A MOST LOVELY GARDEN SURPRISE

Rarely do I have occasion to see my neighbors' yards in daylight these days. On weekdays most dog walks happen at dusk or later and on weekends we head to the beach whenever possible. So it was a most pleasant surprise when I spotted something surprising in a neighbor's yard when stiff winter winds forced us to walk on the road this weekend.

I'm not sure I would have even spotted this gem had I not glanced in the direction one of the dogs was detouring toward, but it caught the corner of my eye.

Do you see it?


How about now?


It's a small tree that has been spray-painted acid green (the same color, I think, as my obelisk). I don't know anything about this tree, whether it's dead or alive (I can't think spray paint is good for a living tree, but I'll keep a close eye on it in spring), or who meticulously painted every bit of it.

It's not in a particularly important part of their yard, which was massively re-landscaped a few years ago, but that's what I love about it. It's a little surprise in an area that would be otherwise overlooked.

I love it so much that I'm going to keep an eye out for a dead little tree in our woods that I could do the same thing to.


 What do think about spray-painting trees? Love it or leave it?



FRIDAY FINDS: DESPERATE TO GARDEN EDITION

The gardening bug is biting so hard these days it's not even funny. I'm even planning to check just how frozen the ground is in an area where I want to do soil test. It's sort of ridiculous. Anyway, this week's Friday Finds proves that it's gardening that's on my mind these days.

The All-American Selections winners are interesting. These are plants chosen by a non-profit group for "significant achievements and the promise of gardening success." Two are impatiens (these resistant to the downy mildew that scared people from buying them last year) and several vegetables. The basil selection sounds very interesting to me.

I was thinking of doing a post on planning out when to start seeds indoors, but why reinvent the wheel when Margaret Roach has such an easy and convenient tool on her website?



One way to satisfy the gardening urge is to focus on the backyard birds. Gen has some great tips on attracting and caring for the feathered friends in your back yard.

I'm planning to start as many seeds as possible in soil blocks this year. I bought a soil blocker last fall and I can't wait to use it. But you have to use special soil. Here are some recipes.

I think I'm going to try to grow sweet peas this year. They are so beautiful but mostly I think they have such a heavenly scent.

Happy garden dreaming, everyone!


BRITISH GARDENING TELEVISION FANS, HAVE I GOT SOMETHING FOR YOU

I can't tell you how happy I am that so many of you have been enjoying the British gardening television shows I've been linking to for the last year. It makes me feel like a normal human being, because when I see a new show pop up on my Youtube feed, I get downright giddy, immediately drop everything I'm doing and sit down and watch it.



And I found another one that I think you'll really like. It's called "Monty Don's Big Dreams, Small Spaces." Just the title encompasses so many things that I love: Monty Don? Obsessed. Big Dreams? Well, yeah, who doesn't have big gardening dreams? Small Spaces: Check.

Sadly there are only five of the hour-long shows. Each episode features two families who are creating new gardens over the course of a year. My man Monty shows up in the beginning to help them with their plans, once or twice in the middle of the project to pitch in and then comes back a year later to see how the garden ended up. The gardens ranged from low-budget overalls to $20,000 dream gardens. Some of the concepts and designs were downright strange, but to Monty's credit, even though you knew he was thinking, 'This is not going to work,' he never tried to talk people out of their dream garden but tried to help them make the design more practical.

So here's my question: What would you do if Monty Don or any other serious gardening expert came to your garden and suggested ways you could improve it? I know I'd be taking notes and probably doing exactly what they suggested. I found it interesting that that's not the case in this series. There were some homeowners who were so set in their plans, no matter how impractical, that they weren't going to listen to a thing Monty said. That sort of blows my mind.

Anyway, give it a watch and see what you think of it. I like it because it's gardening on a bit more approachable level.



And I have even better news for you. I figured out how to set up a Youtube channel with playlists of all my favorite gardening shows. So now you don't have to wade through a mass of links in posts. You can just go to the channel. I got most of the shows I've mentioned before linked there into playlists by show and I'll add more as I find them.

I've added the latest in "The Great British Garden Revival" to that playlist and you may want to check out a show that is airing on a different network called "Show Me Your Garden." There's only one episode up so far but I'll be on the lookout for more. The quality isn't as good as in the BBC shows, unfortunately.

It sounds like "Gardener's World" is set to return in March, which seems like it's ages away.


HOW TO RESEARCH PLANTS

One of the great things about this time of year, when northern gardeners have no choice but to dream rather than do, is that it affords the great luxury of spending a great deal of time on research.

I used to just go to the garden center and buy whatever struck my fancy that day. Sending a gardener to a nursery on the first warm day of spring is like sending someone on a starvation diet to the grocery store. It's not going to end well.



But in recent years I have gotten so much better about researching plants before I buy them. This is particularly true with more expensive plants and that only makes sense. A few years ago I made the mistake of coming up with a long list of well researched plants and then spending weeks trying to find them at a local nursery. Fortunately, at least two of the nurseries I like now publish lists of most of their stock, so I can narrow down cultivars depending on what I can pick up locally.

For smaller plants I can order online and I have had great success with most of the plants I've purchased this way.

About three-quarters of the Fine Gardening magazines I've saved going back to 2008. I started going through them on Sunday when the stress of the Green Bay Packers game was more than I could handle. They are a great source of information and inspiration. 

As I research via the Internet, books and my foot-tall collection of old Fine Gardening magazines, I make a list on my phone so I always have it with me. You never know when you're going to be at a nursery that might have what you're looking for.

How I go about researching a plant depends a bit on where I plan to buy it. If I'll be buying it locally, I try to start with nursery-provided plant lists. Some nurseries don't have their 2015 lists available yet, but if their lists from last year are still on their website that's at least a good starting place.

If I'm buying online, I start with a nursery I trust either through experience or reputation. I often refer to the Garden Watchdog on Dave's Garden to find or check up on a nursery.

After I find a plant I'm interested in, I start with a Google image search. It is amazing how different a plant can look in different circumstances. Nurseries often over-saturate the color in photos to make blooms look more vibrant or the color may be different depending on how much sun it's in. I try to pay special attention to photos by home gardeners or bloggers because I feel like this is a more accurate depiction of how a plant might look in my garden.

If I'm still interested in how the plant looks after I've seen more photos of it, I seek out more information on it. You would be surprised at how different exposure needs, size and blooming information can vary for the same plant. I'm wary of information from breeders because they will only provide the information that casts the plant in the best light. Good nurseries are better about providing less flattering information about a plant because it is in their best interest that you do well with plants you buy from them. Bad nurseries (and big box stores, in my opinion) don't care if the plant lives or dies, they just want you to buy it from them. And some of the most practical information comes from home gardeners and landscape designers (who also have a vested interest in the long-term success of plants).

Here's a comparison of different takes on a beautiful English rose 'Abraham Darby.'

I don't think anyone is going to argue that 'Abraham Darby' isn't a gorgeous rose (and I know plenty of people who adore that rose). But reading reports from actual gardeners (in the last column), offer some pretty interesting tidbits. Several people reported having serious issues with blackspot even when other roses in their gardens were unaffected, even though the nursery says it has "superb" disease resistance.

Other home gardeners reported frustration with its heaving nodding blooms on weaker stems, and there is absolutely no mention of that from either the breeder or the nursery. As a zone 5 gardener, the first thing I look for in a plant is hardiness and while many sources claim 'Abraham Darby' is hardy to zone 4 or 5, the report from at least one gardener that it is not CANE hardy in zone 6 is cause for major concern. There is a difference between plant hardiness (meaning the plant won't die in winter) vs. cane hardiness (meaning the canes won't die back in winter. If a rose isn't cane hardy it will have to regrow every year, meaning that it will not be nearly as big as it otherwise would be. It also means that it's not suitable as a climber.

Of course reports from home gardeners on the Internet have to be taken with a grain of salt. There's really no way to know if that person knows how to grow anything, or what the conditions are like in their yard or if they remembered to water it.

But if you can find a local gardener who you trust and you are confident knows their stuff, then that's as close as one can get to the real facts. I've been searching for a new climbing rose for the front of the house (yes, I swore off roses—again—last year, but I lied—again) and after scouring the Internet and even asking readers and friends, I was pretty confused.  I ended up having a wonderful email exchange with a fellow local master gardener who is a true rosarian. He came up with a great suggestion: 'Autumn Sunset.' We're going to get together this week to talk more about it, so that could still change, but I'm certain I'll get better information from him—someone who grows roses in my area—than most places I could look.

I'm not suggesting that hours of research has to go into every plant purchase you make. One of life's true joys is going to a nursery and just picking up something because it interested you. But that's something I only do with plants of a certain cost and ease of care. If I have to spend a lot of money or time babying a plant, I want to make sure that I choose the correct one from the beginning. Too many gardeners get discouraged because they can't grow X-plant (fill in your favorite plant failure there), when it's quite possible they may not have chosen the correct cultivar in the first place.

Take advantage of these long and torturous gardening-free days to do the research you won't have time for once spring has come and you'd rather be in the garden.


QUELLING THE GARDENING URGE WITH GARDENING TV

I am SO ready to garden. I've started researching plants, planning garden chores and pulling out old copies of gardening magazines for inspiration. And judging by some of the comments I've gotten on Facebook, a lot of you are feeling the same way.

Sounds like it's time for a little dose of some great British gardening television. Sadly there have been no midwinter episodes of Gardeners' World, but I was thrilled to find a new series of The Great British Garden Revival on Youtube. It's not my man Monty, but there is plenty of plant loving going on. Check them out to get your gardening fix.


Episode 1: Roses, climbers and creepers
Episode 2: Daffodils and blossoming trees and shrubs
Episode 3: Rhododendrens and carnations
Episode 4: Scented gardens and tulips
Episode 5: Lavender and knot gardens
Episode 6: Irises and ornamental grasses
Episode 7: Conifers and pelargaroniums



The second season of the Big Allotment Challenge, where they have a gardening competition and contestants compete in grow, make and eat challenges, is also playing now and episodes are going up a day or so after they air across the pond. It's not as fun as a real gardening show but it's better than nothing.

Episode 1
Episode 2

For more links to great British gardening shows, check out my favorites page.


A DIY SIDE TABLE RESCUED FROM THE LAND OF UNFINISHED PROJECTS

Have you ever started a project and then finished it three years later? I do it more often than I care to say.

I remember when I got this table. After my grandmother died, a lot of the furniture from her house was shifted to the family cottage and some of the furniture from the cottage was up for grabs. One of the items was an old Pottery Barn side table that converted to a game table. It had baked in the sun so the veneer was faded and peeling off in many places.

I grabbed it from the junk pile because I figured it could be a fun piece to experiment on. It could only get better.

DIY paint/stain table

Normally this is where I'd show you a photo of the hideous before. And I'm 90% sure I have one. Somewhere. But since I never name my photos, finding it would take a really long time and (insert more excuses here).

I glued down the peeling veneer with some wood glue and sanded the whole thing. Then I stained the top just to bring back the wood color.

I downloaded a quatrefoil pattern off the Internet and transferred it to heavy duty vinyl sticker material. I can't tell you where to get this. I got a piece from a co-worker who makes vinyl decals. After transferring the pattern I painstakingly cut it out using an exacto knife.


When the pattern was cut out, I very carefully started peeling the backing off the part I cut out, since that's the bit I wanted to remain stained, not painted. It took some time to position it properly. The key here was to only peel back about an inch of backing, get that situated on top the table correctly and then slowly peel away the rest of the backing while smoothing down the sticker. It was a little hairy and it would be very difficult with a very intricate pattern, but it worked out fine.

A good sticky primer was the next step, and I used it on the entire table, going right over the top of the vinyl sticker. This was followed by a light sanding and a coat of high gloss paint (Benjamin Moore Aura, which is what I use for most projects).


When the final paint coat was dry to the touch but not completely dry, I peeled off the sticker. In order to keep it from flopping on the painted bits, I cut away the sticker as I pulled it off. In some places it pulled up the edge of the paint a little but I could go back and fix that later.

The only problem was that the paint left a rather noticeable edge where it met the now-exposed wood. So I used 400-grit sandpaper to very carefully knock down the edges. Then I went back and touched up the paint with an artist paintbrush.

All of that left the wood stain looking a little less rich than I had hoped, so I went back with cotton swabs and just touched up the stain, blotting with paper towel as I went.

You gotta love pictures that show off all your sins. This is in the room where we still haven't dealt with the horrible wall texture. On the left side of the photo you can see where I was testing paint samples. That was at least four years ago. With the new table, the art is poorly hung. But hey ... new table, right?

I think this is a look that was probably very in about three years ago and maybe isn't so much anymore, but I like it nonetheless. The drawer still needs a knob but I'm looking for the right one. The table is also probably a tad on the small side for the loveseat it is by, but it replaced a table twice the size and half the height that was there that did nothing but attract clutter, so I'm appreciating the more refined look.

And if nothing else, it is one more forgotten project officially checked off the list.


FRIDAY FINDS

It is deep, dark winter here, but the new year always puts me in the mood to get things done. Today's Friday Finds bears that out.

Sow & Dippity has a great list of things a gardener can do to keep busy until spring. I have to check out some of the gardening apps she mentions.

North Coast Gardening image
I officially received my first seed order (just a few add-on things included with a dahlia order I placed last week) this week. So while we're in the gardening mood, I really enjoyed this 2015 gardening trend report from Gen at North Coast Gardening.


One of my favorite things to do at this time of year is organize. It's one of the few times that I don't feel guilty being inside and really getting into a serious organizational project. If you've not seen them, here are a few of my favorite organizational type things I've done including various kitchen nooks and crannies, designing custom drawers and keeping the laundry under control. I desperately seek a major organization solution in the finished portion of the basement and here's one that I just love. It's a playroom and a pricey option, but nice to look at. I just know there is a way to mimic this look with stuff from Ikea but here's a confession: I don't really understand how to shop at Ikea. Like how do you know that you're going to get everything you need (in one trip since it's far away)? How do you plan for it without being there? 

Know someone who is getting married this year? Erin at Floret Flower Farm lays out her 2015 wedding floral trends and I have to say they are a refreshing change of pace from the packed-tight ball of roses that was popular for so long. Her free-form bouquets are so beautiful.

The Prudent Garden has produced a handy dandy succession planting guide to help you get the most out of your small garden this year. It's one worth printing.

PERENNIAL OF THE YEAR IS ONE WORTH GROWING

Sometimes the choices for plants of the year befuddle me. I feel like maybe the people who choose them ran out of options (which is ridiculous because there are so many great plants out there) or maybe were wooed by something gorgeous but difficult to grow.

I'm very happy to say that that's not at all the case with the Perennial Plant Association's pick for 2015 Perennial Plant of the Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'.

Biokovo is a sturdy, easy-to-grow perennial with multiseason interest. In fact I like it so much that two years ago I planted 36 thumb pots (mini plants) of them. When I read that Biokovo was chosen I immediately went in search of old posts I've done about it and found nothing.

And that's the thing about Biokovo: it's a backup singer, but it's the kind of backup singer who really belts out a tune and who is definitely good enough to be the lead, she just is more comfortable in the background.

Wisconsin Master Gardener photo
 The diminutive blooms on Biokovo are the lightest shade of pink (some call them white but I see light pink) with bright pink stamens and are held 10 to 12 inches off the ground. The blooms start here in late spring and last a good amount of of time.

Several kinds of geraniums (including, I think, 'Biokovo') form a carpet in Linda and Mark's garden that make other plants stand out. That hosta would be gorgeous no matter what, but set off against the geraniums, it is a showstopper.
Linda Brazill/Each Little World photo
What I really love about Biokovo is that it's not a one-trick pony. When the blooms are gone the foliage creates a lush green mat provides great contrast for bright-colored foliage or bold-leaved plants. And when summer gives way to fall, the leaves change into a rainbow of colors. Since the foliage is almost evergreen, there is even some winter interest.

Wisconsin Master Gardener photo

As for care, it's about as easy as it gets. I have it planted in everything from almost full sun to dry part shade (a notoriously challenging place to grow anything) and it has done well. It spreads by rhizomes, but I consider it a mannerly spreader and somewhat less vigorous to the more common but similar (and slightly larger) Geranium macrorrhizum. 

I just give it a light haircut in early spring to tidy it up and that's it. I think you'd be hard pressed to fine an easier care perennial than that. It's hardy in zones 4-8.

Linda Brazill/Each Little World photo
I was first inspired to plant Biokovo after seeing Linda from Each Little World's photos of vast swaths of perennial geraniums. It creates such a lush look along her paths.

I've been wooed into buying "plants of the year" before and not been impressed, but Biokovo is one I can happily say is a favorite of mine. I'm glad its distinction as the perennial of the year will help introduce it to more gardeners. I think it's a keeper.

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS FOR GARDENERS

Traditional new year's resolutions are for the birds, as far as I'm concerned. I gave up making them ages ago. Basically, I try to be a better person than I was the year before.

But I thought it might be fun to make a few resolutions for gardeners. These are specific to me, but I suspect they translate well to most other gardeners.

1. I WILL NOT TAKE ON MORE GARDENING THAN I CAN REASONABLY HANDLE.
I will not get caught up in my zeal for gardening and plan new gardens and garden renovations and 89 new container plantings in February and then actually try to execute them when June comes.

(I totally will. It cannot be helped).


2. I WILL NOT BEAT MYSELF UP WHEN I TAKE ON MORE GARDENING THAN I SHOULD HAVE.
There are worse things in life than being optimistic about your garden.

3. I WILL ACCEPT THAT GARDENS ARE EVER CHANGING IT AND WILL NEVER BE FINISHED OR PERFECT.
There is no better cure for perfectionism than to become a gardener.

There will still be some weeds, and a bare spot here and there. Seeds will grow where they shouldn't and won't grow where they should. Shrubs will stay as small as I expected or grow as large as I had hoped. And it will all be OK. I will strive to accept that joy in gardening comes from the doing, not in it being done.

4. I WILL CLEAN MY TOOLS WHEN I'M FINISHED WITH THEM.
Every time.

5. I WILL SEEK INSPIRATION IN OTHER GARDENS.
A garden that belongs to a gardener who never saw another garden could never be as beautiful as one that belongs to a gardener who takes a little piece of everything he or she sees and brings it home.

Are you making any resolutions for 2015?