plant I hoped would work out. I was particularly interested in its insect-repelling properties. I planted some near the doomed teaberry plants and perhaps there was something wrong with the soil or water content in that location. My notes say that something came up the following spring.  Perhaps one small leaf or shoot but it apparently wasn’t memorable enough to photograph and hasn’t appeared since! Frustrating!

Jack in the Pulpit

These were tiny little bulbs that never produced any evidence of life. These bulbs are edible (even to humans when they are dried) so the chance that some forest animal ate them as a snack is probably pretty high. I’ll have to write these off as too delicious for my garden.

SUCCESSES

Turk’s Cap Lily

Turk's Cap Lily bulb

Turk's Cap Lily approximately 1 year later

This is probably the showstopper of Virginia native plants. It is a beautiful orange color and has a beautiful shape. I planted about 3 roots of these lilies. Only one has bloomed and I only got one bloom on a single long stem. I am hopeful that the one bloomer will come back this year and that the plant will eventually multiply into something more substantial.

Bleeding Heart

Bare roots of wild bleeding heart.

Bleeding Heart approximately 18 months old.

Bleeding hearts are supposed to be excellent plants for the shade garden. The leaves have a delicate appearance to them and the small, colorful flowers add a small but noticeable pop of color. I planted about 3 of these and as of this moment only 2 are surviving. One is a good, healthy, substantial plant with flowers and the other just a meek stem. The substantial plant was vigorous right from the start. I had leaves and flowers one month after planting in the fall!

Christmas Fern

Bare root (tendril) of a Christmas fern when first planted.

Christmas Fern approximately 18 months after first bare root planting.

Fern tendrils

Fern tendrils unfurl to make new leaves.

For one of the most shady spots of my front garden, I was hoping the Christmas fern would be the answer to my prayers. So far, it has done quite well! I planted about 5 or so of these. As of this moment I have about 3 that are growing quite well and 1 that is just one leaf but is still hanging on. The ferns are interesting to watch. They send up curly, fuzzy stems called “tedrils” that eventually unfurl and make leaves.

Spiderwort

The spidery root of spiderwort.

Spiderwort in bloom.

This is another beauty. It has a small bluish-purple flower that opens during the day and closes at night. The stems and leaves are kind of unremarkable and basic. So far, these have generally all grown well. All I have is a stem here and a stem there though, not a generous clump of flowers. This is another plant I hope will grow with time.

Bloodroot

The insect-like root of bloodroot.

Bloodroot flower in spring.

The distinctive leaf shape of bloodroot.

It’s an incredibly cool name and a “dangerous” plant to boot! This little plant is poisonous but so beautiful. It sends up a white daisy-like flower in spring and then has unusual butterfly-shaped leaves. This was a great plant to teach my daughter about the concept of poisonous plants. So far, I still only get about one flower per plant but they are spreading just a little bit. This year, I seem to have 3 leaves per plant instead of one.

Bottom line, my native plant success rate is about 62%. I do enjoy learning about the native plants and I am thrilled with the ones that have made it. There is a bit of disappointment though. Compared to buying larger plants at a garden center and getting the instant boost of color and perhaps more vigorous growth, these natives are just really, really subtle and slow-growing. It would take another native plant expert even to appreciate what I have done so far.

I have a new appreciation for “Don’t pick wildflowers.” rules that you see at national parks and other places. After seeing how slowly some of these plants grow, you can understand why picking could set the plant back a year or more in growth.

We will keep going with native plants but I have decided not to focus exclusively on them. Native plants are sort of like doing calculus in your garden. It’s nice to take a break and do something more like simple arithmetic by planting the tried and true garden plants that are full and bushy right from the start. So, our garden, like our lives, will be a curious mix.

Do you have labor of love plants in your garden that only you can appreciate? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Apr 062012

The moss and weeds that await us each spring.


I have come to love our pressure washer. We end up using it for so many things. Some people might be fine with the water pressure from their regular hose but since we are on a well system, the water pressure can be pretty anemic. The pressure washer really helps us blast dirt off of things, saves time and probably saves water too.

We have some seriously aggressive weeds in our garden. They can be really frustrating since it is so hard to get most cultivated plants to grow well but the weeds sprout just fine all over the place, even in the smallest cracks.
Every spring, we face a line of weeds in the tiny cracks of sidewalk in our back garden area. There is only about ¼ of an inch for them to grow there, but for a weed, that is apparently plenty of room to grow and flourish.

Rather than dig them all out by hand, which is time consuming, or use a toxic chemical, we just break out the pressure washer. We turn the jet to a small stream and it just blasts those weeds out of all the tiny cracks.

Blasting the cracks where weeds grow with the pressure washer.

Of course, there is a downside. It does make a little bit of a mess with all that dirt flying everywhere. On the plus side, you get a free mud facial out of the deal but you will have to spend a minute or two spraying off the sidewalk as well.

My free mud masque facial courtesy of the pressure washer.


Pressure washing your weeds is especially helpful if you have a lot of area to cover. As you can see, the results are immediate and excellent!

My weeded patio.

Do you have any time-saving weeding tips? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Apr 062012

It's dogwood and azalea season in Virginia. One of the most beautiful times of the year!


My time is entirely controlled by Mother Nature lately. It started a few weeks ago when my daughter brought home a terrible norovirus-like illness she picked up somewhere. It spread quickly through the whole family and forced us to rearrange all of our plans to rest and recover. Lately, we have been doing some work in the yard and our days are basically controlled by the weather. If the weather pattern changes rapidly, we have to reschedule our entire day on the fly. It’s kind of a pain but nature is also an excellent teacher. If you struggle with perfectionism or you like things just so, it might be the best thing in the world for you to spend more time outside.

Over the course of this month, I will be sharing several projects I am working on to make my own yard look more organized. Last year, I focused on gardening projects that didn’t require much planting and were primarily about various hardscaping elements you can put into your garden.

This year’s focus is simply to finish up a lot of garden projects that have been on my to do list forever. Some are very small and simple, others complex. There will be some hardscaping as well as some planting.

First up, a very simple weeding tip.

Posted by anne Tagged with:
Jun 302011

A blue hydrangea. . . one of the best June treasures in my garden!

This month we have been discussing ways to organize your yard and garden, primarily focusing on a lot of ideas that have nothing to do with the actual growing of plants! If there is one thing I have learned about gardening, it is that you have to learn to cede control to nature on every decision. You can plant the best plants in the best soil according to perfect instructions and there is always something (bugs, animals, bad weather, plant diseases) that will foil your plans. It has been comforting to me (and hopefully to you too!) to know that there are other ways to add beauty, charm and personality to your garden that are more in your control.

Below is the quick version of this month’s posts.

Theme Posts

We started off the month with 8 quick and easy landscaping ideas that don’t take a lot of time or money to implement.

Next, I improved on last year’s post about inexpensively updating your old patio furniture to give it a new look. First, I told you how I made a set of 20 custom chair cushions for a grand total of less than $20. Next, I showed you a way to transform a tired vinyl strap chair into a hammock chair using nylon rope.

Inevitably with every organization project, there is some aspect involving paperwork and the same is true for gardening projects. I shared with you various ideas for creating a garden journal and/or plant markers to “file” the plants in your garden.

Ruth commented:

“We for the past 4 years have lived in 3 different houses on 2 different military bases. This home we have now has the first real garden to speak of, with lovely flowering roses and tubal roses and rosemary–and a hummingbird complete with nest and 2 babies–but not sure that goes in the gardening journal. But the 2 gals that lived immediately prior–that would have been a really neat thing to pass on to us–a gardening journal! LOVE it!! Otherwise we kind of guess at what we have and do maintenance on a guesswork only basis.”

I finished off the month with 3 garden art projects to try using inexpensive, durable materials: rock creatures, metallic flowers, and a product test of the Make Your Own Poetry Stones kit.

Lou commented:

“Adorable! We have our own hand-made molds that the grandkids put in their hand print, with their name and the date. 15 years later, they’re as fun as ever!”

FYI, my test poetry stones are still on their second day of drying time but even in just one day (despite adding too much water to the mix and having high humidity) they are hardening quite nicely. The color is changing as they dry and I will update later with a picture of the final test stones.

Social Commentary

June is the kick-off of the summer cookout season and Ruly Ruth shared a popular list of the 10 best and 10 worst foods to bring to a potluck cookout, an organizational challenge frequently faced this social season.

Ben commented:

“I agree with all of the worsts, with the caveat that a GOOD potato salad is definitely worth bringing. I have recently been making a potato salad that has a bit of white wine or champagne vinegar in it to give it a good tart finish, and (don’t tell my mother in law) [my wife] says it’s better than her mom’s.”

Ruth received several comments on her Facebook page including a complaint that spinach artichoke dip should be removed from the list of worsts and an inquiry from a bachelor wondering what to bring/buy if you don’t cook. As you grocery shop this summer, please keep an eye out for delicious store-bought goodies that would work for these social situations and feel free to comment with your findings. We recently found the new heart-shaped shortbread cookies half-dipped in chocolate at our local Costco. They are fantastic! I wanted to share a picture but they were all eaten before I could take one!

Fun Posts

June is a big gift-giving month and I provided you with some gift-giving ideas for:

My incredible uncle wrote a post in his newspaper column about Father’s Day gift giving that was both funny and very touching.  I encourage you to give it a read.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s posts and wish you many hours of relaxation this summer outdoors in your own garden oasis.

For my U.S. readers, Happy 4th of July! A few safety reminders for this long weekend . . .

Have a wonderful weekend! Please check back next week when we start a new month (and the second half of 2011 if you can believe it!) and a new organizing theme.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jun 282011

Earlier this month, I mentioned the possibility of making customized garden stepping stones/plant markers. One of the great products I found on amazon.com was the Make Your Own Poetry Stones Deluxe Kit. It was a great price, looked pretty simple and offered so much creative flexibility that I had to buy one for myself. Today, I wanted to share with you the results of my first test stones.

Contents: The kit comes with 6 different shape molds, 5 rectangular:

  • 3 ¾” x 14”
  • 3 ¾“ x 10 ½“
  • 3 ¾“ x 7 ½”
  • 3 ¾“ x 4 ½“ and
  • 2 ½“ x 3 ¾“

and one circular (12“ diameter). It also comes with two bags of plastic letters, large and small, along with numbers and punctuation, including the @ symbol, a comma and a period. There is also a generous bag of glass stones to use as decorative accents, a 2 ½ pound bag of cement, two small jars of concrete tint (reddish brown and and orange/copper tint) and a small trowel.

You will also need to supply two buckets (preferably ones you can discard if they happen to get ruined by the cement), a large plastic garbage bag or dropcloth to protect your working surface from spills, a plastic-coated surface to let the stones dry on for at least 2 days (I used cardboard covered with plastic garbage bags for my test projects).

There is a nice sheet of directions in the kit guiding you through each step of the process. The steps are relatively simple.

Empty the concrete into a bucket.

Add 1 ½ cups water.

Mix with the trowel. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time until you have a consistency “somewhere between soft-serve and scoop ice cream”. This was probably the trickiest part of the operation. After 1 ½ cups of water, there was a lot of dry concrete still in my mix. I kept adding the water and probably put in close to 2 ½ cups of water total.

In the end, I would say I added just a little too much water. It seemed like the ideal consistency would look almost dry and crumb-like when mixed but would pack down flat. I also added just a small amount of the reddish-brown concrete tint. I wasn’t sure what color I wanted to go for. With just a little of the tint, I ended up with a brown earth-tone color, which I quite like! You could add a lot more to get a terra cotta look or add none for a gray stone look.

Next, it was time to scoop the concrete into the molds. The instructions say that the 2 ½ pound bag of concrete included in the kit is just enough to make one 14” rectangular stone or several of the smaller rectangular stones. It is not enough to make the round stone. I chose 3 of the smallest rectangular forms that combined were just a little bit larger than the 14” rectangular stone. They did use up every last bit of the concrete and there was none left over. (The directions indicate that you can buy a type of fine-grain concrete called “vinyl patch mix” at any hardware store to make more stones.)

Before starting the concrete mixing step, I had chosen the mold sizes I wanted and the letters I wanted to use, making sure the words would fit inside the molds.

I plopped the concrete mix into the molds and kept adding concrete and packing it down as hard as I could with the trowel to get out any air pockets. At first, it didn’t look like it was working very well and might be too dry. However, after my third mold was poured, I went back to the first mold and all the water in the concrete seemed to have traveled to the surface. It was almost too runny and wet on the surface but was still solid enough to work.

Now it was time to press in the letters. I was a bit too aggressive in my space planning here. Ideally you would have your word fit in the mold space plus at least one extra letter space as buffer room. I packed my words right to the edges of the mold, which worked, but just barely. You need a little space in between each letter for the concrete to expand and emboss the letters for the best look. I also pressed in a decorative accent stone as well. After using each letter mold, I put it in the second bucket, filled with water, to soak, so the concrete would not dry on the letters.

At this point, I was ready to set my stones aside to dry for the required 2-days. Fortunately, I remembered that I also needed to remove the mold forms to prevent them from being permanently adhered to the test stones! This was just a little tricky. The molds removed generally well but sometimes a corner would get stuck and I had to carefully poke the brick free with my finger, trying not to leave any impressions in the brick. At this point, you can cut off part of the excess mold if your word is not very long, round the edges of the stone with your fingers or do any other shaping you desire.

We also tried a test footprint in one of the molds to see how it would come out.

Cleanup was relatively easy. I grabbed the hose and squirted out the bucket, molds, trowel and letter forms in one of the leaf-covered areas of the yard. You probably don’t want to do this in your kitchen sink just in case the concrete hardens in your pipes.

Now to see how long it takes for the concrete to cure. Because my mix was a bit wetter than it needed to be and because of Virginia humidity, I will be surprised if 2 days is enough to dry the test bricks and think it could be closer to a week.

So far, though, I think this product is great and really fun. My children enjoyed helping with this project and are already coming up with ideas for what our next stones should say.

What would you write/impress if you were using this kit? Are you intimidated or encouraged by the results of the test? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jun 242011

As I poke around my garden trying to discover ways to make it more appealing without requiring a lot of expense or work, I focused in on the boring liriope border that leads to my front door. Liriope is a low-growing ornamental grass that you see in just about every yard here in Virginia. It grows well and adds a soft fringe to border edges, but it’s also kind of drab. It also tends to clump and spread so if you don’t thin it out every once in a while it becomes a thick, uninteresting border.

I am hesitant to pull it all out because it would be hard to find another plant as reliable. It is also a lot of area to cover. So, I wanted to think of something to add to the liriope to make it more interesting.

I was inspired by Michele Beschen’s ideas for DIY garden art using hardware-store materials, that I wrote about at the beginning of this month.

I particularly liked her use of metallic materials. Based on her ideas, I came up with a concept to make some sculptural flowers out of aluminum screening and copper tubing. I liked the concept because these materials add a modern edge to the soft colors and textures in the garden, contrast nicely with the greenery, and they also aren’t trying to imitate natural materials. I didn’t want to make something too cutesy or something that looked like an artificial flower. It’s an added bonus that these flowers would be year-round, and would add some charm during the flower-less winter months.

So, while this is still a project in progress, I wanted to share with you how things are going so far.

Materials

  • Aluminum screening
  • ¼” Copper tubing
  • Various hardware items that fit on the copper tubing and can be used for the centers of the flowers. I liked lock washers, cap nuts and T-nuts but you could use whatever you like
  • Waterproof super glue
  • Florist’s wire
  • Pipe cutter
  • Heavy-duty scissors

Directions

First, cut an approximately 10 x 10” square from the aluminum screening and fold it into quarters.

Then, cut a flower shape of your choosing. I attempted a lily shape, just cutting a loose, approximate shape.

I wasn’t particularly thrilled with how my shape came out.

But after some experimenting, I determined that it made a decent flower when one half of the shape was folded into a tubular flower and the other half wrapped around it. You may want to wear gloves for this part. The screening can have some sharp edges or splinter into small metal fragments as you work with it.

Cut a very tiny hole in the screening where you want to attach the flower to the copper tubing. The holes in the screening seem to grow and stretch so cut the hole far smaller than you think you need.

Determine what additional hardware you want to use to add an accent to the flower center. I liked how a lock washer looked at the base and a brass cap nut in the center.

I put a bead of waterproof superglue where I wanted the lock washer to go and slipped it on the tubing. I then added the screen flower, put another small drop of superglue on the end of the copper tubing and screwed on a cap nut.

I then used the florist’s wire to wire down the flower into the shape I wanted and cover the space between the lock washer and the cap nut.

All that was left was to cut the copper tubing to the right length. I conferred with my handy husband, who advised me that a pipe cutter is the tool of choice for this situation. A few twists of the pipe cutter and voila, a finished flower.

My test flower contrasts nicely with the liriope and I think will give me the look I want.

Now to make a zillion more and see if the final concept works! As a bonus, I found some additional copper tubing in the basement while looking for the pipe cutter so I have even more material to work with and can experiment with different shapes for other areas of the garden.

There are endless creative possibilities for this project. You can shorten or lengthen the copper “stems,” cut different shapes from the screening and even spray paint the screening if you want more color.

What do you think of these artificial flowers? Would you try this in your own garden? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Jun 212011

This month, as I am looking to inject a little personality into my garden, my daughter’s school art project provided some inspiration. Using a well-known material we all have free access to, you can create an endless number of imaginative creatures. The material, of course, is rocks!

As we scouted the yard for rocks, we found a variety of examples. While I was more focused on finding the more attractive rocks and pebbles, my daughter showed no such constraints. She even picked up several pieces of asphalt from the crumbling road.

We took the rocks inside to wash them, then painted them with a variety of all-purpose craft paints.

After the painting was done, we glued them together into sculptures with an outdoor superglue. It was a little tough getting the rocks to balance while they dried but the finished sculptures were solid.

When we were done we had monsters

a frog

a “duck”

and a fairy.

We tried posing them in various spots around the yard. Because we only had small rocks to work with, our creatures are pretty tiny in scale compared to the plants but they add a lot of whimsy and fun. They seem to show up best in bare spots, near smaller plants and on rocky surfaces. Here is a monster guarding the boxwood.

Two watchmen for a growing cedar.

and a fairy hiding out beneath the hosta.

These little creatures are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, sparking imagination.

“Mom, do you think the fairy will get along with the monsters?”

My last step is to spray the creatures with a clear-coat sealer and hope the craft paint and sealer will stand up to the weather. The directions on the sealer advise not to spray in high humidity. We may have to cheat a bit on that instruction otherwise we will be waiting until fall!

Hope you enjoyed this free or cheap garden art project. You could even skip the paint and leave the rocks natural or stack them in piles instead of gluing them.

Would you try this rock art project? What other ideas do you have for using rocks in the garden? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jun 142011

Spiderwort in bloom. Another of my gardening successes this year . . . and one that I should add to my garden journal!

As a truly novice gardener, I only began keeping a garden journal last year. I have a 3-ring binder with blank paper in it just to have a spot to put all the garden-related information I was accumulating. Last year, I:

  • drew a very rough (not to scale) diagram of my gardening spaces, where I had planted various plants and the dates I planted them;
  • pasted in copies of the seed packets, planting tags from purchased plants and sales receipts so that I knew the names of all the plants I was using;
  • wrote notes when anything significant happened, such as something bloomed or died; and
  • took photos throughout the year to document my plantings and any growth (which are still on the computer and not in the journal itself).

My system is still very rough and, truthfully, a bit disorganized.

I wanted to know what type of records professional gardeners keep for their plantings. Fortunately, the web is chock-full of examples. It seems that the main types of information good gardeners need are:

  • detailed planting diagrams (usually drawn to scale)
  • detailed seed-starting and transplanting logs
  • soil amendment and fertilizer logs
  • bloom logs (to document what in the garden blooms when)
  • pruning logs
  • detailed plant pest and disease-management logs
  • for food crops, yield and harvest logs
  • documentation on hardscaping structures, such as materials used to build a deck or patio and the maintenance schedule required
  • To Do lists by month

Proficient gardeners appear to use their garden journals primarily to discern the very best techniques. The journal documents all the experiments the gardener has done and, over time, helps the gardener save time by simplifying just to what works well. A garden journal has also been suggested as a wonderful way to add value to your home in the event you ever need to sell. The monthly yard and landscaping to-do list alone would be a huge gift for any new homeowner to receive.

If you want to get really detailed on your garden, there are many free garden journal templates available for download to get you started.

I don’t know that I am ready yet for the level of detail in these sample journals but they are nice guides to have. My goal this year is to do a better job putting in photos of my garden into my existing journal and updating my notes.

In addition to the garden journal, however, most gardeners also have a backup plant documentation system in the form of plant markers put in the ground where the plants are. There are many ways to create plant markers. The simplest is to use the plastic tags that come with purchased potted plants. If your plant doesn’t come with these tags attached, it is easy to make your own from materials such as:

 

tongue depressors or craft sticks marked with permanent markers

purchased aluminum plant tags that you can etch yourself with a pen or other semi-sharp object

plastic plant tags or cut pieces of old plastic mini-blinds marked with permanent markers

rocks (marked with permanent markers or outdoor paint)

mold-your-own bricks or stepping stones with the plant names on them

Do you keep records on your own gardening or landscaping efforts? What methods do you use? Please share in the comments.

You may also like this Ruly post:

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jun 022011

One of my gardening success stories...a bloodroot flower this spring!

It’s a new month at Ruly. We are halfway through 2011 and this month I am applying my organizing talents outdoors to update my garden! I started this process last year but still have a long way to go.

Last year, I left you with a Ruly Challenge to investigate a list of native plants for your area and consider adding more of these plants to your landscaping. I took my own medicine and ordered some native plants to put in the ground last fall.

I am pleased to report that most of what I planted has come up well. (So far, hooray for bloodroot, spiderwort, bleeding hearts, black cohosh and the Turk’s cap lily.) The only disappointing aspect, however, is that it is going to take years for these plants to get established, start spreading and give a “full” look to the landscaping. All I have right now is a stem here and there of various plants. Our local garden centers do not carry these plants so putting them in the ground one bare root at a time is my only current option. However, given the very challenging conditions of my garden (lots of trees and shade, limited sun, water source only from the rain and heavy, clay soil) it is nice to find ANYTHING that wants to grow without requiring special attention.

Landscaping can be a bit frustrating. Really nice landscaping is also really expensive. If you can’t afford nice landscaping, you can spend hours and hours of time amending your soil, pulling weeds and planting and still end up with something that either looks sparse and unhealthy or messy and overgrown. Our family needs a boost of encouragement to help us get our yard together. . . a few quick wins to get motivated. Particularly, I am looking for projects that won’t require much time or effort but will add a lot of style and will be almost guaranteed to work.

What projects might these be? I went looking on the web for hints. Interestingly, most of the tips are about working with non-plant materials to enhance your space.

1.  Mulch. It seems to be many landscapers’ philosophy that when all else fails, just go for a thick layer of decorative mulch or rocks. It gives a clean look and hides a multitude of landscaping failures. Mulch is also a relatively cheap material to purchase. There are a million types of mulching materials, including natural sources like fallen leaves, and you can get creative.

2. Paint. Painting the hardscaping structures in your yard (furniture, pots, concrete, etc.) a bright color adds a fresh, energetic look to a tired space. See this tip from Better Homes and Gardens for inspiration.


3. Art and Collectibles.
Peruse flea markets and garage sales for garden-appropriate items that can weather outside, like birdcages, watering cans, statuary, etc. Note: this takes a good artistic eye to carry off well and a little goes a long way. BHG again has a nice example.

For a personal touch and for not much money, DIY network has some great ideas for making your own garden art. I am particularly intrigued by the ideas of Michele Beschen of B! Original.

  • Concrete sculptures – mold and sculpt your own statues using concrete and molds.
  • Yard Bird – love this bird creation from garden tools. Wish I was a welder!
  • Garden Gal Pals – use roofing flashing and copper tubing to create unique characters for your garden.
  • Yard and Garden monuments – made from 2” insulation, adhesive, chicken wire and thinset concrete.

4.   Pots. While Better Homes and Gardens acknowledges a large collection of pots can be expensive, it encourages people to buy one or two a year over time to create an impressive display.

5. Outdoor lighting. Most people assume outdoor lighting means solar lights along the driveway but there are many ways to incorporate lighting outside, including candles, lanterns hung from trees, Christmas lights and others. BHG has some cool tips. For a unique look, Michele Beschen at DIY Network has another simple and creative idea here to dress up a plain strand of lights with aluminum screening “flowers” (last segment of the video).


6.   Groundcovers.
Find a quick-spreading plant to crowd out weeds. BHG has a list of easy-to-grow groundcovers here.

7.   Edging. Define the edges of your garden beds with edging materials ranging from plastic to wrought iron, brick, stone or even recycled glass bottles. A good list of options here.

8.   Stepping Stones. Stepping stones have a variety of uses from marking pathways to decorative accents in the garden. There are many varieties to purchase or mold your own!

Hopefully this list has given you some ideas to add some personality to your own yard and garden. While many people have been hard at work in their gardens for months now, those of us starting a bit late can take comfort from this recent advice from the Old Farmer’s Almanac:

“June offers the most hours of daylight of any month of the year. For farmers and gardeners, this is a great boon, allowing them to concentrate on their fields and flowers. One old proverb says, ‘Calm weather in June sets corn in tune.’

Folk wisdom tells us that all of the plants will catch up by the end of the month regardless of how early we got them in the ground!”

What yard and gardening projects are you planning this year? Please share in the comments.

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