The Calming Presence of Water

Every garden ought to have a water feature. Humans seem to be drawn by the calming sounds of water movement. I know that wildlife too, especially birds and insects appreciate easy access to water. As a certified wildlife habitat, our property provides essential water.

In addition to our 2500 gallon pond and waterfall, seen below, we added different water features on the property.

This ceramic birdbath from Walmart was a great choice for a side yard where I created a new native plant garden. I am severely allergic to mosquitoes, so I ordered a water wiggler to sit in the bowl and move the water, thus discouraging a breeding place for those blood-loving demons. The color was a perfect match too! The wiggler lasts all season on a single D battery!

A friend and I went garden shopping earlier in the summer and found this lovely copper birdbath and cat tail design. It’s original home was in the pollinator garden, the sunniest spot on our property.

I wanted to keep the water moving, so I took the water wiggler out of the birdbath to see how it would look in the copper bowl, but it was too big and overpowering. So I ordered a 3.5 watt solar fountain. They are sold everywhere and inexpensive. The solar fountain kit comes with several spray attachments, all were too powerful with the spray overshooting the birdbath. So we took the nozzles off and use it as a bubbler, which looks great. We add a little bit of water every other day.

As our pollinator plants grew taller, it obscured this fountain so we easily picked it up and moved it close to our front porch where we could enjoy it.

Our garden also considered the insects. I had a very shallow concrete birdbath and I added a layer of glass beads so butterflies and other pollinators can safely wade.

In the center of our full-sun pollinator garden we had bench, which because of the sun and heat, no one sat on. So I moved the bench across the stone path to an area that gets afternoon shade. And I cleared a spot for a taller water feature.

We had some extra square concrete block pavers. I took four and attempted to paint a compass inspired by University of Delaware colors. I spent about a half a day painting the compass design not realizing most of it would be covered by the base of the fountain!

We looked at many styled fountains. While am drawn to sleek Zen-type designs and love the real stone, we opted for a traditional 3-tiered design.

We settled on “Kiera” a teal blue ceramic glaze that holds 4.5 gallons of water. We wanted a self-contained fountain, rather than one which draws from a catch basin. As you can see it covers up most of my amateur compass!

I am pleased with the water sounds and hope it will attract birds!Listen:

Another view

Now, no matter where we are in the garden, we can listen to the sounds of water and watch the birds and insects benefitting from it too!

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Tree Stump Planter

In March 2021 we had a very large, two-stump River Birch removed from our property. Its extended branches threatened our roof and deck.

When it was removed, I asked the tree removal service to leave the stump cut a little higher, as I had envisioned hollowing out the stump to serve as a plant container. That decision also saved us a couple of hundred dollars! We also kept behind three large stump cuttings, about 18” to 24” inches high.

On Instagram I saw a post from pshgardening that sprung me into action!

This was the post that reminded me to get up and get busy over the long holiday weekend!
This is what our tree stump looked like a couple of weeks after it was cut down. The large established roots of the River Birch pulled an extraordinary amount of sugar water which poured down the sides where it was cut. There was little we could do with this in 2021.

Thinking the stump would be significantly dried out in 15 months, we set about carving out one side of the stump. The cut area had hardened considerably and for quite a while it had stopped weeping.

My husband mapped out a circle and drilled holes in a circular pattern. We learned later, this was not the best method. We found the wood very dense and still moist.

We did our research after that difficult start. Advice: start research and watch videos before starting a project, not after! Live and learn!

This is not the drill bit to use for hollowing out a stump! It did however work well later for drainage holes.
My husband went to a big box store nearby and purchased a fortzner circular drill bit, which was a lot faster. The wood was tough to remove because it had not completely dried out yet, since it was connected to a very large root system. Here we’re about half way there at 3 inches deep.
Short video clip of using a Fortzner drill bit.

When we reached the desired depth of about six inches, we drilled drainage holes from the side as seen below. We tested with a hose and water flowed freely through the holes we made.

I lined the bowl with burlap and filled with a mixture of Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix and Black Kow compost. Because the stump is attached to a rooting system, it may still serve as a moisture source for the flowers. Time will tell.
One stump down, one to go in this permanent location. The completely severed stumps should be easier to work with!
In this full sun location I planted lantana, Proven Winners ”Blue My Mind” and some purple super bells. The latter two should trail nicely down the stump! I also pushed in some nasturtium seeds so we will see if they take!

This project took two to three hours. I am hoping the fully separated stump cuttings will be dryer, and easier to drill out. I love the look and it’s a different way to feature pretty annuals or as a focal point for a trailing perennial. I would assume the tree stump would provide winter insulation. I love using containers and have several terracotta, ceramic or stone types scattered about in my garden. While I have plastic and resin containers, they are made to look like pottery or stone. I am trying to cut down on any plastic in my garden. If you have a tree removed, consider repurposing the wood or the stump as natural and textural container in your garden.

Update! We completed the second stump!

Complete!

It will be fun to experiment with different plantings. I’ve seen some beautiful sedum/succulent stump gardens, as well as plantings with different greens, combining those with an upright and trailing growth habit!

My Blue Hen Garden

As a three-time graduate of the University of Delaware, a 22-year staff member, a parent of an alumna and a newly trained UD Master Gardener, one great way to show my school pride is to add blue and gold to my garden.

True blue is a difficult color to obtain in the garden. I often have to settle for shades of blue-violet. Besides the reliable blue macrophylla hydrangea, I’ve added blue cornflower, caryopteris (a Spirea-type shrub), delphinium and lobelias to my garden.

Using plants and accents, I am slowly building my #BlueHensForever tribute!

These pillows from Lowes were a must-have. Most of my pots and containers are blue, yellow or some combination of blue white and yellow!
Containers are a good way to customize a color statement.
A yellow garden stool. Even a royal blue watering can!
Black-eyed Susies stretch out in front of a blue gazing ball
The blue cornflowers are challenging to keep! Rabbits love them!
This hanging basket begged me to buy it! I purchased it from East Coast Perennials in Millsboro, DE
Most of my hydrangea macrophyllas turn blue like this beautiful cerulean “Mathilda Gutges” I am now transplanting a rapidly spreading Rudbeckia “Goldstrum” under my blue hydrangeas. I won’t see the full effect of this until next year.
Vase on a stick? Rain gauge? I am not sure what the purpose of this is, but it was pretty and the right colors so I brought it home. It’s something vertical that I can move around in a bare spot for that UD pop!
Little pots. I guess I should have put tiny yellow plants in the blue pot! What was I thinking?
Blue delphinium
Native climber and early bloomer Carolina jessamine
Native early goldenrod plays off some blue accents. Behind it to the right is some “Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes” salvia just beginning!
I used this cobalt blue birdbath as a succulent garden
Home Goods in Lewes is a 3-minute walk, though I seldom do because walking back with their great selection of garden pots and accessories would be difficult. I just had to get this one, though I am not sure it’s a good fit for this plant.
Color can be added by sweet little things like this birdseed trough. Are they little Blue Hens? I think so!
On a smaller deck outside my home office, I created this little vignette. The blue daisies (Felicia amelloides) are perfect tender blue petals with a yellow center!
Blue Daisy (Felicia amelloides)
Spiderwort “Sweet Kate” in the shade garden
Another view of the pot, different blue and gold flowers!
I call this the peanut pagoda! Nearby Blue Jays clean this out in an hour!
I used UD colors to paint this base for a fountain. Unfortunately, most of it is covered up by the fountain when I installed it!
Although its not a cobalt blue, this fountain is blue-ish!
This house sparrow enjoys his new yellow home!
Inside, I selected blue and yellow pottery and accents. I have a whole UD corner I use for my Zoom meetings!
A yellow dragonfly pot holds a Chinese Evergreen
Back outside, we added a fourth bench, this one a light blue, placed in the rear of the pollinator garden where we can enjoy the activity from a different perspectives.

While other colors show off in my garden, tendrils of blue and gold are woven with plants, containers, garden furniture and garden art, which I continue to incorporate into the landscape bit by bit —a little addition or two each year. All that’s missing was a UD Blue Hen garden flag! Most were sport-oriented, so I designed my own on Canva and found a company that will make them. I have 102 hydrangeas planted, so I thought a blue hydrangea was appropriate!

The graphic I designed on Canva
I thought the flag turned out perfectly! The little bird resting at the bottom thinks so too!

March is the time to prune panicle and smooth hydrangeas

Here’s a recent Master Gardener Minute I did on pruning panicle hydrangeas

Hydrangea paniculata or “panicle” hydrangeas and hydrangea arborescens or “smooth” or “wild” hydrangeas can be pruned in late winter or early spring. I try to attend to mine around St. Patrick’s Day.

Both panicle and smooth hydrangeas bloom on new wood that begins growing in the middle of spring, so before that starts, in Zone 7b, the middle of March is a good time.

Do you have to prune panicle and smooth hydrangeas? No. Should you? Probably. When I bring home one of these varieties, I usually leave it grow for a about 3 years to let it get established. If you don’t prune them, they can get leggy or droopy and the newest and thinest twigs will not support a large bloom very well.

I was taught that if you leave these hydrangeas alone you will get a lot of smaller blossoms. Prune back by one third or even one half,and remove thin, twiggy branches you will be rewarded with fewer, but much larger inflorescence. I prefer the larger blooms.

I know people who have mowed down their smooth hydrangeas, like the popular Annabelle, and they come back! My panicle hydrangeas include Limelight, Little Limelight, Little Quickfire, Bobo, Vanilla Strawberry, Strawberry Sundae, and Pinky Winky. My Smooth hydrangeas include Incrediball, Annabelle and Haas Halo.

Incrediballs – second year, no pruning. Note lots of smaller blossoms
Same shrub as above third year after a early spring pruning. Still some blossoms flopped. It is important to prune out weak, thin branches as they will not be able to hold the heavy blossoms upright.
The large, dinner plate sized inflorescence comes with pruning in the spring.

So, while it looks drastic, don’t be afraid to cut your panicle and arborescens hydrangea back in March or early April. Remove any small twiggy branches, or any new growth that grows toward the center of the plant. I also remove thin branches that lay along the ground. New wood will grow off of old wood. It is the old wood that will serve as the support system for all the new growth.

As the Master Gardener Minute states, do not prune big leaf macrophylla, serrata or oakleaf hydrangeas. They rarely need pruning and if done for sizing or shaping are best pruned in late summer after blossoms begin to fade.

Evolution of a garden area

It is okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to change your mind. If you can afford it, call in a pro. Or, like us, make your progress in baby steps, with a lot of head scratching and shuffling things around in between!

Over 20 years, as our tree canopy grew, I lost most of my flower garden, forcing me (my husband) to either cut down trees or (me) adapt to shade gardening. For the most part, I did the latter. The vast majority of my back yard is covered by a tree canopy of evergreens, conifers, and deciduous trees. On the positive side, many of my hydrangeas thrive. On the downside, my sun-loving perennials and annuals did not.

I am still developing a deep shade garden, trying to add more texture, depth and sculpture each year. This area is often 20 degrees cooler in the high heat of July and August.

Years ago, we converted a sunny dog area, which was free from any vegetation into a raised bed area. That made sense. My husband decided he wanted to grow vegetables and we built six raised beds constructed out of concrete blocks. Functionally, it worked, but after the second year, the blocks shifted, the weeds found their way in, as did the groundhogs. Next year we had a haphazard chicken wire fence to protect treasured veggies from being consumed, but that addition prevented us from easily weeding.

This is the second year of the raised bed gardens. Trust me when I say, it did not look this good in 2018! To the left of this picture is our garage, and a makeshift octagonal path from garage door to yard.

In short, the area became a food-producing eyesore. All viewable from my living room window. I hated it and I wanted it all out. After years of nagging, and a compromise to consider growing some veggies in elevated trugs, I won my way and we tore out and sold off the concrete blocks. If we had built the raised beds correctly, they would still be where they are. But that’s another story!

By now I began to pay attention to the lectures and workshops provided by Cooperative Extension. Extension agents, Master Gardeners, authors like our own UD professor Doug Tallamy, all who emphasized the importance of developing areas for pollinators.

This side area area receives full sun. To the left of the above picture you can see two remaining raised beds which were removed in 2019. All this block was removed and the good soil contained inside was spread to the right of the paths.

As we took down the concrete blocks, we spread the garden soil for the future pollinator garden
We experimented with a stone walk way. This did not stay here for long!

Before we took down the raised beds, we experimented with a more permanent path leading from the side garage door into the main back yard. In the top left, two sections of split rail remained where a compost bin used to be. I was starting to experiment with pollinator plants.

My first attempt was to plant perennials along the two split rail sections, where we had a compost bin. We then expanded this to where the raised beds used to be located. 2020 and 2021.

We ditched the idea of the tightly fitted stone pathway, and moved them to the side, seen below on the right. This created a mulched foot path, but with very unstable edging, a nightmare for navigating a hose. This area has no underground irrigation.

Spreading the garden soil in this area provided a good spot for sun-loving perennials. I envision a tall water feature in the center someday!

We decided we did not like the stones on the side of the path either! They shifted and I could not move the hose around easily. I began to research stone and gravel paths.

Looking west from back yard to side yard. We didn’t have enough stone to edge the path from the garage to the main back yard, and it was not the look I was going for. We added an arbor to help differentiate the main back yard from the pollinator garden. We did something similar to mark off the shade garden.
We moved the mulch and debris out of the path area and purchased edging material.
I added black plastic landscape paper as a weed barrier. We then bought a pallet of large flag stone (from Grizzly’s) and placed them in the pathway.

These stones were heavy! Both my husband and I are officially “seniors” and I keep forgetting I am not 30 or 40! Three days later my right hand was almost totally immobilized. We knew how to bend our knees to lift heavy stones, but I did not pay attention to my hands. I should have worn a hand brace. I did afterwards! It took me a month for my right hand to heal.

Pathway leading to our new arbor and entrance into the main back yard and pond.
We added several bags of pea gravel. I was hoping for river rock colors in grays, reds and blues, but everything sold in our area were very jagged, and the smoother river rock were larger pebbles. So we went with the sand-colored rounded pea gravel.

We do not have an irrigation system on our property. Dragging a hose around is not fun! The green tripod, which a friend sold to me – an extra one she bought from Lowes, was a godsend. I’ve since bought another. I got rid of my heavy hoses and bought two of those lightweight, collapsible types to hook up to the tripod. Most, not all of the new plants in this area are native.

The path after a fresh rain.
We stopped the path at the arbor. Notice the new fence in the background? I am training native honeysuckle vine “Major Wheeler” on the arbor.
Before and after

We also decided to take down our 21-year old split rail fence. It was coming down on its own anyway.

We took some of the extra pieces of stone we had lying around and put a temporary path in from the gate to the garden. We plan to develop this further. The double split rail gate that never worked correctly was replaced with a single black aluminum gate.
An established path from the gate to the main pathway is our goal for 2023.
For now, these smaller stones from the pallet delivery give us an idea where to connect the two paths. I am looking forward to selecting native ground covers for this area.

The area behind the bench (pictured above) still needs rehabilitating. We planted a redbud tree, not quite large enough to cast shade over the bench. Behind it, a very sunny spot will be an area devoted to milkweed and taller native plants.

To balance out the back yard, we added a second matching arbor as an entrance to the shade garden. In between the two arbors is our pond. As you see, we are still doing stonework!
We reduced the size of our pond in half.
A teak Lutyens bench rests on a patio which used to be a larger pond. We cut the pond in half, back filled it and laid stone on top.

In the past two years, we redefined our large back yard into separate areas. Our pond, which we downsized, is the centerpiece of our no-mow, no-lawn back yard. Facing the pond to the right is our evolving deep shade garden, with a tent-type gazebo. To the left, our sunny pollinator garden. It is a rustic and wildlife friendly oasis. In the future, we plan to thin out some non-native trees and plant some red oaks and other native trees.

Among other things, my goal with this garden is to eliminate plastic and resin garden kitsch and stick to stone, wood and ceramic objects of art. I prefer elements as natural as possible in order to create a serene environment for humans and critters alike.

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A peanut purchase pays off!

Gardens are for birds too! Glad to support my area birds through the winter!

Walfred Photography

When everyone else was running off to get bread and milk at the grocery store, I ran to my local hardware store and bought several bags of this and that to offer my bird neighbors a meal. Once the snow stopped, I cleared several inches off the deck railing and waited. The blue jays are the hardest for me to photograph. They are so skittish. But today it was milder and much of the snow on the deck had melted so I refreshed the peanuts and waited.

The blue jays let me know they were coming. I noticed they squawk and squeak, either to alert their tribe, or to warn other birds. I did some research about them on YouTube. Unlike cardinals and other birds, male and female blue jays look nearly identical, and near impossible to figure out which is which if they appear separately! But one video said…

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Rethinking how we landscape

At the University of Delaware, we are fortunate to call Doug Tallamy one of our own. I first heard him talk at a horticulture event I was covering. Doug is an entomologist and professor at the University of Delaware’s Department of Wildlife Ecology. His influence and expertise is respected worldwide. Thanks to his books, his articles and his generous appearances on Zoom, Doug Tallamy’s message is starting to get out. This is a recording of a recent appearance he gave to Ohio State University. I attended this for advanced training as a Master Gardener. His lecture beings at 3:50.

I have joined the Home Grown National Park effort that Tallamy has started. I planted my first oak tree, and hope to get many more. Increasingly I am adding native plants to encourage more caterpillar and insect activity.

Does this mean I will remove the many crape myrtles on my property? No. But, as beautiful as they are in late summer, I won’t plant any more. Will I still decorate my front porch steps with my favorite magenta geraniums? Yes I will. It is okay to grow and enjoy non-natives. But I am finding spots in my yard for native milkweed, echinacea, mountain mint, redbud and serviceberry trees. I challenge anyone who reads Doug Tallamay’s books or watches him lecture in person or on YouTube will be compelled (and urgently so) the way they landscape their homes.

Garden Gazebo – a refuge from mosquitoes!

This is what I wanted. It costs roughly $7,000 give or take. That does not include assembly.

My dream for the back yard.

This is what we got!

Alvantor pop up 12 x 12 ft gazebo About $349

The reason we started with a pop up structure, like this 12 x 12 ft Alvantor is we wanted to see if we’d use it, if we liked sitting outside in our shade garden without being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Since I don’t like to spray insecticides in my landscape, most of the anti-mosquito options were off the table. We considered spending $500 or so for one of those propane operated mosquito catchers. But we heard mixed results about them.

We tried to make the pop up work. It is meant to be a take down and pop up when-needed procedure. And on that score, it is easy to put up and take down, and it is a perfect weekend solution. We wanted something to last at least the season. There was no roof support, so after a heavy rain, the roof would dip down from the weight of the water load. We bought the flooring accessory, but after a rain of any significance we were sweeping out mud. But we liked the idea of having a screen structure here and decided to look at obtaining something more permanent. We easily sold the tent for half its price to a local camper.

At the close of 2019, lumber prices began to soar. I reached out to purchase Amish made kits and was astonished that a 10 x 10 ft gazebo would run about $7,000 for a basic model! We knew we were going to have to replace our roof in a few years and had begun saving up for that. We could not justify spending that kind of money for a gazebo we would use four months out of the year.

We decided on this Roth and Allen semi-permanent gazebo. We saw it in person at Lowes and decided to make the investment for approximately $900.
We took DEEP breaths when we unpacked the delivery. Only a gazillion pieces!!

“We’re in no rush,” I told my husband. “Directions say four people, two days. So we’re two people, four days right? If it takes us a week or even two weeks, so what?” We put on our brave faces and set out to build our outdoor oasis.

A sampling of the alphabet soup that are the directions.It is easy to skip or miss a step. These ought to come with QR codes connected to step-by-step video instructions.

We also consulted YouTube. A few people put up Time Lapse videos showing how two people erected something similar to our purchase. These videos are inspiring and did indeed encourage us to take this project on, but they are not the least bit helpful when putting all of this together.

A whole booklet of this.
I chronicled our progress on my Instagram. Getting the main frame up was easy peasy. The roof structure not so much!

With the two of us out there, we were at a complete standstill, even after we bought a large ladder. No way two people can raise this, hold it steady and reach across a span of 7 feet to bolt a corner in place. I don’t what it is about men, but they don’t like to ask for directions, or admit they need help. Finally he called in his friend Gardner who stood on the ladder holding the roof frame up in place while Steve and I bolted the corner pieces. Gardner, if you are reading this, we are forever in your debt!

It was a ladder extravaganza! We had to purchase a tall one so we could attach the canvas roof.
Stretching the canvas over the roof frame. Roth and Allen also sell a metal roof version for about $500 more. I wish we had bought that one!
Stretching this puppy was the second hardest thing. Four people, two hours? Try two people 12 hours and counting!

It’s a good thing we have a lot of trees to buffer the sounds coming out of my mouth. My mother would be shocked to hear such foul vocabulary coming from her daughter. I beat out Linda Blair from the Exorcist for sure! Hey, a contractor has to vent, right?

Eventually we were on to the screening. This is about day five, but we saw the end in sight!
I exclaimed our triumph on Instagram!
For our hard-earned efforts we treated ourselves to an outdoor rug, and later in August, we got an outside fan which is suspended from inside the cupola, made especially for the gazebo. We had some spare stone so we put a walkway up to the entrance. The only thing this is missing is a frame for a door. A screen door frame would be perfect! We have to zip to enter and leave. A small annoyance.
When we get word of a storm approaching, we close the curtains and we haven’t had too many issues with water and storms. Because it is placed under evergreens and conifers, the roof didn’t take on too much snow when we received 14” in January of this year.

For the winter, we pulled back the curtains and screens, and stored away the furniture and rug. We are toying with the idea of putting in a table and chairs instead of two loungers. It is nice to have options. We’ve enjoyed watching birds and listening to the pond without having to dose ourselves with DEET. When I started working from home, we relocated our router to this end of the house, so we get good wireless out here too!

This option was an affordable one for us. But if something happens to this…if a N’oreaster were to come in and blow it away, I would save up for the real thing. But saving $6,000 sure does buy a lot of pollinator plants and more hydrangeas!