Growing Things

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) . . . 

Signs In My Garden

Last week I shared three smiles in my garden.
This week? I'm sharing signs.

I have all kinds of "words" in my garden . . . 


(They're everywhere in my garden, actually.)
But today, I'm going to share 3 signs I don't think I've shared before.

First, there's this one.


This one is right next to my garage, right at the top of my driveway, so that anyone pulling in can see just what we stand for . . . in this house. It's a standard yard sign that I have nestled into my front flower border. It works. Enough said.

Then, there's this one . . . 


Many years ago, I certified my garden as a Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, and Tom was kind enough to get me this lovely plaque to mark my garden. The sign gets obliterated in the summer by my very happy and very vigorous Autumn Joy clematis, but I do get asked about it quite often - especially in the spring and fall, when the sign is more visible. I love having a garden that is welcoming and safe for "woodland creatures" . . . even if it means deer nibbling on my hydrangeas and bunnies shredding my basil. (If you want to learn more about certifying your garden, click here for the scoop.)

And last, there's this one . . . 


A gentle reminder.
And the epitome of what I want my garden to remind me (and anyone visiting it) to do!


How about you? Do you have any signs in your garden?


Be sure to visit Carole today, for more Three on Thursday posts!

A Different Kind of Canvas

Here in blogland, Wednesdays are typically a day we share what we're making. Usually with yarn. But sometimes we share other kinds of making . . . sewing, quilting, painting, embroidery. 

For me, in the summer, I don't always have so many of those more "traditional" making kinds of projects to share. Because my time gets eaten up in different ways during the summer months, and I don't find as much time to sit and knit or stitch -- or paint. In fact, just last night I canceled out of my weekly watercolor class. I explained to my instructor that . . . I just didn't have anything to share. I hadn't done my homework. And I didn't think I could sit still long enough for 3 hours to engage with the lesson for the week. (I really shouldn't have signed up for the summer session in the first place. I usually don't. I know better. Oh, well. . . )

I used to feel bad about walking away from my regular pastimes during the summer (holding on to those expectations and arbitrary rules much?), but I don't really anymore.

I've come to accept that I'm just . . . working with another type of fiber.
A different kind of canvas, you might say.


This is my wild-and-woolly, volunteers welcome, follow-no-rules pollinator garden. (It's a certified Monarch Waystation.) It's a great example of a different kind of making -- and it really does tick off all of my "making" boxes. I've got . . . 

Playing with color.


And texture.


Moving my hands in a productive way.


And soothing my soul.


Plus, there is the added benefit of knowing I'm "doing good" by creating a welcoming space for the pollinators of the world!


(And dogs.)


I may not be able to wear it . . . or gift it . . . or hang it on my wall.
But it's a kind of canvas all the same!


How about you? What are you making this week?


Be sure to visit Kat today . . . for links to the more traditional (and inspiring!) Unraveled kinds of posts!

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.




Smiles in My Garden

My garden always makes me smile . . . but there are also smiles IN my garden!

Sneaky little smiles.
Like this one . . . 


This little frog has been in my garden . . .  somewhere . . . since about 1998 or so. I used to take the kids to the plant nurseries with me when they were little, and I'd often keep them occupied by letting them "pick something out" for the garden. Usually, I ended up with some odd-colored annual or another, but one year, it was this goofy little frog. He's getting pretty worn now, over the years -- and one of his eyes is totally scraped off, thanks to Jenny finding him in the garden when she was a puppy . . . and giving him a good puppy-chew! This year, I stuck him in one of my front containers.

Every time I see him, he brings back memories of my early gardening days.
And I smile.

And there's this guy . . . 


A goofy little garden gnome I found at Walgreens a few years ago for $2.99. He used to be bright and vibrant. Now he's weathered and chipped. I actually like him more as he weathers, standing guard out there every season at the base of my (also weathering) garden bench. Most visitors to my garden don't even notice him, nestled there in the sedum . . . but I know he's out there. He's kind of my gardening good-luck charm! One of the first things I bring out every spring.

Everytime I see him, I remember that you don't have to be "fancy" to be charming!
And I smile.

And there's this guy . . . 

IMG_4750 3

My little Jizu statue. Standing about 10 inches tall, my Jizu guards the little "puddle pond" in my garden. I bought him several years ago during a visit to the Japanese garden at the Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids on a visit with my mom. (She just loved the Japanese gardens there.) I love the story and symbolism behind the Jizo statues (you can read more about them here if you're interested), and I love having my little Jizo nearby.

Every time I see him, he brings me a peaceful feeling.
And now he reminds me of my mom, too.
And I smile.


How about you? Do you have any smiles in your garden?


Be sure to hop over to Carole's today . . . for more Three on Thursday fun.

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.)

IMG_4435 2

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!


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).

In The Weeds

"A weed is but an unloved flower."
        --- Ella Wilcox


I'm sorry, Ella Wilcox. But I'm afraid I simply can't agree with you there.

Some weeds do provide nice enough flowers.
And they are pretty much universally unloved.

But your quote, Ella, implies that we should just . . . love them or something.
And I'm afraid I can't.

I mean . . . I play things pretty fast and loose in my garden. I'm rather haphazard in my approach. Volunteers? Sure! Let's see what they do. Self-seeders? Always welcome in my garden. "Experimental" plantings? I'm up for it. (Except for almost any ground cover. Ground covers are in a category of "weed" all their own . . .) (Just ask anyone trying to rid themselves of, oh . . . Snow-on-the-Mountain, for example.)

But weeds? They are not simply "unloved flowers." Left on their own, a lot of weeds can overtake the "loved flowers" in a garden. They can choke off plants you do want. A lot of the time? The "unloved flowers" are unloved for a reason. (Poison ivy, for example. Or insidious, spreading weeds that have what the garden manuals call "insignificant blooms" so they're not even pretty.)

Lucky for me, I find pulling weeds rather soothing and meditative. (Mostly.) Sometimes, though, like now during the spring-garden-explosion, it can be hard to keep up.

I like this weed-y quote much better . . . 

"Weeds never die."
            --- Danish proverb


That weed right there? It's hairy bittercress. And it is the current Public Enemy #1 in my garden. It's everywhere. And it spreads by shooting amazingly tiny yet powerful seeds in all directions (kind of like fireworks; very impressive) when you barely touch it. I try to get at 'em before they form seeds -- but that window of opportunity lasts about . . . oh, 2 minutes. So I'm often not successful in controlling the seeding.


This one . . . is vetch. As in makes-me-want-to-retch. This one is more charming to look at than the hairy bittercress. The leaves are delicate, and there are will be sweet little pink flowers very soon. (If I let it get that far.) (And I won't.) The problem? It vines and twines everywhere, and will completely cover my garden bed if I give it a chance! (Some misguided neighbors actually planted it just down the street, so the entire neighborhood struggles with it now.) (And don't get me started about my former neighbors who were too cheap to purchase garden plants, and instead chose to allow bind weed -- YES BIND WEED -- to grow as a vine to cover their swimming pool fence. It's like kudzu over there now. I even see it growing over their diving board . . . )

Other garden "favorites"? Various forms of chickweed (from Common to Mouseear) thrive in my garden. I have clover forever (it likes to hitch along in the containers of most nursery plants I bring home, so I'll never rid myself of it). Lots of purple deadnettle. Canada thistle. Henbit. Mugwort.

Lots. Of. Unloved. Flowers.

My weeds keep me busy, all season long. Like the Danish proverb says . . . weeds never die. 


Even though I complain about my weeds . . . I do appreciate their perserverance and ability to adapt. The bees depend on them for nectar - and especially in the spring before the actual "loved flowers" start to bloom. So I make space in my garden for the weeds, too. (Because what other choice do I have???) I try to keep them under control as best I can by pulling them. And I let go of perfection. 

(Except for the poison ivy. And the vetch. And that hairy bittercress.)
(Oh. And that bindweed that creeps under the fence. . . )

"You fight dandelions all weekend, and late Monday afternoon there they are, pert as all get out, in full and gorgeous bloom, pretty as can be, thriving as only dandelions can in the face of adversity."
        --- Hal Borland

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.