The Alchemy of Bulbs

Flowering bulbs 300x221 The Alchemy of Bulbs
The Alchemy of Bulbs

My wife loves flowers, and a few weeks ago she decided I was going to re-do our front planting beds, get rid of our tired old plants, and put in some new stuff. Note that “she” decided that “I” was going to do the work.

No matter. I love her, and I love playing in the dirt, so it’s no chore whatsoever. And I’d been planning a bed revitalization for some time.

So being a good, obedient husband, I asked her what she wanted. Her answer:


She Who Must Be Obeyed!

When the wife speaks, a wise husband is all ears. As they say, if the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Martha loves bulbs, loves how they usher in spring and lift her spirits after a hard, bleak winter. She likes other plants, too, but our bulbs were played out, and she wanted all new bulbs for the initial planting. So bulbs it was.

Schemer that I am, I pulled a Tom Sawyer on my son and explained to him how much fun it was to dig 150 s.f. of planting beds. But since I also raised him to be leery of scams, he didn’t bite. He requested (demanded) cold hard cash, up front. So much for trust.

For spite, I had him dig out the entire bed (leaving only a few hydrangeas that Martha had raised from half a leaf).

Once the beds were ready, it was bulb time!

Buried Treasure

Here’s what I put in:

  • ‘Gladiator’ Alliums – I put several of these in the only spot in our front beds that gets full sun. They bloom in early summer with almost perfectly round purple flowers. They’re tall, coming in at around 32″.
  • ‘Gigantic Star’ Daffodils – these sprout up to about 14″ and flower with large-cupped, yellow blooms in mid-spring. They like full sun to part shade.
  • ‘Oxford’s Elite’ Tulips – another mid-spring bloomer, with bright red flowers with a subtle hint of yellow along their edges. Around 20″ to 24″ tall.
  • Crocus – these 4″ to 6″ beauties make their dramatic appearance when we need them most, at the end of winter. I put in a mix of purple and white.
  • Anemones – continuing the purple and white theme, these mid-spring beauties also stack up at about 4″ to 6″ inches, sporting daisy-like blooms.

Now if they just come up…

Bulbs (and their cousins corms and tubers) really are a kind of magic, gracing our yards with beautiful blooms from early spring til late summer. Start off with some ugly round or rooty-looking things, plant in the ground, add a little fertilizer, cover, water, and presto! A few months later, like an alchemist, Mother Nature serves up a treasure of colorful beauty.

For now, I’ve only scratched the surface of what I want to do with bulbs. I’ll put in more after I see what these do. Next up, however, are shrubs and perennials, and maybe a nice Japanese maple.

Make Time for Design

As an ardent plantaholic, it’s easy to get carried away and latch on to every plant I see at the nursery. But before I do too much planting, however, I think I’ll practice what I preach and design my new garden beds on paper. Haste makes waste, and thinking out what you want to accomplish and then planning everything out before hand, can save time, money, and headaches.

At least I’ve made the wife happy.

Now it’s your turn.  Bulbs need about 8 weeks of cold weather to bloom, and in Georgia it should be cold through February, so you’ve still got a planting window if you can find the bulbs. Order from online sources for the best bulbs. But in a pinch, local nurseries and box stores may still have a supply.

Check out the best bulbs for Georgia.

Who know? Maybe you’ll earn points with wife. You get extra points if you know where the reference above — “She who must be obeyed!”– comes from.

Can’t wait to see those bulbs in full bloom!


Use These Three Design Tactics to Help Sell Your Home

IMG 20121014 170206 225x300 Use These Three Design Tactics to Help Sell Your Home
Mums, Anyone?

The right landscaping can go be a huge benefit towards selling a house. Here are three ideas to guide realtors and homeowners in optimizing a home’s curb appeal.

Color Sells -

A well-designed entrance statement can define a home. Along with sprucing up the front door with a new coat of paint, you can increase your entryway’s color impact on prospective buyers by planting colorful perennials and annuals on either side of the front porch or landing.

Bulbs like daffodils herald spring’s arrival. Dwarf lantanas come in a variety of colors and are prolific bloomers, producing a riot of flowers all through the summer. And Aster novi-belgii (Michaelmas Daisy) blooms well into fall.

Use Containers as Entrance Accents -

Containers and container plants are perfect for curb appeal. They’re relatively inexpensive, and if set up on a drip irrigation system, almost maintenance-free.

Select containers and container plants with colors complementing your home’s finish and architecture. Use tall plants (“thrillers”) in the center or back of the container. Plant “fillers” in the spaces around these taller plants. Finish the container with “spillers” (trailing plants).

Containers come in all shapes, sizes, textures and hues. Modern light-weight fiberglass pots are hard to distinguish from stone or terra-cotta, and are much more manageable.

Go Light on the Foundation Plants -

Plants placed around a home’s foundation must be in scale with the house. Homeowners should be familiar with a plant’s growing requirements, especially its height at maturity. Use dwarf or low-growing plants next to the foundation, under windows, and close to the entrance. Remove overgrown or inappropriate plants.

Keep in mind that modern homes may not need extensive foundation plantings. If the home’s foundation is attractive, you might consider letting the foundation stand on it’s own.

Screening unsightly elements is a good reason for using foundation plantings. Evergreen shrubs can hide unsightly air conditioning units, utility meters, and more – just make sure that the plants don’t block access for maintenance or air flow.

Extend Curb Appeal to the Curb -

You can dress up the area around your mailboxes with groundcovers like Evergreen Candytuft, drought-tolerant dwarf flowering perennials and small ornamental grasses, along with climbers such as Clemantis.

Plants placed by the curb must be tough to survive the harsh roadside environment. And although blooming plants that attract pollinators are usually a good thing, here you’ll need to think about the mailman’s welfare, too – use a plant palette with flowers that won’t attract bees.

To quickly sell a house, homeowners need every advantage they can get. Colorful plantings will create the curb appeal that helps make a sale more likely.

Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome

Bare Nakid Deck1 300x225 Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome
Deck courtesy Shmoomeema

It can happen to anyone. You walk outside, onto your deck, take a few steps, and suddenly realize you’re standing in the middle of a vast, barren space, where nothing is happening – or about to. The wind whistles forlornly through your hair as you turn a 360 degree circle, staring out over a wasteland of wood. Are those the deck rails, way over there, miles away? Is that Lady Godiva, riding her steed bare-assed across the deck floor?

You could land a jumbo jet out here!

Decks (and Patios) – Perfect Outdoor Space Additions

Decks are wonderful additions to a home, but sometimes it can be lonely out there, amidst all that space. You could hold ball room dances on some decks without fear of couples running into each other.

That’s the irony of Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome. You have a great deck, but all you’re doing with it is storing air.

So how do you cure Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome (and its insidious counterpart, Pallid Patio Syndrome)? Easy. Put those suckers to work earning their keep.

What are some of the things you can do with a bare nakid deck or a pallid patio? Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Create real living space. Add festive tables and chairs for seating, eating and entertaining (make sure to allow about 4′ of space behind chairs for guests to circulate).
  • Snuggle nooks. Create intimate spaces suitable for more private get-togethers by subdividing your deck space with container gardens and potted plants.
  • Jungleize. Soften all that empty space with container-grown dwarf trees or standards, window boxes hung from the deck rails, and vertical gardens grown against your home’s walls.
  • Turn up the music!. Wire your deck for sound using hidden speakers suitable for outdoor use.
  • Light it up! Put in soft outdoor lighting to create the right ambiance.
  • Don’t forget the eats. Install an outdoor kitchen close to the kitchen door, outfitted for cooking, food prep, and serving.
  • Veggies are good for you. Grow herb and vegetable gardens right on the deck in containers or tubs, where fresh edibles are only a step away.
  • Accessorize. Add and display garden art, wicker furniture, bird feeders, even small water features – and sun-loving tropical plants vibrant with color.
Patio Plants 224x300 Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome
Patio Plants

If you’ve figured out by now that plants should be an integral part of your deck and patio living space, you’re right! A deck or patio without plants is only half dressed (or less). Plants change the entire character of your outdoor living space, from barren plain to fragrant, shaded oasis.

Plants Make the Space on Your Deck or Patio

Where are a few places to use plants on and around your deck or patio?

  • Step it up. Place pots of annuals on either side of steps leading up to the upper deck or to a terraced patio (make sure steps are wide enough to navigate without danger of tripping).
  • Show your artistic bent. Create a visually appealing container garden grouping staged against a bare wall. Place taller pots and plants in the rear or to the sides, with smaller pots in front. Mix and match color combos and textures for a lively display.
  • Window boxes aren’t just for windows. Hang a few from your deck railings to add space-saving life and color.
  • Go vertical. Planted frames attached to walls can hold a variety of plants.
  • Don’t forget the climbers. Use trellises or wire supports to divide space and grow tall or climbing plants right on the deck, or above the rails.
  • Head for the tropics. Pots of tropicals and perennials are great for defining space. Place them around seating areas for instant intimacy.
  • Incredible edibles. Growing edible plants in matching plastic pots placed side by side before a deck rail can make a surprisingly bountiful kitchen garden.
  • Basket case. Strategically placed baskets hung from metal shepherd’s crooks bring beauty to a new level.
  • Overhead structure. Design for shade with pergolas extending from your walls out over the deck, and planted with vines.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it need not be. You can design many of these features into your deck or patio before you build them. Then it’s only a matter of adding plants – the fun part!

The Tao of Low-Maintenance

You can make things a little easier by planning for low-maintenance.

  • place larger pots on wheeled pot caddies so you can easily move them if needed.
  • make sure you use plants that play well together and have the same cultural requirements (amounts of sun and water, etc.) within the same containers.
  • consider placing your containers on a zoned drip irrigation system for maximum watering efficiency.

Once you get your creative juices flowing, it’s easy to get carried away. Of course, you should show some restraint. Too much of a good thing is just as bad as nothing. You don’t want your deck to appear over-dressed.

Also, keep pedestrian circulation in mind as your planning your spatial divisions, and make sure there are clear pathways from one user area to the others. And don’t forget safety. Know the weight load your deck is rated for. Use lighter plastic or fiberglass pots with soil-less mixes to keep total weight down. If in doubt, consult a structural engineer.

There now. That wasn’t so hard. You’ve overcome Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome, and dressed your deck for any occasion. Now all you have to do is call up family and friends and start the party!


Terrariums – Life Under Glass

Terrarium1 225x300 Terrariums   Life Under Glass
Terrarium – Live Under Glass
courtesy a2gemma, flickr

Terrariums have been around for a long time. Indeed, they were quite popular in the psychedelic ’70s. Those containers were kind of hokey, however. Many were made from plastic.

Nowadays, most terrariums are made using glass containers. They make great additions to any room, and are perfect gifts for folks who work in an office without windows, or anyone else who loves to keep green life in close proximity, without all the hassle of caring for houseplants.

A terrarium is an enclosed little world, and glass makes the perfect enclosure. It’s clearer then plastic, has less of a tendency to fog, is less likely to harbor fungi, and lends a certain elegance to terrarium creations.

Terrariums are the perfect project for the craft – or gardening – challenged. They’re small contained worlds, very easy to work with.

Terrarium Terra-forming

Start with a container. It can be anything. Fish bowls, vases, apothecary jars, cloches, even light bulbs and perfume bottles – all are candidates for harboring living plants. Find them in box stores like Wal-mart and Target, craft stores like Michaels, antique stores, even garage and yard sales.

Since terrariums don’t have drainage holes, you’ll want to start by laying down a drainage layer. An inch or so of river rock, glass beads, sea shells, or other hard material can accomplish this. Don’t use bark or other organic, porous materials. They tend to attract molds and fungi, which could devastate your little world.

After installing your drainage layer, insert a layer of dried sphagnum moss. This serves as a filter barrier, keeping your potting mix from infiltrating into and clogging your drainage stones. You can sprinkle a little charcoal (get it from an aquarium store) over the sphagnum moss to help control odors if you like, but it’s optional – a well-regulated terrarium generally won’t need it.

Of course, you’ll need some type of growing medium. Potting mix works best. It’s light and airy, and you can get mixtures formulated for various plant types and growing conditions. One thing your mix should not include is fertilizer. You want to keep your plant’s growth under control in the tiny environment of a terrarium, and fertilizer defeats this purpose.

Use a funnel to carefully pour in your mix, arranging it how you want it. Be creative! Build tiny hills and valleys. Add a few rocks, shells or pieces of petrified wood for textural interest, depending on what look you’re going for. Tamp the planting mix down with the butt end of a wooden spoon or dowel until it’s slightly firm.

Planting Time!

Now’s the time to add plants. Some terrariums utilize several varieties of moss. These little worlds are easily maintained and can even be entirely self-regulating once you achieve the proper moisture levels. Moss terrariums don’t need a lot of light, but should have a lid or cover to control humidity.

Other plants you can use include miniature ferns, house plants, and orchids. These need a more open container, and most will need a little more water. You can even create terrariums filled with succulents.

You can press moss directly on to the mix. With other plants, you’ll need to dig tiny holes and plant them as you would a regular plant outdoors or in a container. You may need to separate or root prune even small nursery plants before placing them in a terrarium. There’s not a lot of room in there.

Top off your creation with additional items like trinkets, tiny doll-house figurines, sea glass, and the like. Once finished, use a spritzer to lightly dampen moss, or a funnel to gently water other plants.

Then place your terrarium in a spot where it gets indirect sunlight or artificial light. Don’t sit it in a window that receives hot afternoon sun, or on a radiator or other heat source. Your terrarium plants could quickly cook.

Now step back and enjoy the tiny green world you’ve created!

Fall Container Gardens – Plan Now for Spectacular Autumn Color

Fall Container Garden1 150x150 Fall Container Gardens – Plan Now for Spectacular Autumn Color
Fall Container Garden

Cool autumn days means it’s time for fall container gardens. Pots planted in the spring and summer are starting to look a bit tired, and a gardener’s thoughts turn to planning containers filled with spectacular autumn color.

What are you looking for in fall container gardens?

Vibrant Autumn Shades for Spectacular Autumn Color

Colors need not be muted in the fall. Look for plant and pot combos of reds, oranges, yellows, browns, bronzes and purples. These shades are in context with the surrounding fall landscape.

Ornamental kale and cabbage are wonderful additions to fall container gardens, adorned with color that only get richer as the temperature drops. Other good bets are the Heucheras, Sedums and Sedges, as well as ornamental grasses like Red Fountain Grass. Compliment your arrangements with a sprinkling of gourds, pumpkins, fruits, corn stalks and/or berry-laden branches.

It’s going to turn colder sooner or later, so think cold-tolerant annuals and perennials planted in containers that aren’t damaged by unexpected freezes.

Cold Loving Annuals for Fall Container Gardens

Can annuals like – even thrive – in cold weather? Here are a few that stand up to the challenge.

  • ornamental cabbage
  • flowering kale
  • sage
  • flax
  • annual grasses
  • pansies
  • creeping wire grass

Hardy Perennials for Autumn Pots

Hardy perennials come in a variety of vibrant colors, from deep reds and crimsons to burnt oranges and mellow browns, to bright greens and lovely purple shades.

  • Heuchera (Coral Bells) – come in a variety of colors and textures suitable for fall arrangements
  • Sedum – low forms are perfect for the center of medium-width pot
  • Ornamental Grasses – many dry into a rich, royal gold or tan, and last into the winter
  • Lambs Ears – soft velvety texture contrasts well with grasses and spiky kales
  • Ivys – great trailing plants
  • Creeping Jenny – another spiller that transitions well into the fall

To ensure that your perennials thrive in the cold months, consider using varieties that survive 2 zones north of your area.

Containers that Weather the Weather Well

If you want to leave your fall containers outdoors into the winter months, make sure you have a container that can stand up to the big freeze. Natural terra-cotta will wick moisture and is prone to cracking when the temperature drops below freezing. Even glazed terra-cotta may not be able to survive. So use materials impervious to the deep freeze, such as plastic, foam, metal, wood, concrete, fiberglass or stone.

There is one terra-cotta pot you can use in cold weather – one made from Italian terra-cotta, considered the elite of terra-cotta pots. They’re pricy, but withstand temps down to -20 degrees.

So don’t let a little nip in the air keep you from planting and enjoying fall container garden creations. They’re plenty of great plant and pot choices out there for you to use in putting together your showcase fall container gardens.