Foraged Winter Greens for Seasonal Outdoor Arrangements

Outdoor seasonal arrangement, done by Gretchen Schmidl (materials: nandina, privet berries, thujopsis, magnolia, chamaecyparis, grass plumes, red twig dogwood, and hydrangea)

What do you do with containers on your front porch or deck once you have yanked out those sorry-looking frost-killed petunias?

Segue into the holiday season with beautiful fall/winter containers using “yard” material. Forage for material from your property on or around your home. Snips in hand, I venture into roadside edges and woods and gather lichen covered branches, fall colored foliage, pine cones, and seed heads for amazing accents for my arrangements. Be sure to get permission from the landowner if you are roaming around to avoid anyone chasing you off their property! I ask neighbors permission to browse on their property promising them a beautiful arrangement in return.

Winter Gold winterberry holly at McLean Nurseries

For my own property, as a landscape designer, my first consideration in planting any tree or shrub is – Can I use it in my outdoor seasonal containers? Yellow, red, orange twig dogwoods, curly willow, hydrangeas, foliage with variegated foliage, evergreen magnolias, winterberry, red-berried viburnums, and ruby rose hips, are planted on my property with one motive in mind; Are they useful in arrangements inside and outside?

Lay out your materials so you can easily pull your arrangement together; foraged from your yard or a neighbor’s, you can make a big impact for little cost

Using the existing potting medium in your old containers is a sustainable way of reusing the substrate as a quick and easy substitute for floral oasis. Large branches will break up oasis and will fall apart with the freezing and thawing cycle. Inserted branches in soil will freeze in place to keep your arrangement in place.

Start with a soil filled container; Cut back any old frost-killed plants
Start by sticking your branches into the soil, emerging from a central point
Continue adding material, starting with the largest first; Drape berries (Privet) along the edges
Finish off with some fun accents; here is I used pumpkin on a stick and foraged lichen branches
Carex grass in front, magnolia, hydrangea, chamaecyparis, abelia, nandina

Make it Simple Directions

  1. Keep the old soil in place and cut off at soil line old plants. You have an instant blank palette to play with that can take you into the holidays and beyond. The trick is to complete your masterpiece before the ground freezes as you can’t stick anything into a frozen pot. Though, don’t despair if you are presented with frozen clods. I have used a propane torch to defrost the soil enough to insert my branches!
  2. Place a preformed fresh wreath two inches wider than the pot diameter on top of the soil. An evergreen wreath will save you some steps in the process of creating an outdoor arrangement. With the addition of a pre-formed wreath, you have instant soil coverage and a beautiful base to start with, and the edges are covered. If you don’t use a wreath, you just need to drape more foliage around the base and edges.
  3. Insert your thriller sticks or uprights (like Birch logs) in the center of the wreath. I love using yellow twig dogwood and pick up the yellow color with gold evergreens. Curly willow is also excellent.
  4. Start inserting your largest leaves/branches first. Bracken’s Brown Beauty Magnolia is a favorite because of the lovely brown felted reverse. But any large-leaved evergreen, like Rhododendron or Aucuba will work. Insert your branches directly through the base wreath angling the branches outwards.
  5. Add other contrasting foliage, some variegated white pine and yellow tinged false cypress to pick up the yellow twigs or feathery false cypress. Stay away from Hemlock and Holly foliage as these will dry quickly and brown out. Chunky birch logs, winter berry sticks, rose hips, and large pods are added last for color and interest. Over-sized plastic Christmas balls, jumbo pine cones, hydrangea heads, grass plumes, big colorful bows can all be added at this point.
Arrangement done by Amy Sparwasser (Materials: Camellia, Cedar, Arborvitae, Magnolia, fake berries, White Pine)

If the soil is dry, water the arrangement to keep everything hydrated and to settle the branches into place. Your beautiful container will last 6-8 weeks, more if you keep it in a shady area of your porch. If some material starts to look tired, you can always replace with fresh branches to keep it going.

The accent I used here was seeded Eucalyptus, but everything else was cut from my property

 

Hydrangea, nandina berries and foliage, and orange fothergillia foliage
Winterberry, birch logs, magnolia, white pine
Fall colored oakleaf hydrangea is a wonderful addition to seasonal arrangements

 

The original version of this story appeared on www.HomeGardenandHomestead.com

Easy Thanksgiving Centerpieces

 

Having Thanksgiving at your house?  Whipping up a table centerpiece now will save you a lot of time on Thanksgiving Day.

Living on a pretty large property (2 acres), is a lot of work with weeding, pruning, mulching, etc. The chores are endless. But it is all worth it when I look out my window and see the makings of a Thanksgiving centerpiece, there for the taking. Evergreens, berries, peppers ripening, pine cones, and pods, were at my fingertips. Fresh cut sunflowers, oasis, and picking up a few colorful veggies,  were the only things that I had to purchase to come up with a dynamite centerpiece. Keeping for weeks with regular application of water and misting, you can segue this same centerpiece into a Christmas themed one with different flowers and accessories.

Surprisingly easy if you have access to greens, you can always poach on your friends and neighbors properties if you come up short. Ask first though! Usually people are happy for you to prune or thin their evergreens.

Start with a hurricane globe filled with fruit and a candle; place the oasis on a charger

Starting out with a 10″ oasis ring on an inexpensive charger plate, I had an old glass hurricane shade that I pull out for each Christmas to act as the focal point. If you can’t find an oasis wreath, then just cut your wet oasis into chunks and piece together a wreath shape.  Inserting a cranberry colored candle in the hurricane shade, I dropped some shriveled mini pumpkins (See pumpkin on a stick) and some mini hardy oranges into the space around the candle. Other options are fresh cranberries, dried corn and beans, or nuts.

Start inserting short pieces of greens

Insert your greens first, trying to cover as much of the oasis as you can. But leave room for your other berries, veggies, and flowers. This should only take about 15 minutes. For my centerpiece greens, I used Thujopsis, Nandina, Golden Arborvitae, Leucothoe, and Aucuba.

After greening the oasis, add your berries and fruit; the Nandina berries exactly match the color of the mini pumpkins
Stick picks into colorful peppers
I bunched the radishes together with wire and picked them also
Completed centerpiece without flowers

Once Thanksgiving is over, set the wreath in a cool place, not freezing, and bring it back in at Christmas and add seasonal naturals such as roses, pomegranates, and red carnations. Even a small birds nest or snowmen would add a nice touch.

Sunflowers will last about a week

Materials

Here is a list of suggested materials. Just explore your yard or the woods and you can find many others to make it more interesting.

Evergreens

  • Aucuba
  • Rhododendron
  • Cherry Laurel
  • False Cypress
  • Juniper
  • Nandina-foliage and greenery
  • Andromeda
  • Boxwood
  • Pachysandra
  • Hellebore
  • Pine
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea

Vegetables

  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Lady Apples
  • Cabbage
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Small Pumpkins
  • Gourds
  • Grapes
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Mini Peppers

 Berries and Flowers

  • Gerber Daisy
  • Mums
  • Winterberry
  • Beauty Berry
  • Sunflower
  • Wax Flower
  • Lilies
  • Grapevine tendrils
  • Roses
  • Hydrangea
  • Bittersweet
  • Lotus Pods
  • Pine Cones
  • Pepper Berries
  •  Hydrangea
  • Rose Hips
The radishes will last a few weeks and then shrivel up
Step By Step

  1. Place oasis ring in warm water and soak for 30 minutes until heavy. Or piece together a ring with chunks of oasis
  2. Place ring on charger and set your hurricane glass in the center
  3. Fill the glass with a candle surrounded by your choice of beans or fruit
  4. Insert cut pieces (3-5″ long) of greens into oasis ring so that the oasis is covered
  5. Insert your chosen veggies after first inserting picks. If you don’t have picks, use short twigs
  6. Add berries, pods, or nuts
  7. Sunflowers go in last. Other suggestions for flowers are carnations, dahlias, roses, lilies, and mums
Veggies and Berries
Placing picks in Veggies, Pods, and Berries
For another pumpkin centerpiece idea, go to my post Thanksgiving Centerpiece .  
For a totally different look, try making the one below with candles and gourds, ready to go in 30 minutes.

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

Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece

Using a variety of drieds and succulents you can create an easy centerpiece in minutes
Spraying the pumpkin with a clear lacquer adds a nice finish; I saw this in a restaurant

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

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

 

My stock of dried flowers

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

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

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

Adding sprays of dried Dusty Miller

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

Adding dried oranges gives the pumpkin a dimensional effect

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Succulent Thanksgiving

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

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

 

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

Pumpkin decorated with succulents
Top of pumpkin covered with succulents

Succulents on pumpkin

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

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

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

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

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

Other Succulent Ideas

Here are some other succulent Thanksgiving ideas for centerpieces.

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

Maryland is Bracing for an Invasion of the Spotted Lantern Fly

Lantern Fly is a moth
Lanternfly is a moth

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

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

Tree of Heaven is ubiquitous in the mid-Atlantic

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Year of the Pepper

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

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

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

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

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

Piles of peppers

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

I grew some bell peppers for stuffing also

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

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

I placed my containers of peppers in my greenhouse

Peppers 3 Ways

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

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

Freeze Drying

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

Freezing

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

Place chopped peppers into freezer bags squeezing any excess air out

Blackened

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

Saute and blacken
Ready to eat

 

Tips For Making Your Carved Pumpkins Last

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

White pumpkin owl family

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

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

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

Picking the Best

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

This makes a great sideways pumpkin

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

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

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

Making Your Creation Last Longer

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

For the best tutorial on carving, I use YouTube. 

 

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

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

English Gardens-Grand Estates & Cottage Gardens

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

At the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show

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

A beautiful bee hive surrounded by lavender at Chelsea Flower Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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