Last week, I took my four children to the animal shelter, "Just to look." Now, raise your hand if you've ever gone to the animal shelter just to look. If you have, then you're probably the same kind of person who can make a batch of chocolate chip cookies without sampling a single chocolate chip, or you must visit the nursery for ideas without leaving with a single 6-pack of flowers.
I was in denial about the true purpose of our shelter visit; therefore, on the last day of February, we adopted a two-year-old English bulldog. He's a sturdy dog with a brindle coat and an expression that's inexplicably goofy and noble at the same time. We've been without a dog since our last 16-year-old mutt passed away in 2011, and I hadn't realized what a gap she'd left in our lives.
Now that we've introduced our dog to everyone in the household, it's time for him to learn some manners, both indoors and out. As I prepare to begin planting my spring flower garden, there are still remnants of last year's cat deterrents. I like to lay thorny branches pruned from my rose bushes across my newly planted areas to keep my cats from digging in the fresh soil and making unwanted deposits. I trust that the dog will find these as unpleasant as our cats do. A little Vick's VapoRub dabbed at intervals on the garden's border also discourages pets. David Beaulieu has more on dog repellents if the flowerbed is your dog's favorite spot in the landscape.
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I first noticed the swarm back in late October, when we were still enjoying unseasonably warm weather. We could scarcely open the door without letting dozens of ladybugs inside. If the insects had been swarms of flies, ants, or any other bug with lesser charms, we wouldn't have tolerated such nonsense. After the first hard frost of the season, the ladybugs stopped congregating on the windows, and it seemed that they had gone off to find a brush pile or some other suitable place to spend the winter. I didn't realize that we had so many refugees still hiding inside.
Now, the stowaways are revealing themselves. Every morning, I find their dehydrated carcasses in the sink, on the floor, or in the toy box. What a waste! I hate that these misguided insects chose poorly, and now they won't be around in the spring to consume aphids and other pests in my garden. This is the first time in more than fifteen years in our home that the ladybugs have sought shelter indoors, so I hope that next autumn they find a cozier spot in one of the unkempt areas of our property.
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This week, I decided to make a special occasion cake for no special reason. An experienced baker, I wasn't deterred by the muti-step process, which included baking a lemon-scented angel food cake, cooking a homemade lemon custard, whipping fresh cream, and assembling a three-layer cake. The results were matter-of-factly delivered to me by my children: my three-year old said, "sour," my third grader said, "a little dry," and my two fifth graders said, "epic fail." The twenty minutes spent scrubbing the fossilized remains from the new tube pan I bought added insult to injury.
Perhaps you've experienced a similar situation in the flower garden. A magnificent rose topiary never blooms. An expensive orchid withers despite much coddling. A flat of baby delphinium plants never grows more than knee-high. If you're frustrated by expensive and time-consuming failures in the flower garden, consider scaling back your efforts. Think of it as the chocolate chip cookies of gardening: simple, but so good! Here are a few ways to accomplish beautiful gardens with less work and money:
Photo © Tracy Hunter
I have to visit the pet store regularly to care for our motley assortment of pets (two cats, rabbit, gerbil, and betta fish), and out of convenience I patronize the closest chain store for my supplies. However, recently my children and I ducked into a locally owned pet store to check out some of their exotic offerings. A poison dart frog, several snakes capable of making tragic news headlines, and more saltwater fish than I've ever seen on any snorkeling trip were among the usual screeching birds and smelly rodents.
This shopping trip is analogous to the way I acquire my flower garden plants and supplies. The big box store is fine for a few bags of generic mulch, but a visit to my favorite nursery is more like a free trip to the botanical garden. Unusual orchids, outrageous hanging baskets, and staff with a knowledge and passion for gardening await.
If your garden supply shopping trips feel more like a chore than an adventure, maybe you're shopping at the wrong place. Call your local county extension office, and ask one of the master gardeners where they like to shop. You may discover a fragrant oasis that will become your new go-to for your flowering favorites.
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Photo © Jamie McIntosh
Never does my winter landscape look more Spartan than in the middle of January. The trees are bare, the perennials are trimmed back, and the hanging baskets that act as punctuation points all throughout the garden are put away. If you can't wait until spring to bring life back to some of those baskets, consider planting an indoor hanging basket with an orchid. Traditional hanging baskets for orchids are made of tropical hardwoods like teak, and offer excellent drainage. In time, your cascading orchids, like the vanda orchid, may wrap their roots around the slats of the basket. If you have a large basket, pair the orchid with a suitable companion like a bromeliad, as orchids prefer slightly crowded growth conditions.
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As far as hobbies go, guns seem to be the antithesis of gardening. No matter your stance on guns, it's hard to deny the subversive appeal of the Flower Shell, an actual 12 gauge shotgun shell packed with your choice of flower seeds, including columbine, cornflower, lupine, peony, and others. The brass head contains gunpowder and the shell contains the seed, and as you can imagine, this is not child's play or a late night TV joke. If you find the notion of populating the neighborhood vacant lot or public space with flowers appealing but aren't ready to break out the big guns, check out the more accessible idea of creating a seed ball.
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Photo © Alan Stanton
What physical barriers do you face in the flower garden? Many of us can complain of blisters and an achy back, fewer gardeners face larger obstacles like gardening from a wheelchair, but fewer still face the monumental challenge of gardening as a quadriplegic. Patrick Muir of Lenexa, Kansas faces this challenge with unprecedented style and grace. Muir was paralyzed in 2001 at the age of 37 after suffering complications from a spinal cord tumor. I was astonished and humbled to read about his gardening accomplishments on his blog, Patrick's Garden: A Fresher Look at Creative Gardening, where he shares his extensive gardening knowledge as a Master Gardener. With one functioning hand, he has created an oasis at the nursing facility that is his permanent home. Muir reminds me that we are each blessed with a limited number of gardening seasons; it is up to us to use our talents bring them to fruition.
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Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse Netherlands is home to the world's largest and most fantastic spring bulb flower gardens. From March 20 to May 18th, visitors to The Netherlands shouldn't pass on the opportunity to see more than seven million bulbs in bloom, including 60,000 tulips and grape hyacinths. Make the trip a family affair, as children will love the exciting hedge maze, petting zoo, and playground. A don't-miss free event is the flower parade on May 3rd, which features elaborate flowering floats on its 40-km route.
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If you're looking for something different in your Christmas flower arrangements, consider incorporating tropical flowers like ginger or anthurium instead of the usual poinsettias. When combined with a small Norfolk pine specimen and a few glass ornaments, the effect is fresh and contemporary.
Photo © Jamie McIntosh
New on About Flowers: Plant a Flowering Hanging Basket
Photo © Jamie McIntosh