Bloomin Friday

Not-So-Secret Formula

I'm up north this week, and maybe you thought I'd be putting together some sort of up-northy post for today. But no. It's raining up here (because of course it is; it gets cold or rains EVERY time I come up this year). And there is some sort of issue with the motor on our pontoon (because of course there is; the motor is over 30 years old and deserves to be somewhat cranky). And we're not going to town (because of course we aren't; the vax rate is low up here, and the transmission rate is high).

But . . . no worries. I planned ahead for a little garden post for today!

A few weeks ago, I did a mid-summer compare-and-contrast post analyzing my front porch container . . . and I got several comments from readers alluding to the fact that they have a hard time figuring out what to plant in their containers to make them look nice and balanced. So I thought I'd share my not-so-secret (like . . . not secret at all) formula for putting together nice-looking container gardens.

Winning containers = Thriller + Spiller + Filler


It's really that simple. 

When you put together a container, start with your thriller -- a focal-point kind of plant that will be tall and showy. For my front porch planters, I chose those big, leafy things (which I can't remember the name of now; they are not elephant ears, but something along those lines). Definitely a focal point sort of plant, though.

Next, choose your spiller -- a plant that's going to trail over the edges/sides of your planter. Ivy/vining kinds of plants work well in this role. This year, I chose trailing verbena -- those white and pink blooms you see there -- which was a new variety for me this season. I also stuck in a marjoram plant (the lime green leaves there on the right) because I didn't have room for it in my herb garden. Turns out it spills, too! (I will definitely be using marjoram in my planters in the future. I like the way it's behaving. Not so sure about the verbena, though. It's not trailing as much as I'd hoped.)

Last, find a filler -- plants that will just mound up, enhance your thriller in a supporting role, and pull the planter together in a pleasing way. In my front porch planter, I used some of my tried-and-true fillers: a Boston fern, a sun coleus, and lantana. I also stuck in some some yellow straw flowers (but I'm not particularly pleased with them; they need a lot of deadheading and look bad much of the time).

And there you go!
That's the basic formula for a gorgeous and well-balanced container: Thriller. Spiller. Filler.

A few other considerations for a successful container: Make sure your thrillers-spillers-fillers will perform well - together - in your particular container conditions. Like . . . make sure all of them are sun-lovers, for example. Or shade-friendly. Think about your bloom colors and how they'll look together. Consider a good mix of foliage shapes and color. And then water the heck out of it. . . all summer long!

My front porch containers are HUGE, and I need to use quite a few plants to get it fill out like this (so . . . multiple spillers and fillers). But even for small containers (or indoor plant gardens or even cut flower arrangements), if you just mix one thriller, spiller, and filler . . . you're going to have success!

Here's one of my smaller patio containers . . . 


Just three plants . . . a thriller, a spiller , a filler. 

Here's another . . . 


Again, just three plants. This one . . . didn't follow the rules, though. The spiller . . . decided to take over as the thriller! (The geranium was supposed to be the thriller in this particular container -- but the spiller didn't get the memo and turned out to be a bully. I'll remember that for next year.)

Which is a good seque here. Unless you're following a "pattern" for your containers (and there are plenty of those to choose from out there), this is really just a great way to experiment and have some fun in your garden. Sometimes things will work out really well. And sometimes they won't. It doesn't mean you don't have  a"green thumb" -- it just means that your container didn't quite live up to your expectations. (Which happens.) Remember what works - or doesn't - for next year. And then try again.

And also know that by this point in the summer? You may just end up with a jumble!


This . . . is two containers that have merged and become one. When I planted them, there were thrillers, spillers, and fillers. But now? It's an explosion of foliage and blooms. EVERYbody is happy. (Especially the hummingbirds.) Is it the look I was going for? Nope. Do I care? Nope.

Plants . . . don't always follow the rules. 
But in August, all plants get a pass (in my book).


Have a great weekend -- and I'll see you on Monday.


Sometimes It's Grimm In the Garden, Too

I always laugh when someone mentions my having a "green thumb" in the comments. Because . . . I don't. I really don't. I have had so many garden mishaps in my years of gardening. So. Many. Plants that fail to thrive. Bad decisions. Planting entire beds that are not suited to the conditions. Pests and diseases . . . spider mites, aphids, thrip, scale, rabbits, deer . . . you name it, I've dealt with it. Overzealous ground cover. Blossom end rot. Let's just say . . . I kill a lot of plants. (One of my garden "zones" is called The Semi-Circle of Death - or SCOD -  for a reason!!!)

But I think that's just part of gardening.

Failure, that is. (Like any "art" or "craft.")
You simply have to accept that not everything is going to work out.
There are no "green thumbs."

Just a willingness to . . . be curious, ask questions, try again.
Or let it go.


For me, this year . . . I'm having troubles in my herb garden.

With . . . basil, of all things!
(And parsley, too.)

I grow a couple of "patches" of basil in my herb garden every year. With great success. As in . . . by now, I'd usually have a couple of basil harvests under my belt, not only enjoying fresh basil in my cooking on the regular and but also making batches of "basil bombs" to store in my freezer for winter. This year? I got this . . . 


Talk about . . . failing to thrive!


That . . . was the sad state of my basil (and parsley) this summer.

And my favorite, trusted nursery . . . was out of basil when I went to buy more! Like . . . they couldn't stock it or grow it fast enough this year. Is even basil a victim of the pandemic supply and demand issue? Or is something weird going on with basil this year? I have no idea . . . But last week, I got an email from the nursery letting me know that basil was back -- but in limited supply. So I hurried in and snapped up a few plants (but not as many as I wanted because the supply really was limited, and I didn't want to be piggy. . . ).


Trying again.
Because that's what gardening is all about!

Keep your fingers crossed and send the good-basil-juju.


"A dried plant is nothing but a sign to plant a new one."
            --- Priyansh Shah


Enjoy your weekend, and I'll see you on Monday.

Mid-Summer Compare and Contrast

My container plants are doing really well this summer. (It's the plant dildos, I swear.

How well?
Let's compare and contrast!

It's always good to have some photos around . . . for perspective.
Here, for example, is one of my front door planters . . . earlier this week.


(If you look closely, you can see the 2 wine bottles in there. But barely!)

And here it is, back on June 2 . . . when I first planted it.


That's some progress, there!

I hope your garden is growing well this season, too.

Enjoy the weekend . . . and I'll see you back here on Monday.

Creepy Crawlies

(Trigger warning: snakes)

As I putter around in my garden, I run into a garter snake once in a while. I know they're in there . . . hanging around in my shrubs and tall grasses (as they do). But I don't usually see them very often . . . maybe one a year? Maybe less?

When I do encounter one in the garden, I'm always startled. Really startled. Because they move so quickly. And they camouflage so effectively. I never see them . . . until they move. I'm not afraid of them, really. I don't mind that they're out there, in my garden. But they will always make me jump a little bit. And then run for my camera! (Because they're kind of cool.) (They're also good for the garden - click here to learn more - and are actually a sign of a healthy, well-balanced garden.)


This one . . . really surprised me! Because it was bigger than most garter snakes I see (about 3 feet long) and it moved across my path from the grass to this spot under the rose bush . . . quick as a wink. (It was not happy to see me, but it did pose for several photos.)

For whatever reason, I'm seeing more garter snakes than usual in my garden this year. Lots more. Enough that I poke around a bit with my garden tools before moving in under thick cover to do any weeding or digging. (I figure they don't want to see me the same way I don't want to see them, and my "poking around" gives them fair warning.)


Here's another one (much smaller; more typical) . . . just sunning itself in the midst of salvia plant. (Brian took this photo.)  

The other day, Tom was out in the driveway and noticed a couple - just out for a walk - suddenly take out their phones and start taking pictures in our yard. They'd spotted a garter snake and were fascinated! (To Tom and I, it's kind of old news by this point.)

So. This is the Year of the Snake . . . in my garden, at least!
(Which may explain why there are no frogs in my pond this year. . . )


I hope you have a great weekend.
With no snakes (unless you want to see them) . . . 

Summer Refresh

July . . . in the garden . . . isn't quite like June.

In June, everything is so exciting! Emerging. Growing. Blooming like mad. There's even some enthusiasm for the more mundane gardening chores like weeding, watering the containers, transplanting, and deadheading. After a long winter inside - dreaming about being out in the garden again - those chores seem (kind of) . . . fun.

By July? Well. Maybe not so much.

The garden story is changing a bit. The excitement has died down. Blooms are fading. Growth is slowing. Weeds are EVERYwhere. It becomes very obvious where the "holes" are . . . which plants didn't quite perform like you'd hoped, for example. Or areas of the garden that need more color or foliage . . . or something. Maybe . . . you wished you'd mulched more. Or . . . damn those deer. And, hey! What happened to the basil? You can see where your irrigation system isn't working. Those mundane garden chores just aren't so charming anymore.


In short, it takes WORK to keep a garden looking good for the whole season. And it becomes glaringly obvious in . . . oh, about July.

For me, this always means . . . Summer Refresh! A time to assess and plot for the even drier, hotter months ahead. What's working out there? What's not? What do I need more of? What can I cut back? Where do I need to up my watering game? That kind of thing.

Luckily, most garden shops and nurseries are there to help me out at this time of year . . . with SALES. Now is a great time to find discounted plants at your local nurseries. Sure. The plants may be more root-bound and "leggy" than they are earlier in the season. But the nurseries price them to move -- and you can get some great deals.

Earlier this week, I visited the annual "cart sale" at one of my local nurseries. They pull out all their excess annuals into their parking lot (we're talking racks and racks of blooming annuals and leggy vegetables) (and a very big parking lot). Shoppers grab a giant cart (a "nursery gurney" as my mom used to call them)  . . . and you fill the whole thing up for $55. (When I first started going to the cart sale, it was $35. . . just sayin) There are rules, of course. No stacking. Nothing can be hanging off the cart. But, other than that . . . it's pretty much open season.

And it's a great way to fill "holes" in your garden or containers!


(This is my cart this year. Not as "loaded" as some years, but full enough for sure!)

This weekend, you'll find me in my garden* . . . refreshing containers, dragging some hoses, moving a few plants around, weeding (always), and following my constant garden mantra/refrain: If it's brown, cut it down.


(One of my recently-refreshed front porch containers.) (It really needed some extra oomph this year.)

I'm eager for a refresh out in the garden!
(And, actually, this is all a metaphor for life. But that's for another post, another day.)

I hope you all enjoy a lovely, long weekend . . . refreshing anything that needs refreshing!


* No Up-North-for-the-4th for us! It's too crowded and too busy up there over the 4th. And there are just . . . too many fireworks. (JoJo struggles mightily with the fireworks, and she really suffers when we're up north where it's constant firecrackers ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT, FOR DAYS.) So we stay home for a quiet(er) . . . refresh.




The Gardening Post Where I Lose My PG Rating

Every year, I plant several containers of annuals to place on my front porch and patio (and a few other spots here and there in the garden). I love putting the combinations of plants together, and I love the pops of color the annuals provide all summer long. But. They require daily watering. And I'm not always home to do it (going up north frequently and all). Although I usually hire someone to come and water my plants if we go on a long vacation, I don't do this for just a few days away at our cabin. I usually just . . . water the crap out of everything before we leave and hope for rain.

But this year, we've been in a drought here in my corner of the world.* I knew that my containers would absolutely not survive even a day without water. You might remember that a couple of weeks ago I mentioned having a "trick up my sleeve" for keeping my annual containers watered . . . even when I wasn't home for several days?

Let's talk about that.

I ordered a set of these . . . 


(Actually, I ordered two sets.)

They're spikes (the ones I ordered are made of terra cotta; there are also plastic ones available) that you "plant" directly into the soil of your containers . . . and then you can place bottles filled with water upside-down into the spikes. The theory is . . . the water will leak out into the soil of your plants slowly, to keep your plants watered and ALIVE.

They arrived a couple of days before Erin did, and we decided to try them out together before heading up north for a few days. (Erin was particularly interested in how they'd work, since she does a lot of container gardening in the blistering California sun on her apartment patio.)

We weren't quite prepared for what they'd actually look like . . . when we unpacked the box and opened them up. (And here goes my PG rating.)


Because . . . plant dildos . . . right? (There was so much laughing.) (So. Much.) You really can't describe them any other way, I'm afraid.

Okay. So.
On we go.

We followed the directions carefully so as not to break the terra cotta. And to get them to work properly, of course.


What else can you even call these????


But. Once carefully planted in the containers . . . the design makes perfect sense!


Next, you fill bottles with water and place them (carefully) in the spikes, upside-down. You can use any bottle -- recycled water bottles, pop bottles, wine bottles. Really, anything you might have around. I ordered a set of 12 plastic wine bottles to use in my containers, and they worked perfectly! They're light, even filled with water (I was afraid standard glass wine bottles would be too heavy for the terra cotta and would crack it), and they're not a bad "look" for my containers either. (If I was going to be home for a while - and definitely if I was going to have a party or gathering in my garden - I'd take the bottles out.)

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The most important thing? THEY WORKED! We were gone for several (very hot) days - with no rain. When we returned, the bottles were about half-full, and all the plants were alive and looking great. The soil wasn't wet on the top -- but the water was definitely getting to the roots, where it's most important.

I'm really pleased with the results so far. I don't know how well they'd work during a long vacation during a dry spell, but they will certainly see me through for my shorter forays up north. My note-to-self for next year will be to "plant" the spikes at the same time I plant my containers, as it was slightly challenging (but not very, because it's still early in the season) to fit them in among the already-growing annuals.

There you have it.
Plant dildos . . . for the win!!!


* And, of course . . . the drought has officially ended here in my corner of the world.
Here's the weather situation as I write this post. . .


Looks like I won't be needing my plant dildos for a while. But they're (ahem) inserted and ready when I do!

I hope you all have a great weekend.
See you on Monday!


Working From Home

We've been up at our cabin this week . . . and we've come home for a day before turning around and heading back. (Gotta pick up the mail. Water my containers. Check out the garden. Go to the library.) (And do something extra exciting, too!*)

Before heading up north last week, though, I was busy . . . working from home.
My office . . . 


I finally got my containers planted!


Those photos are all a week old now. I'm amazed at how much/how quickly things have filled in since then! It's hot and dry here this summer, so I'm not sure how they'll do longer term. Especially because I'm not here every day to water. But I have a trick up my sleeve! (I just received some self-watering "devices" I'm going to try. I'll keep you posted.)


*And now . . . for the excitement!

Tonight, we pick up our California girl at the airport for a week's visit. I can hardly contain myself! We haven't seen her since Christmas 2019!


I'll be taking a blog break next week . . . to enjoy every moment of Erin's visit. See you in a week! Enjoy yourselves!


Garden Explosion

"In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes and every sunset is different."
                --- John Steinbeck


This is truly a wonderful time of the season in my garden.
John Steinbeck was right. Leaf and blade and flowers . . . everything is exploding right now! The Bloom Show is about to begin.

Last night, as the sun was beginning to go down, the dogs and I headed out to water the trees. We're having a terrible drought here in my corner of the world; most unusual for this time of year. And, sadly, my sprinkler system is not up to the task and we're having trouble getting anyone out to look into it. Covid, they say. Short-staffed, they say. Let's just say . . . I'm dragging hoses to the garden beds and giving up on the grass.



Things in the garden are looking good.

The plants have grown up enough to cover up the (never-ending, always-growing) weeds. Plus, Tom's freshly laid mulch helps! And the flowers are beginning to put on their show.


Lots of purples right now. (And I really wish you could smell that wisteria. The whole backyard smells divine.)


(This is Baptisia, or wild indigo. It doesn't bloom for long, but it's glorious at the moment.)

My Satomi dogwood is really putting on a great show this year, too.


I love dogwood trees . . . but the Satomi is my favorite. It blooms later and for longer than most dogwoods, and while the flowers are white at the beginning, they gradually turn pink as the show continues. It's pretty fabulous.


I really love this time of year in the garden.

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So much hope. So much promise. 
(So much work.)

But now is the time for the payoff.


JoJo thinks so, too!


Have a lovely weekend, everyone.
(Mine will be lovely . . . once I get some dental work done later this morning. Ugh. I cracked a tooth and now need an unexpected crown. . . )

Enjoy whatever's blooming in your world.


In the Garden

In 1987, Tom and I bought our first house. (A real fixer-upper, let me tell you. . . ) I was so excited to be able to plant some flowers and maybe start a little vegetable garden in the backyard. (I wasn't a gardener yet, but the seeds had been planted.) What I didn't understand then . . . was that the house we purchased was situated in a town that, at one time long ago, had been a river bed. The entire area was a muck field -- with incredibly dark and rich organic soil perfect for growing . . . pretty much anything. This soil assured my early success in gardening. (I thought it was me; it was the muck.)

But that's all a story for another day.

Today, I have a different early gardening story.


The other day, as I was weeding in one of my garden beds (Front Door North, if you're interested), I noticed the big guy in my photo above . . . crawling around in my sedum. He was a really lovely toad. Bronze and shimmery. Sizable. Probably irritated that I was making him move when he'd really rather not. I love gardening with toads. 

And that got me thinking about the first time I discovered a toad in my garden . . . 

It was back at that first house . . . in the muck fields. Our first spring there, I brought home a flat of red geraniums to plant in the little foundation beds in front of our house. I was so excited! I had my flat of flowers, a little trowel (the one I still use, by the way), and my little gardener's kneeling pad . . . and I dug in. After planting the first few red geraniums, I found my gardening groove. And then, as I dug into the soil to plant another geranium, it . . . moved.

I had disturbed a BIG ol' toad!

I freaked out! 

I shrieked. I threw the trowel and the geranium up in the air and over my head into the yard behind me. I leaped up and back into the yard in one fluid movement. (It must have been quite comical . . .

I wasn't actually afraid of the toad. I was just . . . surprised . . . by the toad. Really surprised. I had never considered that I might encounter something live like that . . . right there in my front yard foundation garden! 

Since that day, I have encountered many, MANY toads while gardening. Sometimes they still surprise me (they camoflage themselves so well, just sitting there in the soil), but never like that first time. I love sharing my gardening space with . . . creatures. Toads and garter snakes. Frogs. Insects. Birds, bees, butterflies. Squirrels and chipmunks and groundhogs and rabbits and possums . (Skunks . . . I'm more leery of. But I know they're out there.)

I make my garden a friendly place . . . for flowers and plants -- and for all the creatures that call my garden "home." And it all started with that one toad, so many years ago.


I hope you all have a restful weekend, with plenty of time in your garden (if that's your kind of thing).

Go Time

For about two-and-a-half weeks, we've had this weird spring weather pattern here in my corner of the universe. It's been really cold, but . . . not like a normal spring cold snap. Those usually come and go in any northern spring -- a threatened overnight frost following several teasingly summer-like days is normal and expected around here.

But, nope. This cold snap . . . was not "snappy" at all. Frigid air and biting winds swooped in for a long visit. Too long. It was a real drag! And for some reason, it really dragged me down. I don't usually let the weather stop me from getting out in the garden (too much), but these past couple of weeks, it kinda did. 


It was like a freeze frame in the garden! And apparently for me, too. It was like Mother Nature hit PAUSE. And there we were.

Trees that were blooming when the cold moved in (my redbuds and my viburnum, for example) just held onto their blooms the whole time. Normally, those blooms don't last very long - because warm sunshine moves things along quickly in the spring. So it was nice to have those blooming trees stuck in a time warp. And buds . . . just stayed tight buds. (Good thing. Because that protected the tender blooms from the freeze.) The only thing that took a real hit was my azalea (pictured above). It looked just like it did in the photo - with the blooms just opening up - when the cold front moved in. Nearly three weeks later, it looks the same. Only with frost damage. It won't be blooming this year.

Well. I guess I took a hit, too -- in terms of my emotional and mental health. The freeze frame in my garden . . . extended to me, too. (Languishing, I tell you. It's a real thing.) I would've been okay with a typical cold snap. This one just hung around too long.


But yesterday, the temperatures climbed into the upper 60s. And the sun was shining! Today it's supposed to hit 70. I can feel myself . . . thawing out. My garden can feel it, too.

I have some alliums just waiting to pop.


There are beds to clean. Weeds to pull. Containers to plan. Ponds to get running.

I'm feeling better already.


I hope you all enjoy a great weekend -- filled with things that will help you flourish.