Your garden can be a bright, cheery, busy place, or it can provide the tranquility, rest, and refuge you need after a stressful day.
Just as color schemes, lighting, furniture placement, and window treatments all play significant roles in creating an interior refuge, the view outside those windows has a double impact. Whether you are looking at your garden through a window or as you walk through it, a chaotic garden can be anything but tranquil.
These tips will help you transform your garden into a tranquil refuge, with minimal effort.
1. Keep it simple
Clutter in the garden only adds to your already busy schedule by reminding you of jobs that need doing. Clearing away yard debris is more conducive to rest and relaxation. If you have plants that are not thriving, or that do not add joy to the space, get rid of them. The same is true of outdoor furniture. If it is junk, throw it away. If it is still useable, donate it to charity or hold a yard sale. Use decorations that are simple and pleasant. Leave fences and lawns clean and empty of distractions.
2. Live in the color of calm
Reds and yellows are great colors, but they will not help you to relax. Far more calming are blues and earth tones. Design your landscape around blue flowers and various shades of greens and browns, for a beautifully relaxing view.
3. Just add water
The sound of running water has a profound effect on mood. Fountains, waterfalls, even the sound of a bird bathing in a birdbath are sounds that bring us back to nature in the way a campfire does, but without the mess or risks. Water features like these also provide for equally stressed birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Taking the time to watch these creatures in your garden or landscape is sure to improve your mood.
7. Gentle sounds
The sounds of traffic, machinery, and neighbors can destroy the tranquility of your refuge in a matter of moments. You can reduce the impact of these intrusions by planting trees and shrubs around your property line to block the noise. Good fencing can also block sound while adding privacy and security.
8. Create an herb garden
Edible herbs require only minimal care and most of them are perennial plants that come back every year. Besides adding flavor to your meals, fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, and rosemary, add color and fragrance to your garden, while helping deter many common pests.
9. Delightful lighting
The way you illuminate your yard can impact the way you feel. Garish lamps and brilliant spotlights will not help you relax. Instead, design for relaxation in the garden by using gentle, soft-colored solar lights along paths, around garden beds, and in seating areas.
10. Make the time to enjoy it
One of the biggest problems faced today is our unwillingness to simply make time to relax. Busy schedules, television and social media, obligations to family and friends whittle away at our spare moments until there aren’t any. Schedule some time for yourself to enjoy your garden, without chores and to-do lists.
Simply stop and smell those roses. You’ve earned it.
Victory gardens were planted during WWI and WWII to reduce demand during war time. Today, we are fighting against physical inactivity, environmental harm, and tasteless fruits and vegetables. Growing a victory garden in your yard can create a win-win-win situation.
What are we fighting for?
Historically, victory gardens were encouraged to make up for the fact that many farm and agricultural workers were off fighting war. Today’s battles are more insidious but no less important. And they are found on several fronts:
With victory gardens, we can transform our ornamental landscapes into delicious, productive foodscapes that improve air and water quality, the foods we eat, and even the way we feel.
Get moving with gardening
Working the soil and being outside are two of the best ways to improve your health and mood. There are even soil microorganisms (Mycobacterium vaccae) that act as antidepressants, without all the chemical dependency and side effects of drugs (or driving to doctor’s appointments).
Gardening is a gentle activity that won’t damage joints, pull muscles, or wear you out. It will get you moving the way your body was meant to move. Reaching, pulling, lifting, and carrying plants and soil in your victory garden will help you be healthier without straining anything.
Environmental protection begins at home
Clouds of chemicals, extensive paved roads, islands of trash, and toxins in our waterways are not good for anyone’s health. The more we learn, the more we realized that we can use evolution to our advantage in the garden, protecting both ourselves and the environment. Beneficial insects, appropriate plant selection, and no-dig gardening all work to reduce our carbon footprint while providing us with fresher, better tasting fruits and vegetables. Growing food at home also reduces the amount of plastic and other garbage that has to end up somewhere.
The home front
When you grow even a small portion of your food, you are reducing the negative impacts of massive monoculture, global shipping, and long-term food storage. I appreciate those services for foods I cannot grow at home and for the billions of people who need to be fed. But, the truth is, I can grow food at home and so can you. Even if it is just a few plants, it makes a difference for you and the planet.
Victory garden plant list
Victory gardens are planted with foods you eat regularly and will grow in your yard. There’s no point in planting something that won’t grow where you are, Case in point: I love blueberries. I live in California. Blueberries hate alkaline soil and hot summers. I have both. To grow blueberries, I have to work very hard and it is a constant battle. For me, blueberries are not a good choice for a victory garden. [But I do it anyway.]
To design your victory garden, start by identifying your Hardiness Zone and getting your soil tested. An inexpensive soil test will tell you what is in your soil and what needs to be added (and avoided). Then look at your grocery list. From there, make a list of edibles that will grow in your yard. You can find lots of information online and through your local Master Gardeners and County Extension Office. You may not be able to grow all your groceries where you live, but I’ll bet you can grow a surprising amount of food in your yard, wherever you are!
Popular victory garden plants include:
Interspersing your vegetable crops with flowers, such as marigold, will make it look even nicer and improve pollination. And don't forget fruit and nuts trees. They can produce an astounding amount of food.
I just registered my garden as a Climate Victory Garden. Check them out!
Other players on the winning team
Plants are not the only things that can help you be more active, improve your food supply, and work to protect the environment. Geese will keep your lawn mowed perfectly and guard your house, though they are messy. Chickens can produce both eggs and compost. Raising bees can provide you with honey while improving pollination. And raising worms makes composting even more effective and efficient.
Just as wartime victory gardens made civilians part of the war effort, your modern victory garden can make you part of the solution for environmental protection, better tasting food, and your own good health. And the plants do most of the work! And if you don't have space, see if there is a community garden nearby.
What are you going to plant in your victory garden?
Sprain your ankle or throw out your back and suddenly working in the garden is difficult, or impossible. What if accessibility is a constant issue? A lifestyle? As we get older, all of us will need a little more help getting around. Planning ahead for accessibility will make it easier to continue spending time in the garden.
A few years ago, while at Burning Man, I participated in an obstacle course set up at Mobility Camp. Part of the course had to be completed while on crutches and part in a wheelchair. The simplest tasks, things I normally do without thought or care, suddenly became difficult barriers. It was a good learning experience.
Imagine gardening in crutches or from a wheelchair. For many, it is a reality. There are ways that you can make your garden more accessible.
You can’t work in a garden if you can’t get to it. Accessible walkways need to be clear, stable, and wide enough for wheelchairs. Most wheelchairs are 30” wide, so paths should be at least 36” wide and wider is better. Turnaround space and ramps may be needed, as well. The surface should be hard and smooth. An added bonus: wheelchair accessible walkways make using a wheelbarrow easier, too!
The tools used in gardening are often cumbersome: shovels, hoes, and rakes can be difficult to manage from a wheelchair and even harder if you are using crutches or have hand problems. Lightweight hand tools can help, as long as they are durable. Tools that telescope can also make gardening more accessible. Make sure garden tools are kept sharp and stored in an accessible location.
Accessible growing spaces
Raised beds are an excellent way to make gardening more accessible for everyone and they can support some pretty deep-rooted plants. The height and width of raised beds can be adjusted to suit the needs of the person gardening, reducing or eliminating the need to bend over or kneel on the ground. And they make weeding so much easier for all of us! Just be sure that your raised beds are not so wide as to make it difficult to reach the center. Container gardening, hanging plants, and vertical gardening are other ways to make gardening more accessible for everyone. Pulley systems can be used to raise and lower hanging plants.
Garden tables can make gardening far more accessible for wheelchair-bound gardeners. Garden tables are shallow planting beds raised up on legs. This allows wheelchair users to treat the garden bed like a table, roll up underneath and work with plants at a convenient height. There are also garden tables that feature deeper sides that are still accessible.
Low maintenance plants
Bending over and kneeling are common activities in the garden, but not everyone can do those things. Low maintenance border plants, such as yarrow, sweet alyssum, or creeping phlox, look nice without requiring a lot of bending over. Other low-maintenance options include native plants, succulents, bulbs, herbs, slow-growing shrubs, such as rosemary and lavender, and edible perennials, such as asparagus and artichoke. These plants add texture and color to a landscape without a lot of effort. Self-seeding marigold and cosmos will come back year after year.
For those times when carrying water, tools, or seedlings is necessary, a towable garden cart can make it all possible.
Gardening is good for you. Making your garden more accessible is good for everyone.
Many people love the idea of a garden, but don’t know how to get started. These tips for a beginner’s garden will help you be more successful, wherever you live.
Fresh, sun-ripened tomatoes are the most common reason people start gardening, but don’t stop there. With just a little space and water, you can grow your own lettuces, radishes, beets, herbs, and more. But start small. Pick one space, a single garden theme, and just a few plants. Pace yourself. Gardeners are in it for the long haul.
Before you get started, you need to know that gardening has changed in recent years. Behind us, hopefully, are the days of ravaging rototillers and cascading chemicals. We have learned a lot about microorganisms that live in the soil. These microscopic creatures actually feed our plants and improve our mood! Extensive digging and plowing disrupt these microorganisms, slowing the transfer of nutrients to our plants. So, save your back and your plants by keeping digging to a minimum.
We have also learned that it is far better to encourage beneficial insects than to spray chemicals when fighting garden pests. Instead of poisoning our food and our soil, we now add a few umbrella-shaped flowers and let Mother Nature do most of the work.
Will your garden be perfect? Will it look like the cover of a magazine? No, it won’t. Real gardens rarely do. And that’s okay. What I can tell you is that when those first seeds germinate, when you harvest your first tomato, when you gift a friend a jar of home grown dried oregano, you will feel amazing. So let’s start gardening!
From the ground up
An inexpensive soil test from a reputable lab is the best investment you can make in your garden. And you can forget those colorful plastic tube kits you see in stores. They may look like a great idea but they are not (yet) accurate enough to be useful. Sending out a sample for testing every 3 to 5 years can save you countless hours and dollars by telling you actually what is missing from your soil and what is in excess. All too often, new gardeners create more problems than they resolve by automatically adding fertilizer every time things don’t look the way they do in magazines and seed catalogs.
Adding unnecessary fertilizer can create nutrient imbalances that make it difficult for plants to absorb the nutrients they need. A soil test will also tell you the soil’s pH, and that’s important, too. Soil can be acidic, alkaline, or neutral. Most plant nutrients can only be absorbed when soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.5. If you soil is outside of that range, you may need to acidify or lime it. These things are not difficult, but you need to know if they need doing and a soil test will tell you.
Set the stage
Most plants need 8 or more hours of direct sunlight each day. This is especially true for fruits and vegetables. Find a spot in your yard that gets plenty of sunshine. Then, prepare that space for gardening by getting rid of weeds and other unwanted plants. Until recently, people used cardboard to block weeds because it sounded like a good idea. We now know that it’s a horrible idea. Cardboard and layers of newspaper attract termites and voles. Instead, contact local arborists and ask about free loads of wood chips. Mulching an area with a 4″ layer of wood chips stabilizes soil temperatures, retains moisture, blocks weeds, and, eventually, improves soil structure. Mulching with wood chips is one of the best things you can do for your soil, and it’s free. In fact, you can use those chips everywhere you don’t already have something growing. It looks nice and it improves soil health, making your next gardening project that much easier.
What lives where you are?
Looking at what already grows well in your yard can tell you what will grow easily in your garden. If most of your weeds are clovers, then other legumes, such as peas and beans, should grow well. If your regular weeds are more of the mustard variety, then the cabbage family will love your yard.
Identify your Hardiness Zone. Your Hardiness Zone is a number or number-letter combination that identifies how cold your winters get. This is important when it comes to plant selection. Most plant labels and seed packets will tell you if a specific plant will perform well in your zone. Of course, each yard is different. The variables of sun, wind, rain, slope, and soil make up your microclimate. As you garden, you will learn more about your microclimate and which plants are best suited to it.
Contact your local County Extension Office or Department of Agriculture for recommendations, while you’re at it. They have plant specific growing, pest, and disease information for your region. There’s no sense re-inventing the wheel, right?
When deciding which plants you want in your garden, you will see notes about sun exposure. This is valuable information and you should use it. “Full sun” means 8 or more hours of direct sunlight every day. “Partial sun” means 4 to 6 hours of sunlight in the afternoon. “Partial shade” means 4 hours of morning sun. Shade means bright dappled sun all day or 2 hours of direct morning sun. Putting plants in the wrong location is a waste of time and money.
As tempting as it may be to order everything that looks good from the glossy pages of a seed and plant catalog, don’t do it. Start small. Taking on too much in the beginning can be discouraging. Pick just a few plants to start and learn about what works for you and your garden. You can expand over time, as you learn more. And you will. You may decide you have the space for a fruit cocktail tree or an artichoke bush. Maybe rhubarb and asparagus are better suited to your space.
The possibilities really are amazing! Once you know what will grow in your yard, you can really run with it. But not at first. Taking care of a garden requires effort and water. Speaking of water, avoid overhead watering, as this can translate into many fungal diseases that are difficult to get rid of, once they are in place.
Finally, resist the urge to use grocery store plants and seeds in your garden. While it seems convenient and inexpensive, these plants are not certified disease-free or pathogen-free. They may be safe to eat, but adding them to your garden can introduce pests and diseases that may take years to be resolve.
For you experienced gardeners, what plants were in your first garden? What worked and what didn’t? Let us know in the Comments!
Bell peppers and chili peppers love the heat, so why talk about them in December? Unless you have an amazing greenhouse, the only thing you can do with peppers this time of year is dream about them - and that’s the point.
Dream now, in December, about a productive pepper garden filled with thick-skinned sweet bells and degrees of fiery heat. Red, orange, yellow, purple, and greens of various sizes and shapes can make a pepper garden both attractive and productive.
December is the time of year to ask yourself where you might put your pepper garden, figure out what peppers need, and consider your options. How can you get your peppers started as early as possible? Collecting answers to those questions now will make designing a pepper garden a breeze and summer production better than ever.
While peppers can certainly be included in your pizza garden, stir fry garden, or victory garden, you can feature them in a space of their own. Because pepper plants are so colorful and diverse, your pepper garden can really be lovely throughout the summer. Pepper bushes tend to be dense and thickly green with sparks of colorful fruits.
Pepper garden design
When designing your pepper garden, choose a site that gets lots of sunlight. Then, read the plant labels and seed packets to learn the mature size for each variety. This way, you can position your pepper plants so they will not block each other’s sunlight.
You can grow peppers in the ground, raised beds, or containers. Peppers perform beautifully in containers as long as they are large enough. Most pepper plants have root systems that can go 24” to 36” deep. One advantage to growing peppers in containers is that it makes moving the plants into ideal temperature ranges an option not available when growing in raised beds or the ground. Our scorching summer temperatures can interfere with pollen viability, causing blossom drop. Sunburn damage and water stress are other common problems.
Peppers come in a wide variety of shapes, textures, sizes, and colors. You can create a rainbow of peppers, if you want to, or stick with some tried and true favorites. Sweet bell peppers come in several colors (if you leave them on the bush long enough). There are five basic domestic species of chili peppers (and countless variations):
• Capsicum annuum - bell, banana, cayenne, and jalapeños chiles
• C. frutescens - tabasco and Thai peppers
• C. chinense - naga, habanero, Scotch bonnet
• C. pubescens - rocoto chiles
• C. baccatum - Bishop’s crown peppers
There are also miniature varieties available.
Starting peppers early
Peppers take time to mature and they grow the best when temperatures are between 80°F and 90°F. Seeds started too soon will simply not germinate. Even if they do germinate, they will not grow well. Here, in San Jose, California, peppers are generally not started outdoors until May. You can jump-start your pepper garden by using grow lights and specially designed seed heating mats. Choosing varieties best suited to your local climate will allow you to start your pepper plants as early as possible.
Pepper plant care
Being heavy feeders, peppers perform best when given regular feedings of fish emulsion or other balanced plant food. Peppers without adequate calcium or those which receive irregular waterings often develop blossom end rot.
Monitor plants regularly for signs of mottling, bacterial spot, and powdery mildew. Learn about pests and diseases commonly seen on bell peppers and chili peppers to minimize the damage. For example, knowing to keep lambsquarters away from your pepper plants can reduce the chance of beet curly top infecting plants.
What about the rest of the year?
Will your annual pepper plants be lush and colorful all year? No, they won’t. By mid to late autumn, they will look spindly and bare. What can you do to keep the space looking nice through winter and preparing for next year’s pepper plants? Before your peppers are done, install seeds and seedlings that will carry your pepper bed through the winter. If you live in Zone 9, you might add fava beans, cabbages, and cauliflower to the pepper bed well before the peppers are done. This succession planting method allows you to produce food, with the cruciferous vegetables, and grow a green manure with the fava beans. The peppers act as nurse maids, helping the next cycle of plants get started. When your pepper plants are done producing, cut them off at soil level and add the debris to your compost pile. This is a good time to add a layer of aged compost to your pepper bed, improving soil structure and adding nutrients.
Scent can inspire powerful memories, improve your mood, and make you more productive. Use the power of scent to your advantage with a scent garden.
The power of scent
Scent is the only sense that has a direct connection to our lizard brains. Fragrances are processed by the limbic system and can impact our emotions, behaviors, motivations, and even our long-term memory.
You learned to associate smells with certain situations when you were very young. Those memories stay with you for life. Come across the smell of baking cookies or Play-Doh and the memories come flooding back. This is called the Proustian memory effect. This effect depends largely on previous experiences and cultural influences, but there are some generalizations you can use with your scent garden design. Fragrance is a tool you can use to create a garden space that improves your outlook on life.
The science of scent
Flowers use fragrance to attract pollinators. Those fragrances can be classified as floral, fresh, spicy, or woodsy. Each of those scent profiles evoke a different response. The floral scents of jasmine and gardenia are said to help us relax, while the fresh aroma of citrus, mint, and lavender stimulate and refresh us. The woodsy fragrances of balsam, cedar, and rosemary are believed to improve our thinking processes, while sage, carnations, and roses are said to make us feel more sensuous.
For me, the smell of thyme invokes a sense of warmth and home, while brushing against a rosemary bush lights up a part of my brain that feels strong and calm. Different scents affect people differently. For some, the smell of freshly mown grass stirs up memories of summer and being active, while pine boughs inspire thoughts of the holiday season. Knowing which scents trigger the feelings you want to invoke will help you with plant selection. Just be sure to choose plants appropriate to your Hardiness Zone and microclimate.
Popular scent garden plants
Some of the most popular flowers for scent gardens include butterfly bush, catmint, creeping phlox, datura, dianthus, freesia, gardenia, geraniums, honeysuckle, hyacinth, jasmine, lavender, lilacs, lily of the valley, paperwhites, peonies, roses, stock, sweet alyssum, sweet peas, Sweet William, and violas. Other fragrant ornamentals include artemisia, boxwood, and wisteria.
Most herbs have pleasing aromas that fit nicely into a scent garden. Anise, basil, dill, lemon balm, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme all have wonderful fragrances when brushed or walked on. Balsam fir, cedar, citrus, eucalyptus, linden, and witch hazel trees can add their aroma to your scent garden.
Scent garden design
As you lay out your scent garden, be sure to note mature plant sizes and bloom times, as well as monthly maintenance. You don’t want a shorter, high maintenance plant hidden behind a rugged, giant shrub. With a good balance of flowers for each season, your scent garden will look as good as it smells!
Did you know that researchers have shown that we can smell over 1 trillion scents? It ends up that our 400 smelling receptors, combined with our amazing brains, are just as good as scenting things as dogs. If we take the time to pay attention.
This garden design concept came from a friend of mine, Linda King. It is a method used to recreate a garden, setting, or memory using plants that look similar to, but perform better in your microclimate, than the originals. I call these copycat gardens.
Linda’s Scottish garden
Linda was telling me about her Scottish garden and I was intrigued, having never heard of that particular style. Right away, I wanted to urge against this idea, knowing that the mosses, lichens, and liverworts of Scotland would be scorched by our California summers and that our alkaline soil would be wrong for the heaths and myrtles. It ends up, I was wrong in assuming she meant to use the actual plants from Scotland.
Instead, she recreated the look and feel of the gardens she saw while traveling in Scotland by using plants better suited to her yard that look like the Scottish natives. Hence, copycat.
Before we explore copycat garden concept in more depth, let us differentiate between copycat gardens and garden reconstruction. Garden reconstruction refers to larger, more specific architectural and archeological repair and rebuilding of famous, historically significant gardens and landscapes, while maintaining and protecting any existing artifacts. These are restoration projects. Unless you have an archeological dig in your backyard, you will not be taking on a garden reconstruction.
What you can do is select a garden that you love, scale it down, and recreate it in your landscape, using plants better suited to your soil, sun exposure, and Hardiness Zone.
Which gardens can you copycat?
Honestly, any of them. You can recreate the appearance of any garden you’ve ever seen, any scenery you’ve ever enjoyed. The trick is in selecting plants that look enough like the originals to create the same overall appearance and feel. Let’s consider a few possibilities.
Keukenhof Gardens - The Netherlands
Also known as the Garden of Europe, the Keukenhof features millions of bulbs, especially tulips. Carnations, daffodils, hyacinth, iris, lilies, and roses are also present. This garden also features a castle, which might be difficult to add to your landscape. This garden also features winding paths graced with an occasional tree or shrub, with peek-a-boo views into other areas of the garden.
Clearly, you will not plant a million bulbs in your landscape or build a full-sized castle. But you can create a Keukenhof copycat garden by identifying and installing a large number of flowering bulbs that perform well in your area, adding some stepping stones that offer new views on your landscape, and maybe even a children’s playhouse shaped like a castle.
Did you know that the Keukenhof ensures longer bloom times by planting three bulbs at a time, one on top of the other? I didn’t either.
Gardens of Versailles - France
Built in the 1600s, the Gardens of Versailles cover nearly 2,000 acres. The scale of these gardens is overwhelming, filled with grottos, immense fountains, labyrinths, and promenades that are far beyond any home gardener’s budget or ability.
Butchart Gardens - Canada
Canada’s Butchart Gardens are a collection of gardens created by Robert Butchart and his wife. Built on the site of their exhausted limestone quarry, the Sunken Garden is overflowing with flowers, an Italian garden replaced their tennis courts, and a rose garden took over where their kitchen garden once stood.
Fifty-five acres of land, 900 plant species and 50 full-time gardeners is probably not in your budget. But, you can copy the look and feel of these gardens with mounds of flowering plants, a Japanese maple, or something similar, and a meandering path. Get the idea?
So, how does a gardener start a copycat garden?
Start with a plant list
Most historic gardens offer lists of plant species they use. Start with their list. Identify the growing requirements of those plants and see which ones will grow in your yard. Then, look for plants with shapes and colors similar to those unsuitable to your yard, for replacements. Finally, create a generalized layout that matches the original to one degree or another. The nice thing about designing your own garden is that it can look like anything you want it to. It doesn’t have to be exact, or even close. But there is an entirely different type of copycat garden.
Your own copycat garden
My friend Linda is working on something entirely different. Imagine, if you will, a tabletop aquarium. Colorful fish, bubbling water, and some plants floating around, anchored in a bed of stones. Linda is using that image to create a copycat garden of an aquarium scene. Colorful stone paths and mulch lay the foundation for larger stones, a small fountain, and plants that look similar to those that grow underwater. Who knows, there may be colorful flowers in there somewhere that look like a school of tropical fish! Perhaps a rattlesnake plant (Calathea), or a flying goldfish plant, tucked in among some millet or rhubarb might recreate the look and feel of an aquarium.
Other copycat ideas might include a table covered with sweets, a fairy wonderland, or a medieval cottage kitchen garden, complete with wattle and daub fencing. There really is no limit to what you can create in your landscape, with nothing more than imagination and honest effort. Just remember to select plants for your copycat garden that are suitable to your microclimate.
What sort of copycat garden are you considering? Let us know in the Comments!
When it comes to children’s gardens, what child hasn’t dreamt of a pizza garden? And who says grownups can’t have a pizza garden of their own? You can!
Practically every ingredient found on a pizza, besides the cheese and pepperoni, can be grown in your backyard. The sauce, the spices, the toppings, and even the crust can be homegrown and homemade.
Start with the sauce
Most pizzas start with a tomato sauce. These members of the nightshade family are usually pretty high on a gardener’s list already. The nice thing about tomatoes is they are easy to turn into a sauce that can be canned or frozen for later use. And be sure to plant plenty of garlic in your pizza garden. You will also need some herbs and spices.
Pizza herbs and spices
Traditionally, my Italian red sauces contain basil, marjoram, oregano, and thyme. You may also want some red pepper flakes from last year’s chili peppers. Parsley and rosemary are nice additions, too. Other herbs you might want to have include chives, cilantro, dill, or summer savory.
In this case, plant selection is exactly like ordering a pizza. Are you an artichoke hearts, spinach, and mushroom pizza person? Maybe you prefer a rainbow of red, orange, and yellow bell peppers with red, white, and yellow onions. Or, how about a garden variety pizza topped with broccoli, eggplant, and shallots? Other ingredients you might want to consider adding to your pizza garden might include beets, banana peppers, chili peppers, jalapeño peppers, leeks, pineapple, scallions, yellow squash, or zucchini. You may also want to add cherry tomatoes, tomato slices, or sun-dried tomatoes. If you have the space and the time, you can even plant an olive tree, assuming you are in the right Hardiness Zone. Can you think of any others? Let us know in the comments!
By the way, I have grown mushrooms from a kit before and was surprised at how easy it was. I will do it again soon and write a post about it. If any of my readers are mushroom growers, I would love to talk with you about the possibility of educating us all…]
Pizza crust anyone?
Flour is inexpensive and readily available. Converting wheat into flour is labor-intensive. But, if you really want to, planting 9 square feet of wheat should provide 4 cups of finished flour, enough for a single loaf of bread or two medium pizzas. Or, you could grow some cauliflower for your pizza crust.
Planting your pizza garden
Raised beds make creating a themed garden easier, but they are certainly not necessary. You can even make your pizza garden a little whimsical by creating it in the shape of a pizza with “slices” of different plantings. This would make a fun keyhole garden. Just be sure that all your plants are in healthy soil, with plenty of sunshine.
Start by creating two lists of ingredient plants for your pizza garden. One list for annuals and one for perennials. Then, sort those lists by how tall the plants will be at maturity. You will want to place the tallest plants in the center or back of your pizza garden to allow all the plants to get as much sunlight as possible.
Recognizing that the perennial plants will come back year after year, place them in such a way that they will create a nice arrangement during the off-season. Each spring, you can add fresh annuals and repeat your pizza garden indefinitely.
If pizza isn’t your thing, pick a different recipe, and create your own garden theme using those ingredients. The possibilities are practically endless: taco garden, beef stew garden, holiday dinner garden…
Have you ever considered creating a garden based on all the plants mentioned in a favorite book? You can create a storybook garden for your reading and gardening pleasure.
Many people find garden design overwhelming. There are so many possibilities! By selecting a theme, such as a children’s garden, a salad garden, or a storybook garden, plant selection becomes much easier.
Also known as literary gardens and bookworm gardens, these garden themes help narrow down all the choices, creating a unified garden from something we already love. Before selecting your theme, however, a quick reminder about the physics of gardening.
As always, your climate, soil structure, sun exposure, drainage, Hardiness Zone, and soil pH must all be taken into consideration for your plants to thrive. In many cases, you can use copy-cat plants to get the look you want, when the original is not suited to your microclimate.
Let’s consider some storybook garden themes.
You can also design a storybook garden based on generalized concepts, such as pirates, fairies, castles, barnyards, or dinosaurs. But storybook gardens are not just for children.
Other books as inspiration
Unless all of your favorite books occur in outer space, plants are sure to be a part of those stories. Imagine a quiet corner of the yard, dedicated to your favorite novel. A comfortable lounge chair for reading provides the perfect spot from which to surround yourself with the flowers, shrubs, and trees mentioned in your favorite book, or by your favorite author.
If you prefer Greek mythology, you could create a literary garden under and around an almond tree (Prunus amygdalus), sacred to Attis, or an apple tree, favored by Hera and Aphrodite. Demeter’s heavy headed barley, Zeus’ parsley, and Hermes’ saffron crocus are just a few of the lovely edibles that can be used to create a Greek mythology garden. I found an amazing resource for this garden here.
Authors, like cooks, builders, and other creators, tend to have their favorites. If you have an author that you enjoy, you can collect the plants featured in all of their books. Daphne du Maurier’s rhododendrons and azaleas, Dean Koontz’ bougainvillea, or Agatha Christie’s poisonous peach pits and digitalis may provide just the inspiration you need.
Start with a favorite book
We all have them - books that call to us, to be read once more, like a favorite bedtime story. As we read the words, we create images in our minds of what each scene might look like. Words within a story will provide generalizations (a wooded path) and specifics (a bright yellow rose). As you read, write these impressions down, along with specific plant names. Eventually, you will have enough plants listed to start creating your very own storybook garden.
Just remember to include a comfortable place to sit. You are going to want to spend some time enjoying this garden space!
Let us know in the Comments which book might inspire you to create a storybook garden of your own.
Fresh tomatoes are one of the most common reasons why people start gardening. But what about planting a stir fry garden? You can grow everything you need for a delicious stir fry dinner right in your own backyard.
Stir frying (chǎo) is a Chinese cooking style that uses small amounts of “cold oil in a hot wok” to quickly stir a variety of ingredients into delicious, healthful goodness. If you don’t have a wok, you can do much the same thing in a skillet.
There are no rules!
The nice thing about designing a stir fry garden is anything goes. Whatever ingredients you prefer are the perfect choice. Assuming, that is, the plants are suited to your microclimate. In many cases, you can grow these ingredients in containers on a patio or balcony.
Your stir fry garden design is your own. That being said, raised beds make planting and caring for your stir fry garden much easier. The nice loose soil makes life easier for root systems and you don’t have to bend over quite so far when weeding. Before we start counting our chickens, however, let’s take a look at what you might want to plant in your stir fry garden.
Stir fry garden plant selection
Everyone has their favorite stir fry recipes. This makes plant selection easy. Simply start with what you like. Then, try adding one or two you’ve never grown or eaten before. Who knows, they may turn out to be new favorites! The most common plants chosen for stir fry gardens include:
Some of these plants grow best in summer, while others prefer California’s wet winter weather. Each Hardiness Zone and microclimate is unique, as far as planting times and days to maturity. You can click on the links above for planting instructions and potential pest and disease problems.
Bon appétit and happy planning!
Freshly mown lawn, twittering birds, brightly colored flowers, the crunch of a mulched path under our feet - these garden components create a more enriching experience by waking up our senses. You can make more of your landscape with a sensory garden.
Most garden designs are based on visual experiences or crop production. Sensory gardens are designed with the five senses in mind. A fuzzy leaf, a fragrant herb, and plants that attract song birds are just skimming the surface of this sensory garden experience.
Gardens and good health
Research has demonstrated what gardeners have always known - working the soil, tending plants, and strolling through a garden are good for your health. This is especially true of sensory gardens. They pull us out of our fast-paced, tech-driven lives and back to nature. This is critical for both our physical and mental health.
The positive effects of gardens, in general, and sensory gardens, in particular, have been found useful in helping people with autism, dementia, and mental health issues. Public sensory gardens incorporate walkways that are accessible to those using wheelchairs. They also tend to use plant labels with Braille or other interactive plant labels. Disabled or not, we can all enjoy the experience of a sensory garden.
Accessibility is only part of the site selection process. You will also want to make sure that your site will be able to support the plants you want to include in your sensory garden. Soil structure, sun and wind exposure, drainage, soil pH, and overall soil health should be considered before selecting plants.
Sensory garden plant selection requires that we consider different aspects of plants than we might otherwise think about. Instead of selecting the meatiest tomato variety, the most prolific beans, or the sweetest melons, we must think about all of our senses. How will a specific variety feel when touched? Is it brightly colored? How will it sound as a breeze passes? Will it attract buzzing bees or songbirds? Does it have an aroma? Is it safe to eat?
Of course, our senses do not exist in isolation. If you walk across a sidewalk, followed by cobblestones, and then over a pile of pinecones, the sounds, smells, and sights will change with each experience. As you look through seed catalogs and your own seed collection, which plant varieties will be suitable to a sensory garden? Let us explore each of the senses for some ideas. Before we do that, however - a word on native plants.
For ease of care and to increase biodiversity, consider native plants for each of your senses. Native plants are already suited to your microclimate and to the local wildlife, reducing the need for irrigation and protection from pests and diseases.
Now let’s start planning a sensory garden!
Most of us rely very heavily on sight, often taking it for granted. But visual aspects of a sensory garden are more than just brightly colored flowers, leaves, and stems. As with any other garden design project, other visual considerations include lines, shapes, and textures.
Fences, pathways, buildings, and hedgerows create visual lines that the eye will follow. The shapes of plants, raised beds, trellising, and the overall space contribute to the experience. Textures of bark, foliage, flowers, and walkways change how we feel about a space. Garden art, tree cages, furniture, and lighting also impact the visual aspect of a landscape.
Some plants that provide bright colors and contrasting shapes include:
Twittering songbirds, a hummingbird in flight, and buzzing bees can bring a garden to life. Water features, such as a babbling creek, a burbling fountain, or the sound of birds splashing about in a birdbath also add a new dimension to your landscape. So can wind chimes, spinning pinwheels, and rustling stems and seed heads. You can increase the variety of sounds in your sensory garden with bird feeders and plants that make noise as they move, or attract insects and birds that can be heard. Cereals, such as barley, millet, and sorghum, and pseudocereals, like quinoa and buckwheat, rustle nicely in stray breezes. Insectary plants, such as borage, lavender, and yarrow, will attract a variety of insects and birds with all their twitterings, chirping, and other sounds of nature.
Scent can trigger powerful emotions, take us back in time, or lift our mood. Scent is so powerful that entire gardens are designed specifically with scent in mind. These scent gardens are a type of sensory garden.
If you brush your hand across a rosemary shrub or rub a tomato leaf between your fingers, there is no mistaking those heady aromas. Think of how tiny white citrus blossoms can fill an area with their sweet fragrance. Many herbs contain essential oils that can fill your sensory garden with a variety of scents. Chamomile, cilantro, dill, lemon balm, mint, and tarragon are just a few of the scented edibles you may already have in your landscape. Other plants with strong aromas include curry plants, lavender, and salvia.
Pet a moss covered rock, stroke the bark of a tree, or hold a ripe orange in your hand. In each case, your finger tips will experience something entirely different. Fuzzy sage, lacy fennel, and ticklish thyme offer unique textures and scents, especially if you close your eyes.
Taste is is one aspect of garden design most often neglected. You wouldn’t go to a public garden and think about tasting the plants, unless you were a toddler. Which reminds me, if young children will be participating in your sensory garden, be sure to avoid potentially toxic plants. You also need to make sure that these plants haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals, or come into contact with fresh manure. You want the plants in your sensory garden to look and be good enough to eat.
Choosing plants for their taste, to nibble them where and as they are, can be a lot of fun. My chocolate mint plant always surprises visitors. Tentative chewing of a raw leaf turns into a look of delight as a peppermint patty appears on their taste buds!
Did you know that borage leaves taste like cucumber? Or that nasturtiums are edible flowers? Basil, cherry tomatoes, chives, mint, and parsley can be enjoyed au natural, fresh from the landscape. Fruit and nut trees provide delicious tastes when in season, plus they offer shade from the sun in summer and textural experiences year round.
The goal of your sensory garden, then, is more than just visual appeal. It is an experience that heightens the senses and makes us more aware of our surroundings while slowing our heart rate, reducing stress, and adding beauty to our lives.
I think we could all use more of that, don’t you?
There is something about rocks that begs us to play with them. Have you ever considered
creating a rock garden?
Rock gardens, also known as rockeries or alpine gardens, consist of aesthetically placed rocks with plants growing in the gaps. This particular garden design is well suited to drought-prone areas and alpine regions. Rock gardens tend to require very little care, once they are established. If you look closely, however, you will see that rock gardens are busy places.
A world in miniature
Rock gardens create a microhabitat for a wide variety of beneficial insects and animals. All those nooks and crannies create wonderful hiding places for native ground nesting bees, predaceous ground beetles, lizards, soldier beetle larvae, spiders, frogs and toads. Rocks also provide great sunning spots for a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles. These creatures are in need of all the help we can offer. In exchange for providing them with some real estate, many of these visitors will consume a lion’s share of the pests that damage and carry disease to your garden.
Types of rock gardens
Your rock garden can be designed to look like a dry stream bed, a natural stone outcropping, a Japanese Zen garden, or something else entirely. Stones of different sizes can be used to create pathways or visual appeal. Amphibians are particularly fond of rock gardens with water features. Your rock garden can be very formal or it can simply be a bunch of rocks positioned in ways that you like. There are no rules.
Types of rocks
Most first rock garden designs are built with rocks and stones that are already present on the property. You can also collect rocks and stones from friends and neighbors, or buy specific rocks, stones, and even boulders. Sometimes, you can get free rocks from construction sites, just be sure to ask permission first.
When selecting rocks for your rockery, more porous rocks are better suited than harder rocks. Harder rocks take longer to look natural. Softer rocks look weathered and like they have been there forever much faster. Also, moss grows on it more readily.
You can encourage the growth of moss on your rockery by collecting mosses that you like and putting them in a blender, along with some yogurt or sour milk. Puree this strange concoction into a thick slurry, which is then poured over the rocks. Sooner or later, moss will start to grow.
Once you have selected a site for your rock garden, remove all of the existing vegetation. Many of these plants may become too large for your rockery. Next, loosen the soil enough for the largest rocks to be somewhat sunk into the ground. This will make it look more natural and prevent the whole thing from toppling or rolling around. For the best results, create a shape with the largest stones and fill that area with high quality planting soil. Mud in that soil in to reduce large air pockets before adding medium-sized rocks. Repeat the soil addition and mudding in until all of your stones have been placed. Now you can start adding plants.
Plants used in rock gardens
Rock garden plants need to stay small or your rock garden will disappear. Limited by the lack of deep soil and all those rocks, rockery plants are chosen for their ability to thrive, albeit slowly, in well-drained soil. Plants that can survive in dry environments are called xerophytes.
Some of the more common rock garden plants include:
*Lichens are not actually plants. Lichens are shared living arrangements. Algae or bacteria living within fungal filaments in a symbiotic relationship are what we see as lichen.
Much like stumperies, rockeries use natural materials to create spaces that are both beautiful and beneficial. Once your rock garden is in place, make a point of examining it closely for signs of life. Your rockery will end up creating a tiny world all its own.
Pollinator gardens attract insects that pollinate your crops. They also tend to look lovely.
Similar to butterfly gardens, pollinator gardens use flowers and other plants to attract and provide for pollinators.
What are pollinators?
Pollinators are mostly insects, such as bees and butterflies, that carry pollen from one flower to another, resulting in fertilization and fruit production. Bats, birds, lizards, and even people can be pollinators, as well. Most pollinator gardens use insectary plants to attract these garden helpers.
What are insectary plants?
Insectary plants are those that provide food, shelter, and/or egg-laying sites for beneficial insects at various life stages. Those beneficials may be predators, pest parasites, or pollinators. The flowers that provide this service are usually globe-shaped, such as chives and onions, umbrella-shaped or flat-topped umbellifers, as in seen in carrot and cilantro plants that have been allowed to go to seed. Depending on your region’s pollinator species, the insectary plants suited to your area may be tall or short or both, but most are brightly colored.
As convenient as generic pollinator plants lists are, you will have a more effective pollinator garden if you take the time to identify pollinators native to your area. You can do this by searching online for “pollinators in [my town/state]”, and by contacting your local native plants society, Master Gardeners, and universities. Here, in California, the following native plants attract and provide for pollinators:
*Those marked with an asterisk are recommended by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. In addition to adding pollinator plants to your landscape, there are other actions you can take to create a more successful pollinator garden.
While you generally want to keep salt as far away from your garden as possible, there are exceptions. Using a damp salt lick to provide minerals and moisture for bees and butterflies is one of those exceptions. If you have an area that stays damp, simply add salt or wood ashes to the mud. Otherwise, you can put out a dish of slightly salty water. Sea salt contains more important micronutrients than table salt, but table salt is better than nothing. Just remember that salt will damage nearby plants.
Plant for variety
Pollinators are active, in most regions, from early spring through late fall. Ensuring that your landscape includes a variety of insectary plants during that time frame will go a long way toward attracting and supporting valuable pollinators. That variety includes clumps of native plants, suited to your microclimate, and some night-blooming plants that provide for moths and bats.
I use a spreadsheet that lists months across the top and a rainbow of colors down the side to document what is blooming, throughout the year, in my landscape. I add to it as I notice or add new plants. This way, I can see when there are gaps in flower production. Since those flowers provide pollen and nectar, the more I have, the better off my pollinators will be. [The file is too large to share here, but you can email me if you would like a copy.]
Evolution is a relatively slow process. Many of our modern hybrids, especially those with ‘doubled’ flowers, have had their fragrance, nectar and pollen bred right out of them. They may look nice, but that’s all they have to offer.
Quit the chemical habit
Broad-spectrum herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and pesticides have no place in your pollinator garden. Even those advertised as “safe” can disrupt the breeding, feeding, and existence of beneficial insects. They are probably not very good for us, either. Instead of chemicals, practice least damage Integrated Pest Management (IPM). If you absolutely must use chemicals, apply them at night, when most pollinators are not active.
Dead limbs can be good
Dead branches and dead trees provide nesting sites for native bees. Stumperies also create habitat and food for a variety of birds and other insects. Just make sure your dead tree does not create a safety issue. Trees are extremely heavy.
Your hummingbird feeder provides nectar for far more than just hummingbirds. Chickadees, wrens, and orioles may also enjoy a sweet sip every now and then. And so will many pollinators. The 1:4 sugar to water ratio used in hummingbird feeders is fine for many beneficial insects, too. Just be sure to wash your hummingbird feeder with hot, soapy water once or twice a week to avoid mold and the spread of disease.
Setting aside just a little space in your landscape for a pollinator garden can profoundly increase the number of butterflies, native bees, and other beneficials you see each year. And they could really use our help these days.
You can instill a love of gardening in your child with a children’s garden.
I learned my love of gardening as a child. It all started with a clear plastic cup, a black sponge, and four hard, dry corn seeds. It was an educational toy which had a child insert the sponge into the cup and then push the corn seeds between the cup and the sponge. Each seed was positioned so that it pointed in a different direction. Water was added and the magic of germination began.
I was impressed by the fact that the first roots (radicles) always knew to go down, while the first shoots (plumules) always found a way to move upward, even if it took some twisting and turning. The whole process still amazes me and you can let your child in on some of that magic with a garden designed with them in mind.
Make it child-sized
Adult-sized shovels and trowels can take all the fun out of gardening for a child. So can cheaply made tools that tend to break. Start your children’s garden off right by investing in a well-made child-sized trowel, shovel, hoe, and rake. A small bucket and watering can will be handy, too.
Create a space
You may not want your child(ren) digging around your prized rhubarb or roses, so set aside space just for them and their garden. You can make the space a fun shape, too, such as a triangle, a butterfly, or a series of small circles. This will help create ownership, which will carry your child through some of the more difficult tasks, such as waiting for plants to germinate or flower.
Ask them what they want to grow
Do they want to grow their own pumpkin for Halloween? Or, maybe a sunflower fort, a pizza garden, a Three Sisters garden, a butterfly garden, or a pole bean teepee. The possibilities are practically limitless. Head to the library with your child and explore the gardening books section. Check out several and be sure to grab one or two grown-up gardening books geared towards your region or microclimate while you are at it. That way, as plants are selected, you can research the best way to help them thrive. [See, you don't have to know how to garden to help your child create a garden of their own!]
Grab a pad of paper and a snack and start exploring all the garden design possibilities with your child. Including them in the planning process is important. As you look through photos and drawings together, have your child create a list of plants they want in their garden (if they are old enough). And you will be there to instill some basic gardening principles and to rule out plants not suited to your area. As much as your child may want their own banana tree, it wouldn’t be a good choice for a beginner. In the beginning, you should keep explanations simple. You can always delve deeper into the information for yourself once they go to bed.
Popular children’s garden plants
You can’t go wrong with radishes. They grow so fast that things start happening before your child loses interest. Soaring giants, such as corn and sunflowers, are nearly always a good choice. Plants with large seeds, such as beans, melons, and squashes are easy to work with and the edible harvest is a bonus. Climbing plants, such as pole beans or dramatic red noodle beans, can be used to create hanging walls or secret hideaways. Mounding miniature lettuces and spiky shallots look nice and are always welcome in the kitchen. Cherry tomato plants are prolific and they provide healthy snacks as your child works and plays in the yard. Marigolds, snapdragons, and zinnias add color with little effort.
Include scents and textures
Children are very tactile. They like to touch, taste, and smell whatever is around them. This makes many herbs good choices for a children’s garden. Chives, dill, mint, and sage add delicious aromas and an edible harvest. Fuzzy lambs’ ears and ornamental grasses are fun to touch, while English thyme can make a fragrant ground cover. Edible flowers, such as nasturtiums, pansies, and violets are also good choices. Just be sure to educate your child about how not all flowers are edible.
Plants to avoid
Most edible plants a re a sage bet, but some plants are toxic and should be avoided when designing a young child’s garden. [Especially those marked with an asterisk.] These plants include:
As your child gets older, the risk of toxic plants becomes less of a problem.
Birdfeeders, pinwheels, crawl-throughs, and other special touches can help make your child’s garden even more engaging and fun. Yard sales are a great place to find a child-sized garden bench and unique garden art without spending a lot of money. You may also want to include a fruit cocktail tree. These trees have been grafted to provide more than one type of fruit on the same tree.
If your child is so inclined, encourage them to document their garden. They can create a book of bug drawings, a chart of plant growth, or a photo album of their garden over the seasons.
At the end of the day, after you have both washed up and eaten supper, you may want to curl up with a good gardening bedtime story, such as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It sure worked for me!
How many butterflies did you see in the past year? Not very many, right? You can attract a surprising variety of butterflies to your landscape with a butterfly garden.
Back in my hitchhiking days (the 1970s), I saw millions of butterflies along the Interstate. They would litter the side of the freeway and create colorful clouds in the air. In my own insect-friendly yard, however, I saw no more than a dozen butterflies last year. What happened?
Threats to butterflies
Butterflies have been around for 56 million years, but times are hard. Habitat loss, pollution, pesticide use, invasive species, rising temperatures, and interruptions in their food web all make life difficult for butterflies. Butterflies are particularly hard hit because many of them rely on a single plant species as hosts for their eggs and offspring.
Here, in San Jose, California, we have 144 species of native butterflies. Sadly, we also have the highest density of endangered butterfly species in the nation. Some of the most threatened California butterflies and their host plants include:
Imagine what would happen if everyone added just one butterfly-friendly plant to their landscape.
Most of the plants used in butterfly gardens are insectary plants. Insectary plants are those with the color, shape, and height that appeal to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Common insectary plants include the following:
Members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) also make good insectary plants. The problem with these generic lists is that many of these plants are non-natives, which can cause problems. Even though these plants provide nectar and pollen for adults, they can actually devastate local butterfly populations because the adults see food for themselves and lay eggs nearby. When those eggs hatch, the larvae have nothing to eat. Put simply, these might or might not be the plants your butterflies need. Or they might be perfect.
I cannot tell you which plants, specifically, to include in your butterfly garden. This is because each region has its own indigenous butterfly population. To find out what is native to your area, conduct an online search for “butterflies native to [your town]. The results may surprise you.
Once you have a list of indigenous butterflies, you can track down their host plants. Host plants are those that will provide the pollen and nectar needed by adult butterflies and the leaves needed for egg-laying and caterpillar feeding. Armed with this information, you are ready to design your butterfly garden.
Planning your butterfly garden
Your butterfly garden doesn’t need to be big or formal to be effective. You can scatter host plants throughout your landscape, if you like. Or you can create an elegant parterre. It’s up to you. Butterflies do use sunlight to warm themselves, so south-facing areas are preferable, as are areas protected from wind. A water feature, such as a bird bath or fountain, can help your butterflies stay hydrated. Rocks, for basking, are always appreciated.
There is also nothing saying you have to install plants specifically for endangered species, although it would be nice. The important thing is to get the correct plants in the ground and helping them to thrive.
Adding a butterfly garden to your landscape does not take a lot of effort on your part, but it can make a huge difference for the butterflies. It will also increase the biodiversity in your garden, making it a healthier environment. Other beneficial insects will also be attracted to these plants. These beneficial insects might be pollinators, predators, or they may parasitize insect pests.
And the flowering plants look lovely.
Did you know that some adult butterflies also eat carrion, rotting fruit, and tree sap, while the larvae of some butterfly species eat ants and other insect pests? I didn’t either.
Now we know.
Rather than rushing to a crowded grocery store at the last minute for holiday meal ingredients, wouldn’t it be nicer to simply walk outside and collect the freshest ingredients possible? You can, with just a little planning.
Creating a holiday dinners garden is a form of planting forward. You know ahead of time what you will need, so you estimate which ingredients should be planted and when. That way they will become harvestable as they are needed. And your holiday dinners garden is not limited to edibles. Seasonal decorations, such as flowers and greenery, can be found in your yard just as easily.
This planning process may feel overwhelming, at first. Instead of taking on more than is fun, you might want to select one holiday at a time and build on that over time. Either way, it all starts with a calendar.
Create a calendar
Calendars are handy tools, especially for gardeners. You can use printing paper or an inexpensive paper calendar to design your holiday dinners garden. Start by identifying all the holidays you celebrate each year with special meals. In my family, these holidays are New Years’ Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Mark your family’s holidays clearly on your calendar.
We all have favorite dishes for each of our holiday dinners. In my house, New Years’ Day would never feel right without hoppin’ john and Easter wouldn’t feel like Easter without a ham surrounded by baby beets and carrots.
Whatever your traditional meals include, create generic menus for each holiday dinner. For example:
I do not raise pigs or turkeys in my suburban yard, but including as many of the dishes as I can think of helps me work out the details when figuring out what to plant.
Make a list and check it twice
Using each of the dishes you want to include in your holiday meals, create a shopping list of ingredients that could come from your garden. Be sure to include the date when the ingredients will be needed. Spreadsheets are very handy for this step because this list can get a little unwieldy. You may want to use a separate page for each holiday. Using my menu for the 4th of July, I would start with this:
As you can see, there is some overlap between dishes. [My son, the cook, recently told me that most people have a flavor profile. Apparently, my profile features potatoes, thyme, onions, and garlic!] My avocado tree is not old enough to produce fruit, so I will not include it in my plan just yet.
Nearly all dishes use herbs of one sort or another, so these mostly perennial standbys can be used to create the framework for your holiday dinner garden. The nice thing about perennials is that they are either actively present, or they have been around long enough for you to have canned or frozen some of their harvest.
Common perennial herbs for a holiday dinner might include rosemary, tarragon, and thyme. To make your holiday dinners garden look more attractive and to prevent these frequent members of the mint family from taking over completely, you may want to grow them in containers, placed artfully throughout the garden. Some herbs, such as cilantro, dill, and parsley are not perennials, but they will self-seed once they become established. Others, such as oregano and sage, are perennial in some Hardiness Zones and annuals in others. Once the perennials are in place, you can plan for the annuals.
I love spreadsheets. To me, they make it easy to keep track of a lot of information. You may or may not feel the same way, but they are very handy for this step in the garden design process. You can start with just one holiday or go whole hog with all of them. For this example, I am only using my 4th of July BBQ, but I am including the date for when I add other holiday dinners.
In the first column, list each of your ingredients. In the second column, add the date you want each ingredient to mature. The third column is for a note about whether each ingredient is a perennial, already preserved, or how many days it takes from planting seeds to harvest. Keep in mind that days to maturity found online and on seed packets may be different for your region of microclimate. These numbers are simply averages, but they are still useful.
For each ingredient, count backwards from the holiday the number of days to maturity for a planting date. In the example above, my apples ripen long before July 4th, so I freeze or can them. Then, I see that basil takes 50 to 75 days from planting to harvest, so I count back 75 days from July 4th for a planting date of April 21st. Now, my family loves basil and I plant a lot of it, starting long before April 21st, but I add a reminder in my calendar to plant basil on that date so I know I will have plenty when I need it for that holiday.
If your planting date occurs before it is actually warm enough to plant a specific species, you may need to start it indoors, or buy seedlings at a later date.
In some cases, like celery, I could plant it but I choose not to. For me, celery is fiddly to grow and is so inexpensive at the store that it is not worth the garden real estate. You might feel the same way about onions or garlic. A lot of this will depend on where you live and how much time and space you have. Even if you only select 2 or 3 ingredients for each holiday meal, you’ll be glad you did.
Simply go down the list, counting backwards for each ingredient that needs to be planted. You can add these annual reminders to the calendar in your computer and add alerts in your phone. If you set them to repeat every year, the planning process is done. Before you know it, you will have all the information you need to plant your holiday dinners garden!
There is something about garden water features that makes everything better.
Calming, refreshing, or splashing playfully, water has the ability to improve our mood, create art, and support local biodiversity. And, hey, it looks nice!
Benefits of water features
Water features provide many benefits other than the artistic appeal. Water features can provide life-sustaining moisture for hummingbirds, butterflies, other insects, reptiles, and amphibians, many of which are severely threatened these days with habitat loss. You can encourage honey bees and other pollinators to come to your garden when a water feature is present.
Water features can suit any style, from rustic to elegant, quirky to traditional. Water features also tend to improve curb appeal and property values, if you are thinking of selling your home. If you are even the least bit handy, you can install your own garden water feature. [Instructables has some excellent ideas!] You can get the necessary information from your local library, or you can buy a kit.
Types of garden water features
Water features come in all shapes and sizes. They can be birdbaths, fountains, or waterfalls, ponds or pools, or even a creek or stream. Starting with the most simple water feature, and moving through to more complex features, each has its own pros and cons.
A simple birdbath can often be found at yard sales and thrift stores. You can also make your own with a wide, shallow bowl, or any other container that has sloping sides. While a birdbath requires regular refilling and cleaning, it is very rewarding to see goldfinches, mourning doves, and jay birds drinking and bathing. Add a pump to a small water-holding container and you have a fountain, or a waterfall.
Fountains and waterfalls
Fountains and waterfalls are especially good at transforming a space without a huge expense. And you can now find solar pumps to power a garden water fountain. Fountains add water movement and oxygenation to your water feature. This slows the growth of algae and reduces the likelihood of creating a mosquito breeding ground. Also, the sound of falling water can be very soothing, and it can mask less desirable sounds of traffic or noisy neighbors. Moving water also adds moisture to and helps clean the surrounding air, supporting nearby plants and animals, along with your family. You will need to maintain water levels in your fountain, especially in summer. Also, fountains do need to be cleaned occasionally, to keep water flowing through the pump. If you have more room, a pool or pond might make a lovely addition to your garden.
Ponds and pools
While swimming pools have chemicals and steep sides that can prove detrimental to most local wildlife, small ponds and pools take up only a moderate amount of space and can often be self-sustaining. [And who wants the wildlife playing in your swimming pool, anyway?] A small pond can create a shady sanctuary for weary feet, brilliantly colored koi, and overheated dogs, along with local wildlife. You can take a pond idea one step further by using the soil dug out for the pond to create a sloping creek.
Creeks and streams
Backyard creeks and streams create a magical space in your yard. And these systems are mostly self-contained. Water is pumped from the pond, through a filter, and then up over a small waterfall. Because the water is moving, you get the sights and sounds of running water, the water is oxygenated, and the filtering system reduces the amount of maintenance you need to provide.
Ponds with creeks also create ideal habitat for shy amphibians and reptiles who will feed on pesky beetles, wasps, and other pests. You can find affordable kits that walk you through the installation, or you can hire a professional.
Garden water features add beauty and value to your home and garden, while improving the quality of life for all nearby living things.
Indoors or out, you can create an attractive salad garden that provides fresh, crisp salads practically year round.
Imagine walking over to a container, raised bed, or garden patch with a pair of scissors and snipping off fresh ingredients for a salad. Much like an herb garden, salad gardens can provide a variety of colors and textures to your landscape, balcony, or home, as well as delicious, fresh ingredients for your meals.
Where can you grow a salad garden?
Balconies, patios, raised beds, windowsills, towers, and containers are all the space you need to create a salad garden. You can also add salad plants in with your other plantings!
You can use a collection of artistic planter pots, or some of those long, narrow planting containers found at yard sales and thrift stores, or you can get really creative, using takeout containers, an old wheelbarrow, or any other food safe container. And that’s really important. Be sure that whatever container you choose is rated for food use - many pallets are sprayed with a cocktail of chemicals, and some ceramic pots are decorated with toxic enamels. Once you’ve made sure your containers are food safe, it’s time to start choosing your plants!
Choosing plants for a salad garden
Start your salad garden plant selection with foods you and your family will eat and enjoy. There’s no sense using up valuable growing space on plants you don’t want. To select the best plants for your salad garden, consider the time of year each plant will be able to grow in your area. Check with your local County Extension Office and read those seed packets. You can also get all the information you need right here, online. If you will be growing outdoors, be sure to check with the USDA Hardiness Zone Map to identify your zone. You will also want to identify which plants are perennial, which are annuals, and which are biennials:
Salad perennials — chives, patience dock, Malabar spinach, nasturtiums, perennial rocket, sorrel [If you have the space, rhubarb and artichokes provide HUGE, ongoing crops each year]
Salad biennials — kale, parsley, Swiss chard
Salad annuals -- arugula, bok choy, cilantro, dill, lettuces, mizuna, radish, spinach
The perennial plants will serve as year-round anchors in your salad garden, the biennials may take 2 or 3 years before going to seed, and annuals will have to be replaced each year. Or, maybe they won’t. We will get to that in a moment.
One tool for helping in the garden design planning process is to get a package of 3x5 index cards and create a card for each type of plant, putting all the relevant growing information on the card. That information would include:
You can spread the cards out on a table and move them around, to create attractive, productive groupings that will play well together. Consider the height and shape of each plant. A deep container that features tall, wispy dill in the center, offset by brilliantly colored Swiss chard, surrounded by a bright green halo of short, mounding lettuces will look lovely and taste good! Keep a lookout for hybrid dwarf varieties of many salad greens that fit better in containers. If you are growing indoors, you may need to add grow lights during winter.
As your salad garden begins to produce edibles, remember to continue planting new annual seeds every 2 to 4 weeks, whenever the growing conditions are appropriate for each plant. This succession planting will keep you in salad greens practically year round. The important thing about planting a salad garden is to keep planting those seeds!
Surprises in the salad garden
Some plants don’t seem to play be the rules of botany. Beets, for example, are classified as biennials. This means they are ‘supposed’ to generate a fleshy root in the first growing season, to store nutrients for the next growing season, during which seeds are produced. [By the way, beet seed-bearing stems are lovely - they look like Japanese art.] My seed-producing beets, however, have been providing me with beet leaves and seeds for over 5 years now! I use the seeds to grow new plants, and the baby beet leaves are delicious in salads.
You can add a tiny touch of art to your salad garden with ceramic bunnies, glass balls, or tiny metal snails. Will these features help your plants grow? No, they won’t. But they might make you smile!
Harvesting your salad garden
Many salad greens can be harvested using a cut-and-come-again method. This mean you remove outer leaves, as you need them, and the plant simply generates new leaves from its center.
If you allow some of your annual and biennial salad garden plants to complete their lifecycle, going to seed, you will end up with a perpetual motion salad garden that continues to generate new edible plants each year.
While most salad greens prefer cooler temperatures, if you plan around your microclimate, you might be able to put together a salad garden that will continue producing throughout most of the year.
What do you put in your salads?
Stumperies are not Gordian Knots of the pop-quiz world. Instead, stumperies are garden features that use large branches and tree trunks as their anchor points.
While visiting the Missouri Botanical Garden, I was delighted to discover an entire section of the gardens dedicated to stumperies. Coming around a curve in the path, I was met with a cool, green peaceful bit of gardening that featured logs, branches, sheets of bark, tree trunks, and skyward bound tree roots, surrounded by wispy ferns, colorful lichens, and fuzzy mosses. The effect was soothing and peaceful - and who doesn’t need more of that these days?
Originally described as a “Victorian horticultural oddity”, stumperies use branches and other large pieces of tree to create habitat for a wide variety of shade-loving plants, growing them more closely together than might otherwise be possible. First created in 1865 England, stumperies often use storm-damaged or diseased trees to create a unique shade gardening space, rather than going to the trouble of disposing of those trees.
Personally, I had an ancient apricot tree whose trunk had been regularly sprayed with a sprinkler for years before we bought the property. Rot had taken over the tree and the root system was pretty much nonexistent. Rather than waiting for it to fall over on somebody, we tipped it over and moved it to a corner of the yard, where it now serves as a new growing space and a good place to sit.
Stumperies are based on what naturally occurs in a forest. As a tree ages, it eventually falls. When it does, it slowly decomposes, absorbing rain water, improving nearby soil structure, and acting as a ‘nurse log’ to plants that have adapted to growing on rotting wood. To design your own stumpery, you must look at each piece of wood and bark as an artistic component. Try different arrangements until you have achieved something you like. Don’t worry, there are no wrong answers. Here are some tips to creating a healthy stumpery:
Plants used in stumperies
The most common plants found in stumperies are mosses, ferns, and lichens. Hostas, hellebores, epimedium, rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, and some bulbs can also thrive in a stumpery.
You can encourage moss growth on logs and stones by smearing them with yogurt [or that carton of soured milk from the back of the fridge]. You can also install shade-loving edibles, such as arugula, basil, blueberries, bok choy, celery, chervil, chives, cilantro, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, kale, lettuces, Malabar and other spinach, mint, mustards, nasturtiums, onion, parsley, potatoes, raspberries, sorrel, tarragon, and tomatillos. The perennials will continue indefinitely, and you can allow some of the annuals to go through their full lifecycle and propagate themselves!
Benefits of stumperies
Stumperies create micro habitats for local flora and fauna, increasing your garden’s biodiversity. Beetles, toads, and lizards often find sanctuary in all the hidden nooks and crannies provided by a stumpery. Of course, slugs and snails and other pests do, as well. But birds enjoy the extra perches and snacks, so it all balances out.
Stumperies can be a good way to put old wood to work in the garden. They can hide eyesores, make use of neglected corners, and create a whimsical woodland that adds some tranquility to your day. If you don’t have stumps readily available, you can always contact local arborists and construction companies. Very often, they will be happy to provide you with all the material you need for free. [That way, they don’t have to pay to dispose of such large items.] Which reminds me: keep in mind that, eventually, the trees and branches that make up your stumpery will disappear and need to be replaced.
After writing this post, I think I will have to create a more formal stumpery with my apricot trunk. I’ll keep you posted.
Do you have a spot where nothing (but weeds) will grow? Do you have a patch of lawn you’d rather use for growing food? No-dig gardening may be the answer.
Digging out a lawn is hard work, and it damages the living things that help soil stay healthy. Areas of ground that regularly fail to support plant life often have poor soil structure and are lacking beneficial soil microorganisms. No-dig gardening uses layers of organic material to create the conditions needed for worms and other invertebrates, plant roots, and soil microorganisms, to transform a barren or compacted piece of ground into a friable, fertile place to grow healthy food.
No-dig gardening is the opposite of traditional cultivation. For thousands of years, we have drilled holes, cut furrows, and plowed up the land we use to grow food. Traditional cultivation provides many benefits. It hides crop seeds from birds and other seed eaters, removes perennial weed roots, exposes pest eggs and larvae to predators, and it loosens the soil (sort of).
Unfortunately, traditional cultivation also has a bad side. All that digging increases topsoil loss due to erosion, disturbs beneficial soil microorganisms, worsens compacted soil, reduces water absorption and retention, and brings dormant weed seeds to the surface, where they then germinate. We counteract these negatives with the addition of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and more water.
All those chemicals and disruptions are creating problems, and we need sustainable solutions. No-dig gardening may be one of those solutions.
Natural processes that have evolved over millions of years rarely result in furrows being dug in the ground. Instead, leaves, seeds, flowers, fruit, blood, urine, feces, and dead insects and animals all fall to the ground and lay on the surface. This mix is then walked on, blown around, and rained on until it is ground into tiny bits. These tiny bits of organic material are then pulled into the soil by worms and other invertebrates, and gazillions of microorganisms, that all convert organic matter into mineral elements plants need to grow and thrive. These processes also create soil with important spaces, called macropores and micropores, that allow the soil to breathe, and make room for water and roots to move freely. This nurtures soil microbes, which generate biologically active enzymes, vitamins, antibiotics, and glomalin (the glue that holds soil particles together). [Did you know that plants release one-third of all the organic matter they generate through their roots, to attract and feed nearby soil microbes? Pretty cool, eh?]
So, maybe we don’t need to dig to be able to garden…
How to no-dig gardening works
Clearly, if you are going to plant a bare root tree, you need to dig a hole. But, if you have a patch of ground that you want to convert into a garden bed, digging is not necessary in most cases. Instead of digging up weeds and existing, unwanted plants, you simply smother them with a 3 to 4” layer of organic material, be it compost, aged manure, wood chips, or whatever you have handy.
By blocking the sunlight, most annual weeds will die. In doing so, they and the mulch add nutrients to the soil and improve soil structure and texture.
Garden plants are then installed in this layer of nutrient-rich, friable mulch. Over time, more mulch and other organic materials are added on top. This is why no-dig gardening is also called sheet mulching, sheet composting, or lasagne gardening, because organic matter is simply added in layers over time, without digging any of it in. Like other gardening methods, no-dig gardening has its pros and cons.
Benefits of no-dig gardening
First, let’s face it, digging is work. If your soil is heavy clay, like mine used to be, it’s damn near impossible to break ground in summer without power tools. In addition to saving your back, no-dig gardening leaves the complex world of soil life alone, to do it’s thing. This means beneficial fungi and bacteria, worms, and other invertebrates can go about their business, eating and pooping, unmolested, converting organic matter into plant food, and improving soil structure and texture as they go.
This is an excellent way to put those autumn leaves, and all that yard and kitchen waste to good use. Placing all that organic matter on top, rather than digging it in, reduces the number of weeds you have to deal with, and it encourages worms to come up to the surface and grab a bite before heading back down to safety. All that worm traffic helps aerate the soil.
No-dig gardening reduces erosion. Every time you dig or plow, you are exposing more soil surface area to sun, wind, and rain, which can lead to erosion. Over time, this exposed area develops a protective crust that repels water, interfering with the absorption of rain and irrigation water.
No-dig gardening also reduces soil compaction. Here me out on this: as you rototill, dig, or plough the soil, one layer gets churned up and aerated. Below that level, however, everything gets compressed, potentially creating hardpan, or plow pan, an impenetrable barrier to delicate roots.
So, why wouldn’t you want to try no-dig gardening?
Drawbacks to no-dig gardening
The first downside to no-dig gardening is that a lot of mulch and compost are needed on a regular basis. If you’re like me and raise your own chickens, this is not a problem. Or, if you live near a stable, manure is readily available, just be sure to age it first. If you have seriously compacted soil, no-dig gardening can and will, eventually, improve soil structure and texture enough to make it easier for plant roots, but it will take some time. [One of the easiest ways to reduce soil compaction in the garden is to install designated paths. This is true regardless of what gardening method you use.] Finally, because decomposition is occurring all around your garden plants, you may find that snail and slug, sowbug, and gopher populations skyrocket. While they are there to eat (and breakdown) all that compost, they may find your lettuce and young seedlings irresistible.
How to create a no-dig garden patch
If you want to try no-dig gardening, start with a small patch. First, water the area well. If there are any large, perennial weeds present, cut them off at ground level and cover the area with a thick layer of coarse wood mulch. Water the area again. Then, cover your patch lasagne-style with layers of aged compost or manure, straw, mulch, and other organic material, water it, and let it settle for a few days. While it may take a year or more for the benefits of no-dig gardening to fully take effect, you can plant large, spreading plants, such as pumpkins or squash in this patch right away, assuming its the right time of year. As the organic matter breaks down, simply add more layers on top and let nature do all the work. I use this method in my raised beds, adding organic material as a repeated top dressing.
Once your no-dig garden is established, you can install new plants by simply clearing an opening with a dibble, your hand, or other garden tool, and water around it. No-dig gardening may not be the cure-all to your back and garden problems, but it is certainly worth a try!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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