Old Hose – New Life

Floor mat made out of cut hoses
Door mat made out of cut hoses

Have you ever thrown an old hose away and thought that there should be some use for it instead of clogging up the landfill? Here is something that anyone can do, even if your creativity is non-existent. I saw this on Pinterest, was intrigued, and figured out how to construct it. It took just a few minutes each day to make it.

First, get hold of an old floor mat. I have lots of these hanging around that are faded but still serviceable.

Start with an old floor mat, a piece of hose, and some E-6000 adhesive
Start with an old floor mat, a piece of hose, and some E-6000 adhesive

The adhesive E-6000 is strong, waterproof, and easy to work with as long as you wear gloves. You could get high on the fumes so work in a ventilated area! I used 3 tubes of this.

I start by making a shape out of the hose, a crescent shape that will be the outer ring of the mat and will be the shape that all your pieces will be glued next to. Cut with pruners or tin snips.  This is the hardest part of the entire project! Hoses are really tough with added fibers. Add the E-6000 in liberal amounts to the back of the hose pieces and stick it to the mat. Weight the pieces down with something heavy. I used some old paint cans. Wait for at least a couple of hours for the pieces to adhere and cut a few more pieces and glue them down. Continue in this manner until you are almost to the center.

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Weight the hose pieces down with heavy stuff so that the pieces won’t shift
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Apply lots of adhesive. Here I have bare hands and had a hard time removing the glue from my hands. Use gloves!

The center pieces are just folded in half. Finish off with a short piece for the center, and then I used sturdy scissors to cut around the perimeter of the mat, trimming it so it is flush with the hose edge. I used a table saw to cut every piece of hose flush on the straight bottom edge and Voila – You have a new recycled floor mat! It took one entire hose of 50′ in length to make this.

Door mat made out of cut hoses
Door mat made out of cut hoses

Next post, How to make a hose wreath!

A Garden hose.
A Garden hose. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beeswax Citrus Soap

 I am experimenting with different varieties of handmade soap and I love orange flavor, and recently made some citrus soap bars. They turned out great, so wanted to share this variation using a base of olive oil soap.  I call it Beeswax Citrus Soap. Think how good this soap is for your skin with all this olive oil and beeswax! Beeswax softens and protects skin from environmental elements and is naturally nourishing and antibacterial and anti-allergenic. the addition of orange peel adds to the exfoliant properties. Orange Citrus Soap

Orange Citrus SoapI love handmade, preferring it to the commercially overly scented variety, picking it up at local craft fairs and boutique stores.  The cost was adding up, plunking down $5 or $6 for a small bar, and I looked into making it at home. I have always hesitated to make soap due to the use of caustic lye in creating the chemical of making soap, which is called saponification.

In the old days, when people had to make their own soap, they made lye with wood ashes. They would take the white ash left over from a hardwood fire and boil it with rain water, and liquid lye would float to the top.

Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!
Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!

 

Beeswax cakes from my hives
Beeswax cakes from my hives

Gather Materials

Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don't have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one
Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don’t have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one

First off, make sure that you have the containers and equipment needed.  They are:

  • Immersion blender
  • Digital cooking thermometer
  • Kitchen scale
  • Variety of containers and cook pots that you will only use for soap making; a heavy saucepan, plastic 2  quart beverage container, and wooden spoon
  • Soap mold-You can use a small kitty litter pan; I used a milk container for my soap
  • Old clothes and apron
  • Goggles
  • Rubber Gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves

Safety Precautions

I recommend making soap in your kitchen or basement laundry tub where curious kids and pets cannot get into it. A caustic substance, lye has to be handled very carefully. If you use common sense, and pay attention to directions, you will be fine. Keep a bottle of white vinegar handy, if you spill any caustic lye on your skin.

Assemble all your ingredients and equipment in advance and put on old clothes and an apron, though I have never damaged any of my clothes in the process. Put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves and you are ready to go. The following is your basic procedure and ingredients. The final step is adding your flavoring/scent and you can add any scent at all that you like.

Recipe for Olive Oil Beeswax Soap

36 ounces olive oil

6 ounces coconut oil

3 ounces castor oil

2 ounces of grated beeswax

12 ounces distilled water

6 ounces lye

2 ounces essential oil of your choice ( I used Vitamin E, but the possibilities are endless)

Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
  1. Measure 12 ounces of water into the plastic pitcher. Your kitchen scale should subtract the weight of the pitcher from the weight of the water.  Everything has to be measured precisely. Set your pitcher in the sink.
  2. Weigh out 6 ounces of lye. I used a plastic disposable cup.
  3. Pour the lye from the cup into the water in the pitcher NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! And gently stir it in with the wooden spoon.
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir

A thermal reaction will occur and the solution will get very hot and give off some fumes. It stinks!! At this point, I set the pitcher outside to cool off –  away from animals. I hate the smell of the fumes.

Measuring out your oils on the scale
Measuring out your oils on the scale

4. Weigh your oils and beeswax and put them into the wide saucepan and heat on a low heat until everything dissolves. Remove from the heat to cool slightly. You will measuring the temperature of this mixture to be around 98 to 110 degrees F.

Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last
Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last

5. Test the heat of the lye solution by touching the outside of the pitcher to see if it is cooling down a bit. It should feel tepid to the touch, not hot.

6. Take the temperature with your digital thermometer of both the oil solution and the lye solution, making sure that you wipe off the probe with a paper towel between each use. The trick is to get the two solutions around the same temperature, around 98 degrees to 110 F which is called equalizing. This is the most difficult part of the whole process.  The lye solution will take about an hour to come down from a high of around 160 degrees to the lower temperature that you need. The following is a useful video on how to do this:

7. Plug in your immersion blender so it is ready to use.

8. Combine the two solutions once they have reached the right temperatures (see above), pouring the lye solution into the pan of oils and stirring with the wooden spoon a couple of times.

10. Without turning on the blender, immerse it into the mixture down to the bottom of the pan. Make sure that your gloves and goggles are on because you could get splattered a bit.  I also like to put the saucepan in the sink for this step. You can do this by hand without a blender, but it will take much longer with a lot of stirring!

11. Turn on the blender and slowly circulate it around the circumference of the pan. Keep blending, watching the consistency.  Within a few minutes, the mixture will start turning opaque and thicken. Keep blending until the mixture starts forming a ‘trace’, which is just part of the mix leaving a visible swirl on top.  The mixture should be the consistency of runny pudding.

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12. Add your essential oils ( I used 1/4 ounce each of lemon and orange oil). Grate 2 oranges to get about 1/4 cup of grated skin and add to mixture. I also sprinkled some turmeric on top to increase the intensity of the orange color.  This is for color only, not for any flavor. Mix in and I liked the swirls of turmeric so didn’t mix that in completely.

Grated orange peel, oils, turmeric, and mold with immersion blender
Grated orange peel, oils, turmeric, and mold with immersion blender
Adding the oils and grated orange peel
Adding the oils and grated orange peel
Turmeric sprinkled on top
Turmeric sprinkled on top
Swirl the colors and oil in
Swirl the colors and oil in
Pour into a milk carton mold and cover with a towel for 24 hours
Pour into a milk carton mold and cover with a towel for 24 hours

13. Pour your soap into your mold (here I used a wax covered milk container with the top cut out).

14.  Wrap the container in an old towel and set aside for 24 hours.

15. The next day, the soap is still soft enough to be cut into blocks with a sharp knife. I peel off the container and chop it up with a warmed knife.

Peeling off the milk carton
Peeling off the milk carton

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Out of this one batch, I made 20 blocks of soap which should last me a long time for my personal use and lots of gifts.

Clean up

To clean up your mess, I take bunches of paper towels and wipe everything off thoroughly and throw the towels into a garbage bag to go outside. Remember, this stuff is very caustic and can still burn you. The immersion blender I treat the same way, and then take off the blender stick and thoroughly clean it in hot soapy water –  same with the digital thermometer.

Aging

You have to let the soap age about a month before using as it will retain some of its caustic nature immediately after you make it. I leave it out in a sunny window to age it for a few months before using or giving it as gifts.

Heirloom Tomatoes

A sinkful of Roma tomatoes
A sinkful of Roma tomatoes (good for sauce)

Picking those juicy tomatoes is just around the corner, and if you are thinking about growing them from seed, you better get planting!

Everybody has heard of heirloom veggies and there are entire seed companies that dedicate their offerings to continuing the thousands of varieties that the mainstream companies don’t offer any more. You are missing out, if all you plant are ‘Better Boytomatoes because there are tomatoes for eating, slicing, canning, juicing, making paste or sauce, or just to pop in your mouth for that fresh tomato flavor burst. Here is a guest post from John Fendley of Sustainable Seed Company:

Heirloom Tomatoes – Varieties for Every Palate, but Where Do You Start?

By John Fendley of Sustainable Seed Company

 

There are hundreds of varieties of heirloom tomatoes as deliciously unique in their flavors as the people who saved them over the years.  Varieties range from black tomatoes with a sweet and smoky flavor and cherry tomatoes with a tart tang to giant beefsteak tomatoes that drip with juice as you bite into a summer BLT.

Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes
Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes

Hungry for summer yet?  I know I am, and it is compounded by looking online at all the heirloom tomato seeds!  Each seed carries the promise of a flavor explosion in my mouth as I stroll through the garden, with the thought of tasting all those summer time tomato treats.

But where do you start?  Since these are edibles, flavor seems like a good place to start.

But you should also consider space requirements.  How much room do you have?  Will you want to plant determinate (short non-sprawling) varieties because you only have patio space for pots?  Or do you have lots of room to plant giant beefsteak tomatoes that sprawl for miles?

Next, consider how you plan to use and enjoy your tomatoes?  Will you can them?  If so you want can varieties that have dry flesh making it easier to cook them down like Chico III.  Chico is prolific, producing tons of fruit all at the same time.  It makes a great all-around sauce, but if you are looking for a little more flavor from a canner, try black plum.  It makes a sweet and smoky sauce that is sure to have your dinner guests raving!

Maybe, you are not a canner and want to eat your heirloom tomatoes fresh.  Try cherry tomatoes varieties for salads.  Perfect for those of us that don’t like cutting things up, just pop them right in the salads.  Coyote is perfect for this and you will love the flavor.  That is if you even have any left from the trip back to the kitchen.  Yes, they are that good!

What about the beefsteaks we talked about?  These are big, fat tomatoes, so good that the juice literally drips down your face when you take a bite out of them.  Everyone loves them, but they need lots of space to grow and plenty of staking, which prevents their heavy, fruit-laden vines from falling over.

Then there are colors!  Heirloom tomatoes literally come in every color of the rainbow, and this is the reason great chefs around the world love them so.   It is like painting with a palette of rainbow colors.  There are reds of course, but also purples, yellows, oranges, blacks, green, red / yellow striped and even white tomatoes.

Start growing your own delicious rainbow of heirloom tomatoes today from Sustainable Seed Co.  We have 300 varieties of delectable heirloom tomatoes sure to fit everyone’s palate.

The beautiful array of colors of heirlooms
The beautiful array of colors of heirlooms

Enter our Pin-it to Win-it Contest where 10 lucky gardeners will receive $50 gift certificates to create their own organic seed garden. Check out Sustainable Seed on Pinterest for a chance to win your Dream Garden.

Nature’s Sweet Side- Maple Syrup

I Love the Sweet Stuff!

The old fashioned way of collecting Sugar Maple sap with buckets
The old fashioned way of collecting Sugar Maple sap with buckets

Incredible Sap

The sap is running in New England and I got some first hand insights and some surprising information when I visited Massachusetts and Vermont recently.

The surprise: Maple syrup contains an abundant amount of naturally occurring minerals such as calcium, manganese, potassium and magnesium. And like broccoli and bananas, it’s a natural source of beneficial antioxidants. According to the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association “Maple syrup is also a better source of some nutrients than apples, eggs or bread. It’s more nutritious than all other common sweeteners, contains one of the lowest calorie levels, and has been shown to have healthy glycemic qualities”. I always feel guilty when I slather on the maple syrup on pancakes and this information just made me feel a little better!

3 batches of Maple Syrup
3 batches of Maple Syrup (Photo credit: astanleyjones)

Also, according to the Association, “Maple syrup was the original natural sweetener. Native Peoples in North America were the first to recognize 100% pure maple syrup as a source of nutrition and energy. Since then, researchers have been documenting that maple syrup has a higher nutritional value than all other common sweeteners. In addition, researchers have found that pure maple syrup contains numerous phenolic compounds, commonly found in plants and in agricultural products such as blueberries, tea, red wine and flax-seed. Some of these compounds may benefit human health in significant ways”.

English: Canadian Illustrated News: Sugar-Maki...
English: Canadian Illustrated News: Sugar-Making Among the Indians in the North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another surprise that I learned is that maple syrup is only produced in North America, as far west as Minnesota, including Canada and as far south as Virginia, making this a uniquely North American product.

Grades of Vermont maple syrup. From left to ri...
Grades of Vermont maple syrup. From left to right, Vermont Fancy, light amber color, delicate maple bouquet; Grade A Medium Amber, medium amber color, pronounced maple bouquet; Grade A Dark Amber, dark amber color, robust maple bouquet; Grade B, darkest color, strong maple bouquet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Collection

I visited a lovely farm in Massachusetts that has a sugar house where the maple sap is collected, boiled in a large evaporator into syrup, and then bottled for use. The outdoor temperature has to reach around 43 to 45 degrees during the day and freezing at night for the sap to start running . And the season lasts from 6 to 8 weeks depending on the temperatures.  Instead of the old-time buckets, most maple syrup makers use tubing connected to a tap that is hammered into the tree and connects with miles of tubing to a central collection tank. In place of the labor consuming process of going to each bucket to collect the sap (and there can be hundreds or thousands!), the farmer just empties the central collection container. The taps are kept in the tree the whole sugaring season or until the sap stops flowing.

A spile that is hammered into the tree is attached to the tubing
A spile that is hammered into the tree is attached to the tubing

The sugar maples were all marked with orange paint earlier so that the farmer can plainly see what trees to tap. The tubing extends to all the taps which run into laterals, which then run into the main line tubing and the tubing can run for many miles. The tubing is supported with wiring and at intervals you see a Y-branch of a limb of a tree stuck into the ground supporting the line. When you stand in the sugar bush, you are surrounded by a spider web of blue lines all around you. It all flows with gravity so it is helpful if your sugar maples are on a slope with a storage tank at the bottom or low point.

A line held up with a branch
A line held up with a branch
The tubing runs directly into the storage tank at the bottom of a slope
The tubing runs directly into the storage tank at the bottom of a slope
A main line of tubing with a quick connect and valve
A main line of tubing with a quick connect and valve
Checking out the collection tank for sap
Checking out the collection tank for sap

The Sugar House or Shack

The sugar house
The sugar house

Consider these facts; Fresh sap contains between 1 to 6% of sugar content and maple syrup has between 66 to 67 % sugar content. To reach that concentration, gallons and gallons of water have to be evaporated out of the sap. So, you need about 45 to 50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup!  The sugar content of the starting sap determines how much has to be evaporated. If the sugar concentration of the finished product is more than the 66 to 67%, the syrup will crystallize.  If the sugar content is too low, then it could spoil. To check this critical factor, a sugar maker uses a hydrometer, which measures the sugar content.  To make this dramatic transformation, the sugar house has three things: a storage tank containing the sap, the evaporator, and a fuel source.

Storage tank in the sugar house
Storage tank in the sugar house
Fuel surrounding the evaporator
Fuel surrounding the evaporator

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An evaporator produces a lot of smoke
An evaporator produces a lot of smoke

You can tell an evaporator is at work by the amount of steam they produce and vents out the top! A full cord of wood, 4′ wide x 4′ tall, and 8′ long is need to produce 25 gallons of syrup.  Lots of wood is cut all year and stacked to dry in anticipation of making the syrup in the winter. The farm that I visited used mostly pine and spruce wood that they cut down in clearing different areas of the sugar bush. Sugar bush is the name of the forested area that the sugar maker taps for his sap.

The syrup is bottled into jars or plastic containers and graded by flavor and color. The grade is determined by how much light passes through it. Grade A is lighter, and thus more light would pass through it than Grade B. I prefer the darker Grade B syrup as it has a heartier maple flavoring. In total, there are 2 major grades of syrup with subsets of each grade.

English: different grades of maple syrup; @ Mo...
English: different grades of maple syrup; @ Morse Farm Sugar Works (VT) Deutsch: Verschiedene Grade von Ahornsirup. Aufgenommen bei Morse Farm Sugar Works in Vermont (US) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other products are made from maple syrup, such as maple candy, maple sugar, and maple cookies, and I love them all. I always have pure maple syrup in my pantry to use in cooking.

Maple syrup is a lot of hard work and expensive to produce. Evaporators can run into thousands of dollars and the other equipment is also expensive so this is a labor of love, not for money.

Here is a recipe that I use for veggies:

Maple and Mustard Roasted Root Vegetables

Yields 6 servings.

1/4 cup maple syrup 2 tbsp Dijon mustard 1/2 tsp garlic powder 2 tbsp olive oil 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp pepper 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion or 20 pearl onions, peeled 5 cups coarsely chopped or sliced veggies of your choice; turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, carrot, potato, yams, beets and/or golden beets.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss veggies and onions with the olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking pan. Roast in oven for 20 minutes, then remove and re-toss on baking sheet. Cook 15 minutes more. Toss again. Cook another 15 min. Combine maple syrup, Dijon mustard and garlic powder in a small bowl. Drizzle the maple mixture over potatoes and veggies and mix to coat well. Cook again until veggies (beets and potatoes will take the longest) are soft and glaze starts to caramelize and brown a bit.

Serve and enjoy!

Brilliant! The Philadelphia Flower Show

IMG_7777
Foxgloves ruled at the Philadelphia Flower Show– shown here with annual Blue Salvia

Attention Plant Geeks! You still have time to visit the greatest flower show on earth!

I just came back from doing my demo of fairy gardens at the Philadelphia Flower Show and took lots of pictures and video.  If you can’t make it this year to the show, you are missing a blooming  ‘Brilliant’ show! English gardens were front and center with lots of English cottage style borders full of overflowing flowers.

Beautiful Foxgloves!
Beautiful Foxgloves!

The flower that I noticed over and over were Foxgloves, a truly English flower.  Peace Tree Nursery, who forces most of the plant material for the flower show must have had acres of Foxgloves to deliver for the show.  They were beautiful!

Beautiful woodland setting at one of the landscaped gardens
Beautiful woodland setting at one of the landscaped gardens

Here are some quick facts about the show:

  •  The Philadelphia Flower show is the largest of its kind in the nation and draws over 250,000 people from all over the world.  It is larger even than the renowned Chelsea Flower in England.
  • Held at the Convention Center, the gardens cover more than 10 acres of floral fantasy.
  • In addition to the major garden displays, the Flower Show hosts world-renowned competitions in horticulture and artistic arranging, hundreds of gardening lectures and demonstrations, special events, a mammoth indoor Marketplace, and a city-wide Flower Show Week celebration throughout downtown Philadelphia.
  • The Flower Show has been held since 1829, which makes it the oldest one in the nation.

Brilliant! is this years theme and should delight all Anglophiles which I happen to be from traveling to Britain many times over the years. Only the English really understand gardening and make it a national “sport”.  They also have the perfect climate to create those fabulous gardens that you see. American gardeners are usually envious about the English “cottage” gardens and try to replicate them at home, but rarely succeed. We have a harsher, more unforgiving climate that takes tougher plants to survive. There is nothing wrong with that, it is just a different spin on gardening, and no less beautiful.

Here are the things that were notable about this show:

Scavenger Hunt 

I am a kid at heart, so the “Quest for the Queen” scavenger hunt really tickled my fancy. There were miniature sized “Queen” figures hidden around the exhibits and kids were challenged to find them.  Make gardening fun for kids.  I loved it! These are gardening newbies in the making!

IMG_7806

Fascinators

English: Several examples of fascinators photo...
English: Several examples of fascinators photo from flickr by motodraconis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, Maybe you have been living in a cave for the past year and haven’t heard about the latest craze of Fascinators! These were popularized at the last royal wedding when some over-the-top head-gear was displayed. New this year at the Philly Show, was the ‘Make and Take’ area for people to fork over $10 and make their very own interpretation of headgear that makes anyone stand out in a crowd. I saw dozens of them so this must have been a very popular feature.

Fascinator on Etsy
Fascinator on Etsy (Photo credit: shadowfairyqueen)

Crown Jewels

What if your assignment was to interpret the Crown Jewels in flowers?  Where would you start?  Color obviously, shape also, but glamour and impact are paramount! I think these designers accomplished that in spades!

Crown Jewels - Sapphire Blue, This was my favorite!
Crown Jewels – Sapphire Blue, This was my favorite!
The golden sceptre
The golden sceptre
The throne done in red roses
The throne done in red roses
The entrance to the crown jewels
The entrance to the crown jewels

Gardener‘s Studio

Ok, I agree that I am partial to this venue because I was one of the presenters! But, take a load off your sore feet after walking around for hours and listen to the different programs that the studio dishes up! David Culp on Hellebores, a container garden challenge,  and creating a Bird Friendly garden, and myself doing a demo on Fairy Gardens were some of the different offerings on tap.

Gretchen, my assistant, and I working hard at The Gardeners Studio
Gretchen, my assistant, and I working hard at The Gardeners Studio
Gretchen showing around the miniature globe garden to the audience
Gretchen showing around the miniature globe garden to the audience

The Poop Exhibit

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I did warn you that I am a kid at heart and I gravitated to this “Poop Exhibit” by the Philadelphia Water Department just like any kid would – the ultimate low cost natural fertilizer!

 A fake pile of poop complete with flies!
A fake pile of poop complete with flies!

Oddities

No show is complete without plant oddities and I spotted a couple. Check out these two.

Grafted Cactus
Grafted Cactus
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Bowiea volublis or otherwise known as ‘Pregnant Onion’

Miniature Gardens

There is always a crowd gathered around the miniature gardens and I took lots of pictures of these.  They seem to get better every year. Enjoy!

Related Articles

The Realm of Fairy- Creating Fairy Gardens

Demonstrating at the Philadelphia Flower Show with my loyal helper, Gretchen
Demonstrating at the Philadelphia Flower Show with my loyal helper, Gretchen

The Philadelphia Flower Show Gardener’s Studio

I am going to present at the Philadelphia Flower Show Gardener’s Studio on March 4th and am very excited about the topic.  Since the theme for the flower show is Brilliant!, which is celebrating Great Britain, I thought that designing fairy gardens would fit right in, kind of like gardening with”A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream” in mind.

I am frantically creating, and designing miniature gardens, houses, and fairies so that I am well supplied with examples to display. I sold most of the ones that I made in the spring, so am starting from square one in getting ready.

But if you can’t make it to the Flower Show, here are my guidelines and helpful hints about creating a masterpiece yourself.

Miniature Plants Suitable for Fairy Gardens:

There are tons more that are available, but I find these work well for me.

Acorus, Sweet Flag                                        

Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’

Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'
Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’ (Photo credit: The Greenery Nursery)

Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’

Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’

Alchemilla erythropoda, Dwarf Lady’s Mantle

Armeria – Thrift

Campanula ‘Blue Waterfall’

Dianthus ‘Tiny Rubies’

Dwarf Boxwoods

Armeria maritima
Armeria maritima (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dwarf Conifers

Dwarf Ivies

Hypericum ‘Brigadoon’, St Johns Wort

Lamium ‘White Nancy’

Lamium ‘Purple Dragon’

Leptinella ‘Platt’s Black’

Lysimachia ‘Minutissima’, Creeping Jenny

Raoulia australis and Leptinella squalida 'Pla...
Raoulia australis and Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’ (Photo credit: brewbooks)

Mazus reptans

Ophiopogon ‘Nana’, dwarf Mondo grass

Sagina, Irish Moss

Saxifrage

Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’

Sedums
Sedums (Photo credit: Eric Hunt.)

Sedum ‘Blue Carpet’

Sedum ‘Lemon Gem’

Sedum ‘Ogon’

Sedum ‘Angelina’

Sempervivum, Hens and Chicks

Thyme

Violas

English: Cultivated violas at the show.
English: Cultivated violas at the show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sources for Accessories and Materials:

The woods and fields around your house!

Michael’s Craft Stores

Amazon.com

weetrees.com

plowhearth.com

etsy.com

thefairysgarden.com

save-on-crafts.com (one of my favorite sites for generally everything crafty!)

Model train and dollhouse stores are great also

Materials for Making Fairy Houses Outside

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Slab of bark

Bark

Acorns

Pine Cones

Magnolia leaves

Mullein Leaves (soft and fuzzy – makes good blankets)

Lambs Ears Leaves (soft and fuzzy)

Deer Antlers

Pebbles
Pebbles (Photo credit: andrew dowsett)

Moss, Sheet, Bun, and Reindeer

Smooth Pebbles (get these in the floral dept at Michaels)

Beach Glass and Pebbles (Michaels)

Seeds and Pods

Milk Weed Pods

English: wave polished glass fragments from Gu...
English: wave polished glass fragments from Guantanamo’s Glass Beach. Original caption: :Glass Beach at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is known for the colorful pieces of glass that wash up on its shore. – JTF Guantanamo photo by Harriot Johnston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Teasels

Twisted branches

Driftwood

Shells, starfish

Sheep’s fleece

Potting Mix – Use a good quality soilless mix

Taking Care of Your Garden, both inside and outside

Mister
Mister
  • Do not let moss dry out in the summer, spritz with a mister
  • For portable containers, set them outside in high shade for the summer if the plants are tender bring them in for the winter and keep it on the dry side – the moss will go dormant
  • Fertilize sparingly – you want the plants to grow slowly!
  • Trim and prune regularly to keep plants in bounds
  • Every few months, tune up the garden by replacing plants that die or grow too large

Creating an Outdoor Fairy House

When spring comes, I like to make a fairy house to set into the garden. Each year it is different. Here is one that I made this year.

Fairy House for the outdoors
Fairy House for the outdoors

To put this together, I gathered some large pieces of bark. I got mine from a tree cutter.  The bark was about 1 1/2 inches thick and curved so I cut pieces and glued them together to form a house about 15 inches tall and 12 inches around. Then I cut a hole through the bark for the door.  I traced and cut a circle out of wonderflex which is a composite material used for theater costumes, for the roof. It is very strong and water proof. I twisted the wonderflex into a cone shape and hot glued it together. This formed the basis for my roof.

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Wonderflex which is available on line

I then took a very large Sugar Pine cone that I picked up at Lake Tahoe years ago. It was about 1 foot tall! I took apart the scales which are nice and large to cover the roof.

Sugar Pine Cone which I tore apart
Sugar Pine Cone which I tore apart
Hot gluing the scales to the roof
Hot gluing the scales to the roof

I hot glued the roof to the base and added some more natural things to make the house more interesting – antler pieces, and twisted branches. Allium seed heads are great additions.

Adding more natural things to the house
Adding more natural things to the house

You can set this as the centerpiece of your outdoor fairy garden, and put fencing, paths, and landscape around it with moss and plants. The house should last several seasons if you take it in for the winter. I hope to see you in Philadelphia!

Tiny miniature garden with a trellis and grapevine
Tiny miniature garden with a trellis and grapevine
I used an old stump to make this fairy house
I used an old stump to make this fairy house
A hanging globe planted with tiny plants
A hanging globe planted with tiny plants

Broken Pot Garden- Home for a Gnome!

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To see an updated version of this post, go to Happy Gnoming.

Christmas gnome home
Christmas gnome home

I saw this on Pinterest one day and pinned it to a board and forgot about it. But I noticed it the other day and decided to make it. It was harder to do than I thought because cutting a terra cotta pot is not easy. So easy to shatter and crack, terra cotta is extremely hard.

Gnome home
Gnome home

I had a dremel, an electric cutting tool available at Home Depot, and thought that was the best way to go about it, but wasn’t sure.  So, I called the 800 number on the Dremel web site and they were very helpful and recommended using a carbide tile cutting tip, which worked like a charm! I did it outside because of all the dust it threw out, and wore goggles and a face mask. Also, I soaked the pot before cutting to soften it a little.

Gnome home tutorial
Gnome home tutorial

Here is the process:

Gather materials-dremel, goggles, face mask, pot, carbide tip
Gather materials-dremel, goggles, face mask, pot, carbide tip
Cutting the terra cotta pot with a dremel and carbide tip
Cutting the terra cotta pot with a dremel and carbide tip
Big chunk cut out
Big chunk cut out
Place the piece in the pot and start adding potting mix
Place the piece in the pot and start adding potting mix
Add a pathway of smooth stones and plant
Add a pathway of smooth stones and plant
Broken Pot Fairy/Gnome Home
Broken Pot Fairy/Gnome Home

Broken pot gardens
Broken pot gardens

Floral Winter Palette

Five Favorites for the Winter Garden

A Witch Hazel in full flower in winter
A Witch Hazel in full flower in winter

Most people don’t realize that you can have a winter blooming garden in the depths of January and February in large areas of the U.S. I live in the mid-Atlantic region and we can get some heavy snow falls, and days where the temperature dips below freezing for a good part of the winter, but still it is possible to see something blooming 365 days a year. And that is my goal – to have something blooming in my garden every day. The hardest time of year is early January but as the winter progresses, I notice more and more plants are blooming.  Floral sources helps my bees to find some nectar and keep them alive over the winter, plus gives me a lift when I see blooms unfurl throughout the winter.

Here are 5 reliable winter bloomers:

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel or Hamamelis is a small tree or large deciduous shrub that has coarse foliage during the growing season and is really unremarkable looking. But once the leaves fall and winter sets in, you can see the swelling flower buds and as winter is fading away but still very much around – late February for me – the Witch Hazels start to bloom. The most common color is yellow, but oranges and copper reds are available. Doing well in woodland conditions of high shade, you can also site Witch Hazels in sun and they will thrive. It is an easy plant to espalier or grow flat against a wall or house.

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Jelena Witch Hazel

Winter Aconite

One of my honeybee’s favorites. These start opening in mid to late January and when a warm day hits, they are fully open and jumping with bees. Grown from a tuber planted in the fall, they will steadily increase from year to year by throwing off seeds. Only about 6 inches high, the flower has a Kelly green ruff of foliage framing the petals.  Aconites are an ephemeral, so will disappear when the weather warms up. Transplant them when green and actively growing to spread them around.

English: Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) Wi...
English: Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) Winter aconite with the flowers open as the sun had been out shortly before this photograph was taken. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Mahonia

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Mahonia bealei is an unusual plant that you either hate or love. It is a mid-sized shrub with large leathery prickly leaves that looks like a holly on steroids! The flowers open gradually in February, sometimes earlier, and set a blue-black berry that birds love to eat. A tough deer resistant plant, it is under-utilized in the landscape.  Mahonia likes shady, difficult conditions, so is a valuable plant to know.

Blue black berries of Mahonia
Blue black berries of Mahonia

Camellia

Camellias are considered a southern plant and are very successfully grown in Maryland. It is an evergreen glossy-leaved shrub that blooms in the dead of winter. The flowers look like a flattened rose and come in an array of beautiful colors and swirls. Camellias prefer shade and can live under large trees. There are Camellias that bloom in the fall and ones that bloom in the winter. In the south, they can get quite large, over 2o feet tall, but here in Maryland, they tend to be a lot smaller.  But I have seen some large ones here when they are growing in a good protected spot.

Camellias
Camellias

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Hellebores

No garden is complete without Hellebores or Lenten Roses. A great ground cover for the shade, hybridizers have gotten hold of this plant and have developed some amazing colors, such as dark burgundy or black or yellow. I love the lime green Hellebore foetidus, or Stinking Hellebore. The leaves smell unpleasant when crushed but I have yet to crush them to find out! I am a sucker for green flowers and try to grow as many as I can. Hellebores like woodland conditions- humusy, rich soil, in dappled shade. They are valuable because they are evergreen, long-lasting, and deer avoid them as they are highly poisonous. I have noticed that Hellebores have become a popular holiday house plant like a poinsettia.

Stinking Hellebore
Stinking Hellebore
A nice clump of Hellebores
A nice clump of Hellebores
Hellebore
Hellebore (Photo credit: Phil @ Delfryn Design)
Array of colors courtesy Pine Knot farms
Array of colors courtesy Pine Knot farms

Healing Labyrinth Part 3

Heart Space with Water Feature

To prepare for your journey in the labyrinth space, you enter the small space immediately at the entrance to the main labyrinth which is called the Heart Space.

Another example of a Heart Space at a labyrinth courtesy Wikipedia
Another example of a Heart Space at a labyrinth courtesy Wikipedia

This area gets you ready for the zen experience of walking the path. If you have someone in mind when you walk, then bring something –  a memento, picture, flowers, feathers, or whatever gets you in the mood and reminds you of them. With that in mind in designing the area, I thought a water feature right next to the heart space where you could dip your fingers into the water before your journey would work well.

I marked off the area for the Heart Space
I marked off the area for the Heart Space

Water Feature

Once the Heart Space was marked out, I marked out the water feature to the right of the Heart Space.  Before the paving for the Heart Space could be laid, we had to excavate for the reservoir for the boulder fountain.  A large hole around 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep had to be dug and lined with butyl rubber to hold the water that would be re-circulating through the fountain. Large matrix boxes that looked like plastic crates were installed in the reservoir to create a sturdy platform for the boulder. I had hand selected the boulder previously and picked a smooth oval one just the right size for the space. It was then drilled through the center for the water to re-circulate.

Matrix boxes and pump vault
Matrix boxes and pump vault

The pump vault simply houses the pump so that you can easily get to it for service.

Boulder sitting on top of the matrix boxes inside the reservoir
Boulder sitting on top of the matrix boxes inside the reservoir
Boulder sitting next to the pump vault
Boulder sitting next to the pump vault

Everything had to be placed perfectly level and 2 inches above the grade of the labyrinth so that water coming down off the hillside wouldn’t inundate the water feature with wash out during a storm.

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Placing the tubing through the drilled hole of the fountain
Placing the tubing through the drilled hole of the fountain

An auto-fill line was installed from a nearby hydrant so that the fountain would never run out of water.  Typically evaporation and splashing will reduce the water volume over time, and this way you wouldn’t have to check on the fountain constantly and refill it by hand.

A water line was attached to a nearby hydrant
A water line was attached to a nearby hydrant

Also, an overflow was buried from the reservoir to the lane to take care of any excessive run off. Then we filled in with River Jack and larger pieces of Pennsylvania Fieldstone chunks. A smooth topper stone was added to cover the top of the pump vault for easy access.

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The basin is filled in with River Jack and you can see the cover for the pump vault off to the side.

Since the stone for the labyrinth was so precisely cut and formal, I wanted the entrance of the Heart Space to be a little more informal and so used irregular stone.  This informality sets you up for the journey through the labyrinth. My stone mason used irregular bluestone to pave right next to the water feature to create the Heart Space. In the spring when we landscape around the labyrinth, I will finish setting the boulders around to hide the liner.

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The bluestone goes right up to the Heart Space water feature. Part of the liner is exposed until we finish landscaping around the entire labyrinth in the spring.

The Spring Landscaping

Come spring, grading and planting around the labyrinth will complete the design. I will keep you posted!

Healing Labyrinth – Part 2

Designing the labyrinth was interesting and fun. But now the hard work of installing it began.

Preparation

After locating all utilities and getting necessary covenant permission, we were ready to go. First up was removing all plant material and grading of the site with heavy equipment. It was necessary to level a space large enough for the labyrinth to be placed and a retaining wall to be built into the hillside.

Grading the site
Grading the site

Once the soil was graded, you could clearly see where the wall was going to be built of boulders. Measuring 45 feet long and 2 feet thick, varying from 2 to 2.5 feet high along its length, we used large boulders of Pennsylvania Field Stone.

An S-curve wall will be built in front of this hill
An S-curve wall will be built in front of this hill

I designed the curve to embrace the area of the labyrinth, so you felt that you were in a special enclosed space. Using dry laid technique, the wall was completed in 4 to 5 days. Then we were ready to start on the flat work of the labyrinth.

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Stone mason taking a breather

Once the wall was finished and before we started the labyrinth itself, it was time to stub out the electrical in conduit. For the Heart Space of the labyrinth, we needed electricity for the pump to run for the boulder fountain.

Trenching out for the electrical conduit
Trenching out for the electrical conduit

Labyrinth Flat Work

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Templates for cutting stone

Preparing the Flat Area

Once the wall was completed, the flat area was graded level with a slight slope towards the lane for drainage. It was power tamped with gravel laid on top. The next layer was the black landscape fabric pinned in place. Topping it all off was the white template pinned to the ground.

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Marking the black landscape cloth

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Black landscape cloth pinned down
Placing the template on top

The most important part of the job was getting the base properly prepared and power tamped so that the stones would not shift. The base was composed of tamped soil, tamped gravel, black landscape cloth, and topped off with the template for placement of the stones.

Hard Work- Cutting to Fit

The hard work of cutting and fitting the bluestone began.  My stone mason numbered templates of all the curves in the labyrinth so that he could cut the stone precisely. Every piece of stone that was used had to be hand cut with a diamond tipped stone saw blade which was a very time consuming task.

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Cut stone turns
Template for the turn
Template for the turn

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Putting It All Together

005 (3) 058 (2) Every stone was cut to size and placed on the template in position.  Once each stone was fitted together, stone dust had to be placed under each piece and tamped. Because bluestone is a natural stone, each piece of stone varied in thickness, and each piece had to be individually placed and leveled.

Filler

To make the lines stand out against the blue-grey color of the bluestone, a dark charcoal grey gravel was placed in between the stones. A metal edge that would not rust was inserted around the perimeter of the labyrinth, and staked to keep everything stable.

Gravel was placed in between the stones with a metal edging around the entire labyrinth. I marked where the Heart Space is to go.
Gravel was placed in between the stones with a metal edging around the entire labyrinth. I marked where the Heart Space is to go.

Attributes

This 24 foot diameter labyrinth can give a walker a long and comfortable journey.  The total distance for walking is 439 foot which is phenomenal considering the total space we had to work with. The width of the walking path is 20 inches which is plenty wide for a single walker.  This design can also accommodate multiple walkers if need be.

Next Up- Heart Space and Water Feature
Healing Labyrinth Part 3

English: Labyrinth in Kennedy Park Dunure Laby...
English: Labyrinth in Kennedy Park Dunure Labyrinth made of stone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)