The Year in Review-Top Garden Posts For 2018

 

It’s that time of year again, where I review my most viewed posts from all over the world and I was surprised at some of the posts that were at the top of the heap. The top ten countries that view my blog in descending order are the U.S. Canada, UK, Australia, India, Germany, France, South Africa, Brazil, and New Zealand. I am always amazed at this! India is near the top and reading my blog in great numbers? And Australia and New Zealand are reading too! That just goes to show you that gardening topics are a universal theme.

Gardening is a universal theme
Gardening is a universal theme

I have about 5,000 followers that receive regular emails when I post and my average viewings per day is around 250 to 300 readers. And for the year, I ran around 100,000 visits or page views.

For 2018, I gathered the most popular posts for the year, some of which are old and are continuously viewed from years ago, but others that are new. I work on some posts a year in advance. For instance, I am working on Christmas ones for next year. And I am working on a book with all new projects.

So, here are my top ten posts from 2018.

Top 10 

Planted container in an old bundt pan
Planted container in an old bundt pan

1-Containers With Pizzazz

This is a golden oldie. Container plantings are one of my favorite things to put together, not just in spring, but all year long. Most people do their containers in the spring and are done! But I am coming up with ideas all year long. And with the recent addition of a greenhouse in my backyard, I am going coming up with lots of new ideas. Seasonal, and non-traditional containers are my specialty.

Shade container
Shade container
Succulents planted in truck
Succulents planted in truck
An easy but dramatic shade container
An easy but dramatic shade container

2-Christmas at Winterthur

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur, picture by Amy Sparwasser

Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, has a tradition going back to 1986, of decorating a large tree with dried flowers. And the dried flowers aren’t your grandmother’s musty dusty dried arrangements that dotted the home. These are air dried and silica gel dried (think of those little packets that come with new purchases) to retain their jewel like tones that almost seem fresh. I made my own miniature dried flower tree that I will post about next season in time for the Christmas season.

Miniature dried flower tree
Miniature dried flower tree

3-DIY Birdseed Ornaments

This one was a surprise. There are a lot of bird watchers out there and there must be some super hungry birds that are getting a smorgasbord of home made treats. Easy to put together for anyone, these make great gifts for your bird loving friends.

Bird seed ornaments come in all shapes and sizes
Bird seed ornaments come in all shapes and sizes
Great gifts for the bird lover on your list
Great gifts for the bird lover on your list

4-Taking Root: Delaware Botanic Garden’s Progress Report

Meadow at Delaware Botanic Gardens
Meadow at Delaware Botanic Garden at Pepper Creek, photo by Ruth Rogers Clausen

Put this garden on your radar. It is a world class garden taking shape in Dagsboro, Delaware- on my doorstep! Designed by world renowned Dutch designer, Piet Oudolf (think High Line!), it has been in the making for some years and is scheduled to open in 2019. The development of this garden has been written about on my blog and I will keep you posted as it opens to the public.

 

Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski
Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski
Brand new Greenhouses have been erected
Brand new Greenhouses have been erected

5-Decorating the White House 2018

Though I didn’t participate in decorating the White House in 2018, I have done it three times in the past and have lots of friends who sent me updates and pictures of the current decorations. Take a look!

Closeup of the Blue Room tree, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Closeup of the Blue Room tree, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Gingerbread House in 2018, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Gingerbread House in 2018, Photo by Marci Lindsey
My volunteer aprons from past years
My volunteer aprons from past years

6-“Hairy Balls” -A Different Kind of Milkweed

Monarch caterpillars cover the Balloon Plant or Hairy Balls  Milkweed

A plant oddity that takes people by surprise when they see it growing in my garden. Having grown it for years, I am tickled when people exclaim over it.  Easy to grow and attractive to Monarch caterpillars, this is a fixture in my garden.

Hairy Balls are fun to arrange with
Hairy Balls are fun to arrange with

7-Pesticide Free Nurseries and Seed Companies

There is a real interest and need for sourcing of pesticide free nurseries and seed companies. Posting this information brought in a lot of comments and appreciation from gardeners who strive to garden organically as much as possible.

8-Miniature Gardens-Whimsical Creations 

My love of creating miniature little worlds has been with me as long as I can remember. The Philadelphia Flower Show has some of the best examples around and I visit every spring for my inspiration. I like to change my miniature gardens with the season and decorate my home with them.Miniature garden seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

Miniature garden seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

A seasonal holiday miniature garden
A seasonal holiday miniature garden
Halloween miniature garden
Halloween miniature garden

9-From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade

As a landscape designer, I am frequently asked;  “What can I plant in shade under a tree?” Besides Pachysandra, Vinca, and Ivy, in this post I give you lots of plants you might not have thought of that work much better than the “big three”. There are so many perennials suitable for this hard to work with area, and this post give you information on what works.

At the Bloedel Reserve near Seattle
Brunnera variegata, a great ground cover for shady locations that deer won’t eat

10-Floating Beauties

Bowl arrangements are easy and great for entertaining
Bowl arrangements are easy to make and great for entertaining-this picture is from Chanticleer, in Wayne, PA

Bowl arrangements are for those who are too intimidated to arrange flowers. I started making these with leftovers after making a floral arrangement and sometimes like them better than the arrangement that I spent more time on. No mechanics are needed other than a wide open bowl and a few flowers and /or some foliage. Staged inside or outdoors, I have made these in the dead of winter with some odds and ends from my garden.

A winter arrangement with nandina and dried alliums
A winter arrangement with nandina, red twigs, and dried alliums

Comments about my posts are very much appreciated and I always read them and learn from them.

Thanks to all my readers out there, where ever you are, and have a great New Year!

DIY Birdseed Ornaments

Bird Seed Ornaments
Bird Seed Ornaments

Crossing out several names on my Christmas list this year, I was left with a bird lover/watcher who I knew would appreciate homemade bird treat ornaments. Feeding hungry songbirds in winter is a great way for people to interact with nature and help birds get through the tough months of winter. Studies show that bird feeding produces significantly earlier egg laying dates, larger clutches of eggs, and higher chick weights across a wide range of bird species.

Bird Pecking at ornaments
Chickadee pecking at ornaments

My cookie cutters were drying on the counter top from cookie baking, and I decided to whip up a concoction of bird seed and gelatin and mold them into my favorite Christmas shapes, using  cookie cutters. A raffia hanger would complete the ornaments, so they could be hung from a nearby tree to enjoy watching the birds swooping in to eat. This project was so successful that I also branched out into making a wreath and other smaller shapes with cooking molds.

Ingredients for ornaments
Ingredients for ornaments

The process of making a super frugal hand-made gift with just bird seed, gelatin,  flour, corn syrup, and raffia, was done in an hour on a cold windy day. Laying out the ornaments to cure and air dry for a few days completed the process.  Requiring no skill and just a few ingredients, I made enough for myself also to enjoy. After hanging out my ornaments, I noticed the birds start to feed almost immediately.

I used every mold I had in the kitchen
I used every mold I had in the kitchen

Air dry your ornaments/wreaths for several days to harden
Air dry your ornaments/wreaths for several days to harden

I used a  general seed mix variety. You can also add dried/fresh fruit and meal worms, cracked corn, nuts, and pumpkin seeds, a great high fat source for songbirds.

nd cracked corn to the seed mixture
Add cracked corn and dried fruit to the seed mixture

When completed, pack the ornaments up attractively using burlap, tissue paper, and bows to show them off.

Attractively package up your ornaments
Attractively package up your ornaments
I added dried bay leaves and canella berries to add color
I added dried bay leaves and canella berries to add color to the gift package

Bird Seed Ornaments

Mix up bird seed with dried fruit, fresh cranberries, and mealworms for a nutritious snack for songbirds

Ingredients

  • 3-4 C Mixed Bird Seed Millet, Sunflower Seeds, Meal Worms, Cracked Corn, Peanuts, Dried Fruit, Nuts, Pumpkin Seeds
  • 1 Pkg of 4 Envelopes Unflavored Gelatin mixed into 3/4 C to 1 C warm water
  • 2 T Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 C Flour mixed into 1/3 C water

Instructions

  1. Spray your cookie cutters and/or bundt pan with non-stick spray and place on a foil covered cookie sheet. 

  2. Empty gelatin into a large bowl with warm water (1 Cup) until it forms a thick paste. Let this sit for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve. Add some more water if it is too thick.

    Dissolve gelatin in cold water
  3. Mix flour and water together in a small bowl to form a paste.

  4. Add corn syrup to the gelatin mixture, stirring.  Then add the flour paste, mixing thoroughly. This is the binder that gels the seeds together. It should be a thick gooey mass with some lumps. Add small amounts of water as needed.

  5. Mix in the bird seed, using just enough to cover all the bird seed.

  6. Fill the cookie cutters/wreath with the mixture and press into shape firmly. Don’t skimp this part- the more packed in you can get the cookie cutters and molds, the better they hold their shape. 

  7. Make a small hole with the skewer for the string or raffia in the ornaments. Leave the skewers in until the ornaments dry.

    Stick a skewer or dowel into the ornament to form a hanging hole
  8. Let cure/air dry for several days and they are ready to unmold. Do not double this recipe. I made two separate batches to make  4-5 ornaments and a wreath.  

  9. Let dry once you unmold for an additional day to harden. I did this in the cold air of outside.

Wreaths

I enjoyed making the ornaments so much that I made a batch to fill up a small bundt pan for a wreath. If you have gotten rid of all your bundt or jello molds, stop by a Goodwill for a cheap one. Before packing in the bird seed, I dropped dried  or fresh cranberries in the bottom to make an attractive and nutritious accent. Be sure to thoroughly spray the bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray to make it easy to unmold. Other small molds work, like custard and muffin tins.

Place fresh cranberries in the bottom of a bundt pan
Place fresh cranberries in the bottom of a bundt pan
Unmold onto a plate and let dry several days

Place the wreath in the fridge or outside to chill thoroughly and harden before unmolding it onto a plate. I didn’t put a hole through the wreath for a hanger as it is too heavy. Instead wrap and tie your hanger around the entire wreath before hanging. If the wreath feels too fragile to hang, I place it on my bird feeder tray flat.

Hang in a tree on a sunny dry day
Hang in a tree on a sunny dry day

 

If the day is rainy, bring your seed ornaments and wreaths in, as they will dissolve in the rain!! These will last about 10 days outside feeding your birds and yes, your squirrels too.

 

Deck the Halls-Succulent Christmas


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. Succulents are so versatile that I use them in many decorating ways. Air plants are right up there in popularity and ease of growing.

Very similar in texture and appearance to succulents are air plants: I like to mix them together

Other succulent ideas for a cool gift to a plant loving friend is a tiny garden chock full of succulents and Christmas miniatures. Read to the bottom of this post for ideas on whipping these together. For Thanksgiving Succulent decorating ideas, go to A Succulent Thanksgiving or Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece.

Miniature garden using low maintenance succulent plants

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.

Colors and textures of succulents make these interesting houseplants and good specimens for containers
A succulent container greets you at the door

Succulent tree

DIY Christmas Tree

Preparation

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. But don’t despair! If you are making your tree now,  simply use more cuttings to fill the surface in fuller.

Succulent varieties in small pots
Succulent varieties in small pots

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.

Echeverias are my go-to for tree selections and they form a nice large rosette. One called ‘Red Velvet’ is sold extensively during Christmas because of the garnet colored fuzzy markings.

Echeveria ‘Red Velvet’ has beautiful garnet colored markings
My greenhouse has lots of succulents that I am rooting and over-wintering
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from

Step By Step for a Succulent Tree

Succulent Tree
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.
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
  • 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
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
  • 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.
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
  • If you are using small potted plants, remove the plant from the pot, shake off most of the soil from around the roots 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
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
  • 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; alternatively, you can thoroughly mist the entire tree
  • 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.

At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in
At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in

If you want to see how to make other succulent creations, such as a wreath, a sphere, and a tiny 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.

Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
I use a lot of Echeveria rosettes on my tree

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.

Add air plants in at the very end
Add air plants in at the very end

 

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.

Miniature Gardens

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.

Seasonal miniature garden with succulents in a bonsai dish

Miniature gardens are my passion, and I like to do seasonal ones with all the minis themed for that time of year. See my post on Springtime miniatures at Take Four-Springtime Seasonal Miniature Gardens. 

An open terrarium is perfect for succulents
Making up mini gardens for Christmas gifts
Small terrarium with air plants and lights

Deck the Halls – A Succulent Christmas

 


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. Succulents are so versatile that I use them in many decorating ways. Air plants are right up there in popularity and ease of growing.

Very similar in texture and appearance to succulents are air plants: I like to mix them together

Other succulent ideas for a cool gift to a plant loving friend is a tiny garden chock full of succulents and Christmas miniatures. Read to the bottom of this post for ideas on whipping these together. For Thanksgiving Succulent decorating ideas, go to A Succulent Thanksgiving or Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece.

Miniature garden using low maintenance succulent plants

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.

Colors and textures of succulents make these interesting houseplants and good specimens for containers
A succulent container greets you at the door

Succulent tree

DIY Christmas Tree

Preparation

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. But don’t despair! If you are making your tree now,  simply use more cuttings to fill the surface in fuller.

Succulent varieties in small pots
Succulent varieties in small pots

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.

Echeverias are my go-to for tree selections and they form a nice large rosette. One called ‘Red Velvet’ is sold extensively during Christmas because of the garnet colored fuzzy markings.

Echeveria ‘Red Velvet’ has beautiful garnet colored markings
My greenhouse has lots of succulents that I am rooting and over-wintering
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from

Step By Step for a Succulent Tree

Succulent Tree
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.
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
  • 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
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
  • 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.
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
  • If you are using small potted plants, remove the plant from the pot, shake off most of the soil from around the roots 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
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
  • 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; alternatively, you can thoroughly mist the entire tree
  • 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.

At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in
At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in

If you want to see how to make other succulent creations, such as a wreath, a sphere, and a tiny 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.

Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
I use a lot of Echeveria rosettes on my tree

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.

Add air plants in at the very end
Add air plants in at the very end

 

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.

Miniature Gardens

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.

Seasonal miniature garden with succulents in a bonsai dish

Miniature gardens are my passion, and I like to do seasonal ones with all the minis themed for that time of year. See my post on Springtime miniatures at Take Four-Springtime Seasonal Miniature Gardens. 

An open terrarium is perfect for succulents
Making up mini gardens for Christmas gifts
Small terrarium with air plants and lights

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

 

Christmas Wreath-Ordinary to Extraordinary

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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!

Starting with a basic wreath base
Starting with a basic wreath base

After trolling through my landscape which has quite a few evergreens and berried shrubs, I added incense cedar, boxwood, and magnolia leaves which really add a textural improvement. My containers grew a bumper crop of Eucalyptus which I preserved with a glycerin solution and I wired some clumps up for a grey green hue. Some variegated white pine added some additional color and texture. Big difference….yes? Oh, and I hot glued all of this onto the base. No wiring, which takes too much time and effort. I find gluing is efficient and quick.
Wire your clumps together before gluing onto the wreath
Wire your clumps together before gluing onto the wreath

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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.

Christmas wreath

Hung and ready for the holidays
Hung and ready for the holidays

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.

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Turnips???
Turnips???

Pumpkin Eye Candy

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.

Peanut Pumpkin

Peanut Pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin 

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

Porcelain Doll pumpkin
Porcelain Doll pumpkin

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.

Porcelain Doll pumpkin, picture from DP Seeds.com
Porcelain Doll pumpkin, picture from DP Seeds.com

 

Hungarian Gray Pumpkin
Hungarian Gray Pumpkin

 Decorating

Decorating with these pumpkins can really be fun, given the wide variety of colors, textures, and shapes. Go to Pumpkin Treats-Decorating Pumpkins With Succulents, to get some ideas. Succulents are a natural pairing with pumpkins.

Stacking pumpkins
Stacking pumpkins

Cooking With Pumpkins

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!

Pumpkin Ice Cream with Ginger Creme Cookies
Pumpkin Ice Cream with Ginger Creme Cookies

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

Directions:

  • 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.
  • Makes 1 quart.

 

 

Fall Pod Basket-Everlasting Decoration

Completed Pod Basket
Completed Pod Basket

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.

DIY

  • Picking out a good basket is key. Choose one with a wide, low rim that has plenty of room to display chunky pieces

Chunky Basket with wide rim
Chunky Basket with wide rim
  • 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

Group your pods on the rim
Group your pods on the rim
  • 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 dried botanicals next
Add dried botanicals next
  • 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

Fill in gaps with moss
Fill in gaps with moss
  • Remove all glue strings carefully

  • Spray with an acrylic satin finish to preserve and give it shine

 

Spray it with a satin gloss acrylic preservative
Spray it with a satin gloss acrylic preservative

 

Care

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.

Terrarium DIY-Scenes Under Glass

An assortment of terrariums that are easy to make
An assortment of terrariums that are easy to make

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.

To see directions on making a beach scene terrarium, go to my post at Beach Scene Terrarium.

Beach succulent terrarium tutorial
Beach succulent terrarium tutorial

Step by Step Directions

I like to use decorative rocks such as geodes and crystals in terrariums
I like to use decorative rocks such as geodes and crystals in terrariums
  1. Lay 1 inch of pebbles into base of container
  2. Add 1 T of horticultural charcoal to the bottom layer and mix in

    Horticultural charcoal
    Horticultural charcoal
  3. Add 2 inches of potting soil and tamp lightly, creating hills and valleys for interest
  4. Dig hole in soil; Plant largest plants first and continue with smaller plants
  5. Brush off sand or soil caught on leaves with soft brush
  6. Water plants lightly, trying to wash off any leftover soil on leaves
  7. Carpet the surface of a woodland terrarium with green moss and spray with water lightly, or if doing a succulent terrarium, add play sand or decorative gravel to surface to cover soil
  8. Add accessories; stepping stones, miniatures, decorative rocks, etc., long handled tweezers are helpful
  9. Water the entire terrarium, being careful to not drench plants using a small watering can or meat baster

For a fascinating account of a man in England who has had a terrarium since 1960, and stopped watering it in 1972, go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2267504/The-sealed-bottle-garden-thriving-40-years-fresh-air-water.html

His terrarium is still thriving!

Steps for creating a woodland terrarium
Steps for creating a woodland terrarium

Care

  • 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!

Containers

Glass containers ready to be planted at Terrain, a nursery/garden center
Glass containers ready to be planted at Terrain, a nursery/garden center

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.

Terrarium container ideas
Terrarium container ideas

Drainage

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.

Horticulture Charcoal

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.

Planting Medium

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.

Splitting Up a Plant

Planting

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.

Planting Your terrarium

Accessorize

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.

Ready to Accessorize

For a hands on workshop, creating your own masterpiece, come to the Rawlings Conservatory.

Rawlings Conservatory

Amaryllis Centerpiece

Amaryllis centerpiece
Amaryllis centerpiece at Terrain nursery

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.

Creating a centerpiece with amaryllis
Creating a centerpiece with amaryllis

I assembled my materials greens, pine cones, glitter balls, reindeer moss, budding Amaryllis in a pot, and oasis. A footed lime green urn 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.

Place the bulb in pot inside the urn and wedge wet oasis on all sides
Place the bulb in pot inside the urn and wedge wet oasis on all sides
Gather a variety of fresh greens
Gather a variety of fresh greens

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.

Moss, glitter balls, pods, cones
Moss, glitter balls, pods, cones

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.

Beaded Wire
Beaded Wire

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.

Beaded wire adds to the look
Beaded wire adds to the look

For directions on taking care and growing Amaryllis, go to my post http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/brilliant-amaryllis-2/

Amaryllis flowers used at Longwood
Amaryllis flowers used at Longwood

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