Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece

Using a variety of drieds and succulents you can create an easy centerpiece in minutes

An easy centerpiece to whip up for your Thanksgiving table using a leftover pumpkin from Halloween can be done in half an hour. Drying flowers all summer long from my garden gave me ample stock to pick from and I had a bumper crop of dried sunflowers to use. The sliced dried oranges were dried in my dehydrator and left over from last year. As to succulents, I have a greenhouse full!

My greenhouse has lots of succulents that I am rooting and over-wintering

 

My stock of dried flowers

The green Jarradale pumpkin was my leftover from Halloween and I hot-glued some green moss on top to start. Continue to glue the largest items on the top around the stem. Here I used mini white pumpkins and dried sunflowers.

Start with your largest items first and hot glue them on top
After the largest items are glued, start with the dried flowers; here I used Cockscomb

Next, hot glue the dried flowers. Using the burgundy cockscomb created a nice contrast with the light colored pumpkins.

Adding sprays of dried Dusty Miller

Continue adding dried flowers to cover the top and sides of the pumpkin. One of my favorite foliage drieds is Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria). Drying beautifully, it looks almost as good as fresh.

Adding dried oranges gives the pumpkin a dimensional effect

Adding dried blue hydrangea and some flexible metal fern fronds adds to the richness of the design. Be sure to go down the sides of the pumpkin to create a lush look. It is almost finished!

Add the succulents at the end with some quick dry glue (not hot glue)

Dried blue salvia and succulents were added at the end and the last finishing touch was a piece of kiwi vine. Don’t hot glue your succulents! They will melt with the high heat. Use a quick drying glue. I use E6000 available at any craft store. Air plants are a great addition also but be sure not to hot glue these either. Fresh plant material doesn’t work well with hot glue.

This creation will last for weeks, even until Christmas. To make it last longer, don’t sit the pumpkin in the sun and the cooler the better for temperature.

For more pumpkin ideas, go to Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall, Pumpkin Treats-Decorating With Succulents, and Succulent Thanksgiving.

 

After picking my own sunflowers from a farm I enjoyed them fresh for a week and then hung them upside down in a dark place to dry
Dried Sunflowers

Succulent Thanksgiving

Decorating for the fall season is always top of my list of feel good things to do. The variety and colors of pumpkins and gourds that are outside of the normal fall color range is exciting to arrange with. Also, succulents that have grown like crazy all summer need to be pruned, brought in to warmer temperatures, and are a perfect partner for fall arranging.

Hanging baskets of succulents ready for taking cuttings and prunings
Succulents come in an array of sizes and shapes

 

With my Deck the Halls-A Succulent Christmas post getting tons of views all year long, succulents are maintaining their popularity and usefulness in all kinds of ways. Pumpkin decorating with succulents has reached mainstream audiences and many decorators are using these for their table centerpieces. Go to Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats to see the variety of things that you can do with the combination of pumpkins and succulents for a long lasting table and unique arrangement.

Pumpkin decorated with succulents
Top of pumpkin covered with succulents

Succulents on pumpkin

Picking up an old fashioned wicker cornucopia on my travels inspired me to decorate it with the succulent/pumpkin/gourd idea.

The larger one which measures about 18″ long works better with large gourds and succulents; the smaller cornucopia which measures about 12″ long works with tiny pumpkins and hen and chick succulents
Place bubble wrap in the cornucopia and gather your materials.

Placing some bubble wrap in the cornucopia to support the arrangement was the first step and then gathering my materials. I used fresh/dried gourds, dried pomegranates, air plants, cotton bolls, okra pods, oyster shells, and lots of succulent cuttings. The cuttings will last a long time through Thanksgiving and then I will recycle them into pots to root for next years succulents. Adding dried ornamental corn and baby pumpkins to the mix completes the display. No glue or oasis was used, I just inserted the materials into the bubble wrap.

Place your largest items in first; in this case, the gourds

Add your succulents, pomegranates, and other pods
This cornucopia is a little different the addition of oyster shells; See my post on a Williamsburg Christmas

Other Succulent Ideas

Here are some other succulent Thanksgiving ideas for centerpieces.

Top of a large pumpkin had small pumpkins attached
Houseplant succulent candle centerpiece
Pumpkins, succulents, and air plants on a side board
Table setting of pumpkins and succulents
Succulents and Pumpkins as a table setting

Maryland is Bracing for an Invasion of the Spotted Lantern Fly

Lantern Fly is a moth
Lanternfly is a moth

Here in Maryland, we are still shell shocked from the smelly Stink Bug Invasion and we need to get ready for an even worse invasive species that is making its home here on the East Coast. Starting just four years ago in Bucks County Pennsylvania when a shipment of stone from Asia arrived with Lanternfly eggs attached, the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is native to China and was first detected in Pennsylvania in September 2014.

Spotted Lanternfly is a one inch long plant hopper who feeds on ornamental and fruit trees, with Ailianthus, or Tree of Heaven, another invasive, its preferred hosts. Smelling like well-used gym socks, this tree appears everywhere along roads, in cracks of sidewalks, and anywhere it drops a seed. Signs of an infestation are weeping wounds that leave a greyish or black trail along the trunk. Weeping sap attracts other insects to feed, notably wasps and ants. Egg masses are laid on host trees and other smooth surfaces like stone, outdoor furniture, vehicles, and structures in late Fall.

Tree of Heaven is ubiquitous in the mid-Atlantic

Spotted Lanternflies are invasive and can be spread long distances by people who move infested material or items containing egg masses.

Just spotted recently in Cecil County, Maryland, this noxious pest is poised to spread throughout Maryland in the next couple of years. Orchards and vineyards will be the first to be invaded and they will spread from there to homes.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the spotted Lanternfly has been spotted in 13 counties of Pa- Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Schuylkill. My first sighting of the Lanterfly was at a friends house in Montgomery County, PA, when I spotted one perched on the side of the house.

Since it is new to the United States, little is known about its behavior and biology, but researchers are feverishly gathering information and scientific data on how to manage this pest. Aerial spraying is not an option as large-scale spraying of this type can kill native species and cause more harm to the environment.

Right now, the recommendation is to destroy the bug or egg mass to stop the spread. Adults will lay egg masses on host trees and nearby smooth surfaces like stone, outdoor furniture, vehicles, and structures.

If you spot these pests, go to Spotted Lanterfly Alert for a link to report it.

The Year of the Pepper

In the veggie garden this year, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash all bombed. Rotting zucchini plants were everywhere and tomatoes that peaked early and then languished was the norm.  The mid-Atlantic had record rainfall and it seemed every day there was a chance of showers. And shower it did! Non-stop for five solid months, it was mud season all summer.

Raised beds would have helped with my veggies garden as they help with drainage

From May through July 2018, much of the East Coast, especially the Mid-Atlantic, experienced rainfall up to 300% of normal according to NOOA. The soggy summer was described this way by NOOA, “in June and July, the epicenter for heaviest rains became focused over the Mid-Atlantic, as monthly rains near Washington, D.C. through central Pennsylvania easily eclipsed 200% of normal”. The rains here in Maryland have been so heavy that May to July was the wettest in the state’s 124 history. This pattern continued into October. Also, the heat was turned up so I call this summer our “tropical rain forest year”. It felt heavy and humid every day which translates to Heat + Humidity = More Disease. 

Mad Hatter is one of my favorite varieties; If you keep them on the plant, they turn red

The wet weather affected my vegetable garden yields greatly, and any vining veggies, like cucumbers, squash, and melons, totally succumbed to disease from wet conditions.  But to my total surprise, my pepper crop reveled in the rain and heat and broke all records for producing quantities of peppers. We have been eating peppers at every meal- sweet, hot, and slightly hot are all producing prodigiously even into the end of October.

Piles of peppers

I used all AAS Winners (All American Selections National and Regional Winners) for seed which have been tested for garden performance all over North America from a panel of expert judges. Reliable new varieties that have proved their superior garden performance in trial gardens is the way to go for me. Like a stamp of approval from experienced gardeners, my AAS peppers included: Cayenne Red Ember, Hungarian Mexican, Escamillo, Mexican Sunset, Habanero Roulette, Mad Hatter, Pretty N Sweet, and Mama Mia Giallo.

I grew some bell peppers for stuffing also

Growing all my plants from seed, I planted about 20 different transplants out in May and forgot about them for the next two months. Peppers thrive on neglect and yes, I neglected them while I constantly tried planting new cucumbers and squash to no avail. I didn’t harvest one. But when I totally despaired of my vegetable garden, the peppers started to come in and are still producing.

Growing some of my peppers in containers was the best choice I made this year. The ones in containers excelled and when frost started to hit in late October, I whisked them into my greenhouse, where they are still producing.

I placed my containers of peppers in my greenhouse

Peppers 3 Ways

What to do with all this bounty? I have tried these three ways this season.

Drying peppers
Piles of dried peppers; I store in the freezer as I found that they got moldy otherwise

Freeze Drying

Wash peppers and let dry. Cut in half and lay on a dehydrator tray and dry for about 24 hours. Store the dried peppers in plastic freezer baggies, and store in freezer. Pull them out as needed.

Freezing

Wash peppers and let dry. Chop peppers up into pieces and place in freezer bags. I like to mix red and green pepper together. I freeze them in small quantities that are recipe-ready.

Place chopped peppers into freezer bags squeezing any excess air out

Blackened

My favorite treatment by far: Wash your peppers and dry. Heat up some canola oil in a fry pan until hot and sizzling. Dump your peppers in one layer and stir to flip them to all sides until blackened. Squeeze juice of one lime into the pan and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Eat by biting the pepper right off the stem that will include the seeds. Delicious! Watch out for the hot ones!

Saute and blacken
Ready to eat

 

Tips For Making Your Carved Pumpkins Last

With Halloween around the corner, pumpkin carving skills need to be honed and executed on the most perfect orange sphere that you can find in the pumpkin patch. If orange isn’t your thing, there is a rainbow of colors to choose from. Check out my post on Decorating Pumpkins-Pumpkin Eye Candy.

White pumpkin owl family

If carving a pumpkin is too much trouble for a pumpkin that lasts for about a week, consider decorating your squash with succulents which will last for months.

Green pumpkins look good with succulents
Use drieds along with succulents
Spraying your pumpkin gold adds some glam
Wisps of grass add a good design element to this pumpkin

For how-to on decorating pumpkins with succulents, check out Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents.  

Picking the Best

When you are at the farm stand picking out your perfect specimen, be sure to look it over for soft spots and gouges into the outer skin. If either of these are present, your pumpkin will likely rot before you can start decorating it. Poke and prod the pumpkin all over to make sure it is healthy. Have a plan of what you would like to carve as that determines the shape, size and orientation(sideways, upright, upside down) of your final creation. If you want the pumpkin at its best on Halloween, don’t carve it too early. One day ahead or the day of is perfect so that the pumpkin holds up.

This makes a great sideways pumpkin

Picking out from a local market means you won’t get a bruised and battered pumpkin that traveled far from the farmer.

An outdoor work area is preferable as the job can get quite messy. Using brown/butcher paper or a trash bag underneath makes cleanup a snap.

Carefully paring away of the skin adds to the expression of this face

Making Your Creation Last Longer

  1. Make sure you thoroughly clean out and scrape the guts. The cleaner and drier you get with the gooey pumpkin innards, the longer it will last.
  2.  Rinse the entire pumpkin in cold water and dry.
  3. Spray the pumpkin insides with a solution of  1 Tablespoon of peppermint soap or bleach to a quart of cold water. The peppermint soap acts as an anti-fungal and the bleach kills any organisms that lead to rot and decay.
  4. Apply a thin coating of petroleum jelly to the outside to stop the pumpkin from drying out.
  5. Place pumpkin in fridge in a plastic bag to store overnight or place outside in the cold. The colder it is (not freezing!) the longer it will last.
  6. Rehydrate with a spray of water when you take the pumpkin out of the bag.
  7. Don’t use real candles as the heat and melted wax will hasten the demise of your pumpkin.
  8. To last the longest, paint your pumpkin.

For the best tutorial on carving, I use YouTube. 

 

Use a drill to punch holes in your pumpkin for a unique effect
Draw from a template if you want an elaborate design
Attach accessories to make your pumpkin unique

Painted face on the bottom of a pumpkin
Group your pumpkins for a bigger impact
Attach other fruits and veggies with toothpicks
Love the butterflies!!

English Gardens-Grand Estates & Cottage Gardens

If you have never been to the Hampton Court Flower Show or other iconic English gardens, read on if you want to check this off on your bucket list. For a full rundown on my recent trip to the Chelsea Flower Show, and gardens in the Cotswolds and Wales, you need to check out my post. 

At the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show

Sussex, Norfolk, Kent, Essex, and Suffolk, have some of the most beautiful and famous gardens of England, and you owe yourself a trip there. If you are serious about things of a horticultural nature, then look no further than my upcoming tour of Hampton Court Flower Show & English Garden tour. The English know how to garden, and for them it is a blood sport when they display at garden shows. And we have a full day at the Hampton Court Flower Show on Royal Horticultural Society members day only. That means less crowds to deal with!

A beautiful bee hive surrounded by lavender at Chelsea Flower Show

Starting with the Hampton Court Flower Show which is the largest of its kind in the world, we travel to Kent, the ‘Garden of England’, to visit Chartwell,  the family home of Sir Winston Churchill. Pictures, books and personal mementoes evoke the career and wide-ranging interests of this great statesman, writer, painter and family man, while the hillside gardens reflect Churchill’s love of the landscape and nature. You may be able to spot the black swans that have been there since Churchill’s time.

Chartwell, photo by Amy Sparwasser
Chartwell, photo by Amy Sparwasser
Chartwell in Autumn, photo by Amy Sparwasser
Black swans at Chartwell

Sussex, Kent, Norfolk, and Surrey are a treasure trove of beautiful stately gardens surrounding grand estates, some like Leonardslee Lake & Gardens that has roaming wallabies and a one of a kind miniature/dollhouse exhibit. Closed for many years for a major renovation, Leonardslee is open for the first time in many years, and I can’t wait to tour it.

Great Dixter is one of my favorite gardens included, the garden of the late plantsman Christopher Lloyd. So many containers are packed into this garden, the containers become a huge feature. The flower filled borders are some of the prettiest in England.

Poppies blooming at Great Dixter
Containers at Great Dixter
The home of Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter
The White Garden at Sissinghurst
Sissinghurst

Many other iconic gardens are included with a total of 14 gardens, Ely Cathedral, Sutton Hoo archaeological site and a nature boat trip down the Norfolk Broads to see the countryside. Also an afternoon cream tea at the famous at the famous Essex Rose Tea House is included- a lot to pack in for 10 days!

My tours are for small groups, are all by coach and we stay at 4 star hotels. I have a wonderful tour guide who has been with me for four tours and makes all of our visits a delight and very informative. We have a lot of fun exploring medieval towns and the countryside and experience England’s centuries-old fascination with gardening.

For a full itinerary with pricing, go to my Trips page. Here’s the flyer:

 

Toad Lilies-Orchids of the Fall

Toad Lilies, watercolor by Laura Jones

An under-used and under-appreciated perennial in the U.S, Tricyrtus or Toad Lily, is gaining in popularity. Called toad lilies because of the spotting like a toad, these beautiful flowers thrive in moist deep shade to partial shade and come back year after year. In addition, the flowers have warty, sack-like bumps at the base of the flowers that appear “toadish” to some. The bumps are actually nectaries where the nectar is stored.

The bumps at the base of the flower are the nectaries

Toad Lilies, Tricyrtus hirta, are in their fall glory right now in mid-October. Growing all year-long, with layer upon layer of foliage sprays, in October the flowers surprise me and emerge from the axels of the leaves with diminutive spotted flowers. Deer tend to leave them alone for the most part, but there are exceptions where I have seen them nibbled.

Hairy spotted flowers look like tiny orchids
Arching stems display the flowers

Growing on upright arching stems the entire plant is attractive. An easy to grow perennial, more people should consider growing these gems in the shady areas of their garden, along with hostas and astilbe.

 

Lasting for weeks, the flowers look like jewels on the stems

Filling an important blooming gap in the garden, these plants bloom in October into November when few other plants are flowering. In the lily family, Tricyrtus is a Japanese species of hardy perennials found growing on shaded rocky cliffs in Japan.

Bees love the flowers

Because there isn’t much blooming in the garden in October, bees flock to them and they are an important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees when there isn’t much for them to forage from. And since we have had a record amount of rainfall this summer, the toad lilies are lush and beautiful.

Toad Lilies drape over a wall

For a complete evaluation of this interesting species, check out the notes published by the Chicago Botanical Garden .

 

Seasonal Fall Miniature Gardens

 

With the changing of the seasons, I like to update my miniature gardens to reflect the fall season, just like I decorate my house for Fall. Go to Springtime Miniature Gardens to see how my spring creations come together. For Christmas mini gardens, go to Miniature Gardens in the Winter and Miniature Christmas Garden Craze.

Start with a wide shallow planter with drainage holes and fill with potting medium

The Fall days are cooler and the leaves are starting to fall and that is the only excuse I need to unearth my tiny pumpkins and hay bales, scarecrows, and gourds.

After filling up the container with soil, firm it into the bowl and plant about 5-7 small houseplants
Place your minis in the bowl, and mist the entire planter until thoroughly watered
Same planter, but I removed the fence and added a ceramic house and flat stones in front
Totally different set up with a natural mushroom house, and a stepping stone pathway

I liked this iteration the best with the hand-made scarecrow

“Hairy Balls”- A Different Kind of Milkweed

I love arranging with “Hairy Balls” for a unique centerpiece
Hairy Balls starting to form tennis ball size  pods

Visitors looking over my garden in the fall, always ask what the strange-looking plant is that is forming large hairy pods. Growing in my veggie garden, because of the amount of space the plants take, my Gymnocarpus physocarpa, or “Hairy Balls” are a conversation starter. A Milkweed family member, another common name is Balloon Plant. Native to South Africa, this plant is an invasive in tropical climates, but in my zone 6-7 area, winter cold keep it in check.

Hairy Balls in full glory

Here are some facts about this amazing plant:

  • Fast growing annual Milkweed, hardy in zones 8-10
  • Can sustain lots of munching monarch caterpillars late season
  • Nectar source for monarch butterflies
  • Long stems with pods make beautiful table centerpiece
  • Last viable Milkweed species before fall frost
  • Start seeds at least 6-8 weeks inside; easy to germinate in about a week
  • Flowers aren’t super showy, but still attractive
  • Fewer pollinators use this than native Milkweed
  • Pinch back the plant to make it bushier and with a stronger stem
  • Place in the rear of a border as it can top off at 6 feet and may require staking
  • The pods become ripe when they turn a tan color and burst open with the fuzzy seeds
  • I save some seeds for planting in early spring in my greenhouse
The single flowers are pendulous instead of a large ball of flowers in the common Milkweed

Though some people have told me that monarch caterpillars have ignored their Hairy Balls, I found at least a dozen of them on my plants at once.

You can see the white substance on the pod at the bottom which is why these plants are called Milkweed

When all of my common Milkweeds are done,  Hairy Balls Milkweed is going gangbusters into October and ending with our first hard frost. I have had these plants look good up to Halloween with active caterpillars.

The ripe balls turn tan and burst open with seeds

Starting these seeds in my greenhouse in early March is essential to Hairy Balls producing the balloon shaped pods by the end of the summer. For most of the summer, these plants grow up and branch out and then August/September hits and the pods start to appear after a flush of small dangling flowers.

The nondescript flowers start forming pods in September
Split a hairy Ball open and you will find hundreds of seeds

For my monarch populations, this Milkweed is important as it still is standing with plenty of foliage late into the summer/early fall. My other common Milkweed are totally denuded and finished when Hairy Balls hits its stride. For my post on other milkweeds, go to Got Milk….Weed? and Plant Milkweed for Monarchs. 

Common Milkweed has very different flowers and pods
Common Milkweed have long narrow pods

Fresh Herbal Wreath

Fresh Herbal Wreath
Fresh Herbal Wreath
Cockscomb dries beautifully for wreaths

Summer is winding down, the nights are getting cooler, and I looked at my overflowing herb plants for inspiration. Preserving some of the garden bounty for the fall and winter is easy with culinary and ornamental herbs. A quick project using fresh herbs that are pliable and fragrant, you can whip up a simple wreath that will dry in a week or two. Hanging conveniently in the kitchen, it is easy to break off a sprig to add zest to your cooking.

Materials for herbal wreath-Sage, tarragon, rosemary, cockscomb, globe amaranth, bay, dill, african blue basil, lavender, scented geranium
Materials for herbal wreath-Sage, tarragon, rosemary, cockscomb, globe amaranth, bay, dill, African Blue Basil, scented Geranium
Scented Geraniums have scented foliage as well as beautiful flowers
Pink Zazzle Gomphrena

Basket and clippers in hand, I browsed through my gardens snipping off herbs that I often use in cooking, adding some globe amaranth Pink Zazzle, and Cockscomb to add a zing of color. Pink Zazzle Gomphrena has a straw like texture, so is easy to work into the wreath. African Blue Basil is another stellar herb for arranging and drying.

African Blue Basil has an unusual scent and flower
Wire wreath base
Wire wreath base

Using a performed wire wreath base to start ( I used a 14″ one), cut your herbs into short 6 inch lengths and lay the pieces into the base. I had lots of rosemary and lavender so used these as a fragrant base. Wind a continuous strand of florist wire around the base, keeping the short pieces firmly attached to the base. Use plenty of material as the herbs will shrink as they dry, leaving empty spaces.

I grow a hedge of lavender
Wire your herb pieces into the base
Wire your herb pieces into the base

Start bundling your herbs together using green florist pipe cleaners so you can easily attach them to the base.

Herb bundle wrapped with florist pipe cleaner
Herb bundle wrapped with florist pipe cleaner

Start attaching the bundles one at a time, moving around the wreath, overlapping one on top of another, hiding the pipe cleaner.

Wire your bundles, over lapping them around the wreath
Wire your bundles, over-lapping them around the wreath
Just about done with the bundled herbs
Just about done with the bundled herbs

When you have covered the base thoroughly with herb bundles, I like to add some color. Here I used pink cockscomb and globe amaranth which dries nicely.

Herbal wreath with finishing touches
Herbal wreath with finishing touches

Letting the wreath dry flat ensures that the herbs won’t sag or droop down as it dries. This takes about 2-3 weeks and you are ready to hang. After about a week, the herbs were shrinking so much, that I decided to add bunches of fresh thyme to fill the gaps. So, don’t hesitate to use loads of herbs to thoroughly cover the wreath base when you first make it.

Dried wreath
Dried wreath