April Showers…Don’t End Until June!


img 1627 300x225 April Showers...Dont End Until June!

img 1632 300x225 April Showers...Dont End Until June!

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Casa de Gardenista has been so swamped with rain this spring and summer I’m almost ashamed to show you the healthy growth of weeds and grass I’ve allowed to co-habitate  with my flowers until this point. Suffice it to say that this weeks afternoon and weekend projects will all involve lots of weeding and mulching. The bonus I suppose to all of this rain has been unusually large flowers and shrubs in the garden.  My Bee Balm is about four feet tall instead of the usual two feet tall, and close to outgrowing my forsythia bush.  Mums, which have always grown to mammoth proportions in my yard have had to be pruned back into respectable shape to keep them from completely overtaking their tinier garden cousins.

img 1617 225x300 April Showers...Dont End Until June!

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My forsythia has leafed out completely this year, and it’s hard to believe that only three years ago it was a collection of three sticks I received as a housewarming gift.  I began pruning it immediately as it sent out it’s first shoots to encourage more growth. Over the past two years though I’ve trained it into the mini-tree form that it is now, which I think looks particularly cute from the road. I still hold out hope for the spring when the whole bush blooms yellow and looks like a giant lollypop. Hopefully spring 2010 will be the year for that!


img 1609 1024x768 April Showers...Dont End Until June!


My side porch has become “vegetable central” this year, as I added peppers, carrots, lettuce, and spinach mustard to the canteloupe and strawberry containers. 



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In the past I planted two large containers on each corner with strawberries surrounding one pepper plant in the center.  This year I may repeat that late in the season, or in the fall, but for now the fruits and veggies remain segregated and out of the reach of “Confucious,” my city ground hog – who is happily eating the clover blooms in the backyard for now.  Regardless of the weeds thus far, we have had several handfuls of home-grown strawberries to eat with our breakfast pancakes, so all in all, rain or shine, it’s been a great summer thus far here at home. 


img 1610 1024x359 April Showers...Dont End Until June!



Native To Know: The Oregon Grape Holly

img 15781 1024x768 Native To Know: The Oregon Grape Holly

Originally gaining popularity with New Englanders after the Lewis and Clark expedition brought seeds back from the Pacific Northwest, this little known plant will dazzle you with it’s unusual shape and year round color and interest.

What You’ll Love:

  • Blooms in January! The Mahonia holds on to it’s large clusters of yellow blooms, from January through March or April, adding welcome color to the winter garden.
  • In the summer and fall the former yellow flowers become heavy draping fruit clusters in bright blue and purple hues.
  • This is a great “go anywhere” shrub, thriving in full sun to heavy shade.
  • This plant is almost completely immune to all pest and disease problems, and is one of the top five plants that botanical societies recommend to plant in areas with known Crown Gall infestation, due to its imperviousness to the bacterium.

[Read more...]

Site That Inspires Me: “The Bumblebee Blog”

bumblebee blog pic 300x225 Site That Inspires Me: “The Bumblebee Blog”

When I was 5, my kindergarten class spent weeks keeping a sharp eye on two incubators in our classroom while we studied the miracle of life. I can remember how waiting for the chicks and ducklings to hatch seemed to take so long, but I remember thinking it was all worth it the afternoon when I was finally allowed to pick out my own fuzzy chick and take it home. While that original chicken has long been in the happy-pecking-grounds in the sky somewhere over the DC suburbs, I confess, urbanite that I am, I harbor a desire to one day add chickens to my home and garden!

Robin, over at Bumblebee Blog has done just that, and carved out a divine little slice of Maryland heaven not to far from where I live currently.  As a devoted gardener who’s large country property provided a quiet escape from her city day job, Robin’s blog has evolved into a charming conversation over everything from her garden, to new chicken rearing feats, and her Papillon’s never ending struggle to keep pesky deer out of the yard. Her entries are filled with photos of her home and garden, or even the newest recipe she’s whipped up with her garden’s produce, and believe me, everything looks good! 

Bumblebee Blog is a great breath of fresh air in the garden blogging world. She writes with humor and wit, and is a natural storyteller.  Her posts inevitably end up feeling like a friendly visit over lemonade with a good friend, and are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face every time you visit. 

This week make some time to visit Robin’s garden through the link above, and see if she can’t brighten your day, and give you a few ideas for your yard.  You may even discover a fondness for chickens yourself, if not at least an appreciation for one misguided rooster named “T. Boone Chickens.”

Happy Gardening!

How To: Humanely Capture Raccoons and Small Mammals With Tools You Already Have

raccoon 300x225 How To: Humanely Capture Raccoons and Small Mammals With Tools You Already Have

Last night I was sitting by a bedroom window, when a neighbor’s dog flushed a raccoon out of the garden, and straight up my front porch columns to the roof, passing me to duck into a nearby rooftop! Aside from my surprise at seeing an unexpected furry object come flying across my porch roof, I hadn’t realized that Raccoons were living in the house next door. While the animals are leaving my own home and vegetable patch alone for the time being, it never hurts to have a back-up plan in case the animals ever need to be removed from my property.

The folks over at the  All Pest Control website  have been writing great how-to articles to help homeowners with trapping nuisance animals with just the tools and supplies common to the average household.  Their step by step instructions for a “fool proof” way to trap raccoons is simple, and can be recreated in your own yard using just a trash can, some water, a board, and form of dangling bait. If  you are in need of a little raccoon assistance yourself, check out their manual on Home-made Raccoon Traps.  


Photo Courtesy of: Harlequeen

A Coleus Container Garden For Partial Shade

img 1561 225x300 A Coleus Container Garden For Partial Shade

Coleus is a colorful annual that is great for brightening up your shady spots. It comes in dozens of different color variations, and it grows to be quite bushy in only a few weeks, so it makes a wonderful pot filler.


  • One 24 inch pot
  • 2 Coleus Plants of differing varieties
  • 4-5 Blue Star Creeper plants
  • 4 Brown Faced Pansies
  • 2 Pale Spiked Lobelia

This design uses two varieties of Coleus, ‘Splish Splash’ on the right, and ‘Granny Smith’ on the left, to fill in the background of this container. The foreground of the pot is encircled with delicate ‘Blue Star Creeper,’ which is actually a groundcover that does a great job of filling in any open spaces around the edges. The mid-ground of the container is mixed with wide Brown Faced Pansies, and the delicately blooming Pale Spiked Lobelia.

Mixing Annuals and Perennials:

This idea like many others mixes annuals and perennials, which can allow you to change out the spent annuals seasonally to add fresh and relevant plants to your display every couple of months. Changing just a few flowers with the season can lend you a bit of continuity in your designs while giving you the option of adding fresh colors and textures cheaply depending on what is available in small sizes at your local nursery or grocery store. The Coleus, and Pansies in this pot are annuals, and will not return for you after the fall season – although the Pansies often self seed, and plant themselves in new spots. The the Lobelia is actually a North American native perennial, and will come back for you repeatedly, as will the Blue Star ‘Laurentia,’ which is not native.

Be sure to plant your flowers in a layer of compost or leaf mold, or add a time release fertilizer like  Ozmocote to guarantee fast growth, and lots of healthy blooms.

My First Highway Garden

img 1420 1024x477 My First Highway Garden

I was encouraged recently to lead the charge designing and installing a roadside park on an abandoned field for Rebuilding Together. I joined up with Rebuilding Together Baltimore, a national non-profit organization focusing on community revitalization projects, to brighten up the entrance to the community of Dundalk, Maryland.

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Working together with community organizers and a county planner, I came up with a design for the field that would incorporate flower beds along the roadside to welcome people to the community, and open turf space for picnics, and play areas for the neighborhood kids.  When I first walked the field to take measurements with the county planner the field was overgrown with ornamental grasses, and weeds up to 6 feet tall, with furniture, and all sorts of other odds and ends dumped in it. The field was about 60 feet wide and 115 feet long, so there was a lot of space to fill once it was cleared out, and only $2000 worth of budget money for the entire project.

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The volunteersof Americorps pitched in to initially clear the field, and I set to work designing a flower bed for full sun, that would be drought tolerant, and self seeding.  I broke the length of the field into several sections, and created three beds approximately 25 feet wide, and 10 feet deep, ten feet back from the road.  I spaced the beds 10 feet apart from each other to allow for air flow, and to break up the flowers a bit, creating the appearance of a fuller and larger garden overall.

Since the beds themselves would be very large I chose to focus on mass plantings of only 7 varieties of plants, arranging them in ways that would keep the eye moving, while providing blooms from spring through fall. The perennials I chose were Daylilys, Autumn Joy Sedum, Black Eyed Susans, Purple Coneflowers, Yarrow, Coral Bells, and Liatris. All of these plants do well in poor soil, are drought tolerant, and spread on their own.  En mass these plants will stand out on the side of the highway, and over the next two years will fill in any spaces between each other to create a really full appearance.

img 1406 300x191 My First Highway Garden



The design I created is pictured above, including the Euonymous bushes, and Crepe Myrtle Trees that provide the background to this garden, and the natural privacy fence for the open field behind them.


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All together we planted 520 plants, leveled the newly cleared field, planted grass seed, fertilized the area, and covered the field with straw in only a few hours.





I’ll be sure to include pictures soon with the garden filled out this summer, so you can see how it matured! Below is the entire field and garden bed when we finished 6 hours later.

wheel barrows 1024x768 My First Highway Garden

‘A Case Of Mistaken Identity’

sc008d5daa 228x300 ‘A Case Of Mistaken Identity’

The Delaware Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture have published an online booklet for the Mid-Atlantic region, (from New Jersey to Virginia) that will help homeowners, and land managers with the difficult task of differentiting between problematic foreign invasive plants, and their native look-alikes.

The US Government spends billions of dollars each year trying to combat the rapid spread of invasive plants in waterways, national parks, and farmland, and the private industry spends equal that amount from their own budgets to do the same. The trouble with many invasive and rapidly growing plants is that they look much like their native cousins, who pose no ecological threat here in their home environment.  For many land managers, including myself, differentiating between the native (and protected) plant, and the look-alike invasive plant can be difficult.  This guide contains the best side-by-side compairisons between these plants that I have ever seen, including pictures, descriptions, and even reasons why the plant needs to be removed.

sc008d88f8 227x300 ‘A Case Of Mistaken Identity’For those of us in the business who can’t tell the difference between “Giant Hogweed,” and a “Cow Parsnip,” this guide will help you properly identify the difference between the two, while giving you proven tips on the permanent erradication of the invasive.  I particularly appreciate the hints it gives on handling some of the more noxious plants, for instance warning the reader that Hogweed sap on the skin causes chemicals burns when it’s exposed to sunlight.

The guide can be found online through this link and identifies 20 of the most common invasive plants that keep those of us in the ‘Green Industry’ on our toes. It’s a great link to bookmark on your browser, or to print out and have on hand during the growing season for quick identification.

Three Sedum Varieties For An Evergreen Strawberry Pot

img 1566 219x300 Three Sedum Varieties For An Evergreen Strawberry Pot

Strawberry pots aren’t only for Strawberries and herb arrangements. Try three varieties of Sedum to fill your pot with evergreen color that fits in well with any climate.

I chose Sedum reflexium, Sedum turnatum, and Sedum acre for this pot, placing the largest spreading Sedum in the top and alternating the more delicate types around the cupola openings.

All three of these are easily found at your local garden store, or you can mix other types of Sedums to personalize the pot your way. Garden centers will often classify these types of Sedum under the title ‘Hen and Chicks,’ or  ’Stonecrop,’ to differentiate them from the more upright ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum types, and a quick request at your local garden center to be sent in the direction of one of the above titles will send you reliably to the correct plants.

sedum 150x150 Three Sedum Varieties For An Evergreen Strawberry Pot

sedumacre 150x150 Three Sedum Varieties For An Evergreen Strawberry Potsedum ternatum 150x150 Three Sedum Varieties For An Evergreen Strawberry Pot

Sedum reflexium                                Sedum turnatum                                    Sedum acre

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Saint John’s Wort

img 1560 229x300 Saint John’s WortExhibit “A”  as to why you should never discount a plant with the word ‘wort’ in it; this is St. John’s Wort. 


St. John’s Wort is a great accent plant for your garden beds and containers, and it’s one of the least known plants of most gardeners today. The family Hypericum contains both flowering shrubs, and a vine form in many different types and colors. The shrubs range in height from 1-10 feet in height when fully grown, while the vine’s low growing habit makes it ideal for erosion control on hillside gardens.  Grown best in zones 4-8, the shrubs and vines do well in partial shade to full sun, but bloom most prolifically in full sun.  These plants are drought tolerant, with 3 inch wide blooms covering them from June through August.  St. John’s Wort is a natural choice for gardens with poor or rocky soil, so it is a great plant to have on hand if you have large areas that need perennials but you don’t have the inclination to create endless formal beds with all the topsoil and mulch that those require.


My favorite use of St. John’s Wort is in tree rings, or as a mass groundcover.  It’s spreading habit can be best appreciated when it is planted in large groups in a location where it won’t take over the entire flower garden.  As a tough perennial, this plant falls on my “Full Sun, Bullet-Proof” plant list, and once it is established you can keep it fresh by mowing over it every few years to keep it flowering and fresh.


Due to its hearty nature St. John’s wort is a plant that should be introduced only in garden areas where its growth habits can be managed.  The USDA lists these plants as a potentially invasive in the wild, so care should be taken to keep it out of naturalized area for the benefit of local wildlife, and the native ecosystem.

How To Identify ‘Armor’ and ‘Oyster Shell’ Scale

scale 300x224 How To Identify ‘Armor’ and ‘Oyster Shell’ ScaleOne particularly common garden pest wreaking havoc on shrubs in the months of May through August is ‘Armor Scale’, also called ‘Oyster Shell Scale,’ or ‘Wax Scale.’


Oyster Shell Scale is a peculiar looking insect, who becomes obvious on your shrubs only after it has begun to create a protective covering over itself. The shell that an active Scale creates can resemble anything from a wad of chewed gum, to a fuzzy ball on the stems and leaves of woody plants.  The white waxy ‘shell’ covering is pliable in early summer months, and emits Honeydew that the insect excretes as it feeds on the sap of a plant. Aged Scale, and dead Scale that have completed their life cycle are dry, hard, and a grey or brown color. They begin to resemble bark before they fall off a plant, but can be pruned out for appearance sake.

Scale are sucking insects, and they and their offspring (called ‘crawlers’) attach themselves to a plant within a few hours of hatching, remaining stationary for the remainder of their life while receiving the nutrients they need from sap.   Female Scale lay eggs inside of their shell, and the ‘crawlers’ emerge in late April or May to wander the plant for a one or two week window in search of a good permanent place for themselves.

While scale in small numbers are not harmful, in large numbers they can kill a plant in several ways.  Large clusters of scale will rob a plant of it’s nutrients, and stop leaf production, killing sections of a plant. Additionally, the sugary Honeydew residue can become a breeding ground for black powdery mold and bacteria, which are deadly to a plant when left unpruned. Heavy Bee and Ant activity around infested plants can be the first indicator of a Scale problem, as the two species are attracted to the Honeydew as an alternate food source.   [Read more...]