Spring Seed Order

It’s a happy day when I get to place my spring seed order from the Cooks Garden catalog.  For the time being, I’m sticking with the standards.  For salads:  Jersey tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, lunchbox cucumbers and summer lettuce mix.  For cooking:  colorful Bright Lights swiss chard and heirloom zucchini.  For flavor, a variety of herbs including dill, sage, basil, Italian parsley and more.  And because what’s a vegetable garden without them:  sunflowers and nasturtiums.

Over the next week, I’ve got lots of clean up work to do in order to get my vegetable garden ready for these new seeds and plants.  There are weeds to be cleared, compost to be spread and so forth.  For now, I’ll just eagerly anticipate the arrival of my spring seed order, and rhapsodize about the good things that will soon be growing in the garden.




Bookshelf: The Collette Sewing Handbook

Having started sewing again after a 40-year break, my skills were a bit rusty. I bought the Collette Sewing Handbook to re-learn basic techniques, but the book offers much more than that. Sarai Mitnick provides a terrific framework for approaching sewing as a craft. She teaches you how to approach your sewing projects in the context of your overall skill development and wardrobe planning. And beyond that – her fashion designs are timeless and elegant. I’m planning on making most of the garments in this book, and I’ve already scoured the Collette patterns site to purchase more. If you are a new sewer, or if you want to expand your foundation, buy this book. You won’t be disappointed – instead, you’ll be inspired and energized!



What do I live for?

No words can better capture the essence of a life well lived than this wonderful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.”

After all the years of struggle for achievement, for recognition, I have to think that the best in life comes to this.  Let me now focus my days on what really matters – leading with love, helping others, and creating that beautiful garden patch.

Survival Story

When a fifty-foot oak in our woods fell victim to Hurricane Sandy a few weeks ago, my first thought was, “thank goodness it missed the house.” My second thought was for the lovely little Dan Fenton holly tree that I planted about four years back. She has grown steadily in stature and beauty, providing cover for the local songbirds and a lovely sight from my kitchen window. I thought for sure the fallen oak had taken her square out. And what a loss it would be, since hollies grow so very slowly and who knows when I could replace her. But most happily, the oak missed my little holly by a mere six inches or so. I’m thrilled for my little survivor – a reminder of the survivor in all of us – and send love, prayers and support to the many thousands of people still coping with the aftermath of an unimaginable natural disaster.

Winter Container Class Redux

I loved last year’s Winter Container Garden class at Longwood so much that I decided to give a similar class this year as a contribution to the UUCCH auction.  We had a gorgeous, sunny afternoon for planting.  It’s hard to believe a hurricane came through the mid-Atlantic just a few weeks ago, but one benefit is that I collected dozens of fallen pine and birch branches to decorate the containers.  We did fine-textured evergreens (arbor vitae and variegated dwarf false cypress) with lovely red-tinged nandina domestica.  In fact, the nandina were so large that we ended up splitting them in half to use two per container.  For accents, I cut holly, beauty berry and magnolia stems from the UUCCH grounds.  My friend Mia brought along some holly from her yard, and some wonderful rhododendron as well.  In fact, we had so many cut branches that I ended up using them to accent my planting beds and other containers as well.  All the guests added their own unique touches to the containers, and I have to say, the results were lovely.  All told, a successful class and supremely pleasant afternoon.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Top 10 Plants for Mid-Atlantic Gardens

As I worked on the new island bed for my sister-in-law, I began thinking about the types of plants that are best suited for gardens here in the Mid-Atlantic area.  To make a garden visually interesting, it’s important to incorporate a variety of plant heights, shapes and textures.  A combination of small accent trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials usually does the job.  Once established, these kinds of mixed gardens require little maintenance.

It’s also useful to use elements that are attractive at different times of the year.  Like all of us, our gardens need to work hard during every season!  And although some gardeners have the advantage of plentiful sun, many do not.  So I considered plants that can work in a variety of light conditions.  And of course, I have a strong preference for East Coast natives that support local wildlife.

With all of these ideas in mind, I came up with this ‘top ten’ list for Mid-Atlantic gardens:

1.     Flowering Dogwood (cornus florida):  Nothing announces Spring better than the beautiful flowering dogwood.   Native to the Eastern US,  it is lovely as a small accent or understory tree at the woodland’s edge.  And once the leaves have fallen, the graceful branch structure offers interest all winter.

2.    Shadbush  (amelanchier):  Another North American native, Shadbush is a graceful small tree for sunny or partly shady areas.  Some varieties grow as multi-stemmed large shrubs.  They offer spring flowers, beautiful fall color and edible blueberry-like fruits.  I recently planted a trio of the ‘Princess Diana’ variety at the edge of my yard, and they are already growing in nicely.

3.    Inkberry Holly (ilex glabra):  Every garden needs evergreens for structure and year-round color.  Inkberry holly is my go-to evergreen for a number of reasons.  First, as a native plant, it supports the local habitat.  Second, it grows happily in sun or shade.  Finally, inkberry serves as a reliable backdrop to more showy small shrubs and perennials in the garden.

4.     Redtwig Dogwood (cornus sericea):   Talk about a four-season plant!  The dogwoods in my garden have graceful variegated leaves in spring, soft white flowers in early summer, and showy deep red stems in fall and winter.  I love to cut branches for holiday decorations.  Beyond adding structure and interest to the garden, redtwigs are also a native plant.

5.     Knockout Rose (Rosa ‘knockout’):  OK, so everybody plants them.  But for good reason – they’re the easy to grow, resistant to pests, require no maintenance, and offer beautiful color from spring until fall.  I use red knockouts in my back yard, soft pink to border the vegetable garden, and sunny yellow at the beach.   If you’re new to roses or have been afraid to try them, Knock-outs are truly a great option.

6.     Virginia Sweetspire (itea virginica):  Another wonderful, easy-care native shrub, Sweetspire offers white bottle-brush flowers in the spring, glossy green leaves all sumer, and blazing fall color.  I like ‘Henry’s Garnet’ for large gardens and ‘Little Henry’ for smaller areas.  I planted Little Henry in my stream-side border, where it does just fine in partial shade.   

7.     Grecian Windflower (anemone blanda):  I’ve just about given up on bulbs.  Squirrels dig up the tulips.  Daffodils are lovely in bloom, but then leave ugly foliage behind.  Grecian windflower, however, may just change my mind.  This graceful plant is among the first to emerge in the spring.  It offers fern-like foliage and long-lasting small flowers of white and purple.  Plant a few in partly shady areas, and they’ll grow in drifts.  And by the time they start to fade, other perennials will have begun to take over.

8.     Switchgrass (panicum virgatum):  Ornamental grasses add vertical interest and movement to the garden.  Many exotic varieties though, are invasive.  These days, I’m ripping out the zebra grass and other exotics, and replacing them with native switchgrass.  Numerous varieties offer a range of color choices and heights.  At the beach, I’m using the bluish ‘Heavy Metal.’  At home, I’ve just purchased ‘Shenandoah,’ a red-tinged variety, to plant alongside my red knockouts.

9.     ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum (sedum ‘autumn joy’):  In the ‘plant it and forget it’ category, sedums take first prize.  In fact, they seem to actually thrive on neglect.  But these hard-working plants offer wonderful shape and texture in sunny gardens.  I like ‘Autumn Joy’ for its long-lasting, rust-colored flowers in late summer and fall.

10.  Purple Catmint (nepeta-x-faasseni ‘walker’s low’):  Catmint is a reliable perennial with a mounded shape that helps blend taller shrubs and upright plants together in a mixed garden.  Its purple flowers attract helpful pollinators.  I use the ‘Walker’s Low’ variety and it comes back stronger and bigger every year.

 What is your top-10 list for local gardens?  I’d love to hear!






My first commission!

My first commission!  Ok, a labor of love – but still a first opportunity to design a garden for someone besides myself!  My sister-in-law, Lisa, asked me to plant the large, crescent-shaped bed at the end of her driveway.  I was excited by the challenge of designing a bed for full sun (since my own yard is mainly shade), and especially such a large space – about 20 feet long by 10 feet at the widest spot.  The bed contained a rag-tag assortment of plants – a half dozen globe-shaped evergreens, a leggy willow, a few Russian sage, a clump of Pampas grass, and a large patch of silvery Lambs’ Ear surrounding a large boulder.  Lisa’s requirements were simple:  No maintenance.  Save the purple sage.  Oh, and don’t remove the Lambs’ Ear.

Here’s my starting point:

Sunny island bed, before

The evergreens pose a bit of a design challenge in my opinion because they are so dense and heavy.  After a bit of planning, though, I came up with a design for year-round interest, based on bold color scheme of red, purple and white.  I purchased from the nursery:

  • 5 ‘Ivory Halo’ red-twig dogwood
  • 5 red Knock-Out roses
  • 6 ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum
  • 3 purple catmint

Also on the shopping list is a ‘Snow Fountain’ weeping cherry – but I have to borrow a truck in order to pick it up.  And from my own yard, I added a Nandina Domestica left over from one of my winter containers.  Here are the raw materials for the new bed:

Plants for the new bed:  red twig dogwood, roses, sedum, catmint, Nandina Domestica

With Saturday’s cool and cloudy weather, conditions were ideal for renovating the bed.  First, I removed, split and relocated the Pampas grass (not a favorite of mine anyway, so I was glad to see it go!  Upon closer look, I discovered that the evergreens were not boxwood, but in fact Japanese holly (much nicer and easier to keep, in my book).  I moved a few of the Lambs’ Ear from their dense patch, to line the outside edge of the hollies.  The willow got a bit of a haircut.

Then, finally, to add the new plants.  I put the Nandina behind the bolder – it will grow tall and develop a lovely red color and bright berries, and the boulder will hide its legs.  I surrounded the Nandina with three of the dogwoods, and then split up the sage and added them in along the edge.  On the other side of the boulder, I planted the Knock-Outs in a staggered pattern, and edged them with the sedum.  The two remaining dogwoods went in on the other side of the roses, bordered by the catmint.  Here is the newly replanted bed:

Sunny island bed, after

I am very pleased with the result.  The dogwoods and Nandina add grace, movement and openness to the bed, while the red Knock-Out roses will offer vibrant color all summer long.  The weeping cherry tree will be planted in the empty space next to the willow.  Its cascading branches will counteract the upright forms of the willow, dogwoods and roses.  The cherry tree has beautiful white flowers in the spring, which will soften the bare twigs of the willow.  In the fall, its leaves will have a beautiful orange-red color, complementing the red dogwood stems and sedum flowers.  In short, a once-bare bed will offer no-maintenance beauty in every season.  Now that’s a labor of love!