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!

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 23-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 the blue and gold to my garden.

True blue is a difficult color to obtain in the garden. Besides the reliable blue macrophylla hydrangea, I’ve been able to add blue cornflower, caryopteris (a shrub), delphinium and a few lobelias to the landscape.

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 hard to grow. Rabbits love them!
This hanging basket was made to order! 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 bought it from Home Goods. 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?
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!
Spiderwort “Sweet Kate” in the shade garden
Another view of the pot, different blue and gold flowers!
Even inside, I intentionally choose 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

While other colors show off in my garden, tendrils of blue and gold are woven through 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 very sport-oriented so I designed my own and found a company that will make them. I have 87 hydrangeas so I thought this was appropriate!

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 had really begun 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 emphasized the importance of developing areas for pollinators.

This side area area gets 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

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 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. They moved 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 hand braces. 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? 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.
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 some 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 wild-life 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 and stick to stone, wood and ceramic objects – natural as possible elements to contribute to a serene environment for humans and critters alike.

https://www.instagram.com/mdw302/

Twenty-Twenty

A Great Year for Gardening and Grandmothering

I’m not going too far out on a limb to say that 2020 has been a horrible year so far. Sickly, stressful, polarizing and divisive. Since March 13, 2020 I have worked from home and also had an opportunity to take temporary custody of my only grandchild, Hugo, who lives in NYC with his parents. There, at the epicenter of the pandemic, his parents felt their six and a half year old son might enjoy an extended visit in the southern Delaware countryside with “MiMa.” Both of us did our daily work virtually, and the extra time together concentrated on an outdoor classroom that included birdwatching and feeding, planting vegetables, planting and dividing flowers and learning about insects and pollinators. It was 11-weeks of that silver lining you hear so much about!

My grandson got a kick out of learning about the birds, recognizing the songs and in this case, rat-a-tat-tat of a red-bellied woodpecker
One of our favorite getaways was to go to Best’s Ace Hardware in Lewes and get some birdseed and some toys! Hugo can identify cardinal songs now, and he knows they prefer safflower seeds the most!

Working from home afforded me some extra time to water in the mornings, spend lunch time weeding, and when we were allowed to, visit some garden centers wearing masks.

My hydrangeas (currently 63 and counting) did not get the news 2020 was off to a poor start. I started seeing early indications that this would be a bumper year for hydrangeas. The best ever in my memory.

In my ever-shadier woodland backyard setting, I have lost the opportunity to flower garden. But this year, my husband and I took out three of our five concrete block raised beds (they worked but were unsightly) and used the area to create a pollinator garden. It is still a work in progress.

We added an arbor to differentiate the woodland garden from the pollinator garden. I’ve ordered two “Major Wheeler” native honeysuckles to flank each side. They will arrive in the fall. The arbor adds a nice touch I think! Photo processed through the Brushstroke app.
I moved this sign to the entrance of the arbor!
Another view of the new pollinator garden. My husband laughs at me when I lean back on the lounge and put the hose on. We don’t have irrigation, one of the big mistakes we made when we built this house. Soaker hoses are in the future! We left two sections of a split rail fence that we had to separate a dog run (I used to have a Great Dane) and I like the way it frames the space.

In the pollinator garden is an assortment of natives and non-natives. Echinacea, nepta (catmint) garden phlox “jeana”, various beebalm, senna, coreopsis, gaillardia, pink and purple Veronica speedwell, salvias, Shasta daisies, fennel, milkweed, butterfly weed (Asclepias), yarrow, false sea thrift (armería), stokesia, lavender, rosemary, cornflower, pokeweed, h.paniculata “Bobo”, solidago “Wichita Mountains”, drumstick alliums, and others.

Watering place for pollinators, filled with glass beads so they won’t get too wet!
A gazing ball is a nod to my childhood. A neighbor had one of these, and as a little girl, I thought it was magical. I might relocate this, however, just a few feet forward.
Drumstick alliums shifting from green to dark magenta. I saw these in the Maine Botanical Garden and wanted to add them to my garden! Bees love them!
On the other side of the yard I started Clematis “Jackmanii” The trellis comes from Lewes, at a little antique shop across from the blacksmith shop.
H. Macrophylla “Mariesii” this variety was variegated. It has experienced “revision” which means it has reverted back to mostly solid colored leaves. I think this is the result of too much sun. It is a temperamental bloomer, about 15 years old, this year it went bonkers!
Stoke’s Aster or Stokesia
H. Quercifolia or oakleaf “Syke’s Dwarf”
I wish I knew the name of this beauty, bought around 2005. Not knowing what I know now about Hydrangeas, I planted this in the front of my house with a southern exposure. It bloomed these glorious blue Lacecaps, but it minded the heat something awful. I watered twice a day. Thankfully, other trees in the front yard have matured and have provided afternoon sun relief.
Beebalm in the front yard. Powdery mildew is always an issue. Hoping to add wild bergamot to replace as it is native and less susceptible. Still, the pollinators enjoy the stand that is spreading each year.
This lovely was an unmarked Walmart rescue for $6.99. It’s second year in this spot, facing East, it has about a dozen blooms on it this year! I wish I knew the cultivar of this macrophylla!
This was our original pond that we built the first year we moved in. Last year however, we cut it in half.
I always wanted a “Lutyens” bench and a special place for it. It sits under a large red maple where we can enjoy the waterfall and watch the frogs. We kept koi for many years but had to resort to unsightly nets to keep them safe. All they did was catch falling leaves and the whole thing looked like a big mess. So we found the koi a new home and simplified the water feature.
Blue Herons still come by and visit, hoping for a Koi buffet. We spotted this beauty and her balancing act atop a hot tub privacy fence.
Another view of the Walmart rescue. In the back yard we don’t grow grass. No mowing, no fertilizing, no weed killing. Weed pulling yes! I am trying to establish a moss carpet. Tree and leaf droppings keep the floor mostly vegetative free. I would prefer to dress the ground with pine straw however. This is a bit too rustic for my taste.
Shasta daisies next to a cobalt blue birdbath filled with sedums and succulents. The succulents overwinter quite nicely.
I overwintered most of my pots in the garage. The spikes, geraniums, and lantana all overwintered! I only had to add the alyssum!
H. Arborescens “Incrediball” enjoy their third summer. I haven’t pruned these yet, I think I might do that next March to encourage bigger blossoms.
Another part of the shade garden. The Zen Den is at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the property. The Buddha honors respect for life, and all sentient beings. As a backyard wildlife habitat, insects, snakes, rabbits, possums, turtles, frogs, have all found a home here. I still swat mosquitoes though!
Enjoy your gardens! Bee Safe!

Maine’s Botanical Garden

Drumstick Allium, Maine Botanical Gardens

Near Boothbay on Maine’s mid-coast is the fabulous Maine Botanical Garden. Having been to the town of Boothbay in 2017, which resulted in a day of extended shopping, my husband wasn’t too keen to return to the town in our 2019 visit. And while he loves our garden, I don’t place him in the garden tourist aficionado category. Nevertheless, I convinced him to accompany me on my first visit to this famed garden. We traveled down a lot of curvy roads to get there.

He loved it. He didn’t stop talking about it. It will be on our must-see list next time we visit, which we hope to do in 2022.

All Tangled up!

Beside my addiction to gardening and taking photos of what I and other people grow, I am also enthralled with mobile device photography apps!

I found this nifty little number called Tangledfx (effects) and it’s the best $2 I have ever spent. I have been disappointed with many photo apps, but not this one.

Behold my original lacecap  hydrangea taken in my backyard, which looks lovely on its own

Then I tried one of TangledFX’s  filters, I think this is called Swirl. Kind of has a Van Gogh effect:

This one renders a stained glass look. It can be produced with white or black edges.


This one is a little more delicate than the Van Gogh (not the effect’s real name )

And this last sample I will show today is very ethereal. In the mood for a Fairy Garden? Waiting for Tinkerbell!


There are about 16 “presets” with the app. They add varying degrees of fibers, strokes, swirls and outlines. Some will make your photographs look like a cartoon or an expensive woodcut.

My garden, my flower, my photo—I feel I can take a lot of the credit, but with some help from TangledFX, the potential for some amazing pictures emerge. I could see these made into logos, or if printed on high quality paper, framed as very nice gifts.

You’re bound to see some more examples. Like any obsession, well, one has to be obsessed!  Next to my Waterlogue app, this photo app has to be my all time favorite for botanicals. But it works pretty good on animals too:

Stones for the Sixties

20130902-155022.jpg

I saw these stones in my Facebook news feed and I just loved the idea! They are by artist Shenaz Bac and her Facebook page is is http://www.facebook.com/shenazbac.

I love the way they look and I think they would be an amazing addition to a George Harrison-themed garden.

Her work is quite intricate. Given the volume I think I will need, I may try to do something myself, perhaps with larger stones, and maybe take as inspiration from some of the items directly linked to George- his hand painted home Kinfauns, his colorful Mini Cooper and his Fender Stratocaster, ca. Magical Mystery Tour.

I have some shady areas where I haven’t been too successful growing anything with vivid color. Adding various sizes and colors of some Sixties stones might be just the answer!

Sussex County Delaware Master Gardeners’ Open House

It is a great honor to be asked to take photos of one of my favorite annual events, the Sussex County (Delaware) Master Gardener Open House. Their beautiful demonstration garden just happens to be located directly in back of my office and I even have a window so I can look out!

20130713-195554.jpgThe garden has many interesting niches and surprising little things peeking out of corners and unusual places. The demonstration garden is actually open all year long, and the public is welcome to stroll through the clearly marked plantings any time of the day, but a few times a year, the Master Gardeners have planned events, which allow the public to not only tour the garden, but have informal, friendly chats with Master Gardeners.

Enjoying a summer slurpee
Enjoying a summer slurpee

Like most gardeners I know, the Master Gardeners are a generous and humble lot. This is their passion and they love to share it. Not everyone is an expert in everything. Each Master Gardener brings his or her own talent to the table…or raised bed. Some are into veggies, others native Delware plants, children’s gardens, hostas, hydrangeas, garden photography. You name it! We have someone who knows their garden subject matter. Together, it all homogenizes into a poetry of color, nutrition, affection for all things fora and fauna. In Delaware, Master Gardeners are selected, trained and supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University. Delaware has a lot to be proud of with these tireless and talented volunteers. What a treasure we have!

Here’s a photo set of pictures taken today at their premiere annual event.

2013 Open House