Having a bunch of succulents on hand from various projects, I wanted to create something special for Valentine’s Day. Rooting succulents is easy and I wanted to make the rooting process attractive as well as productive.
Succulent cuttings simply involves cutting a 3″ terminal branch and removing the lower leaves. Leave them out for a few days to form a ‘callus’, a hard, dry, crust at the stem cut. This will prevent the cuttings from rotting which can easily happen with succulents.
All these rooted cuttings will be made part of my spring containers.
I thought I would use hypertufa which is a lightweight stone-like material made from Portland cement, peat moss, and perlite. Read my post on a Hypertufa Party. But in the middle of winter, I didn’t want to get into a messy outdoor project so turned instead to Shapecrete. An easy to use clay-like material that you mix with water, I picked up a tub at Home Depot. Simply mix with water, and shape into your preferred shape, and it hardens like concrete. Watch this video on how to use it. Another product that I use for lots of craft projects is Wonderflex, a plastic-like composite material used in theater, puppetry, and costume making. Easy to cut and shape, I use it for lots of things.
DIY Succulent Hearts
Shape strips of plastic called Wonderflex (available on-line)into a heart shape and fasten with a clip on a cardboard covered table. Attach the Wonderflex to the cardboard with duct tape all around the inside of the heart.
Mix up your shapecrete according to the directions on the tub and smear into the heart forming a lip around the perimeter about 1/2 inch high. Poke some drainage holes with a dowel in the bottom.
Moisten some sphagnum moss and place in the bottom, inserting the succulent cuttings. Keep the cuttings moist, misting them every day and they will root in a couple of months.
I made three different sizes of hearts, ranging from 5″ wide up to 10″ wide. for a trio of hearts. Any shape will work though…..
Winter is the time that I make use of all my beeswax that I have collected from the hives in the summer. I have melted and cleaned it right after harvesting in August and it is ready to be made into something creative and useful. To see how I clean the raw beeswax, go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift.
If you don’t have access to beeswax, use plain old paraffin white wax instead.
Sorting through all my Christmas stuff and putting it away, I noticed my cookie cutters still out, so decided to use these as my inspiration. I even had a bee skep shaped one!
The best way to melt your beeswax is in a dedicated crock pot – one that I have used for years for just this purpose. If you don’t have this luxury, use an old tin can inside of a saucepan of water on your stove top. I had about 4 lbs of beeswax to work with and ultimately only used about half of that for nine sachets. I added 2 tablespoons of lavender oil to the wax for fragrance. Use more if you want the scent to last and linger. Great as a small gift for someone, these didn’t cost me a penny, as I already had all the supplies.
Directions for Beeswax Sachets
1. Set out your cookie cutters on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. You can also use small pastry molds instead of cookie cutters.
2. Add pieces of fragrant dried flowers to the bottom of your cutters to add color and fragrance. Mine was pressed flat in my dried flower press over the summer. Or you can use crumbled pieces of dried flowers from an old flower arrangement.
3. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of essential oil (I used lavender) to the melted wax and swirl in. Don’t skimp on the fragrance to make sure it lasts.
4. Spoon melted wax, using an old plastic measuring cup, into the cookie cutters on parchment paper, letting the first layer of wax solidify before adding more. Wax will bleed out from the edges of the cutters onto the parchment. That excess can be gathered up later and returned to your crock pot for reusing.
5. Pour another layer of wax into the molds and drop in more dried flower pieces. I made my sachets about 1/2 inch thick.
6. While still soft, insert some dowels into the top of the shapes for hangers or leave them whole.
7. Place in the freezer until hard for several hours. Remove the cutters when firm and cold.
8. Take out dowels and insert hangers ( I used raffia) if desired. The dowels can be tricky to remove, but I just continue to rock them back and forth in the hole until they release.
9. To clean any excess wax on the cookie cutters, boil them in water in a large pot.
The whole house was very fragrant when I made these and the smell lingers after hanging them in your closet or placing in drawers with linens or lingerie.
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.
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.
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 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.
When completed, pack the ornaments up attractively using burlap, tissue paper, and bows to show them off.
1 Pkg of 4 EnvelopesUnflavored Gelatin mixed into 3/4 C to 1 C warm water
2 TCorn Syrup
1/4CFlour mixed into 1/3 C water
Spray your cookie cutters and/or bundt pan with non-stick spray and place on a foil covered cookie sheet.
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.
Mix flour and water together in a small bowl to form a paste.
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.
Mix in the bird seed, using just enough to cover all the bird seed.
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.
Make a small hole with the skewer for the string or raffia in the ornaments. Leave the skewers in until the ornaments dry.
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.
Let dry once you unmold for an additional day to harden. I did this in the cold air of outside.
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 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.
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.
Summer is winding down, the nights are getting cooler, and I looked at my overflowing herb plants for inspiration. Preserving some of the garden bounty for the fall and winter is easy with culinary and ornamental herbs. A quick project using fresh herbs that are pliable and fragrant, you can whip up a simple wreath that will dry in a week or two. Hanging conveniently in the kitchen, it is easy to break off a sprig to add zest to your cooking.
Basket and clippers in hand, I browsed through my gardens snipping off herbs that I often use in cooking, adding some globe amaranth Pink Zazzle, and Cockscomb to add a zing of color. Pink Zazzle Gomphrena has a straw like texture, so is easy to work into the wreath. African Blue Basil is another stellar herb for arranging and drying.
Using a performed wire wreath base to start ( I used a 14″ one), cut your herbs into short 6 inch lengths and lay the pieces into the base. I had lots of rosemary and lavender so used these as a fragrant base. Wind a continuous strand of florist wire around the base, keeping the short pieces firmly attached to the base. Use plenty of material as the herbs will shrink as they dry, leaving empty spaces.
Start bundling your herbs together using green florist pipe cleaners so you can easily attach them to the base.
Start attaching the bundles one at a time, moving around the wreath, overlapping one on top of another, hiding the pipe cleaner.
When you have covered the base thoroughly with herb bundles, I like to add some color. Here I used pink cockscomb and globe amaranth which dries nicely.
Letting the wreath dry flat ensures that the herbs won’t sag or droop down as it dries. This takes about 2-3 weeks and you are ready to hang. After about a week, the herbs were shrinking so much, that I decided to add bunches of fresh thyme to fill the gaps. So, don’t hesitate to use loads of herbs to thoroughly cover the wreath base when you first make it.
Artfully arranged containers using texture, contrasting colors, and different and unusual plants is my mantra and designing outside of the box. A container for every season is the way I garden in pots. Everyone can have their own personal creative planter on their deck, patio, or even inside. Having over 100,000 views over the years, I find the pictures of my containers all over Pinterest.
My most surprising top post is Luscious Honey Scented Body Butter. Consistently garnering views from all over the world, there must be thousands of people with this body butter in their bathroom. Lots of comments on this post mean that many people have used the recipe and enjoyed it.
Shade gardening is always popular. From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade has helped many people choose the perfect ground cover for difficult situations. The cliff notes on this post is to plant a lot of Lenten Roses, or Hellebores. A no-brainer, deer proof, evergreen, and beautiful plant, this under-used is probably my top plant in my garden.
Swarming bees in Swarming of the Bees, always fascinates people and I have seen many of these phenomenas over the years as a beekeeper. No matter how many times I have seen it, the process of swarming is awesome.
Decorating the White House for Christmas has been my job for 3 seasons and many people are interested in seeing behind the scenes on how the process is done. My last visit to the White House was documented in Decorating the White House in 2017. I hope to do it again!
After posting about Pesticide-Free Nurseries and Seed Companies, I was overwhelmed with the response. Many people are trying to do the right thing and not use pesticides, I was really happy to find. This post really struck a chord for many readers.
A Succulent Christmas post was fun to do because I started working on my succulent tree during the summer and it was interesting to see it grow all summer into the Christmas season to make a beautiful and unusual Christmas tree. Unusual and different!
Another top post was Miniature Gardens-Whimsical Creations. Miniature gardening is still popular, especially for people who don’t have access to a garden or don’t have the time or money to spend in a garden. Everyone has room on a kitchen counter or windowsill for a mini garden.
Pumpkins and succulents-a happy pairing! With some glue, moss, succulent cuttings, and an interesting pumpkin, you can create porch decor or a great centerpiece in minutes. These last for months too. And if you have any extra flowers available, you can stick them in to get a quick color burst for a party or event.
A pumpkin or large gourd
Sheet moss or sphagnum moss
Assorted cuttings of succulents- I was moving most of my succulents indoors to beat the frost, and this gave me the opportunity to trim the growth back. I simply nipped pieces of succulent tips from living plants, trying to vary colors, shapes, and textures
Assorted pods, i.e. pine cones, okra pods, lotus pods, milk weed pods, and berries. For one of my examples, I used nandina berries and foliage which dries quite nicely, and okra pods
Fresh Flowers for a quick change of color
Tacky glue or glue gun
Spritzer for moistening moss
Step By Step
Find a wide topped pumpkin and cut the stem off; I used “Cinderella” variety which has a grayish orange color, deep pleats, and a wide roomy top. For my other example, I used a “peanut pumpkin”(see note below). I think a white or green pumpkin would look fabulous. Also, gourds would be funky too.
Glue moss on top about 1/2 inch thick with a glue gun or tacky glue.
Arrange your succulent cuttings to form a pleasing arranging, making sure that you use the larger chunkier pieces first, and using long pieces to trail around the edges. Stick the stems into the moss with glue so that they adhere. A hot glue gun works best for this.
Add berries, pods, or anything else that goes with the fall theme, gluing in place.
Spritz the moss so that it is moist.
Peanut pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima ‘Galeux d’Eysine’) is an heirloom pumpkin known for its distinctive peanut-like growths adorning the exterior of its pink hued rind. The “peanuts” are actually a buildup of excess sugar in the flesh of the pumpkin giving it its unique texture. Those warty protuberances tell you the flesh is extra sweet for making pies and other dishes. See some other varieties of pumpkins at Pumpkin Eye Candy.
It is best to keep the pumpkin outside in the chilly weather when you don’t want to show it off. I keep the decorated pumpkin out during the week on my front porch under cover, and bring it in on the weekends when we are around the house more. Pumpkins need cold weather to stay firm through the season. A warm house will speed up the inevitable decomposition and I want mine to last through Thanksgiving. Sometimes the succulent cuttings even root in the moss and you have more succulents to pot up.
Violas are my springtime favorite flower. Fragrant, happy faces gaze up at you and tell you that spring has sprung. These budget blooms come in a rainbow of hues, the usual blues, violets, and yellow- but also, browns, reds and burnt orange. Ease of growing in cool weather means that violas will pair well with other cool season flowers, such as diascia, lobularia, lettuce, parsley, verbenas, succulents, and other early blooming annuals.
And fragrance! Most people don’t realize the perfume of lots of pansies and violas grouped together in mass. But the fragrance is phenomenal.
Pansies vs Violas
Many people get confused with the differences between these two very similar flowers. Pansies have a distinctive blotching that resembles a face. They also have more compact growth than violets and larger leaves with fewer and larger flowers.
Violas, often called “Johnny-Jump-Ups”, are more winter hardy and durable in the landscape, and I prefer them for their versatility. The flowers are smaller but more prolific and can cover the plant with color. Many Violas have transitioned from the smaller Violas over the years to the beautiful large-flowered Pansy varieties through the efforts of gardeners and hybridizers. But I still love the Violas for their sheer number of blooms per plant.
Edible leaves and flowers high in Vitamin A and C, the Pansy and Viola flowers impart a strong flavor and are used to make syrups, flavored honey and as a garnish for salads. Go to my post on Edible Flowers for more information on how to use them.
Easy to grow in sun or partial shade with plenty of moisture, the plants will fade when the days get hot, so I enjoy them from March to June. In containers when they fade, I replace them with heat lovers, like lantanas and petunias.
Using Violas or Pansies in centerpieces or as a hostess gift is easy. Start with a low tray; I used a narrow tin tray with shallow sides.
Once you remove your Violas from the market pack, slice off half of the root ball and remove some of the soil clinging to the root ball. This makes the task of fitting lots of plants for maximum color into the container easier.
Start filling the tin container with the Violas and pack them in tightly for maximum impact.
Using green sheet moss, tuck this into all the nooks and crannies and moisten everything with a mister. Don’t water too much as there are no drainage holes and you don’t want the flowers to sit in a puddle of water. Start adding your accessories. For my basket handle, I cut some pussy willow and bent it into a handle shape and stuck the ends into the soil at each side of the container.
Keep the planting medium moist- not sopping wet- and this centerpiece will last for 6 weeks or more.
Violas come in brown shades
Beautifully marked viola
Fill in with your accessories. I added the bunny last
Start filling up the container with as many violas as will fit
Violas planted with lettuce
Violas play well with other plants
Chair with spring violas
A single variety of violas filling a pot can be beautiful
Ripping out 50 failing English boxwoods on a landscape job this year turned into a decorating opportunity. Rather than taking the old shrubs out and chipping and shredding them, I decided to use the still green parts for some boxwood Christmas trees.
A traditional decoration, boxwood trees are simple to make but time consuming. Boxwood sprigs inserted into saturated oasis lasts for at least 2 months in a green fresh looking form. After the holidays, you can even keep your tree which will dry nicely, and spray it gold for next year. Boxwood trees are easy to make and inexpensive if you have boxwood on hand. If you have to buy it though, it is expensive. I own several shrubs that need some attention and wait until early December to give them a thinning so I can use all those fresh greens and not throw them away.
When I thin my boxwood, I just grab a bunch of boxwood and snap it off at the woody stem. I call it ‘snapping boxwood’ and savvy gardeners do this to keep all their boxwood healthy. Beautiful boxwood requires periodic thinning to let air circulate throughout. Most people will sheer their shrubs which just stimulates the boxwood to grow in even thicker, blocking air flow.
Snapping off hunks of the foliage, creates spaces within the boxwood which aids in air circulation and leads to a healthier shrub. When I talk ‘boxwood’, I am referring to both English, American, and Korean. Though the English is superior for making wreaths and trees, I use any kind that I can get.
Boxwood Tree Directions
Soak your cut boxwood in a tub of warm water overnight to hydrate the greens and keep them fresh longer
Choose a small plastic container and add a chunk of oasis for the base. Tape in with florist tape and add some picks.
Insert your cone on top of the picks
At this point I add a few wood picks from the side of the cone into the base to make sure everything is secure
I pick out a nice looking boxwood piece to form the peak. Once I stick that piece in, it gives me a guide to green up the rest of the tree.
Starting at the bottom, I break off pieces of boxwood and insert them into the oasis around the edge of the container first and move up. I added another variety of green (thujopsis) to the tree to give more textural interest. But if you are a purist, stick with boxwood
Add floral touches, like white pom poms, red roses, and small Christmas balls directly into the oasis; be sure to leave gaps to insert these elements
Insert your pieces of boxwood and flowers with care; If you insert them too densely, you could break apart the oasis
Spray the tree with an anti-dessicant, like Wilt-Pruf to keep the tree fresh for weeks
For care, I will mist it with water maybe once a week, and make sure that the oasis is thoroughly soaked through to keep it green and fresh
Who would ever have thought of decorating pumpkins with succulents? Like bacon, succulents go with everything and make it better. The finished product is so different from the traditional carved Jack-O-Lantern, plus you don’t have to fool with the mess of seeds and rotten pumpkins. Unlike cut pumpkins these will last for months, and the succulents actually root in the moss if misted occasionally. This is a great new twist on decorating pumpkins for the fall holidays that is easy, no mess, and so creative. In the fall I have so many large succulents that I don’t have room for inside that I cut them up for decorations.
Better than losing the succulents to frost! The succulents actually root into the moss and you can transplant the cuttings to soil and grow them and set them out in the spring, saving on your start-up plant costs.
A pumpkin or large gourd
Sheet moss, sphagnum moss, or reindeer moss
Assorted cuttings of succulents. I was moving most of my succulents indoors to beat the frost, and this gave me the opportunity to trim the growth back or actually uproot an entire plant, washing off the roots. I simply nipped large pieces of succulent tips from living plants, trying to vary colors, shapes, and textures.
Assorted pods, i.e. pine cones, okra pods, lotus pods, milk weed pods, and berries. For my example above, I used nandina berries and foliage which dries quite nicely, and okra pods. Mix it up with whatever you have on hand.
Tacky glue or glue gun
Spritzer for moistening moss
Step By Step
Find a wide topped pumpkin and cut the stem off; I used “Cinderella” variety which has a grayish orange color, deep pleats or grooves, and a wide roomy top.
Glue moss on top about 1/2 inch thick with a glue gun or tacky glue.
Arrange your succulent cuttings to form a pleasing arrangement, making sure that you use the larger chunkier pieces first. Stick the stems into the moss with glue so that they adhere. Glue will not hurt the succulents.
Add berries, pods, or anything else that goes with the fall theme, gluing in place.
Spritz the moss so that it stays moist
There are so many unusual pumpkins on the market today that I also tried this arrangement with a Christmas theme using a white pumpkin, adding fresh variegated holly, winterberry, green amaranthus, and dried burgundy cockscomb to add a nice contrast to the white pumpkin.
Gourds are also a great choice for these arrangements, appropriate for Thanksgiving and I chose a tall narrow one that fits into a smaller space. I had gathered some orange rose hips on the side of the road and blackberry lily berries and knew I had found the perfect use for them decorating the top of my gourd.
It is best to keep the pumpkin inside in a cool spot, out of direct sunlight. Pumpkins need cool weather to stay firm through the season. If you want to keep them in an outside location, like mine on my front porch, be sure to bring inside when the weather turns colder with hard freezes. A warm house will speed up the inevitable decomposition, so don’t put your pumpkin on top of a radiator or in a sunny window. Last year, my pumpkins lasted into January!
Hypertufa (n.): An artificial and lightweight stone that gardeners can create from a recipe and mold into plant containers, troughs and any other shape.
If you mention hypertufa to a non-gardener, you would probably get a blank look. But in the gardening world, it is very trendy and a sign of a serious gardener is the number of hypertufas scattered in their garden.
Perfect for planting miniatures and alpine plants, hypertufa troughs fit into any size garden, large or small. A man-made imitation of light weight tufa rock, hypertufa is a mixture of 3 things: perlite, peat moss, and portland cement. Some fiberglass fibers used for strengthening is a good idea but not essential.
Purchasing a ready-made one is always an option but pricey. A medium 15″ trough could set you back around $75, whereas the materials for constructing several will be around $30. And the fun involved is something that pulls people together for a hypertufa party, complete with wine and lots of food.
Any Excuse for a Party!
Hypertufa partying takes some planning and preparation but is worth it once everything starts to happen. ‘Mise en place’- the cooking phrase, having everything in place, is paramount here. You don’t want to be running around gathering supplies while everyone is waiting and concrete is being mixed.
I tell my guests that I will provide all the materials for making if they bring a mold on a piece of plywood, a face mask, and rubber gloves. Molds are simply a tupperware bowl without a lip, an old styrofoam ice chest, cat litter container, or a sturdy box.
Blue Tarps– I use a couple of blue throw away tarps to lay on the ground which makes cleanup a breeze
Face Masks and Gloves– Face masks are essential to keep you from breathing portland cement dust which is toxic; Rubber gloves keep your hands clean
Mixing Tub– I use an old cement mixing tub, but any wide mouthed plastic container will do
Mixing Tools– Use a shovel or sturdy garden trowel
Old Trash Bags– Using plastic between the container and the hypertufa mix when packed into the mold makes the unmolding process easy
Plywood Pieces– The pieces when wet are heavy and hard to transport without a study board underneath it
Portland Cement-one 96 pound bag which costs around $15; this will make lots of troughs, at least 12 good sized ones
Peat moss– 3.8 cubic feet bag will cost around $16
Perlite-one 4 cubic bag costs around $14
Mesh Fibers– These cement fiberglass fibers are a strengthening agent for the hypertufa, available at cement suppliers or on line, a 1 pound bag at $7
You can get the perlite and the peat moss in smaller sizes if you just want to make a couple of troughs, but the Portland Cement only comes in the monster size.
Using a small bucket for measuring, use 3 parts portland cement to 2 parts each of the perlite and peat moss and mix these thoroughly into a mixing tub, breaking up lumps. Add the fibers at this point, if you are using them. I find if you add the fiberglass fibers your hypertufa is more resistant to cracking in the long run.
Enlist everyone at this stage in mixing and squeezing the lumps to make a uniform mix. Next have your hose handy and start adding water in increments, mixing after each addition until the mixture will hold in a clump in your hand. It resembles wet cottage cheese at this point.
Molding – The Fun Begins!
Molding and forming the trough is the fun part. Everyone brought their mold staged on a sturdy piece of plywood so that they can transport it home easily. We covered the molds with a piece of old trash bag which greatly simplifies the removal of the mold from the hypertufa. After donning their gloves, people dove into the tub and grabbed handfuls of the mixture and start covering their mold with a two-inch layer of hypertufa mixture. It is important to have good coverage so that the walls are sturdy and won’t cave in. I had dowels ready for people to insert through the bottom of the troughs for drainage holes.
A hypertufa made in a Styrofoam ice chest
After everyone had thoroughly coated their mold and smoothed the bottom and sides, we took a break and admired everyone’s creations. At that point, the troughs are ready for curing. Curing simply means that the cement has to dry slowly to avoid any cracks forming. To do this, simply mist the container once a day and cover the trough with a piece of plastic to hold in the moisture. You can’t rush this step and it will take a couple of weeks to fully harden and cure.
After waiting impatiently for about a month, you can turn the hypertufa over and remove the mold. At that time, you can fill it with soil and plant with succulents or miniature plants. Your completed trough will last for years outside and will eventually grow moss to make it look like an antique planter.