In a little reshuffle, we’ve decided to move this blog to our larger site (even more great articles and information about gardening, entertaining, and outdoor living over there!). So follow us over to The Garden Gab where we’ve posted all the articles from the Garden Gala along with some really great new ones. We’ll leave the Garden Gala up and be checking any comments, but we’re going to be adding new content exclusively on the Garden Gab- just think of it as a one stop, fabulous reference for all your gardening and entertaining needs!
December 7, 2009 at 8:35 pm (Party Planning)
If you are nervous about a plant swap because you or your guests are not sure about how to divide plants or take cuttings successfully, you can find more information at The Shopper’s Link blog on how to propagate plants without harming them.
We would just add that if you want a decorative houseplant, such as bamboo or amaryllis, you can start them in water as long as you keep them in water. They are stunning in clear glass containers. Simply add liquid plant food and they will get the nutrition they need. For more on hydroponic gardening, both for decorating and production, visit Greentrees hydroponics.
December 5, 2009 at 11:35 pm (Party Planning)
Now is the ideal time to begin planning a plant swap to cheer up those midwinter blues. Set a date for late February or early March, sometime between major holidays to see dear friends and begin thinking of spring.
Unlike many events where everything else is prepared before sending out invitations, a plant swap should send out invitations as quickly as possible. This way, you and your guests will have an idea of how many swaps can take place (by how many people will be coming) and have time to create cuttings that really have time to thrive before the party.
Don’t limit yourself just to cuttings though, many gardeners have lovely flower books they no longer need or seeds they have saved, or even lightly used garden tools that they may have too many of.
When guests rsvp, ask what type of seed, plant, or other object they would like to swap. This will keep everyone from bringing one type of plant (say an aloe) and no one really getting to swap. Or if you like, on each person’s invitation drop a subtle hint about a plant you really enjoy that they grow, for instance:
I would like to invite you to a garden swap on March 20th at 1:00 pm. We will be swapping anything and everything garden related, including plants, books or flower pots. But Mary, I’ve always particularly loved your Jade plant it’s so lush! I hope you will be bringing some cuttings of it, as I’ve never had good luck with Jade plant myself, and I need a little of your green magic! I’ll be bringing a variety of cuttings and seeds, but if there is a particular plant you would like, do let me know, I’d be so happy to share! I look forward to seeing you- the company and the beautiful plants will surely banish everyone’s winter blues!
This way, you and your guests have a chance to both admire each person’s handiwork and request the plants they would truly like and can use.
As time goes on, we will of course return to the topic of a swap party, but for now, letting everyone know to get ready and start their cuttings is a great way to start!
December 4, 2009 at 6:20 am (Gifts from the garden)
In the last post, we discussed the first half of creating an heirloom seed box to be tucked into a gorgeous pot or given as a gift on its own. I have chosen the theme of an herb garden, and decorated the fronts of my recipe cards with a detailed drawn picture of each herb. Again you can use photographs or even pressed flowers if you like, I just like the hand drawn look as it is more personal and this is for a dear friend. If you would like to use a pressed plant, you need only dab a small bit of clear drying glue to fix it in place, we will protect it at the end by covering the recipe cards with contact paper or laminating them, so they will last for a very long time.
Here are two examples of my cards:
These are the fronts of my Rosemary and Lemon Verbana cards. When I have laminated them I will attach a small envelope to the Rosemary card with seeds (the verbana grows well with cuttings so I will have to make a separate gift of that). The detail you put on the drawings is of course, up to you. I’ve tried to detail what the flowers look like, what the leaves and roots should be like, because I am primarily interested in these being a reference tool. I wanted my friend to know what a healthy plant should look like, a. because I am a terrible one for weeding, I never know which plant to pull, so I feel like a visual would help other people with similar problems and b. if the plant were not healthy, it’s differing appearance could tell a gardener right away.
On the back should be several short bits of information.
- When to plant (whether its a month or as soon as the ground thaws, after the last frost)
- How deep to plant seeds, spacing of seeds or seedlings and soil makeup (for example, rosemary likes soil with more alkaline properties)
- How much sun and when to water
- I included a bit of history or trivia on each card, such as what folklore says about the plant or how it has been used in other times and places
- Uses (besides being pretty!) and which parts of the plant to use (for instance, lemon verbana’s leaves can be used as a substitute for citrus peel in baking)
Here is a photo of the back of my rosemary card, I also added tiny drawings to decorate the card (scrapbooking elements, tiny pressed flowers or petals, or stickers would be beautiful too).
Add as much information as you can find, you never know what’s going to be useful (in the sowing, growing or harvesting!). When you are through, simply laminate or encase in clear contact paper. Tuck the cards into your box, and be sure to leave some blank cards and a little growing room so your friend (or yourself) can add to it down the road. Make sure to let your friend know to store this box in a cool, dry place to prevent germination of any seeds that are enclosed (the outdoor gardening shed would be perfect). Once you and several of your friends have these “recipe” boxes, you can trade both seeds, cuttings and recipe cards from your own gardens. This would make for a very special gift, ensuring long exchanges and friendships.
Have you got any suggestions on making this recipe box more special? Or how to incorporate cuttings? Have you got any nice ideas for tucking into gardening pots to be given as gifts?
Please send us photos of your recipe boxes, we’d love to see all the creative ideas and artistic plant drawings out there!
December 2, 2009 at 2:47 am (Gifts from the garden)
I love to give planters as gifts for my gardening friends, because they are so versatile and come in such stunning designs. This year’s favorite?
The Sueki Urn is ideal for my very special gardening someone and the whimsical thimble pots are perfect for funloving friends and especially children who love gardening, both are available from The Trellis Store . But I always hate to give planters empty, as attractive as they are, empty planters always feel a little forlorn. Sometimes I find a nice set of garden tools or gardening gloves, or a few beautiful outdoor books. This year though, with almost everyone I know crafting something special with their own two hands as a gift, I wanted to create something special and unique, something that people would know was from me.
November 27, 2009 at 5:38 am (Gifts from the garden)
This is a hard time of year for too many people. Frequently, our neighbors who have been on the margins, whether financially, medically or psychologically experience a turn for the worse around the holidays. While these days should be ones of health, hope and happiness, too often it means the opposite for some. While we all look for ways to help throughout the year, the holiday season makes us feel we want to do more somehow. With all the demands on our time and our wallets, we can sometimes feel stressed or resentful when someone asks us for more. So here are a few things we can all do while enjoying a favorite hobby, gardening.
1. Bring your brightest, freshest flowers to the local hospital. Did you know that research has shown that having fresh flowers in a hospital room can help patients need less pain medication, have lower blood pressure and make them feel less fatigued? There are too many patients that are without this simple pleasure. The nurses on any floor can help you find someone in need of a little green cheer. Not only will the fresh flowers help, it will also help to know someone cares. Make those blooms count! We promise that the person you give them to will appreciate them and think them more beautiful than you can imagine.
2. Give your extra produce to a local food bank. This can be done on a personal level (we all have extra potatoes, zucchini, squash, onions or herbs that we don’t need) or you can organize an indoor Plant A Row for the Hungry drive to supply food banks with fresh produce over the lean winter months. You can find info on the Plant A Row program at The Garden Writers Association. It’s very difficult for food banks to afford fresh produce in winter months, leaving many people to go without. With just a little extra effort, our neighbors could be enjoying healthy fruits and vegetables year round.
3. Visit a local assisted living center or nursing home with potted plant cuttings from your houseplants. Not only will these plants have the same pain ameliorating and emotion boosting effects as flowers in a hospital room would have, but research has shown the longer a person has the opportunity to care for a living thing, be it plant or pet, the better they fight off depression and anxiety. Residents with potted plants or pets not only live longer, but have a better quality of life and are more active than residents who do not have this. Make sure to make the pot small, so that if space is limited the resident can keep it without making their room uncomfortable. You can always come back for a nice visit to check on how the resident and your plant are doing and bring a bigger pot! It will give you something in common to talk about and you will make someone’s day so much brighter!
4. Collect seeds from your plants and donate them and your time to a community garden. Many urban and suburban communities are recognizing and honoring the value of green spaces. Chances are, there is an underfunded, undermanned community garden near you. Not only do these gardens usually need supplies, they also need people that know how to garden and most especially, know how to teach others to garden. You don’t have to be a master horiculturalist. If all you know is how to grow potatoes or roses or even just how to prepare soil, your knowledge is important. Go spend half an hour a week weeding or teaching. You will be pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic the participants are and your gift of both seeds and knowledge could hardly go to a more worthy endeavor.
5. Go and care for a sick neighbors plants. Winter or spring, plants need care. Some of our neighbors just can’t get around their home or garden easily this year and might need a little help trimming, watering or just shoveling snow to get to their greenhouse. There is nothing so crushing to an avid gardener than to see their work wither away or spill over with choking weeds. Not only will your neighbor be much more cheerful with a tidy, healthy space, your whole neighborhood will appreciate it (and hopefully pitch in!).
These are just a few ideas that will cost you little to nothing in both money and time but will result in an astonishing amount of happiness for a few people that really need it right now. Can you think of some other ideas from the garden that could help? Do you have a charity that could use a gardener’s assistance? Send us a note so we can share!
November 23, 2009 at 8:24 pm (Gifts from the garden)
With a few of your favorite flowers, herbs or any aromatic plants, you can make your own unique linen water or essential oils to make your home smell delicious as only you and your garden can. Since every flower has a unique scent based not only on species, but also on soil composition, which other plants share its space and maturity, your linen water will be yours alone, no one can really duplicate it. Today I’ll be using some leftover pine branches from our trellis project to make a pine scented linen oil but you can use any plant with a strong scent that you enjoy. You will need about two good cups of your chosen plant. Remember to use the plant part that holds the most scent. For flowers, this is mostly petals, but for things like rosemary, the leaves and branch both contain heavy scent or in citrus, most of the scent is in the peel rather than the flesh of the fruit. For delicate petals or fruit, you will not need to do much in preparation other than gathering your products. For woody or tough plants like the pine I will be doing or rosemary for example, you will want to bruise the plant to help it get started releasing their oils. Delicate plants will easily release their oils when boiled, but woody plants need a little help to start.
To bruise them you can crush the plants between your fingers, chop them with a knife or do a very quick burst in the blender. I just crushed them with my fingers as I pulled the needles from the branch. You will need a large soup or stock pot, a clean rock or brick, a glass bowl and some kind of cover for the pot (a steel bowl works best, but as a pie pan fits best over my pot, that is what I am using today). Place the brick in the center of your stockpot and fill the pot with water just until it is almost level with the brick. Seat the bowl on top of the brick (the brick is so your bowl doesn’t float around the pot.
You will need a sort of cap for your pot that will seal fairly tight (it doesn’t have to be jammed in there, but you want to catch most of the steam rather than letting it go. If the cap to your pot is not perfectly flat, it will work pretty well. Simply invert it so that the pointiest part is hanging directly over your empty bowl. If your pot lid is flat like mine, the next best thing is a curved metal bowl. Glass is ok but won’t let your distilled waters and oils condense as fast as metal. As I said, my metal bowl won’t fit, but I found a pan that will work pretty well.
Put your makeshift still on medium high heat, and when you hear the pot begin to boil you are going to cool down the cap by filling it with ice or cold water. If your cap is shallow, you may want to place another bowl on top or put the ice in a bag so you can easily exchange it when it is all gone. Otherwise, you will have to lift the lid and will lose some of your oils and linen water. As long as the lid is cold, the steam from your petals and water will condense onto it and drip back into the empty bowl, leaving you with distilled water and essential oils.The plants should boil about an hour, but make sure that if the water level is getting low, you take the pot off the heat. Burnt plant material will make the whole product smell bad (not to mention it can damage your pot) and you will have to start over. If the plants are boiled too long, they will start to lose their fragrance and though the water will still condense into your pot, it will carry no more oil or scent, making your product more diluted.
When you are through, the liquid in your collection bowl will look like plain water, but it will smell great! If you want to separate the oil from the linen water, cool your collection bowl and the oil should rise. If you cool it enough, the oil should become solid, making it easy to skim off. The linen water is ready to use as soon as it is cool. Pour it into a spritzer and spray on curtains, sheets, and towels for a pleasant scent (just make sure your guests aren’t allergic to the particular flower you used!).
If you would like to make hand cream with the oils you’ve collected, Mama Cheap’s Blog has a great recipe, but you may have to repeat this process a few times to get enough oil. But that’s okay, the whole time this batch was cooking my whole house smelled like Christmas!
November 21, 2009 at 4:33 am (Uncategorized)
- With the frenzy of the holidays, it’s easy to forget or even to neglect our back gardens, our private outdoor spaces that we think no one will enjoy except us. When we would most benefit from a peaceful escape, a warm, comforting vision just for ourselves, we have no time to create one. Too busy with the perfection of our public spaces, our living and dining rooms, our yards and entryways are lavished with decorating attention while our back gardens, our rear facing windows languish in the cold, dark holiday months.
- For many of us, the issue is not only time, but money and space as well. Sometimes, though, the small bright moments that only we experience by the tree, watching winter birds fill our quiet gardens or “stopping by woods on a snowy evening” are exactly the refresher and refiller that we most need during this demanding time of year.
- Take a half hour to make a pretty, private space for you, indoors or out, wherever you can escape to most often. Half an hour, a string of lights, a few of your favorite ornaments and a walk through the woods or your garden are all it will take to make your space special and festive this year. Collecting your decorations might also be just the refreshment you need to tackle the next series of holiday tasks.
- We took a forlorn, empty trellis from the garden after it’s climbers had been removed for the winter. Using pine boughs that were being trimmed anyway (you can also use pine boughs left over from resizing and centering your christmas tree or cut fresh ones) and some fresh cut snowberries that grow here naturally (you can use any berry sprigs, pine cones or rosehip laden branches too, just make sure your ingredients won’t be toxic to children or pets) we created a trellis to place outside our rear windows, to peak at when our spirits need refreshing. Starting with the pine branches we wove our elements into the frame of the trellis. Our trellis has lots of slender supports, so it was easy to make the boughs stay put without even adding twine. (Our trellis is the Balmoral Trellis from The Trellis Store ) However, if your trellis has wide spacing, utilize some colorful red ribbon to attach fans of pine or hold large boughs to the trellis. We added the lights next, making sure to keep the last bit of cord and the plugs well hidden in the back. Either weaving the lights through the boughs or adding a few extra sprays of pine over the lights will give your trellis extra depth and hide a lot of staging if you need to use extra twine or extension cords. Lastly, we added our berries, which stood out nicely against the green branches. We just poked them through the pine branches wherever we saw too much unbroken green.
- You can add a few of you favorite ornaments or lights (we added a tree topper) or you can leave it simple and elegant.
- We chose to place ours outside a rear window looking out into the backyard, where we can peak at it or enjoy it as we sit in our outdoor space. You may choose to move your trellis indoors. If you do, try baking your pine boughs at low heat (not above 200) for about 20 minutes to get rid of creepy crawlies and to fill your space with a warm pine scent.
- Even (or maybe especially) if your guests never see it, this pretty project will be a source of quiet, natural enjoyment for weeks to come.
November 19, 2009 at 4:13 am (Garden showpieces)
I’ve always been intrigued by a method employed in some Japanese tea gardens to help guests see the space around them in new or interesting ways. These gardens block some paths to guests and open others, so that the guest will be sure to delight in an element of their garden that they have not experienced before. While most small, backyard gardens don’t have the luxury of several separate paths, you can rearrange some elements of your garden to reflect the changing seasons and highlight new beauties in your space.
You may be covering your flower beds or removing many dying plants, but that doesn’t mean your garden must be shunned and never shown until late spring. Whether you have already experienced a lasting snowfall or your trees still cling to the last of their turning leaves, your space is undergoing a large transformation that can and should be celebrated.
Instead of being a riot of color, the most beautiful aspects of your space are now the deep contrast between just a few colors and the underlying form of both your plants and your artificial elements. Create pauses for your guests at particularly lovely spots, such as a stand of birches, a curling grapevine still on a trellis or wall, or around your water feature. Add a bench or even just a few well-sanded stumps with interesting crooks to let your visitors rest and take in each highlighted element.
Moss and Lichen wonderlands
You can also make use of any irregular stones and old stubborn tree remains, either by arranging them in attractive forms or by encouraging different species of moss and lichen to cover them. Both moss and lichen will survive over the winter and can add a startling burst of color against a drab brown background or bursting out of the white snow. In order to start your moss garden you can buy a patch of moss at a nursery or cut a square from any wooded area. Since there are no roots to moss, it is simply a matter of cutting through the moss and lifting it. If you would like to transplant the patch of moss as it is, paint your rock or log with mud and lay the moss on it. However, for a more natural look, you will want to blend your patch of moss with water and yogurt. Since moss is a group of microorganisms this won’t harm it, just break it apart. The yogurt will feed the moss and encourage it to multiply and knit together and the water will keep it moist and alive. Simply pour or paint your mixture over your rock or log or spread it over tightly packed soil. This is also a good way to cover any bare spots that potted plants or summer sun may have left in your space. For lichen, you will want to paint your rock or log with a thin layer of yogurt or liquid fertilizer. Since lichen is a spore in the air, it should naturally begin growing within a few weeks.
“Green the whole year ’round”
Planting evergreen shrubs and trees in your space can give you a depth of color and shadows. Make sure to space them throughout your space, instead of clumping them. This is also true of trees and shrubs that hold onto their berries throughout the winter, such as Acers which keep bright red berries or like this subtle snowberry vine that stands out against dark backgrounds like tree trunks, stone or deep bracken, even in deep snow.
Don’t forget to appreciate the animal life in your space as well. Create a rest stop around your feeder or bath, but make sure it is far enough away to not frightened the birds. Birdwatching adds not only color and movement to your garden but also lovely sounds that, in a winter setting, can be scarce. A covered gazebo can be excellent for this, affording your guests some protection from the wind and camouflage for bird watching.
Your idle garden structures can also be used to create pleasing shapes, and even sound in your garden. A chiming trellis or gazebo hung with bells will bring a sense of life to your garden even if the birds and squirrels are away.
November 16, 2009 at 4:59 am (Gifts from the garden)
It’s always sad when flowers we grew or were given to us wither and must be thrown away. Pressed flowers are an excellent way to preserve the beauty of your plants and the lovely memories that come with them. Flowers are easy to press, just place them between pieces of parchment paper and place under a large stack of books, flat bricks or any flat, heavy object for a few weeks until they are dry and papery. You can also purchase a flower press which will perform the same process but more quickly and uniformly.
Once you have these beautiful pressed flowers though, what do you do with them? Here is one excellent project you can do to make attractive stained glass suncatchers or ornaments for friends. Use flowers from your own garden or flowers you have pressed from an arrangement they have given you to give it an extra special, personal touch. Once you get comfortable with the process you can make smaller or larger versions, we’ve even seen earrings and pendants made this way!
Materials for a stained glass suncatcher
You will need a few specialty items for this project, but these tools are now relatively inexpensive and useful for many different types of crafts. You may be able to borrow them from friends, or if you choose to purchase them, you will be able to find other uses for them.
You will need:
- a sautering or soldering iron these can be found in hobby shops, stained glass stores, hardware stores or ordered online. A smaller version will work best here, especially if you are new to soldering
- copper foil and metal solder, available online or at stained glass stores
- flux, available online or at stained glass stores
- two matching sized pieces of stained glass preferably 2″ by 3″(it can be clear if you like but the ending suncatcher will not have the same gem like quality) You can buy these from a stained glass store precut or by larger pieces and cut them yourself using the scoring method. This method is detailed nicely here along with a nice step by step walkthrough of sautering
- a small paintbrush
- 5 or 6 of your prettiest, flattest pressed flowers
- clear drying glue
- a c-clamp or helper
Preparing your glass
Once you have your stained glass sized correctly, place them on a clean, dry work surface and thoroughly clean and dry your glass pieces with windex or vinegar, oils from finger prints can prevent the foil from sticking to your piece. Peel a small section of the backing off your copper foil, just to start it (if you peel the entire piece it may collect lint or get tangled and stuck while you are wrapping your glass). Begin just past one corner of your glass piece. Make sure your foil is centered on the edge of your glass square, so that a very little bit of the foil will hang over and fold down on both the back and front of the glass (as if you were gift wrapping). Press your foil firmly down and fold the overhang down onto the glass. Continue around the perimeter of the glass, peeling away the backing as you go. Try to hold the glass in the center as you are doing this to prevent touching the clean edge you are foiling. When you meet the edge you started at, cut the foil and finish pressing down the edges. Before you set this piece aside, go over the foil one more time to press out any bubbles and make sure the foil is tightly holding the glass. Move on to the next piece and repeat the same procedure. When both glass pieces are foiled, lay out your flowers on one of the pieces of glass. Colorful flowers will create an attractive pattern, but don’t forget the exotic textures and shadows leaves and ferns can make as well. Once you have created a design you like, put a tiny dab of glue on each flower or element and affix to the glass. Don’t worry about sticking your flowers all the way down, this is only to prevent them from sliding while you sauter, the weight of the glass will hold them in place.
Getting ready to Solder
Next, you will want to brush all the foil with flux. This is a vaseline feeling substance to help the solder grip the foil. It’s best to do this with a paintbrush, as it will need to cover the whole foil surface. After you have painted the foil with flux on both pieces, it’s time to get ready to sauter them together. While most of this project lends itself to crafters of all ages, sautering irons are extremely hot and this section should be left to an adult helper or crafter. Place your glass pieces together (if you have chosen textured glass, make sure the flattest sides are facing each other) with the flowers in the middle, lining up all the edges and place it on the edge of your workspace on top of the newspaper. Affix a c-clamp to your table and gently clamp down your piece. This is to keep it lined up and pressed together while you sauter, it doesn’t have to be terribly tight, and if you are lacking a c-clamp, have an adult helper press down on the center of the glass while you sauter. You (and your helper) can use soldering or safety gloves to prevent burns from your soldering iron and metal solder. These are available at stained glass stores, hardware stores or online. Your metal solder will look like a coil of heavy wire. Unwrap a length that is comfortable for you to hold (this project probably won’t take more than a few inches. Hold your metal solder in one hand (usually not the one you write with) and your heated iron in the other (usually your writing hand). Place the tip of your iron directly on the foil of your piece (try to split the tip between both pieces of glass so the solder will fill the seam between them and fix them together). Touch the tip of your metal solder to the tip of the iron. The metal will melt and fix to the foil. Keep moving your iron down the foil seam to spread the metal solder and keep touching the solder to the iron to make a raised metal seam (it will look like a series of long bubbles all interconnected). When you have finished with one side, turn your piece and finish the other three sides. You can affix a metal hook for hanging by bending a small piece of wire into a semicircle. Place the hook on the top edge of your piece and have a helper hold it in place with tweezers or small tongs. Press the sautering iron to each end of the wire and add a drop of metal solder to fix it in place.
When the glass piece is cool (it will only take about half an hour), gently clean off any extra flux with windex or vinegar. String a ribbon through the hanger and hang in a sunny window or give to a special friend for a unique gift from your garden.