Monday, December 07, 2015

A Little Fun With Christmas Greens

We are lucky here in Southern Ontario. Frosts have been minimal and it has allowed me to make decorative evergreen creations outside a little later than usual. Mid December, the container medium is usually frozen.

I've held off this long, simply because there is nothing more frustrating than having evergreen boughs brown before Christmas. Too early and it is a shame - really a waste and a lot of work for nothing.
Similar to last year's - but with less greens.

I acquired some twigs and such from a friend who was discarding them. Hey - "reuse as much as you can", I say. Waste diversion is a good thing and what others toss away can bring you more joy in creating different designs like this one:

For others, I created these favourites:

Looking for some books at the thrift store, I found this metal envelop hanging container. It's a great door greeter! Add some greens, natural bits and voila - a really festive front welcoming decoration. Who needs a wreath?

I stuck with the same design for this rectangular planter as I did last year. It works, the mail carrier doesn't complain! Simple. Nearly all the accents were saved from 2 years ago!  

Whatever you do....DON'T THROW OUT the TINY BITS!  Bring them indoors. (Leave them in your shed or garage and bring them indoors closer to the time you begin entertaining). Add a bit of greens to your mantle, your dinner table or like me: my piano.

Hint: once you bring in evergreen cuttings, be aware: sap exudes from the fresh cuts. Select bits that aren't sticky.

I dab off the sap from the fresh cut ends on a paper towel and let them sit a while (about 10 minutes) prior to arranging. 

DO NOT PLACE THESE FRESH CUTS DIRECTLY ON YOUR FURNITURE. They will cause sticky drips and ruin your wooden finish. Not to worry, there is a solution: add something beneath. Like a paper plate, or place them on an extra charger plate, or better yet, cut a piece of plastic to the right size and place beneath. How easy is that.
This was a plastic sheet packaging for calendar. I cut it into a circle, large enough for my cone arrangement. Tucking it under the cones, I then...

...wedged and arranged the cuttings just so. Cover all the unsightly bits.

Evergreen cuttings jazz up silk flowers perfectly.

Above all, be creative. Your home will smell amazingly festive and it will bring an inviting environment to help unite the folks you love.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I'm Not Done With Autumn Yet - Bringing It Indoors

It's a sad thing when we don't truly take the time to enjoy the gifts of autumn displays. They truly don't come to full life until November.

In Canada, as soon as Halloween is over, the stores have all their Christmas displays set up and nothing of autumn is visible anymore.

Yet, the beauty remains outdoors. Time to bring some of that in - even though Christmas is still 7 weeks away.

Calamagrostis Karl Foerster grass seed heads are lovely when they wave in the wind. These sturdy dried flowers have had the wind blast them about. If these remain, you know they will keep well in your home too.

Pennisetum rubrum flowers are just so fluffy. Take the younger flowers when drying. The older ones will shed indoors.

I decided to take a bunch from each and make a small display for my hallway table.

 Acorns and Alder cones make for a great decorative addition to any votive candle bowl or...

...decorative container.  Add a few more pine cones come December and it will carry you through the Christmas season too.

 There is nothing more beautiful than Acer rubrum (Red Maple) in full blaze of colour.

I simply dried these between wax paper sheets and placed inside a picture frame. Great colour for teak furniture decor.

 Iris seed heads last throughout the winter. Dry & woody, they hold great shape.

So do Rudbeckia seed heads. Shake off the seeds as much as possible. Do leave some for the birds and winter interest too.

Allium sp. also have great seed heads to work with. You can even spray paint them to add a bit of colour to your arrangement.

I like the natural look. With a few dogwood stems as filler, they make a great display without having to buy dried stems from your local craft shop.

There - the great aspect: once Christmas decor items need to come out, these can still be saved and returned come January or whenever you want to display them again.

Enjoy what this November can offer.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Why I Hate Landscape Fabric

I'm sorry, but I have to vent. As a horticulturist, there is nothing more irritating than arguing with "landscapers" who endorse the use of this:

Landscape Fabric

For every reason they use to recommend its use in garden beds, I have 5 reasons not to use it. It comes in various forms and I dislike every kind.

I've come to realize, most landscapers who use it horticulturally never maintain these sites after the installation.

Have you ever maintained dozens of locations with it on a daily basis? I have.

Here are some samples and proof of its redundancy:

1. Instead of repelling weeds, it does the above. It provides a great place where degrading mulch allow grass and other weeds to grow quite happily above the fabric.

2. You have to add a thick layer of mulch in order to hide the fabric. The combo depth of the mulch and fabric only allow minor amounts of moisture to actually reach plant roots. Wonderful.

3. Unavoidable left over, overlapped, excess fabric repels water and stunts root growth in these areas.  Not to mention, it pops out and people pull on it, thinking it's garbage. Disturbing the whole look. These burning bushes above are 4 years old. They are still about the same size as when they were initially planted.

4. As the plant matures, its roots stick to the underside of the fabric and so when you try to remove a weed growing on top (that has rooted through), you wind up lifting the fabric, damaging tender fibrous roots of perennials and shrubs you're trying to protect.

5. I have seen dozens of perennials die from drought because this fabric does not allow enough rainfall to keep surface roots moist. The mulch on top gets damp, but no water seeps through beneath.

6. When the mulch composts, the fabric acts as a barrier and doesn't let the degraded material come in contact with the soil beneath.

7. When you rake debris off the mulch you expose the fabric. Taking off more mulch than leaves and unwanted debris.

8. This shiny black fabric absorbs heat and bakes the roots beneath.

9. A thin layer (2-3 inches) mulch on top of landscape fabric easily washes away during heavy rain storms.

10. It chokes the crown of perennials, making them stunted. These perennials were planted 4 years ago. Half the size they should be. The hole made in the fabric strangles the crown.

11. To lift and divide perennials or to remove dead ones, you end up damaging the fabric, causing frayed edges - making a complete mess.

Grrrrrr.  I could go on...

Folks - if you insist on using this fabric, use it for weed control under trees and larger shrubs that are not situated in planting beds. Cut large holes into the fabric to account for mature growth. And PLEASE, use the biodegradable kind. The kind that will slowly degrade and not become a tangled mess after 4 to 5 years.

Truly, I think the kind used in the photos above, should only be used in hardscaping installations.

Ah, I feel better now. ;)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Collecting Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) Flowers For Tea

I am lucky to live near a field full of Red Clover.

Trifoilium pratense
It grows everywhere at this site! No chemicals are sprayed, it's wild and this resource is just lovely - free. One bonus, the turf only gets mowed once a month, so this clover constantly revives and renews bloom.

As the botanical name indicates, it has three leaved foliage (tri-folium). Also notice the greyish green band on each leaf, as a clear ID marking.

Growing close to the ground, sometimes hidden in the grass.

Flowers stand taller from the base foliage and can easily be seen from a distance.

Last week, even this late in the season, I stopped and finally picked a paper-bag full. Why?

Many of my grow your own, DIY gardening books mention Red Clover as one of the best herbs, suited for tea. It has many medicinal properties and is known to be refreshing mixed with peppermint tea.

To Pick:  You want lovely pink flowers that are more pink than brown, like the photo below. When picking, place the base of the flower between your index and middle finger and with your thumb pull up and the flower will easily pop off without being damaged. You can leave the basal leaves, but I remove as many as I can while picking.

How I dried them:

First, I washed them. I am sure there are those who believe washing the flowers will reduce the medicinal potency, but how many little bugs I saw in the bag after collecting made my mind up. WASH. I washed with cold water and let them soak for a minute or two.

When removing leaves or extra stem length, I dipped them into another bowl to shake off any bugs. I tried my best to get rid of them, but some were so tiny. After shaking off the excess water, I laid them down on a roasting pan with holes and clean paper towels to help dry them off further.

Above: you can see all the bits and little bugs at the bottom of the bowl. Be thorough - some of these bugs were thrips. You don't want thrips to come into your home if you have beloved house plants.

I decided to use my dehydrator for drying. I would rather just let it sun dry in a window sill, but this dehydrator will make sure any unwanted bugs will not stay on the flowers.

I laid them out with a lot of space between each flower. This allows a lot of air to circulate around each so they dry evenly.

I set the dehydrator at the lowest setting. It may take longer, but I want the flowers to hold as much of their natural potency as possible.

 I dried them over-night.

The vibrant pink colour has diminished a bit, although much of the flowers kept their coloration. I read that the flowers should have more pink than brown after drying.

The flowers should be dry to the touch, but not crispy. The florets should still stay intact.

To avoid squishing them, I decided to store the dried flowers in a mason jar. I poked a few holes in the top lid and will store it in my dark pantry. Ready to make some tea.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Plant Hero: Plantain - Plantago major

Every gardener, every hiker, and every outdoors person needs to familiarize themselves with this plant.

Plaintain - Plantago major
I have come to rely on Plantain - Plantago major every time mosquitos are at their worst and now -  late summer/ early autumn, especially when wasps are at their wildest frenzy.

Thankfully, it grows everywhere. I see it growing in pavement cracks:

Found in turf:

Interlocking stone:

You can find it nearly anywhere.  It likes disturbed soil too. You can find it along roadsides - you name it. Plantain has such a huge tolerance for drought, sunny spots and for shade too.

I get stung by wasps weekly and if it were not for Plantain, I would be rather miserable and unable to cope with working outdoors.

Please familiarize yourself to ID this plant.

Notable Plant Characteristics:
Deep leaf veins
Leathery thick foliage
Dark green foliage
Wrinkly leaves
Flat growth habit: it can grow right along the ground - gets missed by the lawn mower
Leaves are joined at one base
In soil, there are usually more than one plant grouped together, like in the very first photo above

If you're lucky, you'll see its flower and seed stalk. It stands above the foliage and looks like a bottle brush. Brown when aged and seeds are ripe.

How to use: once your skin gets bitten or stung, take a leaf and squish it between your fingers to release the plant juice.

Rub all over the bitten/stung area with this mushy, wet paste. Within seconds, you begin to notice the difference. Get another leaf and repeat.

Yesterday, I was stung by a hornet. I will admit, it took about 3 leaves worth of paste, but finally the pain subsided after a minute or two - to the point where I could continue working without a throbbing hand. I react to hornet stings terribly.

I also use the leaves when I have a blister. I take a fresh leaf and place it over my toe or the ankle and then put on my shoe. The leaf, remaining intact, relieves the soreness and the hurt from the blister as I walk and move about.

Plantago major has active chemical compounds in its leaves: aucubin (which is an anti-microbial agent), allantoin (which helps stimulate cellular growth) and mucilage (which helps reduce pain, swelling and discomfort).

Several books I read, state it is edible and used medicinally for other health benefits.  It can also be used to help ease the discomfort of poison ivy.

Overall - a God send. I have transplanted several on my property. I always have an ample supply and don't remove it from my lawn.
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