Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A 3x10 raised bed, or front-of-house planter

In response to a few requests for specific garden plans, I put together some ideas for a raised bed. Finally I had a few minutes to totally think out my plan and get some notes written. I'll list below my plant suggestions, locations, and purposes. I hope you like this! A couple of notes before we get started...

1. This plan assumes the planter receives full sun.
2. I live in Southern California, but ask your local garden center for specifics on when to plant if you are far away or in a much different climate.
3. This particular color scheme is in the white/blue/purple range (as opposed to red/yellow/orange).
4. Last, this is going to be what I call a "baby" garden. It won't have big immediate impact because you'll buy all little 4" pots or seeds, which are far less expensive. But by mid-summer and next Spring, your plants will be all grown up.

I love to plant herbs and edibles, and this year I am particularly focused on getting the herb garden really packed with edible flowers so that I can have a flower party in mid-summer. Here is a list of great plants, followed by a planting chart.

Spanish Lavender. Perhaps in the future we can discuss more specifics about the varieties, but to keep it easy, I would just head off to Home Depot or Armstrong and pick up a 4" pot of whatever looks nice and smells good to you.

Rosemary. Cut it and toss it in with your roasted meats, chop it up for use in breads, and sometime this summer I'll write out a recipe for delicious rosemary vanilla ice cream. Rosemary has lovely little flowers that can also be used for your culinary delight. Rosemary will grow into a very big bush, so be sure to harvest regularly to keep the shape the way you like!

Thyme is grows in a lovely mound and can be used in the kitchen for just about anything. This is one of my favorite little plants to add to herbal flower arrangements.

Common Sage has a light purple to blue flower and grows perennially for me.

Purple Sage has green foliage with a purple tinge, which adds a nice interest to the greens.

Carnations, Bachelor buttons, chives, nasturtiums, and pansies. These plants I would buy as seeds or in six-packs, keeping in mind the blue/purple/white color theme. All of their flowers are edible and would look lovely in a salad…just look at the cover of Sunset Magazine!

So the goal here is to use the perennial lavender and rosemary as the background, and Thyme and Sage in the foreground. The back row will have alternating lavender and rosemary with carnations in between. The front row will have alternating thyme, purple sage, and common sage with nasturtium seeds, pansies, chives, and bachelor buttons in between.

I am currently re-planting some things in the vegetable garden so that I can have a nice little herb border like this. Did I miss things you like planting in this color range? Let me know - I'd love suggestions!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What to do with 3 feet by 10 feet

I'm away from home, but will be back Monday and will be blogging about my suggestions for a small raised bed. It's going to be a mix of herbs and edible flowers, and it is what I am trying to create in my herb area of the vegetable garden. For now, I am enjoying sleeping in and going to the beach while my fabulous in-laws do practically everything for the kids. Hooray!

See you Monday...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Magic Kingdom gardening

We were at Disneyland yesterday (we often are, living in SoCal) and I couldn't help but post a picture. How nice to have a fun place to take the kids and also get to enjoy the flowers along the way! Much of the planting in Tomorrowland is herbal or edible, which I enjoy tremendously. My kids like to pinch the rosemary growing along the planters on the way into their favorite futuristic rides. This little garden is outside Pixie Hollow and is filled with fun little flowers that we love to look at on our way in to meet Tinker Bell. They don't really HAVE to plant such nice things, but they do and I appreciate it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The sower and the seed

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who shared with me about how she is using her newly found gardening skills as a way to talk about Jesus with her daughter. What a natural time to share the parable of the sower and the seed! As they worked the soil together, she told her daughter the story as found in Matthew chapter 13:

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9He who has ears, let him hear.”

I hope that I'll remember this the next time I am in the garden with my children. Although they will hear this parable literally, thinking that it is only about seeds and soil, when they are older they will be able to remember it and think about what it really means. Thanks to Amita for sharing such a meaningful way of sharing the love of God with my kids...how wonderful it is that we have friends who help us grow in our faith!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


This is one of the new plants this year for the veggie garden and it is called Sorrel. According to Noah and my tastings (bitten right off the plant before planting!), it has the texture of spinach, but has some citrus/lemon flavors that make it very "bright." I went looking online for some recipe suggestions and found this lovely little site. It hasn't been updated in 2009, but I'm linking to the Sorrel recipes because they all sounded so interesting! It can be picked and added to salads or sandwiches, but it can also be baked into quiches and soups and also combines well with ginger flavors to add to chicken dishes. I am really looking forward to experimenting with this over the next few weeks as it grows!

Pretty Petunias

I know Petunias aren't the most sophisticated flower around and I know some people like to tease them for being common, but I can't help it - I love them! Look at the sweet ruffly pink petals that positively glow when the sun is setting. As we get closer to summer, they just drip and fall over the bricks and are a lovely addition to the front rose bed. I skipped planting them one year and I regret it. Now we'll always have them because they just make me smile.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Herbal Arrangement

This afternoon I was cutting back some of the herbs to help keep them nice and bushy and I thought I'd use my cuttings to make an herbal arrangement to bring inside. The cute little metal container is from a plant purchased at Trader Joe's last year, and the herbs are Thyme, French Lavender, and Lemon Balm. This may come with me to MOPS tomorrow to decorate my table.

More Roses

I had a moment to myself this morning and went outside to find some roses to photograph. Today was watering day, so they were still covered with water droplets - everything looked really refreshed and healthy. The peachy/pink rose is one of my favorites for spring since the color is so soft and pretty. Once it is super hot here (in the 100's), this one starts looking quite faded, so I try to enjoy it as much as I can now!

The yellow rose is a David Austin Golden Celebration, which was a gift to me from my parents when I turned 30. Two years later and it is finally really blooming! My experience with shrub roses is limited since I grew up with hybrid teas, but I think I'm getting the hang of it. They look gorgeous when they are all in bloom!

As I was poking around, I found a ladybug making a meal of another bug, so I thought I'd share that, too. We put out two praying mantis casings, too, so I should have some praying mantis photos before too long. Yay for good bugs!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Bean Teepee

We built the bean teepee yesterday and it looks great. We used three 10 foot fiberglass poles from Home Depot and tied them together at the top with some plant tape and twine. We had Noah stand in the middle so we knew we were making it big enough for him to sit in once the vines grow. Then we used the twine to make a structure for the beans to climb, stringing it horizontally around the poles, leaving a space at the front for an entrance. The kids and I planted the scarlet runner beans around the base. I can't wait for the beans to start climbing and growing beautiful red flowers for us!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The garden is finally planted

It doesn't look like much when you start, does it? A big blank canvas with tiny little sprouts here and there. In our case, it is even a little more bleak with all of our weed paper down. But when I look at this, I can see what is coming! The three tomato cages will be positively bursting with tomatoes by July, the bean arch and the teepee will be covered with vines by the first of May, the sunflower house and the back left wall will have 7 or 8 foot tall sunflowers growing, and the strawberry patch will be loaded with blooms and berries. I love watching the garden grow and I'll post pictures of it as it changes over the next few months.

The Beginner's Vegetable Garden

Several friends of mine have asked recently about one or two easy things to grow to start a vegetable garden. I'm so excited that you want to plant some food, too! So here are some tips about planting for this year that should help you start a small but meaningful garden that you (and your children!) will love.
First, no vegetable garden should be without a tomato. My pick for you if you have children is a grape tomato plant, which can easily be purchased right now as a seedling. Only buy one plant! You don't need a six-pack, that will be too many to deal with. The tomatoes are tiny and easy to eat right off the vine or toss whole into salads. Yum! Plant in full sun, and be sure to leave some room for it to grow. Your tomato should grow to at least 4 feet tall if you are plating in full sun in Southern California. Place a tomato cage around it to help support the plant and the weight of the tomatoes.

Next to your tomato, plant some basil. The combinations of these two, from caprese salad to spaghetti sauce, are delicious and super easy to prepare. Basil is easy to grow, just be sure to harvest regularly to get a strong, bushy plant. To harvest, all you have to do is "pinch" back the leaves, which means to pick the leaves and stems from the top of the plant. If flowers appear on your plant, those need to be picked, as well.

I love red bell peppers - they are easy to grow and are super expensive at the grocery store! Bell peppers grow slowly, are easy to manage, and will start yielding a crop in mid summer. They are a very compact plant and need very little space. Like tomatoes, they require full sun.

Carrots are also easy to grow, and you can grow them from seed. They don't have to be in a row, just plant seeds in an around your other plants and you'll have little carrots popping up that are fun to pick when the top of the carrot is nice and orange (check your seed packet for specifics for your variety).
Before planting, get a bag of garden soil or planting soil (NOT potting soil) and use it to amend your soil. If you have a small space, get a small bag, open it up and spread it on top of your existing soil. Use a shovel, hand trowel, or hand rake to mix the soil together and then add your plants.

When you are ready to plant, dig a hole twice as big as the container of the plant. Fill the hole halfway up with water, and add some planting soil back in, making a big, muddy, soupy hole. Place the plant in the hole and cover with dirt, packing it in snugly to try to close up any air pockets in the soil. Add a little water on the top and you are done! A special note for tomato planting - pick off the bottom one or two rows of leaves from your plant, leaving about 4-6 leaves at the top, and plant it deep, all the way to the bottom of the remaining leaves. The little tiny white "hairs" on the stem of the plant will all turn into roots that will help to stabilize your plant and give it extra nutrients.

Your plants will need water a couple of times a week. We water three times a week for 15 minutes, which seems to be sufficient.Your plants will need water a couple of times a week. We water three times a week for 15 minutes, which seems to be sufficient.

Some things not to plant for your first time? Don't plant anything you won't eat! If you don't like eggplant, don't plant it. I would also avoid zucchini, pumpkins, and melons. These plants and vines get quite large and might be a little much for your first year.

Email me if you have questions! I'd love to help you get started.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The first roses of the season

I love to watch my garden compete each Spring. Figuring out which of my roses will bloom first is a game my kids and I love to play. This year, there are two winners, so I'll post pictures of both. First, the red Chrysler Imperial in the front yard is definitely one of my husband's favorites because of its fabulous fragrance. It is right by the front door and the scent wafts by as you walk inside. This rose was here when we moved into the house and I can't imagine not having it.

Second is the pink Charlotte Armstrong rose in the back rose bed. I love this rose, since it is one of the only pinks we have and it has extremely long buds that are very graceful. Armstrong Garden Centers have classes throughout the year, and this was a free gift at the end of one of the rose pruning classes. It is two years old now and really seems to love our bed!

While we are on the topic of roses, don't forget to feed your roses now. They have been dormant and are now growing wildly, so they'll need a good boost of nutrients to help their blooms be healthy and abundant. I love the E.B. Stone rose food. Not only is is Organic, but it is easy on the plants and you - if you accidentally over-feed them, this food won't burn them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Scarlet Runner Beans

Have you ever been to one of those wonderful children's gardens where houses and teepees are made out of beautiful climbing vines? Well, this year we are determined to make our own teepee out of some bamboo poles and scarlet runner beans. I had planned to plant scarlet runner beans anyway because of their bright red blooms that are completely edible, but then I started looking around online and found that they make a great climbing vine for teepees. If you want to join me in tepee making, plant now! All you need are 5 or 6 long (15 feet would be good) bamboo poles. Stick them into some soil and tie at the top with twine to form your teepee. Then plant the beans all around the base. Your seedlings should be naturally inclined to climb right up the structure, but check them periodically and guide them upwards if you need to. By the hot days of summer, you should have a nice little spot for some of your little ones to hide out with a glass of lemonade. Plus, since the flowers and beans are totally edible, you have nothing to worry about if they have a little snack, too!

P.S. For an adorable idea for little people lemonade, check out Allegra's blog...so cute!

Sunflower planting time

Now is the time to get some sunflower seeds in the ground! Sunflowers are one of the easiest plants to grow and one that children just adore. The seeds are large, so their little fingers can easily poke them into the ground, and then they are rewarded in just 5-8 days with seedlings! Sunflowers grow incredibly fast and are a joy to have in your yard. They can grow up to 8 feet tall, and the flowers on some varieties are as big as dinner plates. We like to plant them all along the back wall of the garden, which breaks up the monotony of the white cinder blocks. This year we are growing both Russian Mammoths and Autumn Beauty. In one corner of the vegetable garden, we planted a square of seeds that will turn into a Sunflower House once the flowers are tall. I encourage you to get a packet of seeds and just poke them in the ground wherever you can. All you need is full sun and just a little space, and you'll have big, bright yellow flowers by late summer.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Goodnight, Shamrock

Did you know that Shamrocks go to sleep at night? During the day, their little leaves and flowers open up towards the sun, and then at night, they hang their little heads. My mom has a few Shamrocks and the first time I saw them "sleeping," I told her she needed to remember to water her plants before we went to bed. What a sweet little plant that puts itself to bed in the evenings. This folding up at night is known as nyctinstic movements. Your Shamrocks will enjoy indirect sunlight in your home for the next few months, but then they will start to look dead or dying. The Shamrock (Oxalis, of which there are many varieties) is a bulb, and it will go into a time of dormancy. Once the foliage has browned, you can remove it and place the plant in a cool, dark location for a few months. Once new green growth is showing, you can move it to a sunny location again and it will bloom and grow through the winter. The Shamrock pictured was a gift from my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) secret sister. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm in love with Azaleas

It's true - I love Azaleas. I didn't know how much until this Spring. It seems that every garden I see that makes me swoon has the lovely ruffled blossoms of the Azalea. Once the garden center became full of them in a multitude of colors, I simply couldn't resist any longer. These two lovelies came home with me and now are living in the shady garden of my backyard which used to be reserved for Heucheras. It is North facing and mostly shady, but does get a bit of light in the afternoon. I hope the heuchera don't mind sharing!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A ladybug eating an aphid

Look at this! Not even 24 hours after releasing our ladybugs and Rob was able to take this incredible picture of one of our ladybugs eating an aphid! He also took some other great shots of our ravenous carnivores that I wanted to share. Now that we know we have food for them, we're going to release another container in the backyard tomorrow.

Releasing the ladybugs

This morning before church, we took the kids into the front yard and released the ladybugs into our rose garden. One little $9 container (I found mine at the Armstrong Garden Center in Monrovia) has so many ladybugs inside! It is important to release your ladybugs during the early morning or late evening, since they are least active during these times and are less likely to fly away. Open your container and gently shake it over your roses to release them. Many of them might be dead, but don't worry -there are many more living ones that will be thrilled to eat your aphids! I sprinkle the whole thing, wood shavings and all, onto the roses, knowing that the breeze and our sprinklers will take care of the wood shavings. Of course, you'll want to let a few crawl onto your childrens' hands and fingers. They are so tiny and pretty and children love them! Encourage them to be gentle and let them crawl (or fall) onto the leaves from their hands. I'm hoping to give another update soon on our progress. Our aphid infestation seems pretty heavy this year, so I'll be excited to see how successful my pretty little ladybugs are.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Aphids are here!

Oh, my friends, they come in on the wind and they attack our roses with reckless abandon. Just a few nights ago, I was inspecting my roses for aphids and didn't find a single one. Then this morning, they were covered! I went to Armstrong this morning to see what new flowers I could find and purchased a carton of ladybugs since they happened to have them. I was concerned that they'd all fly away since I didn't have any aphids yet, but I think ours will be sticking around for a while. Ladybugs are the number one organic defense against aphids. Now I admit that I've been impatient in the past. I've purchased ladybugs and then sprayed a few days later out of desperation. Of course, the spray will kill everything, not just your bad bugs. I have also sprayed first and then bought ladybugs later. It is important not to do that! The spray (or certainly a systemic insecticide, if you choose that kind) will seep into the leaves. Once the ladybugs eat the poisoned leaves, they'll die. This year, I am committed to giving my ladybugs a chance to thrive on my bugs. We'll be releasing them tomorrow morning before church, which I think my children will love. I hope to come home to feasting ladybugs!

On a side note, my photography has now been outsourced to my husband, who seems to have a wonderful knack for this close-up sort of thing. Thank you, honey :)

Friday, March 13, 2009

My new and improved shed

When we first moved into our house and started gardening, the partially rusted shed was one of the first things I felt like I needed to address. After discussions of removal were totally rejected by my husband, I started researching vines to cover it up as much as I could. There are so many great vines for Southern California! Mandevilla, Snail shell vine, and climbing roses are all things I considered. However, for speedy growth, great evergreen coverage, and delicious fragrance, you just can't go wrong with Jasmine. We purchased a small potted jasmine two years ago and now have completely covered half of the shed. The flowers are starting to bloom and it is heavenly! We screwed some trellis to the sides of the shed where we wanted it to grow and now it just meanders up the shed on its own.

The Jasmine makes me so happy...when it is fully in bloom, you can smell the fragrance all the way to the back of the yard.

I still need to figure out how to cover the other half since there isn't soil at the base like there is on the left side. A potted vine is out of the question because potted things don't survive in my care. We all have our shortcomings, apparently. If you have something icky at your house to cover, blooming vines are definitely the way to go!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The truth about weed paper and little kids

As I said in an earlier post, there just isn't a better way to keep out the weeds than by covering the whole garden in weed paper. After spending one whole growing season weeding every night, we'll just never go back to that. Of course, for all that lack of work, you have to pay, right? This is the payment. A garden full of silver plastic that looks like giant trash bags. Don't get me wrong, I love not picking the weeds, but it's the paper and the rough cut holes for the plants that get me down. We've talked about covering it in bark, and I admit that would improve the appearance. But we have an 18-month old who already loves to fill her pail with whatever she can find and dump it all over the driveway. Do I really need to challenge her to transfer a garden full of bark? Look closely at the picture and think about it, too...a whole garden, covered in something that isn't dirt. And there lies the real reason for the plastic. No dirt. We can grab our little colanders and baskets, go into the garden at a moment's notice and pick the veggies of the day without getting even one speck of dirt on us that will follow us into the house. Now there's some justification I can live with.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lovely Lavender

I've been so excited about flowery recipes that I just had to start early. I made some lavender orange chocolate bark tonight to share with friends and, while a little heavy on the lavender, I am encouraged! I used white chocolate chips, orange zest, and culinary-grade lavender purchased at World Market. I set out to Home Depot this morning in search of Spanish Lavender for the garden, but didn't find any yet since it is still early in the planting season. Once I can find some and get it planted, the hot days of summer will surely yield a crop of lovely lavender and I'm still looking for more fun recipes for it all. Some I remember finding in the past are things like lavender lemonade, lavender scones, and lavender jelly, not to mention savory preparations for meats like lamb and duck. Ah, the promise of what's to come!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The magic in the garden

This is where it all starts...stinky and fabulous. We alternate between chicken manure and steer manure, and we ALWAYS add Worm Gold worm castings (worm poop, as my son will tell you). It really is gold for the garden! Our tomato plants grow up to 6 feet tall and we have this to thank for it. Stay tuned for more updates and pictures. Next up will be some information about the edible flower garden we are planting this year!

Welcome to my garden!

Yesterday was the start of our now annual tradition of tilling the garden, adding nutrients, and planting all of the starts that will become our wonderful vegetable and flower garden. Over the past three years, we have learned a lot about gardening in our little garden. The first year, we spent endless evenings weeding after we put our son to bed. The second year, we got smart and used weed paper to hold back the villains. Our first year, we didn't realize that we had super fertile ground and so we planted 12 tomato plants that turned into a giant jungle of tomatoes! Now, we start a list in the early spring and get our list of plants just right before we start digging. We love our pretty little garden and I'm excited to share our stories here.