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.
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.
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.
Start bundling your herbs together using green florist pipe cleaners so you can easily attach them to the base.
Start attaching the bundles one at a time, moving around the wreath, overlapping one on top of another, hiding the pipe cleaner.
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.
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.
Decorated Christmas wreaths are a snap using a pre-made wreath base from a garden center or grocery store. The pre-made wreaths created with basic greens make a fine base but adding some additional greens, berries, and ribbon, takes the ordinary to extraordinary. Below is my base which I purchased at a local store-basic fir branches wired onto a base. Nothing wrong with it all-just could be better!
After these additions to the base materials, it was time to amp up the color with berries and ribbon. Gold is one of my favorite colors for wreaths and other decorations, so I chose this beautiful gold wired ribbon and added nandina berries for color and staying power. A find at my local craft store, the gold leaf ornaments added some glitter and dimension. Again, these were all glued in place.
For more ideas on wreaths, go to my post A Tapestry of Holly-McLean Nursery. Below is a masterpiece made to order at McLean, using the signature McLean hollies and winterberry.
Who says you have to decorate with holly, mistletoe and pine? When I spotted succulent Christmas trees made up at a local nursery last Christmas for hundreds of dollars!!!, I was inspired to create my own for Christmas.
Other succulent ideas for a cool gift to a plant loving friend is a tiny garden chock full of succulents and Christmas miniatures. Read on for ideas on whipping these together. For thanksgiving Succulent decorating ideas, go to A Succulent Thanksgiving.
Branch out and explore the many textures and colors of succulents. To paraphrase the great Will Rogers: I never met a succulent that I didn’t like! I enjoy the sculptural colorful quality of succulents so much that I continue to find ways to use them around the house and garden.
DIY Christmas Tree
Taking months to fill in, I wanted to make sure that my tree was fully grown in for the holidays, so I started the tree in the early spring. Tiny succulents in two to three inch pots are available in big box stores for a good price and if you have any existing containers of succulents, you can trim the tips off for cuttings.
Aim for a variety of colors and textures when you select your succulent to make the tree attractive and interesting. There are so many varieties of succulents that this isn’t hard to do. Containers are dotted around my property in the fall and I can’t bring them all in, so I take cuttings of them to root into my tree form.
Step By Step for a Succulent Tree
Cut off a piece of chicken wire about 18 inches in length. This length depends on the size of the tree that you want to end up with. Mine ended up at 15 inches tall and 10 inches wide at the base.
Form the chicken wire into a cone and fasten together by bending the ends in.
Saturate sphagnum moss in water and stuff the form with the moss firmly; Be sure to pack the moss so that you have a firm base to work with
If taking cuttings, I cut the growing tip off, measuring between 2 to 5 inches in length, and strip off the lower leaves and let the cuttings sit out at room temperature for a day or two to form a callous.
If you are using small potted plants, remove the plant from the pot, shake off most of the soil and you are ready to insert this into the moss form
Using a pencil or sharp pointed stick, insert the point into the sphagnum moss and wiggle the end to make the hole larger enough to receive the cutting or plant
Insert the cutting as far as you can; If the cutting is loose, you can use wire fern pins to hold it steady
Place the full moss cone into a pot of soil and fasten the edges to the soil with fern pins
For the first couple of days, keep the cone in the shade, gradually moving out to the sun, when the cuttings start to root which can take only a week or two
To water, submerse the cone into a bucket of water for a few minutes until thoroughly saturated, about once a week
As the plants grow, you will need to cut off the tips, and use these cuttings to fill in holes
My succulent tree kept growing all summer long and periodically, I would cut off a tip that was getting really long and fill in a bare spot so that by the end of the growing season, my tree was completely filled in.
If you want to see how to make other succulent creations, such as a wreath, a sphere, and a garden, go to Succulent Creations to see step by step of making other shapes. For decorating pumpkins with succulents for the holidays, go to Pumpkin Treats to see how creative you can get with succulents.
Finally for Christmas, I placed the pot into a decorative container and decorated with some Christmas balls. As a finishing touch, I stuck some air plants for in for a feathery texture. Insert them in between the spaces of the succulents.
To keep the tree alive over the winter, I will place it in a sunny window and water sparingly because succulents can rot easily when they slow growth in the winter. When spring comes, I can increase the watering so that they begin to grow again.
Requiring little care, succulents do well in small containers and pots. Lacking a large root ball, you can pot them up in very shallow containers. Succulents do need sun, so place your mini garden on a sunny windowsill. You can change out the Christmas decorations when the holidays are over for a spring time one in February.
Gone are the days when you only had one choice of pumpkins – orange!! Amazed at how many types there are when I shop for pumpkins at either the farmers market or big box store, I love to pick different ones out. The variety that is available is staggering – spotted, bumpy, white, green, and everything in between.
Take for instance the Peanut Pumpkin, Cucurbita maxima “Galeux d’Eysine”, shown above, which gets its common name from the distinctive peanut-like growths that develop on its shell. When I first saw this pumpkin, it stopped me in my tracks and I had to pick it up and touch it. Thought to be a cross between a Hubbard squash (Cucurbita maxima) and an unknown pumpkin variety, the species originated in the 19th century in the region of Eysine, France. Even though it seems an oddity, its sweet flesh can be used in cooking and is quite good. The fruit’s sugars seeping out and hardening on the surface causes the distinctive beige bumps.
Porcelain Doll is a pumpkin developed to help raise funds for breast cancer research through The Pink Pumpkin Patch foundation. The designation of “pink” is a stretch! – it is more like coral pink. This worthwhile foundation supports breast cancer organizations through donations made by U.S. growers from a percentage of sales of each Porcelain Doll F1 Pink Pumpkin grown.
Besides, their pretty “pink” exteriors, Porcelain Doll pumpkins have delicious, deep orange interior flesh, perfect for baked goods, soups or casseroles. These big beauties start out beige and then turn a standout coral/pink color as they mature.
You can grill, steam, bake, boil, or roast any pumpkin. Pumpkin also can be pureed and baked in bread or cake, or cooked in soup, etc. Pumpkin is a great source of nutrition (pumpkins are typically packed with dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, manganese, vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus), and pumpkin seeds are full of nutrients, too!
Here is my recipe for great Pumpkin Ice Cream:
1 cup fresh pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
5 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg ( I added more than a pinch, because I love fresh nutmeg!)
1 tbs. or to taste spiced rum with coconut
Whisk together pumpkin puree and vanilla. Chill in refrigerator.
In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups of the cream and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Cook until bubbles form around the edge, 5 minutes.
Combine 5 egg yolks, spices, and the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a separate bowl. Stir until smooth.
Remove cream mixture from heat and gradually whisk 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil.
Allow the custard to cool and whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours.
Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker(it will be quite thick), and follow the directions on your ice cream maker. The last couple of minutes of churning, add your bourbon or rum to taste.
Freeze until firm, at least 3 hours. Garnish with ginger crème cookies.
What do you do with all those baskets hanging around in your house? And all those pods that you have picked up over the years, because they were interesting? I started fooling around with these, thinking that there was a perfect marriage here somewhere, and came up with this pod/dried flower-edged basket. Taking only one hour to complete, using up some excess baskets that hang from my basement rafters, and incorporating some beautifully colored botanicals worked out so well that I have a great piece to decorate the Thanksgiving/Christmas table.
Picking out a good basket is key. Choose one with a wide, low rim that has plenty of room to display chunky pieces
Gather your Pods. For pods I used pinecones, lotus pods, fungi pieces, okra pods, small gourds, pine cone roses(cones sliced horizontally to display a rose-like face), and some other odds and ends that I had knocking around
Gather dried botanicals. I used a burgundy colored cockscomb, ‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena(see Pink Zazzle post), preserved magnolia leaves, and different colored reindeer moss
Using a hot glue gun, start by attaching the larger pieces to the rim firmly. I started with making groups of 3-4 pods. If you have smaller pieces, group these together so they make a bigger impact
Start filling in and make sure that you add the pods and botanicals three dimensionally, covering the inside edge as well as the outside edge. Leave the moss and magnolia leaves for last
Add the magnolia leaves, cutting the stem end flat, so that you can nestle it in better into the pods. I like to array the leaves out facing like an opening flower
Fill in any gaps with the reindeer moss
Remove all glue strings carefully
Spray with an acrylic satin finish to preserve and give it shine
It is a good idea to keep this inside, out of the sun, in a room temperature house. Don’t keep in a bathroom where it could be too moist, or next to a radiator. It should last until next season where you could refresh it with new dried botanicals that tend to fade over time.
Every year around this time, with the outdoors looking so gloomy and bare, I am starving to see something blooming and growing in my house. Christmas decorating is just a memory and the Philadelphia Flower Show is still not here yet! To satisfy my urge to garden I turn to terrariums. Terrariums are easy to create using the right plants and containers.
The preparation is simple for a terrarium, similar to making a layered salad in a bowl.
Place woodland terrariums in filtered light and if covered, water infrequently by first checking soil moistness with finger
If woodland terrarium is open, water every couple of weeks by first testing soil moistness; mist plants for extra humidity
For succulent terrariums, place in bright light; water during growing season once a week, and in winter every couple of weeks; do not over saturate the soil!
I look for clear glass containers everywhere that I shop. Tuesday Morning, Target, Crate and Barrel, Michaels, and pet stores are just a few places that have suitable containers. I look for a container that is taller than wide, to provide sufficient room to place growing medium and allow plants room to grow. A lidded container is ideal for those plants that require a moist, humid environment such as ferns and mosses, and for succulents a drier environment is needed, so no lid is required.
Because terrarium containers have no drainage holes, you need to provide some kind of drainage system. Gravel is the best option, but because the container is a closed system, be very careful of how much you water. Always stick your finger down into the soil to assess how moist it is, before adding water. Excess water will kill off your plants faster than any other kind of neglect. Keep succulents on the dry side but mist your ferns in a woodland container.
The addition of horticultural charcoal keeps your soil sweet, absorbs impurities, and improves drainage. Mix in at least a tablespoon to your gravel before adding your soil.
Use basic potting mix unless you are creating a desert scene with succulents and cacti. For a desert terrarium, use a potting mix made just for cacti/succulents which has lots of grit and gravel added.
Select from 3 to 5 different small plants that are suitable for terrariums. Go to http://www.stormthecastle.com/terrarium/terrarium-plants.htm for some helpful hints on plant selections. I head to a nursery/garden center and look for small plants with interesting leaf shapes, textures, and colors. Be careful to use plants with similar growing needs. Select both tall and shorter plants for variety. Arrange your plants in the terrarium until you get a pleasing combination and plant carefully, keeping the soil away from the sides of the terrarium. Sometimes, I split up my plants to make them a little smaller, saving the extras for another terrarium. Shaking off some of the potting soil, makes the plants fit in better. Finish up with a layer of sheet moss or gravel to hide the soil.
Add some miniatures like small bird baths, resin animals, or interesting driftwood or rocks. For Christmas, I add small glass balls and miniature plastic snowflakes for color. Great sources of miniatures are garden centers that carry fairy accessories, Christmas ornaments, craft stores, and doll house stores or online. I always look at the small villages that stores have set up for Christmas, like Department 56, for unique miniatures that you can landscape your terrarium with.
For a hands on workshop, creating your own masterpiece, come to the Rawlings Conservatory.
After seeing Christmas centerpieces at Terrain nursery recently, combining flowering plants and greens that were over $300, I thought I could create something similar for a fraction of the cost.
I assembled my materials greens, pine cones, glitter balls, reindeer moss, budding Amaryllis in a pot, and oasis. A footed lime greenurn that I use often was the perfect piece to make the arrangement. You could use any wide-mouthed urn or planter. Place the Amaryllis into the urn and wedge oasis on all sides.
Gather your greens. I used variegated holly, magnolia, boxwood, white pine, and berried holly. Cut your greens into short lengths, about 1 foot or less for ease of working. Start inserting the greens into the oasis radiating out from the rim of the urn. I was sure to cut the oasis above the edge of the urn so you can insert the greens horizontally, rather than vertically. You want the greens to radiate outwards rather than upwards.
Fill in with the greens, covering any gaps with the colored reindeer moss. Lastly, add your large pods, pine cones, and glitter balls for accents. You could also add some glittery branches for extra pizzazz. I finished it up by arranging some beaded wire at the base of the arrangement.
Place the bulb in pot inside the urn and wedge wet oasis on all sides
Gather a variety of fresh greens
Moss, glitter balls, pods, cones
Close up of center with mosses
Cost? I already had the urn, greens from my garden, the glitter balls, oasis, and pine cones. Purchasing a large Amaryllis bulb for $16.95 and beaded wire for $4.95, were my only costs. If you had to buy the oasis, the glitter balls, moss, urn, and pine cones, you would spend another $40 to $50, still far under the cost of the one at Terrain for about 30 minutes of design work.
Succulents are so popular now, that you see them everywhere, where you would least expect it. I have bought some of my best ones from Wall Mart and Home Depot! They are inexpensive and easy to care for, so are the perfect candidate to make your own living wreath, which at a florist would set you back by at least $100. The material cost for this wreath was around $45.00.
Installing a simple re-circulating fountain is a DIY project for anyone. Even with my total lack of mechanical knowledge, it became a snap to set this up.
The Set Up
Creating a warm and inviting outdoor living space at the local decorator show house this spring, made it clear how easy and effective a fountain set up can work in the landscape. I bought everything at a local garden center – reservoir, pump, tubing, bamboo fountain, and water plants, and put it together in a few minutes. After I planted shrubs and perennials around it, the fountain looked grounded and like it belonged there.
The faux bamboo cascading fountain came as part of the package with the reservoir, and became a three-tiered cascading waterfall into the reservoir that created a nice relaxing water movement sound.
Gather your materials – reservoir, pump, tubing, water plants, extension cord
Place your reservoir on a flat level area; Use a level to make sure it is perfectly level
Fill with water almost to the top
Place pump at the bottom of the reservoir, pulling the cord and inserting it into the notch at the rim of the reservoir
Plug pump cord into outdoor extension cord and bury the cord a couple of inches under the surface of the soil so it is hidden from view (I wrapped the plug with some plastic to waterproof it)
Place bamboo fountain on the inset shelf; I raised it up slightly with a piece of flat stone
Place water plants on the reservoir shelf and sit floating plants on top; I added a large glass ball to float on top to add interest
Plug in and enjoy!
The only maintenance involved was pulling out fallen leaves occasionally, and topping off the water level once a week lost from evaporation. Cleaning is only necessary once a year. The constant running of the water will eliminate any mosquito breeding. Fish would not be happy in this environment, as there is not enough room to swim.
The cost for the fountain, plants, pump, tubing, etc. came up to about $350, which I consider very reasonable. The water cascading out of the bamboo creates a soothing water trickling sound, which makes any water feature worth its weight in gold.