enjoying the november garden

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One of our big maples out back 

The November garden is spectacular in her own right.  The bright blooms of summer might be gone, but the fiery glory of late autumn waiting for winter is a magnificent display all on her own.

Years ago when I discovered the late Suzy Bales’ books Down to Earth Gardener and The Garden in Winter it was like having a gardening epiphany.  I had been gardening my whole life and she just inspired me to see things differently.  Like many gardeners, for years and years I gardened for two seasons: spring and summer.  She opened my eyes to four season beauty.  I have learned over the past few years the sheer beauty of each season if you let it happen.

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A flower on my Sochi Tea Plant!

This year I added Jenny Rose Carey’s book Glorious Shade to my garden library and she sort of picked up where Suzy Bales’ had left off because I was new to such serious shade gardening and woodland gardening in our current garden.  Through this book and one belonging to my late mother-in-law my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of the shade and woodland garden.  In these gardens, fall I think is one of their best seasons because you completely see the amazing range of fall colors getting ready to make way for the winter garden, which is different yet again.

In addition this year I discovered British gardener Monty Don when I realized through streaming services like BritBox I could get Gardener’s World, the long running and can I say amazing BBC gardening show.  I also acquired Monty’s Book Down To Earth Gardener recently.  Monty Don is a true inspiration to the home gardener and his show is the best I have ever seen.  It’s actual gardening and learning about plants and gardens and gardening, not just some DIY or HGTV hack show where people  blow in over a few days and create unrealistic outside gardening spaces with about as much charm as a McMansion wrapped in Tyvec.  Sorry not sorry but for all of the brilliant U.S. gardeners and gardens it blows my mind the U.S. television is unable or unwilling to produce a quality program along the lines of BBC’s Gardener’s World.

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One of my little blue birds of happiness

This morning the first thing I saw when I looked out the window was blue birds.  Not just a pair, but at least six fluttering around and checking out the bird boxes! Last year we had two.  They have returned and bought others. We think it is last year’s mating pair and perhaps some grown chicks.

I am telling you there are few sights as happy as seeing blue birds flittering and fluttering around the back gardens.  They are shy and hard for me to capture in photographs, so the photo is small and grainy.

Also a happy discovery today was a flower newly opened on my Sochi Tea Plant (tea camellia) and that witch hazels I forgot were in a woodland bed on the edge of the woods were blooming!

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Common Witch Hazel H. virginiana. This is the variety the atringent witch hazel is made from.  This was purchased from Yellow Springs Farm in Chester Springs, PA

Witch hazels are a wonderful often overlooked shrub. The first person to introduce me to them as a wonderful native plant was Catherine Renzi who along with her husband Al  is the owner of Yellow Springs Nursery in Chester Springs PA.  (Al Renzi is the one who finally got me to try a Chicago Hardy fig this summer so we shall see how it over-winters!)

Witch Hazels like moist, well-drained somewhat acidic soil.  They grow in full sun to partial shade, but are an understory plant so I do not recommend full sun although people do grow it in full sun.

Witch Hazels also might like moist soil and flood plains but they don’t like heavy, wet soil.  Have a care on their mature heights and width.  Mine are in a spot that will require regular pruning on my part because I did not pay close enough attention to their mature dimensions, yet I do not wish to move them as they are really happy where they are. Prune before summer but after flowering.  Since these are blooming now, I could technically prune them any time after they are finished.

Gardener’s World has a great piece on witch hazels.  I am not sure if all cultivars are available outside the U.K. but it gives you an idea of variety available. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has a great article about them on their website too. Fine Gardening is fond of witch hazels as well!  Catherine Renzi introduced me to them originally, but it was in fact Jenny Rose Carey who made me look at them again.  She talked about them at a spring garden lecture I attended and she has several varieties in her own gardens at Northview. I am really lucky to know some fine gardening folks!

I have several trees to plant yet this year, along with a few shrubs and ferns.  Chestnut and Burr Oak , Amish Walnut, baby umbrella magnolias, more witch hazel, dogwood shrub, native azaleas, and a couple of ferns.  And more leaf mulch to be shredded as well. I have planted all of my bulbs though!

I also have hydrangeas to prune.  Yes, you CAN prune hydrangeas and you SHOULD.  It just depends on your type of hydrangea and if blooms on new or old wood. It is one of the most often asked questions in my gardening group.  This link to Gardener’s World will help you, other tips from Gardener’s World, and the one I have used in the past— help from Fine Gardening Magazine.

Enjoy the photos at the bottom of this post.  The garden in November is so lovely. Afinal note is if you are a Chester County resident or live in close proximity to Chester County, one of my favorite growers, Applied Climatology is having their end of season clearence sale at the West Chester Growers Marke on Saturday morning, September 10th.  Check out their event listing on Facebook for more details.

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do you own an old stone house in chester county? then DIY network wants YOU!

NOTE: this is a beautifully restored old stone house. I took the photo recently, and it doesn't need DIY network :)

NOTE: this is a beautifully restored old stone house. I took the photo recently, and it doesn’t need DIY network 🙂

Ok do you have an old stone house you own that is in need of something? The Jeff Devlin and Stone House Revival  are looking for you!

Stone House Revival is an awesome show if you haven’t seen it (I record the episodes so I do not miss any!!) One reason I like this show is the way Devlin works with these old houses is awesome – he doesn’t try to make them what they are NOT and his renovations fit with the homes he is working on. And his is also not a beige, beige world. He is not afraid to use color, but there is a subtlety. He practices historic preservation and adaptive reuse and I think that is terrific!

Anyway if you are interested here are the details: 

Stone House Revival Now Casting

DIY Network is searching for current or soon-to-be owners of historic, stone homes in Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester County, Pennsylvania
A new home renovation show is now casting outgoing and fun homeowners who have a historic, stone house that is in need of some restoration work in a few rooms.
For example, do you have a room that is severely outdated or has a horrible layout? Or some living spaces that need to be restored? If so, we would love to hear from you!
If you would like to be considered for our show, please submit your information as soon as you can!
To submit, please email castingstonehomes@gmail.com – NO LATER than August 1, 2016  with the following information:
-Your contact info (including city and county of residence)
-Photos of the house and your family

-A description of the rooms in need and of your family

playing with color in shade gardens


When I looked out into my rear shade gardens a few weeks ago I knew I had too much green and I had to break it up. The great thing I’m learning about shade gardening since I never did it to this extent before is that there are so many choices of foliage colors that you can get your color in your shade gardens that way.

When I inherited my garden from the prior property owners, due to illness in the house and age the gardens had gotten quite overgrown. As a peeled back layers of predictable but overgrown shade plantings I started to get a vision in my mind.

From where the backyard needs our woods there is a definite area, but it’s an area that needs to stand out yet transition to woodland nature completely. Realizing grass was never going to grow the way we want it in an almost completely shady area, we wood chipped a lot of the back. And that’s the handy thing about having what’s on your property that are hardwoods – when you need tree trimming done your arborist cuts some for firewood and ship some for mulch. I am picky about my mulch and this way I know exactly where it’s coming from.

img_5152So the first couple years we were here I worked with the native hostas that were here and slowly started adding more fun varietals found through nurseries. But the thing about hostas is that periodically need to be split and I had been avoiding the inevitable.

One morning recently  I looked out back from upstairs and all I could see with the green green native hostas. No variety in their leaves— nothing –— it was just too green.I stood out there for a few days just staring at the spot I wanted to improve going back-and-forth in my head with what I could do. And in the end I decided I would stick with what works and I knew grew back there – because parts of it got dappled sun but a lot of it is very shady. So I decided on a bunch of different heuchera cultivars, ferns that had some variation to them, and one luck would have it a garage sale that was also a plant sale gave me the opportunity for some fabulous variegated hostas.


This past weekend  I dug out the plain green native hostas, and re-homed them behind the planting area I was redesigning as a way to break up pachysandra ponds.  So many people, my mother included, adore pachysandra. Pachysandra adores this property but it gets overwhelming so I need to break it up.

With the native hostas out of the front part I was redesigning,  I now had room to put in the variegated hostas and  heuchera.  It will take a couple weeks before it starts to fill in properly but looking out on the curve by the birdbath I am now much happier with the color arrangement and flow.  While I was on a roll I also split solid native hostas out of other planting beds and relocated them around the back.

And I also introduced heuchera this year to one of my permanent pots back there. I like planting permanent planters with at least some perennials to give me a foundation. In another planter I have little miniature hostas tucked in between beautiful variegated ivy. I love the way it looks I had found this absurdly heavy Victorian wrought iron standing planter and I cleaned up the planter and planted it with miniature hostas and variegated ivy. In my mind it is also somewhat period accurate to the planter.This year I also decided to tuck  Caladiums into a couple spots with hostas in another bed in the back to add an extra bit of leaf color pop. And in other planters I also will use Coleus and polkadot plant with perennial ferns and daylilies. I am not a big fan of Caladiums and coleus as houseplants, but I have new respect for their ability to break up the density of greeness in the shade garden.

I will also admit I love the look of ostrich and other large ferns planted in these areas. They are so pretty and delicate when their fronds are unfurling in the spring, and then they add to scrape loose of airy greenness that different throughout the summer. And I even have to Boston ferns which I overwinter that I put on a double shepherds crook in the back as well.

Gardening in part is an experiment every season. I have some things that have worked and some things that haven’t worked. It’s trial and error. But I’m really happy with the way my back yard is starting to look. I wanted a more natural looking oasis that was pretty but not contrived. And it has taken a few summers but it’s starting to flow.

This is the first time I have really had a dedicated shade garden. Other places I have lived in the past had more sun. So this was kind of hard for me to get the knack of at first, but every year I learn a little bit more. And I get to have a sun garden in the front so I think I have the best of both worlds.

And a final word because someone had to remind me hostas are originally Asian by origin. Hostas are cultivated in the US no matter their origin, as are many plants. Plenty of plants are non-natives originally that now grow as natives, so not actually incorrect. Take Chinese Sumac ( ailanthus altissima), known to most Philadelphians as stink weed. The tree was first brought from China to Europe in the 1740s and to the United States in 1784. It was introduced in Philadelphia because people thought silkworms would eat it. Then for a while it was planted as a street tree. It is now considered an invasive.

I am speaking of the ordinary green leaf variety of medium size with purple flowers that basically now grow wild around here when I say “native”.  I also have miniature hostas that pop up wild in the back at the edge of the woods – different spots every year. I transplant them. The medium hostas that I call native are everywhere. Like ferns, if you have woods, chances are you have them. Like the plain old orange daylilies people refer to as natives. They hail from China originally as well, yet here they are— everywhere. Hemerocallis fulva, I do believe. So plant and ecology experts might disagree with my explanations, but anyway.

Enjoy the day. Thanks for stopping by.

the trouble with pachysandra…..and other gardening tales

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The trouble with pachysandra is if it likes a place, it loves the place. And pachysandra is very happy in my gardens.

Where we live has well established pachysandra that grows like it is on steroids. It’s common name is Japanese spurge and is in the boxwood family. When we moved in, the flower beds weren’t so much flowers anymore as they were pachysandra ponds. Pachysandra was everywhere. So if you wonder what my first garden inspiration was, it was to break up the sea of GREEN.

My mother loves pachysandra and maybe part of my intense dislike was having to plant it for her too many years. (Yes, as much as I love my mother, her idea of gardening was to supervise, not actually plant things.) I did not want the pachysandra to go to waste, so what I have done is relocate it around the property. Waste not, want not when it comes to the garden.

I have become an expert at liberating pachysandra from planting beds. I cut it out with garden clippers and a sharp shovel edge like strips of turf or carpet and roll it up. All you have to do is plunk down the sections where you want it next and water it in. I have relocated my liberated pachysandra to bare spots on the edge of the woods and it regrows nicely and chokes out the weeds.

This weekend I had stopped at Home Depot in Frazer and noticed a lot of plants were on sale. A lot of the sale plants looked horrible because they needed watering, but along the side of the store where the “nursery” is were a ton of day lilies at $3.00 a pot. They were decent cultivars and were from their Vigoro line which is grown by Bell Nurseries in Maryland. Bell has their own land and a network of growers. They are all along the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

And incidentally, if you are looking for plant nurseries, the Eastern Shore of Maryland has some amazing places. One nursery I used to go to is called Pumpkin Shell Nursery on Route 213 in Cecilton, Maryland. They used to have the most amazing boxwood and trees, shrubs, perennials.
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So anyway, I found a bunch a day lilies that had bloomed but were still vigorous and healthy plants. I will be honest I don’t really buy too many plants from Home Depot, but I will look for things in the Vigoro line like hydrangeas and day lilies when they go on sale to use to fill in spots in the garden. The day lilies I bought were the same cultivar, “Baby Moon Cafe“.

……BUT before I planted the day lilies I had to liberate more pachysandra. And the formation I ended up planting the day lilies in was not what I originally envisioned because I also discovered today that the concrete path along which I wanted to plant was well, a foot wider than I originally thought. So I spent quite a while excavating the path and trimming pachysandra along other borders too.

I also noticed my deer friends have been munching a section of garden I planted near the woods this year that I hadn’t sprayed with Deer Out. Apparently my oak leaf hydrangeas are even more yummy than my hostas.

Ah yes, Deer Out. My friend Melanie (who has a gorgeous garden) told me about this stuff. It smells vaguely minty and it is working…..where I sprayed it of course LOL. (I had forgotten about this particular planting area, so they ate the buds off the day lilies and topped one of the oak leaf hydrangeas.)

Right now the late summer flowers are blooming. The garden phlox is just delightful and smells amazingly fragrant especially in the early morning. The phlox was inherited with my house, I can take no credit for it. Three different shades of pink, pink with white edges, and white. It’s old school , tall garden phlox and as opposed to more newly introduced cultivars it is fairly mildew resistant. I have split a lot of this up as well. When we first moved in it took up almost the entire front half of an old perennial bed, so I split it and replanted it all over the garden. Same with the inherited yellow lilies and flag irises.

I also cooked up a batch of hummingbird food (nectar) today. It’s easy. Four parts water to one part sugar, bring to boil in a pot on the stove, cool completely and fill your feeder. You can store the nectar in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a few days per batch. When temperatures reach the 80s and higher you should change the nectar in your hummingbird feeder every couple of days, and it works best when the feeder is in a more shady location. For more information check out the Wild Bird Shop website.

Planning ahead, I have also reserved my next pile of bulbs. Daffodils and Narcissus from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Virginia. I also might have to take another peek at the bargain hosta bin at Bridgewood Gardens , also located in Virginia. I will also be waiting to see what else Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market has to tempt me with between now and fall!

Gardening is one of my favorite things. It is a great thing to be able to connect with nature, and it is a creative outlet. Anyone can garden. You just have to try. Start small, experiment with what you like. Get your garden on a routine and it really starts to take care of itself. I realize I garden more than a lot of people I know, yet what I am doing is not so unusual as I see a lot of similar plantings and groupings of plants in my friend Abbi’s garden in Northern New Jersey. Abbi is an artist among other things so her garden is very cool. And she does her own gardening as well.

Digging in the dirt is fun!

Thanks for stopping by, and please let me know how your garden is growing as well!

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people should garden more

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People should garden more. A lot of my friends garden in addition to myself, but today we are the exception rather than the rule. (And yes I know I am garden obsessed.)

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People either don’t make the time, or are happy with what the developer regurgitated and called landscaping. Or they have someone do their “gardening” for them. They miss all the pleasure having a garden and actually getting your hands dirty brings.

Television shows on HGTV show all instant outdoor “rooms” with lots of hardscaping and a fire pit. They no longer actually show you how to create and maintain a garden with plants other than from the home improvement store chains.

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People who don’t garden miss so much. They miss seeing a daylily become a sport of itself and give you a more exotic double ruffled version of itself.

They miss actual bees lingering in the bee balm before they check out the lavender. They miss the morning and evening songs of the birds who live in and around the garden and the pleasure of watching a rose flower for the first time and how an old fashioned favorite like lisianthus never fails to disappoint.

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When you garden you smile at the everyday happy composure of the average garden daisy, and how wonderful the perfume of scented geraniums and lavender are together.

An Irish friend of mine told me last week that my garden reminded her of Irish cottage gardens. I can think of no greater compliment.

Gardening is good for what ails you if not anything else. Gardening just makes you happy ! Not mowing the lawn to exacting precision, but actual get dirt on your hands, digging in the dirt gardening.

People should garden more. And supporting your local and independent nursery and garden center also benefits your local economy.

So why not garden more?

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rose smoothie

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Bet the title got your attention, huh? Well this smoothie isn’t for people…it’s for rose bushes.

Yes, as in plants.

I have mentioned that banana peels are awesome junk food for roses. I told you I save my peels and just stash them in a plastic bag in the freezer until I need to feed the roses. Well, since my bushes have had their first blooms and one bush got beaten up by the roofers I decided today was the day.

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I used to dig the peels in around the base of each bush, but given the critter population living with woods and farmers’ fields I have developed a rose smoothie which I dig in around the base with a small spade I use to transplant seedlings.

The formula for the smoothie is I rough chop the peels and toss into the blender with whatever spent coffee grounds I have on hand and a couple of cups or so of very warm tap water. (I never drink flavored coffee and I would never recommend using artificially flavored coffee grounds. I don’t know how the artificial flavor chemicals would affect the plants.)

20140619-141544-51344382.jpgThe consistency of this smoothie for rose bushes should be on the thick side , but pourable. I don’t take my blended outside I pour the goop into a plastic pitcher. I then go around to each bush and dig a few ounces in around the base of each bush. I have a standard sized blender and only a few rose bushes right now, so one batch of rose smoothie is all I need every time I do this.

I will feed my roses this concoction every two weeks until Labor Day.

Now, I know people have this banana peel magic out on the Internet, but I want to tell you specifically how I first learned about this, which is easily twenty plus years ago thanks to a gardening article I read in the Wall Street Journal. Yes, the Wall Street Journal. Some of the best gardening articles I have ever read have been in the Wall Street Journal over the years.

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So in this article the writer was talking about caring for roses and mentioned banana peels. The writer cited as a source a book called Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners by Maureen and Bridget Boland. The book was originally published in the 1970s in the United Kingdom but you can still find gently used copies on Amazon.com today. . I have the book and the companion book Gardeners’ Magic and Other Old Wives Lore by Bridget Boland.

Banana peels add calcium, magnesium, phosphates, silica, sulphur, and potassium. Spent (or used) coffee grounds are rich in similar nutrients (nitrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium).

Anyway, if you grow roses, try this. And if you like fun vintage gardening books, find yourself a copy of Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners.

Food for thought as I leave you for the day: do you miss the real gardening shows that used to be on television ? There used to be real gardening shows where hosts including Martha Stewart used to get out and dig flower beds, discuss plants, and so on. They would share tips. Today all it is all hardscaping , fake pre-cast pavers, and outdoor kitchens as far as the shows. No real horticulture. I miss the real gardening shows.

Thanks for stopping by!

farmhouse chic

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My near and dear ones like to tease me about my affinity for farm animals (cows, goats, and chickens in particular). I am told I will always be too much of a city girl to make a good farm girl (apparently I need to tolerate long power outages better), but a girl is allowed to dream, right?

So does that make me perhaps just an accidental country girl in the making?

Mind you, the teasing is in good fun, so I really don’t mind. What I do know is I love living in Chester County and especially like the rural aspects and the open spaces. I also love the fun of the hunt for cool pieces to decorate with, and Chester County is loaded with places and even warm weather flea markets. Jake’s Flea Market in Barto comes to mind. Except Barto is actually Berks County, but that is worth the drive I am told. I have not been yet.

Will I ever love long term power outages and trees pounding the house in storms? Probably not, but surviving this winter means I am hopefully better prepared next time and hopefully we won’t experience a next time like this winter for quite a while.

As many know I have developed an affinity for certain kinds of things that would be classified as either primitive or farmhouse chic. Vintage patchwork quilts, oil lamps, rustic candlesticks, and things like milking stools would fall into that category.

Milking stools, you ask?

Yes. They are fun and add whimsy to a room. I like old wooden footstools too. You can find them all over, and the price points should always be reasonable because they are so readily available.

A reasonable price point in my opinion maxes out at around $25. I see plain wood foot and milking stools at all sorts of price points, but if the cost goes over $25 , unless they are some truly amazing bit of woodworking I loose interest. I am a picker and bargain hunter at heart, sorry.

There is a big difference in my mind between a fine country antique and an item that has a utilitarian and real purpose that also can have a second life as a fun accent in your home.

I have two. One I found languishing under a table at Reseller’s Consignment in Frazer and one came from the Smithfield Barn in Downingtown. They both came in under $25 each. They are handmade and of solid hardwood and have three leg. Milking stools have three and four legs. I have been told by actual dairy farmers that the three legged stools balance the best on uneven surfaces.

One of my stools has three legs and the other four. I love the patina of the natural wood and oil them occasionally. I am not a fan of candy coating beautiful wood in milk paint. That is the taste of a lot of people and a good way to renew beat up wood pieces, but generally speaking not for my personal taste. I like those accents in the homes of others, it just doesn’t work for us in our home .

Anyway, they will never be a priceless heirloom, but I love them. People will actually sit on them and they make an amusing conversation piece. And some milking stools are simply beautiful examples of handmade craftsmanship.

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