Floral Ice Bucket

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, and what better way to do this than by having an intimate Valentine’s dinner at home. Create a space that smells delicious by grabbing some veggies from the garden and putting together your significant other’s favorite meal. Make your table look equally as beautiful with an elegant floral ice bucket made from fresh flower clippings from your yard.

Floral Ice Bucket

Floral ice buckets are the perfect statement piece that also doubles as a way to keep your favorite celebratory wine or champagne chilled. To help you create your own, here is a YouTube tutorial on how to make a floral/fruit ice bucket or you can follow directions below for a romantic one with red roses, from FTD. Follow simple steps and you’ll have a DIY centerpiece in no time!

Floral Ice Bucket
Floral Ice Bucket

DIY

Materials

  • Large plastic container
  • Smaller plastic container (that fits a champagne bottle)
  • Floral tape
  • Rocks
  • Flowers and greens (eucalyptus)
  • Filtered water(for clear ice)

Set out a large container with a container that will fit inside, leaving an inch or two around the perimeter. Gather roses and greens, or other flowers such as hydrangeas and carnations.

 

Fill the large container with two inches of filtered water. If you don’t have filtered water, boil it twice and use it when it is cool. This will clear out any impurities and it will be clear instead of cloudy. Put in freezer to freeze completely, about 24 hours.

 

Place smaller container in large container in the center and fill with rocks to weigh it down.

Create circular garlands of flowers to fit around the outside of the smaller container, holding them together with floral tape or wire. This keeps the florals from floating to the top.

Place the floral chains around the smaller container and fill the rest of the large container with filtered water. Situate the flower as you’d like them to freeze. If the flowers float up and you want them to be completely covered, push them down every few hours as the water freezes. I like some flowers sticking up around the rim for texture. Let it freeze for 24 hours.

Once the water is completely frozen, remove from the containers by running hot water over them. Keep the ice bucket in the freezer until you’re ready to display. When the time is right, place it on a plate (to catch any water) and add your favorite bottle of wine to chill.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

For more ideas and pictures, go to FTD. Images and story courtesy of FTD.

Microgreens: Health Benefits and How to Grow

Have you ever been served a dish in a restaurant which was garnished with colorful and vibrant  greens? Most likely these were microgreens, know for their visual appeal, and crunch. Though minuscule in size, they are concentrated with nutrients. Studies have shown that micro greens are loaded with good stuff, such as vitamins C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene- many times more than the mature leaves of the plant.

Flavorful and providing a textural contrast to a dish like a soup or slab of fish, a few microgreens can go a long way.

Pea shoots garnishing a tortilla
Pea shoots garnishing a tortilla

Not to be confused with sprouts- germinated seeds that are eaten whole-a microgreen is an immature green that is harvested with scissors when the plants are about two inches tall. The stem, cotyledons (or seed leaves) and first set of true leaves are all edible. You are essentially eating seedlings! And the variety of seedlings include herbs and flowers, and vegetables. Most popular are sunflowers, radishes, peas, arugula, basil, beets, kale, and cilantro.

Countertop Gardening

Sunflower, peas, and mixed salad greens
Sunflower, peas, and mixed salad greens ready to be harvested

Pricey to buy in a grocery store and hard to find, microgreens are a snap to grow quickly in a small amount of space. Gather your supplies and you could have a variety of greens growing within a half hour of starting. The harvest time is a mere one to two weeks.

Botanical Interests seed company has an array of different microgreens available
Botanical Interests seed company has an array of different microgreens available

I use Botanical Interests seeds because they are organic and  have a wide variety of heirloom varieties.

The easiest method to grow microgreens is using a soilless method with jute pads. Soilless means no splashing up of soil to spatter the newly emerged sprouts and I prefer this way of starting to others now.

No fertilizer is needed for these quick growers; it is all included in the seed package.

Green Ease jute pads are perfect for microgreens
Green Ease jute pads are perfect for microgreens
Use two flats that fit together, one perforated for drainage, the bottom one solid
Use two flats that fit together, the top one perforated for drainage, the bottom one solid
Saturated jute pad ready to be planted with microgreens
Saturated jute pad ready to be planted with microgreens

You need two seed flats, one perforated for the top and a solid one to hold water on the bottom. Nest these together and place the pre-cut jute pad inside and fill the trays with a half-inch of water. After an hour or two, the jute pad should be saturated and you can dump out the excess water and you are ready to sow your microgreen seeds. Sprinkle them thickly on the top of the jute pad-you don’t need to cover or press them in-just sprinkle. Then spray with a mister to moisten everything and place a clear plastic cover on top to hold in moisture. That’s it! And you will be harvesting in less than a week.

After sprinkling your seeds in, mist them
After sprinkling your seeds in, mist them; I planted three varieties in each tray

To speed up the process, I placed my flats on top of seed heating mats.

Heating pads are just coils that heat up encased in plastic
Heating pads are just heat coils that are encased in heavy plastic

Place the clear plastic lid on top and place on top of a heating mat

Heat mats are wonderful tools for seed starting and inexpensive. I have two of them and they are in constant use in January and February. Bottom heat will jump start your seedlings even in your warm house. Seeds actually germinate quicker and healthier when supplied with warm soil or substrate (jute)—obtained through a bottom heat source. For seed germination, ideal temperatures should range from 65 to 80˚F. You could actually duplicate these conditions by placing on top of a radiator or furnace, but watch out that the soil doesn’t dry out too quickly.

In less than 24 hours, the seeds had sprouted
In less than 24 hours, the seeds had sprouted on the jute
Plant the seeds pretty thickly so the sprouts support themselves
Plant the seeds pretty thickly so the sprouts support themselves

After the microgreens have germinated, I place the trays under a four foot all-season shop light suspended by a PVC frame that is easy to put together. For about $47, you can cut up PVC to make a quick hanging frame that will suspend your light over your seedlings-much superior to natural light on a windowsill.

My PVC set up with a grow light
My PVC set up with a grow light; the trays should be a few inches from the light

Root Pouches

Another option are root pouches which are perfect for use in growing microgreens.  The Designer Line of Root pouches are made out of porous material that allows the plants to breath, and the containers come in three colors: Navy Blue, Forest Green and Heather Grey. For my microgreens, I used the Joey size at 5″ in diameter and 3″ high.

Root pouches planted, labeled,  and ready to go

Studies have shown that using grow bags made out of recycled materials, produce healthy, strong fibrous root systems on plants. Breathable material, the Root Pouch company says on its website: “Root Pouch is a family run business that turns discarded plastic bottles into a versatile, geotextitle material. The Root Pouch fabric planting container keeps plants healthy by letting excess water drain and allowing roots to breathe and grow.” Allowing air to pass through the pot, it promotes a healthy root system.

Pea tendrils ready to harvest

How to Plant

  • Fill pouch or container about 2/3 full of potting medium
  • Press your seeds ( I get mine from Botanical Interests) into top of potting medium
  • Sprinkle top with a light covering of soil
  • Firm soil with fingers, and mist with a light spray until saturated
  • Place in a warm place (heating mat) in indirect light
  • Shoots will sprout within a few days
Pea seeds don’t even have to be covered with soil-these are started in milk cartons

Harvesting

Working carefully, taking care not to crush or bruise your tender seedlings, cut the shoots right above the soil or substrate line. Begin cleaning the sprouts by laying a damp paper towel on a tray and placing it near the sink. Give tiny clumps of seedlings a dip in cool (not icy) water, and lay out onto the paper towel.

You can start them in greens containers from the grocery store

Store greens between the paper towels and place in a ziploc plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will last about a week wrapped up this way. Garnish your meals with these high nutrient-packed greens to add more vitamins to your diet.

Pea tendrils freshly washed

 

 

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.