Water Feature

Water Feature

The best gardens are the ones that engage all of the senses: beautiful sights, lovely smells, smooth and scratchy textures and sounds, of nature and water and wind. Water fountains have been an important part of our garden for years. However, the last few years I have found them to be high maintenance and with mosquito borne illnesses in the news, it seemed they weren’t worth the trouble.

However, the garden is not the same without the sound of water. So, what about those mosquitoes? Mosquitoes will not lay eggs in running water. So as long as your fountain is functioning properly that is not an issue.

But keeping the fountain functioning does require effort. And don’t be lulled by sites that claim setting up a water fountain is easy. It is not easy but it is doable. Below are a few tips from my recent set up of our water fountain.

The first thing to do is figure out where the fountain will go. Keep in mind that you will need an electric outlet nearby to plug the pump into. I use an outdoor extension cord with mine. Once you have found the best place to hear and enjoy the sounds of trickling water, figure out what container you will use. The bottom container that the pump will be placed in should be solid enough to contain water, with no leaks. Since I want to use what I have I am using this old copper tub.

Next, you will need a water pump of sufficient power. I used this one. But it does not come with any extra spouts or tubing, which I will get to.

Now you have a container and a pump. The pump must be submerged in water at all times or the motor will burn out, part of the maintenance I was referring to. The water evaporates or pets may drink out of it. It’s a good idea to check on it every few days. The pump I ordered has a flow control valve on the side, which is very helpful. I also found it difficult to adjust easily. I tried to slightly turn it and it would not budge. Then I put some more pressure on it and got a shot of water in the face. I still have not found the perfect flow.

You may want something a little more decorative than a pump sitting in the bottom of a container. In that case you need tubing that fits on the pump nozzle and threads up into another container, this one with a hole in it. And how do you keep the tubing on the pump nozzle? This is the tricky part.

In this picture you can see a plastic tube sitting on the pump. The rigid plastic tube did not work. As soon as I plugged in the pump the tube shot across the patio into the bushes.

The pump came with three nozzles, 1/4″, 1/2″, and 3/4″. The 1/2″ tubing I had used in previous water fountains would not fit over the 1/4″ nozzle. I cut slits in it to make it fit. In normal times I would run to the hardware store and buy different tubing. But it’s working with the slits. You might want to order tubing to go with your pump. The iron plant stand was placed in the tub so that the more decorative elements would have a place to sit.

I placed the pump in a plant pot saucer to lessen the sound of the motor. Two larger rocks on either side of the pump keep it upright.

Again, using materials on hand, I looked around the house and in the garage for some object, jug or vase that water could flow out of. Said object needed a hole in the bottom for the tubing to go into. Finally, I settled on this pottery vase. It’s rustic look would work and I could try to put a hole in the bottom. It was quite easy. Using a screwdriver and a hammer, I tapped the bottom of the vase. The screwdriver slid in right away. I kept tapping around the edges of the hole until it was wide enough for the tube. I set the vase on the tube sticking out of the plant stand. Then I placed the stones around it.

There was not immediate success. I had to play with that valve control knob to keep the water from shooting out into the patio, or in my face. I also bought some spouts which are supposed to make the water flow more artistically. With a low flow the spout stays in the tube. As soon as the flow is adjusted to a higher level, the spout flies out into the yard. I’m still tinkering with this.

One more consideration for water flow is that the filter on your pump will get debris on it. This lessens the flow of water. By googling I found this ingenious solution which has worked really well for me.

My walks take me past a bamboo grove where there are usually dried stalks on the ground. I brought one home and decided to use it to disguise the cord to the water pump. Cutting it into shorter lengths was fairly easy.

By now you are probably thinking this sounds like way too much trouble. But every time I sit on my patio and hear the trickle of water, it’s just heaven.

A few more plants around the edges will help with anchoring the container to the setting. I’ll venture out in a few days. But for now I plan to just sit and enjoy the sound of water.

Have you tried adding a water fountain to your garden?

The Grotto

You may have seen my earlier post about a problem corner in our backyard. Basically it’s a damp, dank corner with poor soil and a lot of shade, a grotto, as Mr. Bee has named it.

With the demise of the table that used to sit here, we have come up with a new purpose for this leafy bower, a sanctuary. Sanctuaries are dark enclosed places, right? A sanctuary, just what is needed under present circumstances.

This area used to look like this.

With only about an hour of sunshine a day, this area has stymied us for years. What should its purpose be and how do we make it not an eyesore? Virginia summers are not conducive to outdoor entertaining, with the humid weather and swarms of mosquitoes. And, of course, budget is always a consideration.

First off, we knew we had to replace the fence. That was done last year.

This year we went all in and bought new patio furniture. This set is from Overstock. I assembled it by myself and it was not difficult. Too impatient to wait for Mr. Bee to finish his work day I just started and it was quite easy. The casual vibe is exactly right for this, shall we say, rustic patio. The set came with the white cushions. It’s all very comfortable too.

You might notice a few of the plants are in pots. That’s always an option when your soil is terrible.

We also bought two skip laurels, which are the hedge looking plants on each side. They are supposed to grow up to 6 or 7 feet tall and equally wide. I am amending the soil with compost and fertilizer to compensate for the compact clay conditions.

At the top of this photo you can get a sense of the dense shade canopy that surrounds the patio. On the other side the neighbor’s windows are visible. We like our neighbors and I’m not especially bothered by the lack of privacy.

There remain some bare spots to be dealt with. Skip laurels, seen between the chairs, are slow growers. It’s supposed to get wide, but what is the solution for today? Ideally, I would love for the entire patio to be enclosed by a wall of green. But the reality in a garden is, it’s better to pause and assess your next steps otherwise you can end up with a crowded, hodge-podge. I’m still tempted to head to the nursery. Mainly it’s social distancing that’s holding me back.

Every outdoor sanctuary needs a water feature. I will do a future post on this one. There’s nothing quite as relaxing as the sound of water trickling over stones.

The best part of my new retreat is being able to enjoy the view of the rest of the garden.

What problems areas are you contending with in your yard?

Annual Rose Report

This is my current view outside the master bedroom window. Incredible isn’t it? The view is a happy accident really. For there is only one place in my shady yard that gets at least six hours of sun a day. And roses require sun, usually more than six hours.

I hemmed and hawed for years about the possibility of roses anywhere in my garden. Reality told me that I just didn’t get enough sun. Only one area was sunny for prolonged periods, and that was an awkward corner of the back yard.

My one sunny area sat neglected while I tried to decide on a solution to make this a beautiful focal point. As I was discussing ideas with a gardening friend one day she pointed out that I could try roses here. It wouldn’t cost very much so why not? That was the little push I needed.

However, I was pretty pessimistic about the prospects. Probably the roses would not make it, or if they lived, they certainly wouldn’t flourish. As I was poring over catalogs and articles I learned that there are a few roses that will grow with less than 8 hours of daily sun. Cecile Brunner and New Dawn are two such varieties so i ordered them.

They were planted in the fall and the next year we were rewarded with a beginning growth of beautiful blooms. Heartened but not quite convinced, I made little investment in their well-being.

The following year, they were still working to convince me they were here to stay.

The following year they really took off and the need for substantial support could no longer be ignored.

I turned to the company that had built our garden gate. This arbor was built two years ago.

Arbor construction took a toll on the bushes. The above picture was taken in August just after the arbor was erected. My poor bushes seem traumatized.

The first spring on the arbor they still seemed to be recovering. Would the earlier profusion of blooms ever return? I probably should have built the arbor then planted the roses.

Also, I had timidly attempted pruning the vines so that they would adapt to the arbor. But pruning tutorials differed and were not that easy to understand. Had I ruined them? This year I went online again and gave pruning another try. It seems to have worked out.

The blooms do not spill over the front side as much. They are chasing the sun that lasts longer on the back side. I’m not complaining, believe me. Every morning they greet me as I look out my bedroom window.

I am constantly relearning that gardening, a little like life, is an experiment. Some experiments work and some don’t. You can’t let the failures stop you. You just have to keep trying. And, boy, what a feeling when it does work!

Cleaning Metal Garden Furniture

Cleaning Metal Garden Furniture

It’s a given that with outdoor furniture, you have to pay the price of maintenance and upkeep. Without a covered porch our furniture is completely exposed to the elements for 8 months a year. Here in Virginia we have a good bit of rain and thunderstorms, not to mention blazing sun, which can leave your furniture very unappealing to sit on. Cleaning them was a chore, which meant I hardly ever relaxed in my garden. That is until I finally discovered the easiest cleaner that takes the grime away with a swipe.

I know this sounds like a commercial but I am not receiving any compensation when I rave about the great job the Magic Eraser did on my chairs. No elbow grease required; I just wiped them down while pondering how I would decorate my deck when I was done. Within 15 minutes two chairs were clean and sparkling.

Here’s the story on these chairs: they were purchased at a yard sale years ago, with the intention of sanding and spray painting to get them in better shape. I just loved their retro vibe and,typical of me, underestimated the amount of work it would take to make them presentable. After a couple of hours of sanding to no avail I threw in the towel. But a friend told me of a regional business that re-coats metal garden furniture with a professional coating that is solid and glossy and long lasting. It’s been a few years, but I think it cost around a thousand dollars for four chairs. So much for my bargain yard sale find! But completely worth it. And that was another factor in trying to get the chairs clean-I didn’t want to use anything too abrasive that would damage the finish. No worry about that with the Magic Eraser.

I’m excited knowing that with very little effort I have a place to sit and enjoy the backyard. And if ever there was a year I really want to enjoy my yard, this is it.

Our weather in Virginia just became warm enough that we can contemplate going out for flowers and other plants to add seasonal color. Luckily I have some perennials that help bridge the gap until I can get some annuals in my pots and hanging baskets.

I’m working on this corner to make it my zen retreat. Don’t we all need a zen retreat right now? I got my water feature going and moved some things around. Another blog post is coming soon.

New Fence

Recently we had to replace our 20 year old fence. Its time had come, as you can see below.

I decided to change the design slightly and add the arched effect. Our fence is mostly just a backdrop to the shrubberies and trees in our backyard.

This corner of the yard is a neglected area. We have never settled on a purpose for it.

It’s a few steps away from the house, just far enough that it seems too far. But there is potential. A few beautiful shrubberies up against that fence, along with some comfortable chairs and this spot could be a nice contemplative area. Or just a good spot for admiring the rest of the yard. Suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

I have one tip if you are ever building a fence. Don’t forget to tell your neighbors! Some of the construction will take place on their property and it’s not good to surprise them with people stomping around their garden. How could I forget to do this?! I will be smoothing feathers for the next little while.

Oh well. It’s good to check another home improvement off the list.

4 Perennials that Outlast the Heat

4 Perennials that Outlast the Heat

I usually try to assess my garden at this time of year, looking to see what has done well, what needs to be replaced and what holes in the garden need to be filled. It is still too hot here in the mid-Atlantic region to plant any shrubs but I can identify the conditions of the area and start researching appropriate plants for the spot. I also note my successes which are amazing since we have had many more 100 degree days than normal around here.

Caryopteris blooms this vibrant purple color in mid to late August, a time when most of the flowering plants have given up. It doesn’t seem to be bothered by drought or neglect and continues to spread and produce more and more bee-loving flowers. Before I got close the bees were swarming all over this bush. It brings welcome color to the front garden.

My Black Eyed Susans have been blooming for a month already and show no signs of wilting. Wedged in between the dark purple barberry and the dark lace cap hydrangea, the bright yellow really stands out.


This Annabelle hydrangea was planted 17 years ago. It dominates the garden with its height and large cone shaped flowers. Usually the butterflies are flitting from flower to flower.

My canna lillies never bloom but I still love the beautiful deep purple leaves that provide plenty of dramatic color. Cannas grow from bulbs that cannot survive the winters here so they must be dug up every year. My solution has been to plant them in these pots and move them into the garage in the colder months. I move them out again in late April and they reliably leaf out.

We have weeks of warm weather ahead of us thankfully. We are replacing our fence next week which is much needed since the old one is leaning inward. The new fence is a different style and I will share that with you once it’s installed.

Rose Season

Rose Season

Last year my Mother’s Day present from Mr. Bee was this arbor for my roses. The rose vines were so loaded with blooms that they required something substantial to hold them up. You can read about that here.

By the time the arbor was installed, the roses were past their blooming season. So this is my first season for the roses to bloom on the arbor.

Earlier this spring I did some pruning and shaping to get the vines to grow over the top of the arbor. This job required me to dress in a heavy sweatshirt and gloves because both of my rose bushes have a LOT of thorns. The vines just seem to reach out and hold onto me as I pruned, almost as if they wanted to keep me from my cutting. That trimming back has resulted in fewer blooms I think. But they will come back.

The arbor is located in the sunniest area of the yard. Roses require at least 6 hours of sun daily.

This spot gets loaded up with all of the sun loving flowers, like petunias.

The red pots are planted with canna lilly bulbs. Canna bulbs cannot survive the cold temperatures of our winter here in the mid-Atlantic, so I move these pots into the garage for the winter.

My cannas do not bloom but I love their beautiful leaves like these from last year.

My other rose bush, New Dawn is a climber. The vines are full of buds now but none is open yet. I have some vacation plans coming up and I hope I don’t miss this flowering season.

I have to go mark my calendar to remind me not to plan any trips next May.

It’s gratifying to see how the roses have taken to the structure though!

Compost Saves

One of my resolutions this year is to be a better citizen of the planet. For me that means to use as little plastic as possible and to re-use and recycle whenever I can. My ultimate goal is to radically reduce the amount of trash we add to the landfill.

One of the primary ways I reduce trash output is to compost. For those who are not familiar with compost, it is a method of recycling food waste, such as peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, along with yard wastes and other matter. These materials decompose into a rich and nutritious soil conditioner for your plants. And I continually learn of items that can be added to the compost pile, further reducing my trash.

Another important reason to compost is that it helps the environment. Did you know that food waste in the landfill is one of the major causes of the methane gases that are contributors to climate change? By recycling our food waste we can help reduce those emissions at the same time we create rich fertilizer for our shrubs and plants. Talk about a win-win.

So, how do we do it? In our case, we set aside a corner of our side yard for this purpose. This corner already had two sides from our fence, and Mr. Bee was able to fashion two other sides out of fencing and a large piece of slate we inherited. Compost bins are available from garden websites as well. We started composting by throwing in yard clippings and kitchen scraps in this pile. I have added some links below this post for a more detailed method to compost.

For the compost to break down in a timely manner you need both green matter (like kitchen and yard waste) and brown matter.

Brown matter can be manure – which you can buy. But also paper is a good source of brown matter, and specifically shredded paper will break down very nicely. I love dumping out my shredder in the compost pile. And so you “layer” your kitchen waste and your paper. I admit that we do not carefully layer our materials. We dump and stir. I probably take out the vegetable matter every day but do not dump in the paper for months. But it works! We end up with a rich black soil for our gardens.

The first time I lifted up a shovel full of compost, I was dumbfounded that this rich soil came from my kitchen scraps! It almost seems like magic. As you handle the soil and feel its rich texture it is obvious this will be good for your garden. The difference in your flowers and vegetables will be recognizable and will multiply each year.

I recently bought this copper canister at TJ Maxx to hold my scraps until I am ready to take them out. No one would ever know that behind that sleek and shiny exterior rot is running riot. But it’s a good idea to take it out daily. Sometimes I use a plastic produce bag to line the container to make the clean up a little easier.

Recycling your food scraps into compost is such an easy way to create food for your plants, reduce methane gas emissions in the landfill and reduce the volume of trash as well. I hope I’ve encouraged you to give it a try!

To learn more about composting you may want to refer to these sites:

https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/100-things-you-can-compost

Rose Arbor

Rose Arbor

You may recall that earlier this summer I posted about my roses which were having their most prolific year yet.  If you missed it you can read about that here.  This  year there was an explosion of flowers and vines and I suddenly realized I was going to have to provide a better structure.  Otherwise I was going to have a big tangled mess on my hands.  Soon after that post  I met with a local fence and deck company representative and signed a contract for an arbor.   And, finally, this past weekend, the workmen came to build it.

It is probably better to put the arbor up first, then plant your roses, or at least plan where an arbor might go before planting.  However, I was not at all sure I would be able to grow these very persnickety flowers since I get very little sun in my yard.  The site I ordered my roses from specified that most roses need at least 8 hours of sunlight a day.  I found one little corner of my yard that might just possibly meet those requirements and crossed my fingers.

Two years later, I couldn’t believe my eyes!

Can you see that flimsy, struggling support trying to hold up this flourishing beauty?  At least a couple of times a week I had to go out and shore it up with braces and cinder blocks and rope.   It was apparent the supports were not going to last much longer with such abundance.

I intended for there to be a lattice panel on the back side of the arbor,  in addition to the sides.  This is not the type of arbor you can walk through.  There is a lower flower bed behind the roses which prevents anyone from attempting it.   Of course with the iron bench in place, it is even more obvious.  But now I am not sure.  One rose bush will have to be relocated or removed if I do so.  I will have to think about it.   I do like the idea of an enclosed little spot in the garden.  But I have a feeling that moving that rose bush will result in its demise.   Possibly I can get a few vines to criss-cross in the back there.  And that would create the enclosure I want.  I will mull it over, which is how I make all my decisions.

I had to do a little trimming on the rose vines in order to pry them apart from the  supports and each other.  That was not an easy task and I waited until the last minute to do it.  Since August is not the recommended season for rose pruning I hope they survive.  But I can always order more, right?  The construction progress was hard on my grass, but it will come back.

When we bought our house the backyard was a slope down to the driveway, with very few plantings other than azaleas along the fence on the right side.   At first our improvements hardly seem to make a difference.  But the accumulation of small projects has entirely changed the space.  There is so much pleasure in seeing a garden evolve.

I don’t seem to have any before pictures.  It was the early 2000s.  We weren’t taking so many pictures back then.

I’m looking forward to having coffee out here soon!  That morning sun looks so inviting.

 

I’m already thinking ‘what took me so long to do this?’.  But, I remind myself that inspiration takes time and ideas evolve and build on one another.

Rosewater Anyone?

Rosewater Anyone?

It’s been a long time coming but finally I have the rose bush of my dreams.

I was pretty sure I couldn’t grow roses in my shady back yard.  Roses require a lot of sun, usually about 8 hours.  My yard is bordered by large trees, which I love even though they don’t allow much sun to penetrate their foliage.  There is only one little awkward corner in the back yard where the house and the driveway come together where the sun’s rays are not obscured by structures or by shadows.  There I have had some luck with a few sun loving flowers, such as canna lillies and morning glories.

Finally, I could no longer ignore my desire to have a rosebush and though it wasn’t ideal, that awkward corner was the only spot in my yard where roses had a chance to flourish.  So I would plant my rose there.

I bought the Cecile Brunner rose which does tolerate light shade.   The first two years seemed to bear out my misgivings about growing roses in our yard.  There were only a handful of blooms.  But the stems were lush with leaves.  And then this year, there was a sudden profusion of blooms!  I’m not kidding when I say I did a double take when I looked out the window a few weeks ago.  I beheld a glorious rosebush that seemed to have bloomed overnight.

And the smell!  The bush fills the air with its fragrance. Sometimes I just stand there and inhale.   I’ve been cutting stems daily for bouquets for the house.   Even as cut flowers the scent perfumes the air inside.   It’s hard to describe the pleasure they bring.

After the arrangement wilted, the fragrance lingered in the petals.  I didn’t want to waste those sweet smelling petals and decided to see about making my own rosewater, which I have been hearing so much about.   I looked up “rosewater recipe” and found this one.  It could not be more simple.

After steeping the petals for 10 minutes, I ended up with this golden liquid.  You can’t really tell from the picture but there is a thickness to the water.

I used it on the back of my hands and now they feel supple and soft.  And they give off a subtle rose scent.

Apparently rosewater has been around for a long time, thousands of years, and has many uses.  This article from Elle was quite interesting.  Although, I must admit I can’t see myself using it as mouthwash.

I do not have a spritz bottle, but I do plan to get one so that I can spritz rosewater around on linens and pillows.  I love natural scents.

Of course the best scent of all is to have a big bouquet of beautiful roses in every room.  You could just put bowls of petals around too.

I deferred my dream of growing roses, thinking I was being practical and realistic.  But there was so little at stake to just give it a try.  I’m not sure why it took so long to realize that.

I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.

Emma Goldman