I'm so excited about today's giveaway because this one is a life changer. Once you lay your hands on this, you will never look at gardening tools the same way again.

But let me start with this: You deserve great gardening tools. I think way too many gardeners are quick to pick up a tool that's cheap or easily acquired at a big box store and then treat it like a cheap tool they can replace the next time they go to the big box store. Forgive me, but you're doing it wrong.

This is not to say that expensive necessarily means a tool is great. Certainly that's not always the case and I can think of a few tools I have that can be picked up at the big box store that I bet are better than their counterparts that cost twice as much.

But sometimes, a tool costs more because it is legitimately worth more. It is designed by artisans to account for finer details of its use, it is made from high quality ingredients and it is crafted by people who take pride in their work. And lastly, it's sold by people who actually care.

You'll have to forgive me here, because I'm about to spend some time waxing poetic about the tool (and the people behind the tool) that I'm giving away today. It's the Sneeboer Ladies' Spade from Garden Tool Co.

A few of my tools: The shovel I used to garden with, now reserved for its proper purpose of shoveling piles of dirt, my Sneeboer Ladies' Spade, my A.M. Deluxe Soil Knife, that you can win here, and my Bahco pruners. 

I used to garden with a shovel; it's what I learned from my mom, who until last week, also used a big ol' shovel (guess what she's using now; let's just say she's seen the light). Ergonomically, unless you're shoveling massive mounds of dirt, everything about a shovel is wrong for gardening, especially if you are a smaller person. The angle of the head is wrong, the handle is too long, the head is way too big, causing undue strain, and it's too curved to be good for planting, dividing or doing most of the other things we do in the garden.

The Ladies' Spade has a shorter handle so you can get real leverage when digging. It has a special T handle that is somewhat smaller than on other Sneeboer spades, because it fits better in a smaller hand. The handle is ash from certified sustainable forests.

Then you get down to the business end, where shiny stainless steel (that will put the sheen on your favorite kitchen appliance to shame) is so pretty it makes you not want to get it dirty. Sturdy steps protect your foot from strain after a day of dividing the toughest perennials. The blade is so sharp (and easily sharpened) that it laughs in the face of the most densely packed hosta, and it has the perfect subtle curve to make moving soil easy while still allowing you to cut a straight line.

I did a lot of research before I ordered this spade. It sells for $131 and a tool definitely has to be worth it to drop that kind of money on it. I was worried that it would be too small for my liking, but then the nice folks at Garden Tool Co. (more on them in a second), talked me through all the various sizes of spades and told me that it's important to work efficiently, and you do that by using the proper size tool. Sure, my old gargantuan shovel moved more soil than my spade does, but it also gave me a shoulder ache after 15 minutes. I can work with the Ladies' Spade for hours on end without muscle fatigue.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that you don't take good enough care of your garden tools to own something so great. But remember when you got your first pair of really good (and pricey) sunglasses? Suddenly you stopped losing sunglasses every two weeks. You stopped throwing them in the bottom of your purse only to have them emerge mangled. Two years passed and you found yourself still wearing the good sunglasses. That's sort of what it's like with good tools: you take care of them if you love them.

Look at it this way: You spend hours upon hours gardening. You may very well spend more time gardening than any other leisure activity. So why would you have crappy tools? Why wouldn't you have a tool that will serve you well for the rest of your gardening life (Sneeboer has a lifetime warranty on its tools) and might even serve your kids as well? There's something comforting about a garden tool you can give to someone in your will.

This is a special spade made in Holland by true craftsmen at Sneeboer, which has been making some of the finest gardening tools in the world since 1913. But this spade is special for another reason as well. Blake and Anne Schreck founded Garden Tool Co. after a frustrating experience with an edger from a big box store. They now have a store in Colorado as well as an excellent website. And despite the fact that they are busy (I saw on their Facebook page that they shipped 435 tools last week), their customer service is outstanding. If you have a question about a product (like I did when I was looking for a spade), drop them an email or give them a call. I can almost guarantee you'll end up wanting to buy everything they sell and move to Colorado to be close to their store.

There is so much bad customer service out there. Giant retailers don't really have to care if you are satisfied because when you're just one out of millions of customers, you don't matter. Trust me, you matter to Blake and Anne. It is fun to do business with a company like that.

But let's get to it. You've made it through far too many words and I know you're anxious to know how you get your hands on this great tool.

1. Log in with the Rafflecopter widget below.
2. If you can, leave me a comment about why you'd like to win this. Because of commenting issues this week (sorry about that) it's not required it for entry, but I'd love to hear from you.
3. Use the Rafflecopter widget to gain additional entries (such as by liking the Garden Tool Co. Facebook page, which you should do anyway because they do occasional giveaways and have great stuff on their page).

And it's not required for entry, but do yourself a favor and check out the Garden Tool Co. website to see all of the great tools they have there. And if you don't win, think about picking up something and say hi to Blake and Anne when you do.

The giveaway is open for entries for a week. And remember to enter to win my other favorites that I'm giving away this week:

The Perfect Garden Hose
My favorite soil knife
Manure tea

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Welcome to Day 3 of my favorite giveaways, where I'm giving away all the gardening stuff I love best. Today I'm giving something I guarantee will make your garden grow better.

I know you just rolled your eyes. Or scoffed. Or thought, "She's nuts." You may be right on that last one, but hear me out on this giveaway.

Think of all the benefits of compost and composted manure in your garden. You don't question that, right? Imagine if you could bottle that goodness? Manure tea is the answer.

Authentic Haven Brand soil conditioner teas are giant "tea" bags filled with dried, high-quality cow or horse manure. There is also an alfalfa variety. Either way, brewing it couldn't be easier. I just fill up a five-gallon bucket and drop in a "tea" bag. Wait a day and then use it.

And it's what happens next that is right up there with garden magic. Use the so-called MooPoo tea (which is a too-fun nickname that I prefer) by watering plants with it, using it as a foliar feed or as a soak for bareroot plants, bulbs or new transplants. When I buy small starter plants that I grow on in pots for awhile before transplanting to the garden, I always give them a few-second soak in MooPoo tea. You can read more about how to use it here.

Anytime a plant is stressed or looks in need of a boost, I reach for the MooPoo tea and I feel like it often helps. It's not a panacea, but in my mind, it's close. It's also a no-brainer: You're never going to hurt a plant with it like you might with many other fertilizers or amendments.

I almost always have a batch of tea brewing and just a few weeks ago I bought several bags to get me through the first part of the growing season.

If you read a lot of gardening blogs, you've probably heard about MooPoo tea before. The stuff has a pretty strong following. But if you've never had a chance to actually try it, you're going to get a chance to fix that today. Authentic Haven Brand has generously donated two sample three-packs (each three-pack is good for up to 15 gallons of tea) so that two wonderful readers can give it a shot.

Here's how you can enter:
1. Log in on the widget below.
2. Leave a comment (by clicking the large, highlighted link at the bottom of the post that displays the number of comments) telling me if there is a "special" plant in your garden that you give a little extra love.
3. Earn additional entries by doing other tasks in the widget.

If for some reason you cannot comment, drop me an email at and I'll make sure that your entry is included. The giveaway will remain open for a week.

And remember that you can also still enter to win other giveaways from this week:
Monday: The Perfect Garden Hose
Tuesday: My favorite soil knife

And make sure to come back tomorrow when I'll be giving away a tool you won't want to miss.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Don't forget this is the week of all my favorite giveaways. Click here to for the soil knife giveaway and here for the Perfect Garden Hose.

I garden in cycles. Every couple years, I create a new garden area (i.e. last year I redid the back yard), which is a ton of work, and then the next year I think to myself, "Oh I'll just do maintenance this year." What really ends up happening is that I just seem to buy with somewhat reckless abandon because I don't have a specific plan or "budget" (that word is always in quotes when it relates to my garden) to guide me.

From afar, the columnar apple looks like a big stick, but up close there are signs of life to come.

In addition to the ridiculous number of dahlias I bought over winter, many of which are currently in pots in my house as I wait for them to sprout, I also went a little tree crazy at the nursery a couple weekends ago. I brought home one tree that fit in my car: a columnar apple. This replaces a sickly 'Fine Line' Buckthorn that suffered the fate of living in shade for too long and it just couldn't recuperate. By the way, I love the idea of planting small fruit trees right in the middle of an ornamental garden because I think they are beautiful. An apple blossom might be the most romantic flower in the world.

That's what the fringe tree looked like when we planted it back in 2011.

And here it is now in it's new location, looking quite shrimpy with the big beech in the background.

The fringe tree off the deck has been moved. It can't say I didn't warn it. Because I did. Of all the small trees in our yard, that one takes center stage because of its proximity to the deck and prominence in the back yard. I planted it four years ago and I feel like I've been more than a little patient with it. Sure, it's grown a little, but it's still sort of spindly. Worse, it gives me approximately two lame flowers a year and I've not seen any sign of that number getting larger over the years. Sorry, fringe tree, you're going to have to put on a better show than that if you want that coveted spot.

Yes, part of this is my impatience coming through, but more and more, I just don't have a lot of hope for this tree. But it's not the end of the road for the fringe tree. He (or she, and that may be part of the problem as far as the flowering goes) has been moved to a lovely little spot by the creek, which is actually sunny now, thanks to the removal of a couple of very large trees last year.

With luck, we will see a few flowers on 'Ann' this year.

In its place is Ann. Magnolia 'Ann,' that is. She's part of the "Little Girl" series of magnolias that stay quite compact but put on the kind of show you'd expect from a magnolia. They do tend to be a little shrubby, which is not what I'm looking for in that spot, but I was able to find a tree-form 'Ann' that will allow the canopy to hover a few feet off the ground. Truth be told, I really wanted 'Jane,' which has pink blossoms that open to white, but it wasn't available in the tree form and I felt that was more important.

It's sort of fugly, but perhaps 'Ann' will grow into herself. The green stake was temporarily holding the clematis that had been growing up the fringe tree. I had to carefully untangle it from the fringe tree and temporarily tied it to the stake and then reattach it to the new magnolia.
I will admit, when I got this tree home I wondered what I was thinking when I chose it (honestly, I was exhausted and they only had two left to choose from). It doesn't have great shape (it has almost no branches on one side), but once you've borrowed a truck to drag a tree home via a one-hour drive, you're pretty much planting that sucker. Four years from now we might be in the same place, but for now I'm giving it a chance and hoping for the best.

We also added a crabapple, again in the newly sunny area made possible by the removal of diseased or damaged trees last year. Not only will it offer some additional screening from our neighbors to the north, it will be a perfect focal point from our living room window.

To be honest, crabapples scare me a little. Is there any other tree more well-known for its disease problems? And for every gorgeous crabapple I've seen, I can think of two that look terrible and are badly in need of a restorative pruning. I started my search for the right tree by looking for disease resistance and size. I also didn't want one that would get too horizontal.

It looks like very little so far, but hopefully it will become a star in the yard.

I'm fortunate to have an excellent tree nursery near me that has great information online. In their plant reference guide they have a chart on crabapples and I used it to narrow down my choices to two: 'Coralburst' and 'Royal Raindrops,' both of which have excellent disease resistance. Ultimately we went with 'Coralburst' just because we liked the flower color better.

All of the trees are planted and none of them look like anything yet because they've yet to flower or leaf out, which is why the pictures (admittedly hastily taken early in the morning), but I'm hoping the early-season move will ultimately be beneficial to them by shocking them less by the move.

And it's nice to have it done. It's always fun to get a tree, but planting a tree is a chore.


I've written about the prize for the second day of giveaways this week so many times on the blog, regular readers are probably sick of hearing about it. But the fact is, you'll rarely find me in the garden without a hori hori (or a soil knife, if you prefer the term).

A hori hori does almost everything I need a hand tool to do. Most often I use it to weed, either by popping up them up, or by digging deep and cutting the root. I also use it to plant smaller plants, using it sort of like a trowel. I also deadhead with it, cut open bags, trim twine and generally walk around the garden feeling like a badass (carrying a giant knife will do that).

Last year I talked about the hori horis I've loved before. I ended up getting the A.M. Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife and I've been using it for a year (and wrote about it here). I've found it to have some important benefits over other soil knives I've used. For one, the handle is rounded and much more comfortable in your hand. It is also bright orange which is a much bigger deal than I realized. Because I often stick my knife in the ground, I used to lose them all the time. For weeks at a time. The orange helps with that a lot.

So today I'm giving away an A.M. Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife to one lucky reader. This one's on me because that's how much I like this thing. I bet you will too.

To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below to login and leave a comment telling me about your favorite garden tool.

IMPORTANT: In order to leave a comment, you need to go to the bottom of the post and click on "50 comments" (or whatever the number is up to) in order to leave your comment. I've made it bigger and highlighted it to help you find it.  Additional entries are available by liking The Impatient Gardener on Twitter or Instagram.

Yesterday, several people reported problems with commenting. I've changed the commenting form view in hopes that that will help (apparently with the way it was, you had to have third party cookies turned on in your browser). If you have a hard time commenting, just drop me an email at and I'll make sure you're entered.

I'll pick a winner on May 6. And don't forget, you can still enter to win a Perfect Garden Hose.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Every day this week I'm giving away one of my favorite gardening tools. I've written about all of them and I'm hoping that whoever the lucky winner of each item is will share my enthusiasm and fall just as in love with these tools as I am.

I'm kicking off this big week by giving away a hose. OK, I'll admit, hoses aren't flashy and they aren't the most exciting things in the world, but I'd be willing to bet that most gardeners use them more than any other tool in their garden. And if you've ever had a bad hose, you know how frustrating they can be.

Here's what I require in a hose: It needs to be light enough to move around easily, but large enough to have enough water flow to power a water wand or sprinkler (I briefly tried one of those light, skinny garden hoses and I could even use my water wand with it because there wasn't enough water pressure). It needs to have heavy-duty brass ends that last and don't leak. Crucially, a hose must not kink. On the scale of terrifically frustrating things, a kink down the line of your hose is right up there with metal folding chair legs that insist on intermingling.

I found the Tuff-Guard Perfect Garden Hose four years ago and I've been using the same two since then. Having and intensely using a hose for four years is a first for me, so in addition to having all the attributes that I require in a hose, it also has longevity. I can't tell you how nice it is to pull a hose out of the garage in spring and know that it's just going to work. It's not going to leak or have developed a random hole or somehow grown a kink that will not come out no matter what over winter.

I've written about this hose before, including here and here.

The nice folks at the Perfect Garden Hose have agreed to give away a 50-foot hose in any color to one lucky winner. I have boring old gray so that it blends in with the patio a little better when I get lazy and don't coil it up, but it comes in a bunch of fun colors.

Entering is easy: Just use the Rafflecopter widget below to log in and then leave a comment (go to the bottom of the post and look for the highlighted # of posts link) telling me what color you want your hose to be or just what your favorite color is. Additional entries can be gained through other tasks in the widget. I'll pick a winner on May 5.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

FRIDAY FINDS (and a giveaway announcement)

A quick note before I get into Friday Finds:
Next week I'm going to be doing a giveaway EVERY DAY. I've assembled some of my very favorite gardening items (most of which you'll find I've written about before) and I'm giving them away to you. Although I didn't plan it this way, it happens to coincide with the 6th anniversary of this blog, so maybe we can say it's a mini celebration of that too. You're not going to want to miss this (one of the items is my absolute favorite Sneeboer Ladies' Spade from Garden Tool Co.)!

Erin (a different, more photogenic one) is sharing her favorite flowers for small spaces.

The last dinner party I hosted for non-family was a disaster. I mean, it was really, really bad. Next time I shall follow Ina's advice.
New House New Home photo
Heather has a great list of excellent spring perennials. Why are there no primroses in my garden?

We're fortunate to not be facing the water situation that the western U.S. is, but every garden has some dry soil somewhere. Lynne has a great list of perennials that tolerate and even thrive in dry soil.

Native plants are so darn charming.

The gardening agenda for the weekend is packed. Last weekend I bought some trees that need to be picked up at the nursery before they leaf out and get them planted. I'm excited about the trees but not looking forward to planting them. Trees are heavy! I also need to get some lily bulbs planted, do a little weed torching while the weeds are small and dig out the entire small bed by the patio. The plants that are there will be moved and I'm replacing all of the soil there in preparation for a whole new look.

I feel like I need to get ahead on a few gardening chores because I have a few other spring projects planned that will take some time. The trim on the deck needs restaining this year and touchups need to be done on the garage pergola. I also want to get the cellar door repainted and that may even happen this weekend.

What's your weekend plan?


Friday Finds is coming later but first I wanted to share an update with you.

Remember the bulb container I planted in fall? I kept it in the (unheated) garage all winter and brought it out maybe six weeks ago or so, putting it in a warm and sunny spot on the patio. And for a time there was a lot of progress. Plants were popping up (interestingly I think some tulips were coming up which were supposed to late-blooming tulips and the last thing to emerge) and I was looking forward to a big, colorful show.

Poor little bulb leaves nibbled by critters.

And then I came out one morning and the whole thing had been nibbled down. I guess even things in pots on the patio are no longer safe. One of these days I'm going to learn and just protect everything from the deer herd, but for some reason that's a lesson I need to learn every year.

Other bulbs should emerge from the container (although I wish they would hurry up, I was expecting blooms by now) and I'm going to move it up onto the deck, where presumably the deer won't go, although at this point I guess I wouldn't be surprised to see them standing in my kitchen looking in the fridge.

There is lots of spring to come. The first daffodils in the yard just bloomed this week, a welcome sight that is a harbinger of the color in the making.


I started more things from seed this year than I ever have and I'm so happy I did. More than just the satisfaction of growing from seeds and the fact that I'll have a well-stocked garden for pennies, it kept me busy during those hardest months for gardeners. It was lovely to tend to something green.

In fact, I'm still tending. Our last frost date is somewhere around May 10 so I won't be planting anything that is sensitive to cold until after that (by at least a week). Some things, like basil and nasturtiums have just recently been sown. With the exception of a few larger things or things that don't like root disturbance, everything was sown in soil blocks and then potted up into either 4-inch or 3.5-inch pots.

Plants in my hardening-off house.
But the back room, where I set up some grow lights, was turning into a scene from "Little Shop of Horrors" and something had to get out of there. I ended up buying a large temporary greenhouse that I use mostly for hardening things off. That has created room in the house for the dozens of dahlias I'm starting in pots. Dahlias just need warmth to sprout, but not light, so they are mostly stacked up. As they sprout, I'll move them into the greenhouse to grow on.

Redbor kale
As far as growing from seeds goes, I think I can qualify most of my efforts as successes. The redbor kale, which I will grow as an ornamental (although there's no reason I can't snitch a couple leaves here and there) in the circle garden is ready to transplant any time. I'll be growing other kinds of kale for eating, but I plan on direct sowing these in the garden: I can't start everything inside!

Nicotiana alata
The nicotiana alata is the big success story of my seed starting. The plants are lovely and healthy. Just last week they all tried to start flowering and I had to nip out the buds. In fact the only problem with these is that they grew much more quickly than I anticipated and they are going to get a little tight in their pots until I can get them planted (especially since a few are destined for containers that don't usually get planted until the end of May).

Signet marigolds

I fell in love with signet marigolds last year when I picked up a few at our master gardener plant sale. They have charming little edible flowers and citrus-scented foliage that is pleasant to me, but not to critters. I found the "Tangerine Gem" seeds to be easier to grow than "Lemon Gem" but I have enough of each to spread around the garden.

I'm also growing "Geisha Girl" calendula which I like for its flowers but I'm also hoping to learn how to use it in tinctures and creams (it's great for cuts and burns).

Sweet peas

Gomphrey (aka globe amarinth) didn't germinate as well as I had hoped, but I have enough of them. And the sweet peas, at least those that escaped the wrath of a cat hellbent on eating them every time she sneaked in the back room, are doing pretty well. All have been nipped back to create bushier growth.

Bronze fennel is gorgeous and I'm hoping I can get these plants to a decent size before putting them in the garden. I love the airiness of fennel. It's also a host plant for swallowtail butterflies so if it all gets eaten, I'll at least feel good about it.

Just sprouted basil.

The basil has just germinated but looks to be in good shape.

As is often the case with gardening, sometimes the things you want to succeed the most, end up struggling for no apparent reason. That is the story of my verbena bonariensis seeds. After sowing them the first time after chilling them in the fridge and having no germination, I consulted other sources that said nothing of doing that and did a second sowing. My information says that they can take 14 to 28 days to germinate and that they need darkness but warmth to germinate. For three weeks, my verbena seeds have stayed in the darkness of the basement on a heating mat, first covered with newspaper, then with the plastic cover of the flat covered by a towel. I would say that maybe a third or fewer have germinated and while I've not brought it into the light, I think it's time to start thinking about doing that. I haven't seen anything new germinate in recent days to make me think that any more are going to.

It's funny that the verbena is being so picky. For many people, it's almost considered a weed as it reseeds so freely. I've never found a self-sown seedling in my garden, either because it's too cold or maybe because I'm too quick with weeding (although that seems unlikely with my less-than-stellar weeding habits). Still, my dreams of a tray of verbena seem to be fading.

What did you grow from seed this year and how's it going?


Next week I'll touch base on the progress on all the seeds I've been starting this year, but thanks to this new mini greenhouse, I'll be able to get most of the plants out of the back room this weekend. For about $130 this was gardening money very well spent.

Great. First I wanted pygmy goats, now I want this cool pygmy goat house.  (Sidenote: I found a chicken in the woods the other night and it followed me home but Mr. Much More Patient told me I couldn't keep it and had to take it back to its house, which happens to be down the road a bit.)
Home-ology Modern Vintage photo

I don't have kids, but I think these woodland creature face masks are just the sweetest. I bet kids would LOVE them.

How many of Martha Stewart's favorite clematis (clematises?) do you grow?

Speaking of Martha, blogger extraodinaire and man of all things related to great taste Loi Tone is going to be featured in MS Living. I can't wait!

I've been putting up each new episode of the fabulous Gardeners' World on the Youtube channel every Friday, usually by 10 p.m. or so (depending on how well the Internet is working). You can watch them all here.

Patti's sharing some suggestions on her favorite annuals for containers.

Have a great weekend! What's on your agenda?


After one of the more challenging weeks of my working career, I was absolutely spent going into the weekend. I desperately needed to just stop thinking about everything for awhile.

Thank goodness Mother Nature cooperated and presented two nearly perfect spring days for me to get lost in the garden. And that's exactly what I did, getting caught up on some cleanup and a few small garden projects.

chive hedge
Right now they are just little clumps of chives around the perimeter of the circle garden, but soon they'll form a mini hedge.

The best thing I did in the garden was continue to work on the chive hedge in the circle garden. I started this as an experiment a couple years ago on just one section of the garden but was so thrilled with it, I've been slowly working toward extending it around the entire garden, including the interior borders. The lovely thing about chives is that they are so easy to grow and divide. The entire hedge has come from dividing the chives I had and dividing a few from my mother's garden. Because they grow quickly, I can sometimes divide them again at the end of the season.

I've made it almost all the way around the perimeter, and the one section is completed on the interior as well. I'm growing a few from seed as well and as soon as those plants are hardened off, I should only have a small amount left to do.

I love the hedge for a variety of reasons. For one, I think it lends structure to this garden that has always suffered a little bit from an identity crisis. I think that's a factor of having too many gardens; I spread my efforts across too many spaces so it can take a long time for one to be just right. But it also has the benefit of keeping out rabbits. I don't fool myself into thinking that the deer will give a rip about chives, but I think bunnies will. And lastly, they are so beautiful when they are in bloom and they are a huge draw to pollinators. Plus, why not have a hedge you can eat.

Unfortunately, in my much-needed Zen state of gardening, I failed to pause and take photos. If I had you might have seen an interesting development in the skinny patio garden. Things don't grow there like they should. The results of a soil test shed some light on that, but I've always felt like the inability of the climbing rose to thrive there was indicative of a larger problem. Turns out it probably was just the rose.

Since I'm completely redoing that bed—digging out everything and moving it or tossing it and replacing the soil—I dug up the climbing rose in order to move it. What I found was roots, in the perfect shape of gallon container, trapped in a circle. Although I purchased it in a two- or three-gallon container, clearly it had been grown in a gallon nursery pot for too long, then transplanted in a larger pot for sale, but remained rootbound. I'm irritated about it and frankly I'll be a little more careful about where I buy roses from now on. I trimmed up the roots to get rid of some of those that were strangling everything and moved it over by the veggie garden. Honestly, I don't give it a great chance of thriving there, but I'll continue to nurse it along.

Virginia bluebells
While cleaning out the beds I unearthed the tiny purple tips of the Virginia bluebells popping up.

So many leaves fell last last fall that the gardens were really messy. I ended up just using the leaf blower (I detest leaf blowers because I find them obnoxious but I recognize that they have their place and I'm pretty sure this is it) to clean out the beds. Unfortunately I also blew away just about every plastic plant tag, so I made a mental note about being better to use my metal plant labels.

Of course there were little projects along the way as well. I divided a few perennials, pruned some clematis and swung by my mom's garden to give her some help digging all the plants out of a garden where a new deck will be situated.

In a couple months a weekend of this kind of hard-labor gardening (as opposed to plant shopping and planting) will seem dreary and monotonous, but for now it was glorious respite from the more serious bits of life. My hamstrings are sore and my fingernails are gross but I wouldn't have it any other way.


New House New Home photo

Heather is looking back at springs past.

I will absolutely be making these cocktails this spring.

Would you ever paint your house black? Look how cute this one is.

I do love dahlias and I'm not the only one. I will be potting up dozens of them this weekend to give them a head start on the season.

Phenology via duck.

I think glass cloches are stunning pieces of art, not to mention incredibly useful, but I can't say I've ever seen one for sale other than from specialty retailers.

That's a wrap for this week! The weather is set to be sunny and in the low 50s here so I'm looking foward to some quality time in the garden unless it's too wet from all the rain we've had this week. Other than that, I'm a week late on starting my basil seeds so that's on the docket for tonight, as well as potting on calendula seedlings. What's in your weekend plants?


I've never been known to whip through projects quickly, but adding a pergola to our garage certainly took longer than most. Although I first mentioned adding a pergola (among other changes) on the blog way back in October 2013, we didn't start actually building it until last fall. 

We used this article from This Old House for reference, but for the most part we just sort of winged it. I drew up the design for it on graph paper using our existing pergola on the deck as a guide. I wanted the two pergolas to reference each other to help tie the garage into the house.

I bought the three brackets from Pro Wood Market and these were by far the biggest expense in this project. I choose a style similar to the brackets by the front door, again to try to keep some symmetry between the house and garage. You could certainly build your own brackets, but given that I wanted a little more detail it seemed like it would be much easier to just buy them.

After consulting with our neighbor, who is a contractor, we used large lag bolts and a little construction adhesive to attach the brackets. It was important that these be very strong because they bear the entire weight of the pergola. 

You can see the thickness of the beam here.

The next step was the main beam. Although the pergola on the deck has two long boards serving as what I'm calling the beam, because the beam on the garage needed to span 24 feet, we opted to create one thick beam. We thought it would be easier to laminate 2x8 boards together to create one long beam of double thickness. Before doing that, we cut the end profile on the end pieces, then we used two 12-foot long boards for the front and three 8-foot long boards for the back. We attached them all using construction adhesive and a lot of screws.

I designed the garage pergola to mimic the style of the pergola on the deck.

And that's where we ran into our major snag of the project. We didn't do a good job of lining up the "crowns" of the boards (all lumber has an inclination to curve one way or another. Generally, you want boards to curve in when you're laminating them), so it just wasn't coming together nicely. Before the construction adhesive dried, we pulled off the offending board, turned it around and reattached it. And that's when we realized that we had one of the curved end details pointing down as it should and the other end detail pointing up. So we had to fix it again. 

I also filled all of the screw holes and the seam where the boards met on the bottom with exterior wood filler. I used caulk on the top seam. Unfortunately, I obviously didn't use enough caulk on the top, because water permeated the seam, causing the wood filler on the bottom to fail and the stain to peel away.

I should also add here that all pieces were primed with alkyd primer (I use Benjamin Moore Fresh Start) and stained with solid Arborcoat stain, tinted to match Benjamin Moore Simply White. I know it sounds completely weird to prime before staining, but that's what you have to do (according to the can of stain and the contractor who did our house renovation). I'm not sure what makes solid stain all that different from paint, but I go with whatever works.

When attaching the beam, we measured a certain distance back from the end of the bracket, rather than out from the garage, which is not at all even.  We attached it with several long screws into the bracket.

Mr. Much More Patient was far better qualified than I to run the band saw.

We used the same end profile on the beam and the purlins (a term I had never heard before reading the This Old House article), and copied it directly from the house pergola. At first we tried cutting the profile with a jigsaw, but our jigsaw skills are not great. In the end, we borrowed a friend's business workshop which had a bandsaw and we were able to whip out all the cuts in a short period of time.
We made the purlins out of 2x8 lumber and kept all of them long on the garage end so that we could fit them individually on our less-than-square garage. Then we notched out an area for the beam, so the purlins would nestle on top of it. Everything was measured from the profile end so we could fit them to the garage later.

As far as design, I wanted to incorporate the double sets of purlins and I wanted the center set to straddle the midpoint of the beam. We made the space between each purlin in a set a little larger than the pergola on the house because we were covering a much larger area. 

We used scrap plywood fit between the studs on the inside of the garage as backing plates for the purlins.

Attaching the purlins was definitely a two-person job. First, we used scrap plywood fit between the studs on the inside of the garage where we would be attaching the purlins as a backing plate so there would be structure beyond just the siding holding them on. These backing plates were stapled in and we used a little construction adhesive as well. 

This is the view on the top of the beam. The pencil marks indicate where the purlin should go and right before we attached it, we dabbed on a little construction adhesive to hold down the notched bit.

We mapped out the location of each purlin on top of the beam, penciling in guides for each location.
On the outside, we used a level to measure the distance from the back side of the beam to the garage, thus giving us the measurement we needed to cut the purlin to from the back side of the notch. We then made sure the purlin was square to the garage and the beam and level, and traced the location of the end of the purlin on the garage. Then we drilled two holes from the outside of the garage where the butt of the purlin would go. 

While MMP screwed in the purlin from inside the garage, I held it in place and made sure it remained square to the beam.

I stood on the ladder outside and re-lined up the purlin with our guide marks, double checking for level and square, used just a dab of construction adhesive on the top of the beam to hold down the end of the purlin, then Mr. Much More Patient screwed from inside the garage through the backing plate and into the purlin. 

It was all pretty time consuming because we had to repeat the process for each of the 14 purlins, but what we ended up with was perfectly even ends.

I still need to put plugs in the brackets where the lag bolts are.

I still need to plug the holes on the brackets, fix up the failed wood filler on the beam and touch up the stain, but the structure is finished.

And look how far we've come in a year and a half.

Before our garage looked like it was suitable only for being torn down (and we thought about it). But a new roof, paint job and the pergola have breathed new life into it. Paving the driveway didn't hurt either. New garage doors would complete the look and hopefully that will happen soon but I have to price some out first. 

I would love to grow something up the pergola but it's far too shady there for anything to grow decently. One option for some additional may be to hang baskets from each bracket but I can easily see myself forgetting to water them. 

One of our new neighbors to the south is an accomplished architect and paid us the huge compliment of telling us that the pergola "did wonders" for our garage. I'm calling that a win.

Here's some of the other stuff we've done to spruce up the exterior over the past year or so:
Painted the service door
Had the garage painted
Paved the driveway
Added the containerized boxwood
Redesigned the back yard garden


If you're hear to read about the garage pergola (like I promised you would in this space last Friday), I'm sorry. It's been a crazy week at work and it just didn't happen. But it will. Next week. I promise.

We're hosting Easter at our house. I like having Easter because it's a low-pressure holiday. (Edited: Previously I launched into gripe session about a company's screw up here, but they fixed it and made it right so I thought it was only fair to remove that bit.)

I'll make these scalloped potatoes again. They were fantastic last year and I'm so glad I thought to pin the recipe so I could find it again.

I think I'll try to do some flower arranging myself for table decorations. I'm a pretty sad flower arranger, but there is some great inspiration here.

Once again, the Canadians are kicking some American butt when it comes to design shows. Sarah Richardson's newest show "Sarah's Rental Cottage" airs next week in the great white north. I'm hoping I'll be able to catch it through the Hola IP extension because it could take years to end up on U.S. television. Of everything Sarah has done, I love her cottage the most so I'm very excited about this.

Here's a great guide to finding and surviving plant sales.

And here's a great guide to home essentials from Lauren Liess. Some inexpensive things, some luxury items and a lot of great stuff in between.

And lastly, my beloved Wisconsin Badgers take on the Kentucky whatevers Saturday night in the Final Four. If there was ever a team to love it's this group of fun-loving team players. I hope they can play the game of their lives to get past Kentucky.

Have an excellent weekend everyone!


The results of the soil tests of the skinny bed next to the house and what I call the main garden just off the patio came were not what I would call earth-shattering, but ironically the one thing I thought I knew is probably what I was most wrong about.

One of the reasons I wanted to test the skinny garden alongside the house is because I feel like plants just aren't flourishing there like they should be. I plan to renovate that whole bed this spring, pulling out almost everything and starting mostly from scratch, but before I invest the time and money in doing that I wanted to make sure there's nothing odd going on there, like something leaching from the foundation into the soil.

Here are the results from that bed.

So what does it all mean? Let's break it down.

The levels of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium are not a big surprise. You can't really accurately measure nitrogen levels outside of the growing season and since nitrogen levels change constantly as it is being used by plants or becomes tied up in organic matter, it can be difficult to really know what's going on with nitrogen. Most gardens can use some supplemental nitrogen at the right time of the year. It's not a good idea to add nitrogen early in the year when you need plants to concentrate energy into root growth or at the end of the season, when a flush of leafy growth may not harden off in time to deal with winter.

Most gardens also have adequate levels of potassium and phosphorus and you can see that the levels are off the charts in this section of mine.

The organic matter level is at 7.6%, which is pretty good (you don't want this number to get above 10% and it's important to remember that the more organic matter, the more it ties up nitrogen in breaking it down).

But the number to look at is the pH; the one number I thought I had a good handle on before doing this test. At 7.5, my soil pH is definitely higher than I thought it was (I was under the impression that it was more in the 7.2 range). A pH of 7 is neutral. Anything below that is considered acidic, anything above it is alkaline. And while a lot of plants can handle a range of pH, 7.5 is definitely at the high end for where plants will thrive.

For instance, I continue to attempt to grow a climbing rose in this bed and although they grow, they don't thrive like they should given that it is nearly perfect conditions for them. The last few years they've also suffered from aphid attacks, which is in my opinion a sign of a less-than-healthy plant. The optimum pH for roses is 6.5.

The other problem with high pH soils is that they can make it difficult for plants to use micronutrients in the soil. One of the recommendations in the report addresses this. "Some ornamentals such as roses may show yellowing (chlorosis) from iron and/or manganese deficiency at high soil pH. Treat problems related to micronutrient deficiency when soil pH is above optimum with foliar spray containing iron and manganese 1 to 2 times during the growing season."

The results of the main garden test showed similar results.

The pH is just a touch lower and the organic matter just a touch higher. I've been having a few issues with cholorosis on my large Limelight hydrangea in this bed and I now think that's due to it needing some micronutrients because of the high pH.

There is a difference in texture between the soil sample from the skinny garden, top, and the main garden, bottom.

There's more to soil than just numbers of course. Another helpful test I could do at home would be to do the soil-in-a-jar test that most of us probably did in school to determine texture and composition. Fine Gardening has information on how to do a more elaborate version of this test. Just from looking at my soil samples it was clear to me that when I rejuvenate the skinny bed I need to work on creating a more moisture retentive soil.

So what's the bottom line here?

  1. There's no need to seek out balanced (i.e. 10-10-10) fertilizers because my soil doesn't need any more phosphorus or potassium than it already has. I can spend my money concentrating on just adding nitrogen.
  2. More than fertilizing, I need to be focused on bringing down the pH of my soil. I'll never grow azaleas, but I think I can make some serious strides to getting the pH closer to neutral. There are two main ways I can achieve this: aluminum sulphate or elemental sulfur. Elemental sulfur will require less but will take longer to work. Aluminum sulphate works faster but requires about six times more to get the same pH change of elemental sulfur. 
  3. I need to consider incorporating an iron or manganese foliar spray for plants showing signs of chlorosis. 
Will I recoup the $30 I spent on the tests? Probably, although even if I didn't, knowing what I need to do to improve my garden would be well worth the $30.