Constructing Your Own Nursery Garden

Constructing lightweight troughs, or containers, for plants and numerous other uses, is a craft that has certainly caught the eye of gardeners. Numerous articles have appeared in almost every gardening magazine over the past few years, and articles continue to appear in national gardening magazines. Our favorite book, the “Bible” of hypertufa, is “Creating & Planting Garden Troughs” by Joyce Fingerut and Rex Murfitt. We highly recommend it in addition to hands-on class instructions.

Almost unlimited sites on the internet are devoted to, or deal with, the subject of hypertufa and its uses when traveling from Manila to Baguio. While the craft is not difficult to comprehend, like many crafts, it is best understood ‘ hands on’ or shown step by step during construction by a knowledgeable crafts person with experience. Essentially, a hypertufa trough is constructed of Portland cement and two other materials of choice, depending upon the method and preference of the maker.

The whole concept is to keep materials as light as possible, have them durable to outside weather, and look as though they were made from stone. JoAn has taken courses with masters of hypertufa trough building in PA, Ohio, and in Indiana over past years. After constructing her own troughs over time, JoAn agreed through numerous requests to teach the craft beginning in 2003. Courses were so successful additional classes were scheduled so those applying would not be disappointed. JoAn’ s talents and expertise are available to individuals and organizations throughout the coming year, but limited in number

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Full Shade Perennials

There are times gardeners want to begin a new garden but do not have the best of locations to begin digging. Perhaps the only choice is at the foot of a tall board fence and the sun is on the other side. The perfect location for a small Koh Samui inspired garden is blocked by a tall evergreen tree. Walking to the garage there is a space between the sidewalk and the garage wall, but the area is shaded all day.

What is Full Shade?

There are many descriptions and degrees of shade. The terms used most often are partial shade, filtered shade and full shade. Full shade is the location receiving the least direct light. Locations in your yard that receive only indirect light are still possibilities for an ornamental garden. If an artist can choose a northern exposure for best light and produce masterpieces, why not a gardener? It is only a matter of choosing the right pallet for you work of art.

Full Shade Perennials

Perennials plants are those that die back to the soil line in winter, but the roots survive below ground. Come spring the roots revives as the soil warms and send up new growth. A plant that returns two or more consecutive seasons is referred to as perennial. I am a big believer in using only perennial plants for they only grow better as they age. Each year as they return in spring they become larger and offer more blooms. Also one does not have to replace them each year. The first year a perennials is transplanted it mostly sleeps. Second year it kind of creeps along in growth. The third year it leaps into action. So, a bit of patience is required when first transplanting new perennials.

The choices may be a bit fewer than for a partial-shade or filtered-shade garden, but a showy ornamental garden is possible. Mother Nature does not allow space to go to waste and has selected out specific plants that will take advantage of a heavily shaded area. In turn we humans have selected out the most attractive to our eyes over the millennia to create gardens in difficult places. Gardeners over the centuries have not given up and neither should you.

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E-Cigs Influence Smokers to Break the Law

E-cigs influence smokers to break the law?

Evidently, health officials feel that because some of the more conceptually-designed electronic cigarettes resemble real cigarettes, their use in public gives smokers a way to discretely defy the law by lighting up cigarettes and passing them off as vaporizers. Just in case this doesn’t seem like a foolish premise to base a product ban on, let’s look at some holes in this reasoning.

First of all, as already stated, PVs do not produce smoke; they produce a vapour that, while visible when exhaled, dissipates almost immediately. The vapour does not behave in the same way as smoke when it enters the atmosphere. Smoke lingers for a long period of time, particularly inside a building. If the appearance alone isn’t enough to distinguish smoke from vapour, the unmistakeable smell of tobacco smoke should be. One cigarette produces enough smoke that the smell can easily be detected throughout the entirety of a bar or restaurant.

To suggest that smokers will attempt to pass off e-cigarettes or as they call it in italy, vaporizzatore, as PVs seriously undervalues the intelligence of smokers as well as people in charge of establishments where a PV might be used. Smoking requires fire to light the tobacco, and produces unmistakeable smoke as well as ash. Anybody with a healthy dose of common sense should be able to tell if somebody is smoking a cigarette instead of a PV. If anybody is obtuse enough to attempt such a ruse, they should be punished to the full extent of the law and removed from the premises.

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Greenhouse Impressions Shade Solutions

Greenhouse at night
When the propagation lights are on all night it looks as though a 48 foot worm from outer space landed on the lawn. The lights are fluorescence tubes under hoods that are lowered to about 4 inches above the seedling trays. Lights and trays are all up on tables, so the effect is hazy and indirect. A soft blue light radiates outward through the greenhouse walls. From the outside one sees a giant segmented glowing worm formed from braces the plastic is stretched over. I find myself going to the window at night, looking up the hill to see if our worm retains its special glow.
Inside looking out
While in the greenhouse you cannot see out. There is a double wall of plastic inflated by blowing air between the two sheets. However, the light does come through. So, you can be inside the greenhouse and enjoy your day without all the distractions of clear windows to the outside. Overall effect is to lend a special feeling of being separated from the world. When it rains it is like living inside a drum. The taunt plastic forms a drum for the slightest sprinkle of raindrops to beat upon just over your head. A heavy rain and you cannot hear yourself think. Inside my head I can sing along with Fred Astaire without having to get wet.
Tropics on a sunny day
Heat quickly becomes trapped inside the greenhouse as the sun’s diffused rays slant through the ceiling and walls. On a clear cold day with freezing temperatures outside, the sun can heat the inside of the greenhouse to tropical temperatures. In the morning you enter with a coat on, and work in shirtsleeves by noon. With all the plants breathing, evaporation from hundreds of containers with moist soil, humidity is high. It only takes a few early blooms to give one the feeling of being in the tropics in spite of winter weather outside. Perhaps I should just pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine, open that book and enjoy a min vacation to the Bahamas without the cost of a airplane ticket.
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Interesting Times

Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times seems to stick in what remains of my mind. I had understood it to be an ancient Chinese curse, but recently read it was neither Chinese nor ancient, but Western in origin. Where ever it originated, it sure seems to describe the last couple of years in my gardens.

A mature red elm located in the lower center of my hillside garden leafed out in spring as usual and then died. This important tree provided shade for a large portion of my garden. By late summer of the first year many of the existing shrubs and perennials were under stress due to the sudden shift from shade to sun. I made the decision to leave the dead tree as a woodpeckers breakfast nook, using climbing hydrangea as a decoration. By the end of the first year major limbs were ripped out by winds to fall upon my plants and break sections out of a smaller tree nearby.  This major limb removal hit twice and then the tree itself fell from root wad. I considered myself lucky for the tree fell upon a path and not upon the garden.

The upper level of my garden had, (notice the past tense) a tall hedge of trees and shrubs reached up into the power lines providing heavy shade for over 150 feet of my garden. Last fall every tree and shrub was removed to the soil line. In early spring I scrambled to erect a board fence and began transplanting trees and shrubs, but one cannot transplant instant maturity into a garden. It will be many years before shade returns to that section of my gardens. Adding insult to injury our record heat and drought almost instantly turned my perennials into crispy dormant/dead.

In the very center, the heart, of my garden stand 3 mature trees. An ancient eastern cedar, a wild cherry and mature walnut. One third of the cedar was sliced by lightening and now lays across the upper level of my garden. As the cedar was damaged a major section took a large limb of the  walnut. Wind drove limbs from the cherry tree, along with another large limb from the walnut into a conifer at the bottom front of my garden. That mess has not been cleaned up and notes are being made salvaging the situation.

On the western side of my garden a mature hybrid horse chestnut I transplanted when I first began gardening gave up the ghost and no longer provides shade from afternoon sun. Among the first conifers I transplanted a mature blue Alberta spruce looks like last years Christmas tree.

It would seem I stand in the midst of another old proverb. Now that I  have arrived in interesting times, I must remember it is the willow that bends with the winds and does not break.

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Garden Lessons Learned Under Stress

Garden Lessons Learned Under Stress

I am observing both myself and my gardens as we deal with these record high temperatures with no rain. Both of us are under stress and the stress is related. We are both dealing with the effects of the drought and how to handle the stress. However, we have different options in seeking solutions.

Most of the stress I experience related to my gardens is eighty percent psychological, twenty percent physical. I am concerned with the health, wellbeing and appearance of my gardens so that pushes on me to do something. When and just how much of the do is optional. I can work early mornings, perhaps late afternoons, or early evenings moving hoses and sprinklers. When it gets too hot for my comfort level, I can come inside to air conditioning and a cold drink, perhaps catch up on some office work. Maybe even take a nap. The plants in my gardens are not mobile in the same sense as I, so they stand there and take what is dealt, day in and day out. And, of course, some plants do not, cannot, take the heat.

I am watching the ones that are holding up well under the heat and drought with minimal watering, the ones looking good in foliage and/or bloom. A pattern seems to be emerging for some winning this beauty pageant. The foliage and blooms coming from bulbs, tubers and corms, large rhizomes are prominent, All Arisaema are looking good, including the ones that emerged early and are now going into seed production. Some of their relatives from the Arum family are providing great rich-green exotic foliage from tubers. The Lilium bulbs are in flower and continue to come into bloom. Corms such as Cyclamen purpurascens are in full bloom under root competition as well as drought and heat and will still be in bloom come October. Favorite rhizomes are almost any Polygonatum, or Solomons Seal, especially the variegated. They are all using today what they stored up last year, so they only need minimal attention.

So, guess what I will be adding to my garden this fall? It is only logical (as Spock would say) to expect these weather patterns to continue. If this heat and drought does not continue in the years to come, then I am selecting tough plants requiring little attention from me. Adding more tubers, rhizomes, bulbs and corms, I am taking stress off my myself and my gardens.

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Focus on Photos

Sometimes life gets downright spooky. Over a year ago I had made a decision to purchase a new camera system. But, lots of reasons presented themselves on why I should procrastinate (other than my usual just put things off). The biggest reason not to make the move was learning a new system of camera and lenses. After all, todays cameras are more computer than camera. There was also the cost factor, for one of the lens I use most, cost as much as the entire system. My system I had been using for some years was still taking good photos.

Over the past year I kept receiving little signs in photography magazines, Sunday supplements in the newspaper and internet. The same camera system kept bobbing up like a floater on a fish line. Canon Rebel T3i. Then came the final sign. The camera was sitting at the top of the tripod with my heaviest lens attached when it was accidentally knocked over with a loud bang on the hardwood floor. The camera body suffered a concussion it could not recover from. The minor gods had spoken and provided their final sign.

The cash was there, so there was no reason to put it off any longer. With the Canon Rebel T3i there were lots of geeky reasons to make the move, but mostly it was the new image stabilization lens. Even with a tripod I found myself getting more shaky over time. So, a lighter body, more compact, better balance. HD video thrown in, enough computer controls that I will never learn them all in my lifetime. But they are there as I learn, as I need them.

I am fully aware that it is not the camera that actually makes a good photo. Mostly it is the photographer. I have seen that one proven time and time again. However, there is a kind of confidence that comes with all that technical assistance. With a good printer, you could easily plaster that on your wall as a constant reminder on your thirst to become a better photographer.

Perhaps there is also damn, but it sure does feel good hanging around my neck.

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Pick a category. Pick any product. Pick a concept. Just let it pop into you head. Then look around you. There it is! Not only the one you envisioned, whatever the vision, but several choices are available. Not only available, but promoted and pushed no matter where you go in your day. Right along with all the products you had not envisioned.

A Multitude

There is a multitude of choices presented on not just a minute-to-minute, but in second to second blocks, when you listen to the radio while traveling. All flowing by right along with the huge sign boards lining the highways. When you arrive home the choices are on TV. Turn on the computer and there is a flood of choices you were aware of because you did a search earlier and you now have a cookie on your tail. There is no escaping all the choices that continually bombard us during a 24 hour period.

Way of Life

All that continual promoting and pushing to catch our attention throughout the day has pretty much become background noise to our lives. While we may think we are tuning it out, that is not completely true. If a visual or sound catches the corner of our vision or hearing, and is repeated often enough, we will remember and react. Perhaps not even on a fully conscious level.

You are worth Money

You must be worth a lot of money for companies spend millions on research and development, advertising to get your attention, then have you react so you will make a purchase of their product. But, don’t let that perceived value go to your head. You may be of value to yourself and your ego, but it is the dollars you carry they seek.

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Birdhouse Care

Birdhouse Care

Spring Cleaning

Raccoon damage to birdhouse. She was looking for eggs or young

I realize there are better times to clean birdhouses, but like most homeowners and gardeners I do what I can when I remember to do it. The wisdom on bird house cleaning seems to be after each family raises its young and they all leave the nest. If your remember to inspect each house for vacancy and then clean, then you are a far more attentive birder than I.

Store and Supplies

My reminder to clean birdhouses here is to watch for sales at department stores for spring cleaning supplies. When I see all the brand names of bleach, window cleaners, disinfector sprays,and paper towels, I know it is time to go into action. Hopefully this will happen before the local bird population begins to have sex on the brain.


Why clean the houses? Simple answer is more birds are attracted to clean, empty houses than ones filled with last years nests. We all want to see more birds using the houses we put up for their use and our enjoyment. Also, but cleaning the houses we prevent pests and diseases. A good cleaning usually removes any mice that may have moved in over winter along with insects. Bacteria can breed in the house long with fungus, and feather mites are deadly to the young hatchlings.


First up I recommend a pair of gloves and a trash bag for the debris. Take down the house, open and remove all loose nest material into the trash bag for disposal. Any crusted material can be scraped into the bag. I use a spray bottle of bleach and water mix (1 part bleach, 10 parts water) to thoroughly spray inside every nook and cranny of the house. Set the house in the sun to dry and later return to put the house back up for occupancy.


Dont risk your birds walking your driveway with picket signs saying Slum Lord! Below Standard Housing. Unfair to Birds. And that is a lot for them to carry on a sign. Remove any houses that have seen their day and usefulness. If pests such as raccoons have accessed the nest box, then perhaps a higher mounting would  be best for protection of the eggs and young. If the wrong birds are using the box, perhaps a move before nesting begins would be in order. To be an equal housing landlord you need to have the right housing in the right locations.

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Bloom Where You Are

Bloom Where You Are

It is the last few days of July and my gardens have been under stress from heat and drought since the last week of May. That is a long time experiencing consistent record high temperatures topped off by little or no rainfall. Mornings and evenings have been spent dragging hoses and sprinklers from one section to the next attempting to keep plants from dying. Some things simply gave up and went dormant early. There is success keeping plants from passing away on me, but they sure look ragged around the edges.

I did my part to help all I could, and the garden has responded as best it can. After all, my gardens have no choice but to bloom where they are, as best they can. Two plants, of exceptional note, are in full bloom in spite of drought, record high temperatures, and it being late July when blooms can be a bit scarce in a woodland garden.

Hymenocallis occidentalis, or Spider Lily, is my favorite native lily bulb. It behaves much like the resurrection lily, or naked lady, in that long strap-like foliage has pretty much disappeared by mid-July. Then a nude scape rapidly rises from the soil topped with large pristine-white blooms. Long narrow petals are connected with what appears to be spider webbing at their base, thus the common name. This lily reaches about two feet in height. In nature, spider lily is found along stream banks and seepage. I have grown spider lily in my garden for 12 years or more and can relate that extra moisture is not a demand. While it may prefer a moist spot, it will do just fine with compost and mulch. Mine is located in the root system of a conifer.

Lilium specisoum rubrum, Red Showy Lily, is not only attractive to me, it is also a butterfly magnet. Stout stems reach about 4 feet in height. Blooms are crimson-rose with white edged petals. Over the crimson are rough spots of magenta, contrasted by the pinkish-white centers. A true show stopper especially under present gardening conditions. Plenty of light is required for good flower production. Too much shade and they will lean toward the source of most light.

Just looking at these two lilies in bloom makes me feel better about all the time and effort spent gardening in spite of less than perfect weather.

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