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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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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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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There is good change and there is “bad” change. Either way, change usually requires a bit of an effort, for one must change how they think as well. Changing the how of our thinking can be more difficult than actually making a change.

Intentional Change

One would think we gardeners would be the worlds’ best at change. After all, we seek to change our gardens almost daily. We intentionally set out to change our gardens and our view. We are always adding, taking away, nipping and tucking, digging and transplanting.

Unintentional Change

Then there is nature and the changes it brings to our gardens without our prior approval. Plants die from lack of rain, or too much rain. It can be too hot or too cold. A beautiful plant and much-desired plant turns into a thug and strangles its lovely little neighbor. These are the changes that are “bad” for they destroy our illusion of control, forcing us react to change.

Change Comes Calling

Change came calling to my gardens this year as it does to all gardens. But, when it happens to me and mine it feels different.

Dying Tree

A native species clematis

Being a shade gardener, when a shrub or tree dies, it is a threat to the very nature of the way I garden. This year I had one of three dogwoods I transplanted 20 years ago die after leafing out. It provided a canopy for perennials and shrubs as well as a major focal point. The shade is sorely missed.

But, I am trying to see it as an opportunity. I have transplanted 2 clematis to scramble up into the dead limbs, adding bloom and foliage. Now that I do not have to be concerned with its root system, more perennials can find a home along a path. Space opened up for a new shrub. I wanted some new space to work in Primula, Heuchera and ferns.

Fall Blooming Anemone

For some years my Fall Blooming Anemone in 4 different locations have had the foliage completely stripped by blister beetles. I have sprayed in the past, but gave up for they just keep on coming back. The plants do go on to bloom, but lacking leaves. New foliage does form just in time to get hit by fall frosts. I am giving up on them, digging them out and replacing with blooming shrubs. Another opportunity to do research and visit garden centers.

Limb fell in yard

In the last storm wind and rain caused a large limb to fall on the lawn. Close inspection showed the limb was hollow and had several holes made by birds. Saved me the trouble of climbing the tree and cutting out the limb. Turns out it was a piece of a puzzle. The piece that fit perfectly along the edge of a path lined by flat stones where rains were washing soil where I walked. I dug a shallow trench and dropped the limb in among existing perennials and ferns.

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Digging into Anticipation

Digging into Anticipation


I think the emotions of anticipation are among my favorite feelings, and most times I look forward to a bit of waiting on the edge of my seat. Since gardeners seem to do so many activities that incorporate anticipation it must be a common shared trait.


Gardeners get to dig into anticipation literally. Much is said about fall transplanting in the garden come fall, but usually the discussion is about best suited plants. While we gardeners love our plants, there is much more to the story than perennials, shrubs and bulbs. There are all the activities of fall transplanting that carry bushels of anticipation.


Hybrid Mayapple Spotty Dotties

I believe most gardeners are goal oriented. We see or hear about a plant that puts a catch in our breath, and the hunt is on. We have these pretty pictures in our mind’s eye that require a flow of activities to obtain our goal of making that vignette a reality. To accomplish a goal one must have plans, even if they exist only in our minds.


First up is to set aside space in my garden for the new plants and see that the soil is renovated for the new arrivals come sometime in September.

My plants that must be acquired are researched, read about to keep the fires of passion and possession stoked. Then they must be located at a trustworthy mail-order nursery. If I can afford it there will be 3 of each genus ordered. Once the order is confirmed, then the anticipation begins in earnest. First form of anticipation is set in motion.

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Azalea Early Care

Azalea Early Care

Most days I have walked my gardens all winter, seeing what carries the color day to day, watching for first blooms. If we get some relatively warm afternoon weather I will begin cleaning up the debris from last year. Middle to end of February is normally when I shift from just walking my garden to working in my garden. However, this year our early warm up did not happen and here it is March, when the soil thaws under the mulch it is time to feed my azaleas and rhododendrons.

My first azalea to bloom is about mid-April. From that date thru mid-September one or more of my azalea collection will be in bloom. If they are to receive the energy they need for strong root systems, new plump buds and abundant blooms, they need to be fed now. It will take some time for rains to settle the fertilizer into the soil so it can be taken up by the plant and used as needed. So, I have formed a ritual each late winter of making sure my azalea get off to a good start each year.

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