First plant delivery of spring!



I received my first shipment from the Yahoo plant buying co-op I'm a member of on Monday. I love it when a box full of plants comes. Because many of the co-ops are sold long before their shipping dates, I often forget what I ordered. It's like Christmas when I open up those little baby plants.

I didn't have the pop-up "greenhouse" set up yet so I didn't even bother to pot everything up (I grow out all of my co-op plants in four-inch or larger pots for several weeks before putting them in the garden so I can baby them a little). I just gave them all a good drink, put them in a tray and put them where all plants go ... the kitchen counter.

It's a good thing, too. There were widespread frost warnings for Tuesday night so I would have ended up bringing them in anyway.

Anyway, this order include a little bit of everything: four clematis, some sedums, a few echinacea, hosta 'June,' which is one I've been wanting for awhile, a couple heucheras and a dicentra or two.

I don't even know where most of these will go in the garden, but I always find room for them somewhere.

A wonderful Mother's Day idea

I made my first trip to a nursery for the year this past weekend. I've been chomping at the bit to go for awhile, but I've sort of been waiting to make it that much sweeter. One of my favorite nurseries had their spring open house during which all perennials are 25 percent off, so of course I had to go despite the crummy weather.

While I was there I noticed a whole group of kids with a few parents and several nursery staff around. The kids were making little Mother's Day containers. Best yet, the nursery puts them all in a greenhouse and feeds, waters and takes care of them for the next couple weeks before the kids come back to pick them up. I think they charge about $10 for the whole thing. Some of the containers were very pretty, but what I loved the most was that they were obviously done by the kids, and what mother wouldn't love something like that?

I would have snapped a few pictures, but I'm pretty sure I would have creeped more than a few people out if I stood there taking pictures of bunch of kids who I didn't know.

Getting nothing done

I usually spend Sunday nights writing a blog post or two based on things I've accomplished over the weekend. This is not one of them because I'm not sure I accomplished anything this weekend.

The weather's been cruddy, which is fine because we really did need the rain, I just wish it would come on Mondays and Tuesdays. Because of the rain I didn't get out into the garden at all. That's particularly bad because I have one huge part of the garden that I haven't even done winter clean up on yet, nor have I pruned the group 2 clematis. Guess I missed that, but oh well ... they'll be fine for this year.

The mini reno on the eat-in portion of the kitchen continues. Still working on the table, and today we worked on the lighting. Suffice to say that we have no lights in that part of the kitchen tonight. Looming over the entire project is the ceiling project, which is on next weekend's agenda. Unless I find an excuse to avoid it again. It's not so much the painting part, although that will stink royally, but the fact that I have to sand and wash it before I even get to the painting is what I'm really dreading. After that, painting the walls will be a cinch. I have an overwhelming desire to just get it done, though.

I'm realizing, too, that the art I have hanging on the wall in that part of the kitchen is not going to work. I'm debating buying a canvas and trying my hand at painting. Of course I'm no artist, so I'm thinking about blatantly borrowing being inspired by this painting I found on Houzz.


I'm behind on the veggie garden too. And I need to finish moving the compost pile.

Part of the reason it seems like very little is getting done is that we find ourselves in a sort of emergency car buying situation completely out of the blue. It's not something we were planning on having to worry about for a very long time and we've been caught off guard. So if you have a car you love in the small SUV category (big enough to haul around 275 pounds of dogs), let me know about it. And if you know the first thing about painting a piece of "art," please tell me how to do that too.

Have you hugged a tree today?

Seriously, have you? You should.

Oh sure, you'll feel like a weirdo, and if you do it in a public place you'll undoubtedly get some funny looks (although that's part of the fun sometimes). My college roommate, who to this day (many, many days since we lived together) remains my best friend, taught me that you must hug a tree on Earth Day (it didn't hurt that we were attending the University of Wisconsin, the school from which Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, graduated from law school 50 years earlier). I've hugged a tree every year on Earth Day (and sometimes not on Earth Day) every year since.

I guarantee you will feel good about it, and once you've hugged a tree you'll never forget it.

A good day in the blogosphere

Wednesday was a great day in the blogosphere for me.

First, I was surprised, honored and a little touched to receive this great award from Rayan over at The Frugal Designer. Rayan is an overachieving blogger. Seriously, I think she's averaging about three posts a day over there. And she's not phonin' it in, either. She has an AWESOME Finishing School series (perhaps you've seen some of it at the fabulous Knock-off Wood blog). She has several tutorials that are must-reads before you tackle your first furniture finishing project.


And as if that didn't already make my day, I found out that I actually won a blog giveaway. Seriously ... are you kidding me? The last thing I think I won was in fourth grade when I was closest in the school with my guess of how many candy corn were in a giant jug. My prize was the giant jug of candy corn. My mother was thrilled.

Anyway, check out this awesome prize I won at Remodelaholic: a custom architectural portrait! These are so cool and I'm beyond excited about it. I'll definitely share the results.

The bad news is that since I was so lucky today, my odds of winning the Powerball drawing tonight probably went down.

The beach glass blues (or reds)

I've talked about beach glass before (some of you may know it as sea glass, but here on the Great Lakes that wouldn't make much sense). But I don't think I told you just how competitive my family is about collecting beach glass. We're ruthless. My dad's collection is now so big, there's no way I'll ever even approach it in terms of volume, but we're always on the lookout for a great, unusual piece to show to the rest of the family in hopes it makes them insanely jealous.

The problem is that beach glass is mighty hard to find these days. Too many plastic bottles and not enough littering, not to mention the fact that the whole world apparently collects beach glass.

But my dad recently found a way to access a stretch of beach that is basically inaccessible other than by boat. Well, by boat or by guts. And he went the guts route.

My parents recently bought the property just east of them that formerly housed my grandmother's house. On this particular stretch of Lake Michigan coastline, the beach is below about 200 feet of steep clay cliffs, which suck more land from the top every year, sometimes 15 feet at a time. The house was in danger of falling over the bluff in a few years and unfortunately had to be removed.

 Here is the Google Maps view of the former house. You can see how little grass was left on front of it, as well as the large area (on top of the little point) where about 25 feet of bluff fell in the lake a couple years ago. About 15 feet a year was probably average but sometimes huge areas would fall in the bluff. You can see the angle of the bluff and then the beach and the lake on the bottom.

Still, there are few forces on Earth that will keep my dad from a beach, so he rigged up several old docklines (he saves all of the old equipment from boats and frequently finds an alternate, land-based use for it) and half repelled his way down the bluff. And there he found the mother load of beach glass.

For three weeks now, all I've been hearing about is all the amazing beach glass he's found. He even went so far as to tell me that there was no point in me going down there because he had already collected all the beach glass. After I heard that my 12- and 7-year-old nephews had been down, I figured I could make it without sustaining major personal injury.

So Saturday I grabbed the husband and the cell phone ("In case one of us dies," he said) and down we went. Truthfully there's only about 20 feet that's VERY steep and the rest are just steep enough that you need the rope for balance.

And I found more beach glass than I've probably found in the past three years combined. Most of it was fairly ordinary, but we did find a few special pieces: a very large light blue piece, the bottom of a bottle that has a big "73" on it (found by my husband in a little stream) and the piece de resistance: a bright red chunky nugget of glass. I've never found beach glass in this bright red before so I knew I had something great.

The best pieces of the day.

With my pocket sagging pleasantly with the weight of the beach glass, we made our way back up the bluff. It required a few stops along the way to rest (for me, at least) and a good deal of arm strength in that one very steep area, but I'd say the down was worse than the up.

Then I ran up to my parents house to show my dad the amazing red nugget. I knew he'd be insanely jealous and a little irritated that he hadn't found it, which was just what I was hoping for. He wasn't home, but I eagerly showed my prizes to my mom. Who said, "Oh, that's nice. Why don't you go look at your dad's jars?"

 
My dad's latest additions to his collection consisted of bigger and better red pieces than mine.

And what did I find there? Five pieces of bright red glass (from the same source as mine, we're assuming it was a vase), all bigger, bolder and better than mine. Foiled again.

Here's my entire collection of beach glass:



Here's my dad's:

I think he's a beach glass hoarder. Perhaps we need to stage an intervention.

A compost bin redo

Some of you might remember last year when I was lusting after this compost bin from Lee Valley Tools. After living with a dilapidated compost bin (made in about 25 minutes several years ago with four pallets and a set of hinges) for about a year, what finally made me spring for the new system was our furnace.

Confused? 

Well, turns out we needed a new furnace last fall, and since we were still in shock over how expensive propane was the winter before, we decided to connect to the natural gas line in the road. Then, in late winter, with the house plenty cozy with natural gas heat, we had the propane company come out and move the hideously ugly propane tank. A few years ago I had put up a reed fence to screen the propane tank and the compost bin, which I purposely set up behind the fence.

But with the propane tank gone, there was no more need for the fence, so I happily took it down. Then I looked out of the back door/kitchen door and saw this:
 And if I thought that was bad, what do you think my neighbor (right there in the background) thought? The pallet compost bin served us well for the cost of two hinges and a couple screws, but it was time for a new bin and a new location for the compost.

I moved the location of the bin over to the other side of the property, close to the vegetable garden and picked up those great bin brackets from Lee Valley. You buy just the corner pieces and have to supply your own wood so I went off to Home Depot and got some boards. It was my first time in the wood department and certainly my first time having someone cut boards for me. Although the corner brackets suggest you make a bin that is a maximum of 4 feet square, I decided to stretch that to 5 feet square. I had 10 10-foot pine boards (they won't last as long as cedar but they were half the price) cut in half, then screwed all the boards into the brackets with the supplied screws. I left the top two boards on one side unattached so I can remove them for easier access to the bin.

And isn't this better looking?

Best of all, we can't see it from the house, and neither can any of my neighbors (although compared to that other bin, it's so good looking it wouldn't be bad to look at).

A day late, but still bloomin'

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day was yesterday and it is getting to be a really fun time of year for the bloom days. Unfortunately up here in zone 5, the things we have blooming are but a distant memory for those south of here. Still, I love that for the next four to five months the bloom days are just going to get better and better.


So here's a quick look at what I'm thrilled to see in my garden, all way ahead of schedule (and if you don't believe me, check out this post from Garden Rant).



My first hellobores. Ever. I'm thrilled with it and totally hooked on them! I just wish they weren't so shy and would show themselves more.

Brunnera 'Jack Frost' is doing really well considering it's just waking up from its first winter. I love the itty bitty blue flowers.

Of course daffodils are blooming. These all yellow ones are a bit traditional and plain for my tastes but they are dependable and bloom early so that makes up for anything they lack in pizzaz.

Ah, Pulmonaria. When my mom gave me several of these cute speckled-leaf plants from her garden I had no idea how much I would grow to love them. Their flowers are pretty, their foliage is interesting, and they look great all year.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of every month by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens. Thanks so much Carol!

Virtual tour: Kohler Design Center

If you are ever in southeastern Wisconsin, I highly recommend a stop at the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, Wisconsin. People come from all over to visit this kitchen and bathroom dreamland (located across the street from the Kohler factory), but I'm lucky enough to live about a 25-minute drive away.

We're hoping to add a bathroom sometime soon (I'm not sure this is possible, but we're already behind schedule before we even start), and I actually got my husband to agree to come to the Design Center with me so I could get a feel for what he really likes and really doesn't like. Frankly, most Kohler fixtures are out of our budget, but the Design Center is a great place to brainstorm ideas and I was surprised to find that some things aren't as expensive as I thought they would be.

There is a toilet museum on the lower level that memorializes the history of toilets (and it's more interesting than you might think) but I didn't go down there this time because really, how many times do you need to review the history of toilets? My husband, however, did make a stop down there to use the bathroom saying that looking at all these toilets made him had to go!

I took the camera along to take pictures of some of the things we like, but I thought I'd share a few photos with you to give you a taste of the dreaming you can do there. There are a lot of pictures here so bear with the length of the post. If you want to see them larger, just click on them.

Hugh Hefner's bathtub?

How's this for a few body sprays? All controlled via a digital touchpad, of course.


 I sort of liked this sink and was surprised to find later that I could buy it online for as little as $80.


A really cool vanity


I must have a teak floor in my shower!


I thought this penny round tile floor was really neat looking but I couldn't help but think about how dirty all that grout would get.


This bathroom is a wild design with wild tile to match. Check out the freestanding vanities in the middle of the room. The shower is open, under the windows. It's not a bathroom I'd want but I love the light, airy feeling of it.



 This is the showerhead in the bathroom above. I love the grid they did on the ceiling.


I love this vanity. Not loving the unmatching sinks.


This bathroom had gray tile and a lilac sink, toilet, shower and bathtub. Amazingly, it worked.


This is the floor in the above bathroom. It's absolutely spectacular Ann Sacks tile.


Your eyes do not deceive you: This is a huge, two-story wall of toilets (San Raphael model, in case you were wondering) in every color imaginable.


The mirror in this mini-kitchen was amazing.


Talk about mirrors! All of the cupboards in this kitchen had mirror insets. I'm not sure what the random cocktail dress was doing there.


I LOVE the open shelves in this kitchen. Like LOVE IT, love it.


Another vanity I like


 This was truly a spa bathroom, complete with this wood shower.


 This was the vanity in the spa bathroom.


Don't you have a massage table in your bathroom?


This was the coolest medicine cabinet. It opened by sliding up and revealed a magnifying makeup mirror and all sorts of cubbies for organizing things. Very contemporary (and about $2,900 a pop) but neat!


I'm not sure what the practical application of this sink is, but I'm guessing if you have the money to afford it, practical applications aren't really a big concern.



One of the best things to look at at the Kohler Design Center are the hand-painted sinks (which remind me of my grandma, who had one in her house). These were just a few of the beautiful sinks there.

Intriguing gardening products

I received a copy of Lee Valley's gardening catalog the other day (enclosed in a shipment ... yay!). I'm not sure why, but I've never seen this catalog before (I've just been to their Web site), and it is full of all sorts of interesting gardening supplies and gadgets. Some of them are tried and true, but others are things that I've not seen before. I'd love to hear if anyone knows how these items perform.

Copper Blocker

This is a 5-inch-wide copper mesh is used to keep slugs at bay. Because slugs hate copper and won't touch it, you can surround those plants the slugs love to dine on with this shiny stuff. I like it because there's obviously no concern about chemicals and no need to remember to apply a product, but I think you might need a lot of it. And what if there's a slug already in there when you surround your plant?

Plant Clips

I'm positive I know how these came to be. Someone started using their hair clips to attach their vining plants to a trellis and realized they'd be a lot better looking if they were green and hey ... gardeners buy anything right?

I'm more of a twine or Velcro tape king of girl but I admit these look kind of fun. Wonder if it's worth it though.



Rotary Sieve

To me this screams of over-engineering but I understand that some people just want a gadget. This thing will either help mix your custom soil mix (you know... like most people do in a wheelbarrow with a shovel?) or sift your compost (like some people do with a homemade sifter made of hardware cloth, but which I just plain don't do because I'm lazy). But I bet there's someone out there who swears by it.

So what do you think? Do you need any of these? Have you tried any of them? And what garden gadgets were you skeptical of but have won you over?

Lee Valley photos

Ridding the world of a lighting atrocity

Have you ever noticed that sometimes the things in our homes that bother us the most are the last things we deal with? Or is this some sick personality quirk of mine?

It was almost exactly eight years ago that I first laid eyes on what would become our first (and hopefully only) house. After looking at a lot of houses that I swore had "potential" (and with my rose-colored glasses a hole through the floor leading straight to the ground was classified as "potential") and spending a lot of time talking about "good bones" even if those bones were built by someone without a clue and resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa, this house was a breath of fresh air.

I first viewed it with my sister-in-law, fell immediately in love with it, and called my man (who is now my husband) and told him we were buying it. Fortunately, he agreed.

I remember that first viewing well. We walked into the kitchen and I looked around, thinking it was cute. And then I saw the light fixture over the sink. It was a hideous thing resembling one of those multi-bulbed vanity lights except with roses or something sort of carved into it. And I remember thinking (if not saying), "Well, that's going to need to change."

 The world's ugliest light fixture? Probably not, but it could be in the running.

Fast forward eight years. We've changed or redone the floors throughout the house, painted both bedrooms, completely revamped the yard and done a few other little projects. And that whole time, the light fixture I hated from the moment I saw it has remained. I think we get used to these things in our homes and don't really even notice them anymore.

 The new and improved light fixture. On a side note, funny how I never noticed just how ugly my neighbor's boat is sitting RIGHT on our property line. Since he only comes to the house four times a year and has never used the boat in the eight years we've lived here, you would think maybe he could keep it somewhere else. The Viburnums I planted there are just not growing fast enough!

Well no more. The light fixture (not the world's ugliest, but I think it's right up there) is gone. I replaced it with a something quite a bit more rustic, but I think it looks good, and will look even better once we get the walls painted (how sick are you of hearing that caveat?). Best of all, it directs the light down at the sink, where we need it. Two more new light fixtures to install in the kitchen and then I'm done with lighting for awhile (until we put in undercabinet lights).

So what's your project that never happened?

An early spring

This part of Wisconsin might be considered zone 5 but we have much different weather than many other zone 5 locations. Because I live about 500 feet from the Lake Michigan shoreline, my garden experiences a pretty specific microclimate. The water temperature in the lake is just slightly above 40 degrees right now. That means unless the breeze blows from the west, the air temperature is going to have a hard time rising much above the temperature of the giant refrigerator just yards away.

That all means that we don't usually get much of a spring here. Usually all of a sudden one day in June we have summer. On the flip side of that is that the lake, which stays relatively warm well into fall, extends our fall season far beyond that of places just 10 miles to the west.

But we're having unusual weather this year. We are having, dare I say, spring. The bulbs are all practically jumping out of the ground, many of the perennials are showing signs of sparking back to life and Sunday, the first daffodils bloomed.


I also cut the first daffodil that blooms (Ice Follies, I think) and give it to my mom (who, like me, is usually very reluctant to cut flowers from the garden so it's kind of my way of saying to my mom, "I love you so much I'll cut the only flower in my garden"). The past few years I've given it to her for her birthday on April 21. This year I gave it to her for Easter.

I'll have to wait for the rest of the daffodils to show their faces. My first-blooming daffs are planted in a small bed alongside the house that is easily a zone or more warmer, and they are the only daffs in that bed. The rest of the bulbs there are tulips because it is the only safe place on the property to put a tulip (the deer will not cross the patio to come nibble on them). Still, I'm so enjoying this little, unexpected taste of spring.

Gardening's latest and greatest

So I've told you about two of the speakers (Stacey Hirvela and Tim Wood) at the Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravanganza that I attended in Chicago in early March, but of course there was plenty of time spent talking about the newest Proven Winners plants. In fact, they not only talked about some of them, they also had many of them there. So I can say that I've seen the Pretty Much Picasso petunia, and it really is pretty spectacular.

I could go on about some of the interesting factoids about Proven Winners plants (like the fact that they are pretty much all vegetatively reproduced in an extremely regimented process that involves more lab coats and petrie dishes than any high school chemistry class-related nightmare could produce), but let's just get to the fun stuff: the plants.

Calibrachoa Saffron A very clean looking yellow Superbells with a red center. A nice bright new color for this plant.



Supertunia Bordeaux  A new color of the popular Supertunia variety. A medium purple with a deep purple throat.



Calibrachoa Lavender  I don't think this one is actually out yet because I couldn't find a photo of it on the PW Web site, but you get the idea.

Calibrachoa Yellow  This one definitely isn't out yet, but PW's Kerry Meyer, a self-described plant breeder turned "hortiholic" described it as an "acid" yellow. They've known it had been coming for a few years now (the trialing process is unbelievably long) so they've been saving the "yellow" name especially for this one.

Baby Tut Papyrus  I've already talked about this one, but Kerry offered a few care tips on it that I thought were worth sharing. First of all, if you want to grow it in a container, plug up the drainage hole. You can also grow this very successfully in the landscape, where it will actually handle a lack of water pretty well by putting down deep roots to look for the water itself.



King Tut Papyrus  Baby Tut's big sister, which has care requirements very similar to the smaller version. This big one will get up to 6 or 7 feet tall. You'll know it needs water when it starts to wilt and its branches begin to kink. If they do kink, they're shot, so just cut them off and new shoots will sprout from the base.



Diascia Flirtation Orange  Another one I saw in combo baskets at the PW event. It is a lovely, bright orange, but it does not like hot temperatures, so this one is better grown in spring. It will not like nighttime temperatures over 70 degrees, so you can probably push it well into July in the north, but further south it's best to plan on this one only for spring.



Sweet potato vine  There are so many wonderful new improvements on this classic combo container plant. You know how by the end of summer your combination containers have been eaten by your sweet potato vine? Well the new crop of sweet potato vines are supposed to be much better behaved and come in great colors including bronze, red, splattered yellow-green, purple and black. In addition to being great accents in containers they also make good annual groundcovers, Meyer said.

From top to bottom: Sweet Caroline Green Yellow, Sweet Caroline Bronze, Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Red, Sweet Caroline Bewitched Purple


Lobelia Dark Blue  A cobalt blue Lobelia with much better heat tolerance than other Lobelias. Another one that will do well in the landscape.



Lobularia Snow Princess  Along with Pretty Much Picasso, this is the one you're going to see EVERYWHERE (if not this year, then definitely next year). It's an improved alyssum, but don't let that turn you off. Honestly, I'm no fan of Alyssum, but this one has large white flower clusters that bloom all year and make GREAT hanging baskets. Everyone who attended the PW event got a Snow Princess to take home and I'm happy to report that mine is still blooming its little head off next to the kitchen sink. It is, however, what Meyer called a drama queen plant: one that wants a lot of fertilizer and "will eat any other plant without a lot of vigor for lunch." In other words, Snow Princess has queenly aspirations.



Supertunia Lavendar Skies  Another new color of the popular Supertunias that flowers so freely, Meyer says "you'll never see foliage."



Intensia White Phlox  A phlox with much better mildew resistance than many other phlox, but Meyer warns that this one is "crack for rabbits" so if you have bunnies around, best to put this one where they can't get to it.



Superbena Pink Parfait   Very large flowers that look like "mini hydrangea blossoms."



Superbena Coral Red  A great one in the landscape.



And a few hints that really aren't going to come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with growing annuals, especially in containers. The key to gorgeous plants? Fertlizer. Meyer said she uses a slow release fertilizer when she plants her containers and then fertilizes with a liquid fertilizer "every time she can remember" which she figures ends up being about twice a week. That's a ton more fertilizer than I've ever used, but after seeing photos of the potential of some of these plants I'm going to try my hardest to remember to fertilize the bejeezes out of them this year.

So what do you think of the new line-up? Are you going to be searching out any of these new varieties?

All pictures copyright Proven Winners