Saturday, February 27, 2016

See How My Garden Grows

I'm celebrating my blog's eighth birthday. I wrote my first posting on Thursday, February 21, 2008, nearly three years after I began creating my gardens. This is what I said,

"Like many of you, I long for springtime to arrive! As my garden is currently covered with snow and ice, I have a little more time on my hands, so I feel this is a good time to begin a blog that shares with others my passion for gardening.  

My garden began in my dreams long before I retired from a demanding and stressful job. Back then, most of my gardening efforts were confined to containers and hanging baskets that I placed liberally on a small patio and on three porches. Since I retired, some three years ago, I have landscaped the areas immediately around the house. I plan on venturing further once spring arrives. Here are some 'before' and 'after' pictures that show what I have done to date."

I'm repeating the 'before' pictures from that first posting and adding more recent 'after' pictures as my gardens continue to evolve into a space that better reflects my dream of creating an English cottage garden in the Poconos.


Nothing would grow under the old cedar tree, so I tried no-dig gardening, sometimes called lasagna gardening.

Marked out the new garden with rocks -- lots of those in the Poconos.

No-dig gardening involves layering newspaper, organic material, peatmoss and soil.

I soaked each layer with water, made top soil the final layer.

I planted the new garden with shade lovers like hostas and many native plants such as lamium and foam flower. We put a fence behind the shade garden to frame it. We added a swing as a place to relax.

Shade plants provide wonderful texture. A peaceful garden.

Last year we replaced the 'naked lady' (grandsons' name for the statue) with a new one.

The statue is the focal point of the shade garden.


We built a patio from Pennsylvania blue stone given us by a friend who didn't need it when he moved to another state. We did most of the work ourselves.

H.H. tamped down the base of sand before we laid the stone.

We positioned the slabs of bluestone like completing a jigsaw puzzle. A small retaining wall was needed and I made that myself, well most of it. As the summer heated up I worked slower and slower. H.H.'s brother-in-law, a mason, came to the rescue and finished the top few layers.

This is how the patio looked when first completed. We were terribly proud of it.

The patio is wearing well. We removed the small stones in the cracks and put in a more durable material.

The patio is small but serviceable. It is now a private, fenced area.
Last year, I added the herb garden to a corner of the patio.


H.H. used a rototiller in the area I marked out for the first cottage garden bed. The following picture is interesting because there is no kitchen garden across the driveway. Also, the driveway wasn't blacktopped back then. The first photograph on this posting shows the entrance garden and blacktopped driveway installed a couple of years ago.

Our grandsons call this machine 'Pappy's tillerator.'
The first year.
Improvement on the first year.
This is the exact area H.H. is tilling in the tillerator picture.


I grew vegetables in containers before designing the kitchen garden. The kitchen garden began with a potting shed. It was placed further from the house than I wanted because of the specifications in the township permit.  We enclosed the area with fencing.

The sloping glass window gives the potting shed some attributes of a greenhouse.

The potting shed is the focal point of the kitchen garden.

I practice square-foot gardening in raised beds.

Cottage garden flowers on each side of the fence attract pollinators.


Cottage-garden herbaceous borders surrounded a lawn where we decided to place a pond with a waterfall. With the help of friends and family we did the work ourselves.

I marked out the pond with white paint.
We installed a simple waterfall

Unfortunately, we didn't know what we were doing, and the waterfall and pump weren't sufficient to keep the pond clean. We called in a pond company to rework the waterfall.

New waterfall with two tiers.


There are many gardening challenges in the Poconos including rocky ground and a high deer population. One of the worst problems on our property is the large amount of invasives. Multiflora rose was everywhere when we started. H.H. works every year to keep them out of the main garden.

Wall of multiflora rose covering a tree.
The pear tree to the right of the swing is the one previously covered by multiflora rose.

In spite of the challenges, I love this journey, and I love recording it through my postings. Happy eighth birthday, dear blog!

Pamela x

Grandson and I made five miniature gardens

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bird Count 2016

Except for the brave snowdrop, there are no flowers blooming in my winter garden, but this morning it is filled with beautiful color, especially blues and reds. The scarlet of the cardinal, the bright blue of the bluebird, the rosy pink of the housefinch, the crimson breast of the robin, and splashes of red on the heads of woodpeckers, together brighten the gray February day. The birds don't know the 19th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is over and,  to my delight, they continue to visit birdbath and feeders. I so enjoy the Count each year and 2016 was no exception. I counted on three of the four days, hoping to see something special. I wasn't disappointed. On the first day a bald eagle flew over the tree tops. Oh, how I wish I had been able to take his picture but he soared away before I could focus my camera. For years I complained that I never saw an eagle although they nest at a lake just one mile from my house, so this was a special occasion for me. On the third day of the Count, I heard the tap tap of a pileated woodpecker in the pear tree. He was pecking at the back of the trunk and, while his head repeatedly came into view, I could not snap a photo. I hear pileated woodpeckers often throughout the summer, but rarely see them. The few pictures I took during the Count show backyard birds that I see daily through my window.

Cardinals in the catalpa tree
Eastern Bluebird on the frozen water of the water dish

This was another record breaking GBBC with epic participation from across the globe. More than 150,000 checklists were submitted from more than 130 countries. While the United States submitted the most checklists, India topped the list for the most species recorded.

Downy woodpecker looking adorable all fluffed up
Busy juncos abound, making a striking black and white statement in the snow.

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

Why count birds?

'Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.'     

The large American robin bears no resemblance to the sweet English robin of my childhood
No bright color but loads of cuteness.
Female house finch -- the male has a rosy breast and cap
Tufted titmouse
The heated water dish draws bluebirds every day

 "Sweet bird! thy bow'r is ever green, Thy sky is ever clear; thou has't no sorrow in thy song, 
No winter in thy year." - John Logan.

On the last day of the Count my efforts were cut short when a cat appeared, scattering the birds. Neighborhood cats often visit our water dish. We don't know their names, but we call this one Peanut Butter. He stayed for a very long time and the Count was over for me.

There are more on-going bird watching opportunities including Audubon's Hummingbirds at Home project. I downloaded their free app to my iPhone. The next big bird-counting event is Global Big Day being held May 14, 2016. I plan to join bird watchers from all around the world to find as many species as possible on that day. Join in! It's fun and provides valuable information.

Backyard birds brighten our days in the long anticipation of the gardening season. I wish you the joy of birds while waiting for your flowers to bloom!

Pamela x

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Six Winter Gardening Activities

When describing me, my friends use the phrase, "Obsessed with gardening." They ask, "How do you cope in the winter months?" knowing that I need dirt under my nails to survive. I usually answer that I relish the downtime to recuperate. That's far from the truth, however, as I am busier than ever with gardening tasks at this time of year:

1. Planning my 2016 gardens

Every year I promise H.H. that I will not add any more gardens, but will focus on improving the ones I have. The herbaceous border along the kitchen garden fence has a very wet corner caused by water from the basement sump pump when we have rain: The perfect spot for a rain garden. Oops, is that a new garden? Of course not; just an improvement. Oh, and the area where I put a fake rock to hide the septic tank outlet looks like a pet's grave. If I expand the bed to make a rock garden it would create a better disguise, plus I've always wanted a rock garden. (Just another improvement, dear H.H.) I'm making sketches as I research rain-garden plants and how to create a rock-garden.

I did not bury a deceased pet here!

Yesterday, I ordered vegetable and annual flower seeds. First I made plans/diagrams for the 2016 kitchen garden, the herb-garden trug and some of my planters. I ordered from Annie's again as I love her heirloom seeds. I wrote about them, Why Choose Heirloom Seeds. I added to this year's list some vegetables I haven't grown before: leeks and Brussel sprouts. I'm also going to try growing garlic for the first time. I ordered all my favorite annual flowers: sunflowers, pansies, snapdragons, marigolds, zinnias. I direct sow most of the vegetables into the garden, but start the annuals indoors. I'll be setting up a seed-starting station later this month when it's time to sow pansy and Johnny-jump-ups. I have some exciting new perennial and annual seeds to sample: three types of allium, eutrochium dubium, impatiens balfourii, mina lobata, and three different poppies. I received them from Nan at Hayfield and can't wait to try them. Thanks, Nan. I am thrilled.

Spent hours perusing the catalogs

Ordered tried-and-true favorite vegetable seeds and a few new varieties.

I'm planning to add some color to the herb-garden trug with a climbing nasturtium for its trellis. I was disappointed with the growth rate of the plants last year, the trug's first year. I'm wondering about the hours of sunlight in that position on the patio -- maybe not enough? I don't know where to put it ... need a discussion with H.H.

Where to relocate the herb garden?

Planning for the new gardening season is probably my favorite winter activity, but there are others ...

 2. Preparing for the Great Backyard Bird Count

This year's count is February 12 - 15. I love this wonderful activity. To participate take three easy steps: 1. Click on the link in my sidebar and register. 2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. 3. Enter your results on the GBBC website or use their free eBird app to enter on your mobile device. If you don't know the names of the birds in your backyard use the Online Bird Guide. There may be some interesting results this year with El Nino.

House finch

Bluebird braving the recent blizzard.

3. Tidying the potting shed and taking a tool inventory

I spent a couple of hours working in the potting shed recently. As I looked for a lost seed box, I tidied and checked the tools. They all need cleaning (I know, I shouldn't have put them away dirty) a job for warmer weather. Only the hand pruners need replacing. I'm very hard on hand pruners and, although extravagant, I like to begin the gardening season with new. I ordered Corona pruners (from Amazon) because Corona Tools gave a gift of snippers to each attendee at the 2015 Garden Writers' Conference in Pasadena and I absolutely love mine. Good marketing strategy, right?

Nearly time to set up the grow lights along the bench for seed starting.

4. Forcing shrubs to flower

I took my trusty snippers and gathered forsythia branches for forcing. I described the method I used in a previous posting:

I added floral preservative to a bucket of warm water and set it on one side. I filled a sink with hot water (but not hot enough to scald my hands) then, holding the stems underwater, I recut each branch at a sever angle a couple of inches above the original cut. Hot water is important because it contains the least amount of oxygen which can block water from being taken up, preventing hydration. After recutting the branches, I placed them in the prepared bucket of water and put them in a cool place. I will change the water and add new preservative each week. As the buds start to swell and burst into bloom, I will arrange the branches in vases.

Soon I will add branches of mock orange, crabapple and weeping cherry.

5. Continuing care of houseplants and cuttings.

The cuttings I made last fall are not doing too well. As often happens, I allowed them to dry out too much when I traveled to Arizona. When I set up my grow lights, I will put them under to see if that helps. My houseplants, however, continue to thrive!

 6. Searching for the subtle signs of spring.

I found a sweet snowdrop on February 4 this year. Looking back on my blog postings of previous years: March 15, 2014 "there were no snowdrops" and last year I posted on March 22 that I was "thrilled to find the first snowdrop." My little 2016 snowdrop was six weeks ahead of time! Spring is going to be early; the groundhog was right.

February 4, 2016

A few daffodils are starting to push up shoots and hellebores are full of fat buds. A sign of the milder winter, the roof garden on the bluebird house looks very healthy with no brown succulents.

Bluebirds shelter here from the cold winter wind.

These six activities keep me busy, but I have more. Every day I write: my monthly newspaper article, a blog posting, and/or my book. I prepare for speaking engagements in which I conduct gardening workshops (I have 5 scheduled for March -- whew!) I volunteer at the Extension office, currently reorganizing the Master Gardener Library. When I need to take a break, I relax by the den fireplace and read gardening books and magazines.

Yes, I'm obsessed with everything 'gardening' and I love it!

Pamela x

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