2015: A GARDENER'S YEAR IN REVIEW

There are just two hours left in 2015 and although I might be a just bit late on pulling together a little 2015 retrospective, I'd be remiss in not doing so.

In January I talked about the perennial of the year for 2015Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'. I love that plant then and I love it now. And it's still on any list of easy-to-grow plants that I'd recommend for just about any garden.


In February, I prepped for seed-starting season by interviewing Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden Seeds. She is a font of knowledge on everything from garden trends and the best way to grow vegetables. 


In March I kicked off my partnership with Troy-Bilt as a member of their Saturday 6 team with a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, that had me completely falling for the place. 


I also told you about the one vegetable that everyone should grow

April saw us finishing up the biggest DIY project of the year: the garage pergola. We have gotten a ton of compliments on it and I really love it. 

Gardening season was starting up again in May and I took the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite things when I offered my Guide to Window Box Design

                          

In June I found myself at one of my favorite blogger's gardens and it was so great to see it in person after feeling like I know it from reading Linda's blog. And meeting an online friend in person is always a great time. 


It's becoming a bit of a July tradition for me to visit the great garden at the Hotel Iroquois on Mackinac Island. Every year it's different and it's always fun to see it. 


2015 will be forever known as the year I really fell in love with sweet peas and in August I shared a little info about how I grew them. 


In September I shared four things to do in your garden to ensure a better garden next year. 


October was when I discovered how helpful Google Earth can be in identifying design issues in your garden. I'm still working on a plan to fix the issues I identified then. 


It was finally time to go back inside in November and took on a pretty gross cleaning project that made such a difference: cleaning the fireplace surround


And suddenly it was December and once I got over how quickly the year flew by, I shared my tips for the real person's guide to renovating



And here we are, minutes away from 2016. I look forward to another chance to right my gardening wrongs, try out exciting new projects and get to know you wonderful people. 2015 was pretty darn great, so let the fun continue in 2016.

Happy new year to all you wonderful people out there! I truly appreciate you spending a little bit of your day here.


WHAT GARDENS WILL LOOK LIKE IN 2016

Gardening seems to be more insulated from the trends that drive home decor, but I think that's because it takes longer to develop a garden. You can buy new furniture for your living room and change the whole look in a day but a change like that takes years in a garden. Still, I believe there are shifts in gardening that develop more slowly, but still reflect was is popular at the time.

So I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a few gardening predictions for 2016 and beyond (the fudge factor is allowed because of the aforementioned time it takes to change a garden).

1. EDIBLE GARDENS WILL CONTINUE TO REIGN, BUT THEY WILL GET PRETTIER



For a few years now, edible gardening has been seeing a great resurgence. People are interested in eating better, healthier food and they are turning to gardens—big expanses in the back yard, a plot at a community garden or just a container garden on a fire escape—to grow their own. But gardeners know that growing crops isn't necessarily about beauty. In fact, a productive edible garden can look downright horrible some times of the year. I think that will change as people begin to dedicate more of their yard to growing food and they'll want their gardens to be both productive and beautiful. We'll see more "arranging" of crops that goes beyond rows and a lot of reference to potagers.

2. GARDENS WILL GET MORE FORMAL



Tightly clipped hedges with a few flowers in a limited palate seem to be everywhere right now. When I go to Pinterest, those are the gardening pictures I'm seeing most, so to continue on that theme, I think we're going to see more straight edges and more formal planting (even if they include more informal plants) vs. curved beds with a more cottage-garden feel.

3. WHITE GARDENS WILL BE HOT




The whole world seems to be in love with white gardens right now. Hydrangeas seem to feature prominently these, but so do roses and clematis and other pale-colored blooms. Vita Sackville-West's white garden at Sissinghurst inspired thousands of white gardens in the 1930s and, fittingly, it seems to be doing it again. Pictures of the famous garden are prevalent on the Internet.

4. SUCCULENTS ARE ON THEIR WAY OUT



More than any other kind of plants, succulents have been at the top of the popularity list for the past few year. As a relatively low-care plant (notice I said "relatively," people give them credit for being far more carefree than they really are), it's easy to see why succulents have been all the rage. But I think soon they will fall out of favor as people tire of the look or at least look for something a little softer to incorporate into their gardening.

5. GRASSES ARE BACK IN



I think grasses are going to be the next "in" plant. I'm not sure they were ever really out, and I know that I can't imagine a garden without them. It's difficult to think of a more care-free plant than grasses and with so many new cultivars introduced every year, they can fill almost any role in a garden. They can be floppy and free in a garden or stand at attention. A thick grouping of them can be used as a hedge or smaller varieties can live happily on the edge of a bed.

6. CONTAINER GARDENING WILL GET EVEN MORE POPULAR



My affinity for container gardening is no secret and I think it will continue to be a huge part of the gardening market next year and beyond. There is simply no better way to instantly transform an outdoor space than with a container garden. Nurseries are starting to catch on, offering container design workshops and an abundance of annuals specifically bred to show off in containers.

7. GARDENS WILL GET MORE FUNCTIONAL


Gardeners are discovering the wonderful things plants can do that go well beyond just looking beautiful and tasting good. I think that more and more, gardeners want their plants to serve a purpose, so flowers that can be used for herbal remedies (calendula comes to mind) will gain a foothold in the garden. Herbs grown for uses beyond eating will gain in popularity. And gardens that help pollinators, attract wildlife or aid in water management will all be big topics.

What do you think the future of gardening in 2016 and beyond looks like?

A GREAT HOLIDAY, FOLLOWED BY THE GREAT PURGE

I'll admit I'm not a fan of Christmas on a Friday because from a regular job perspective, it's a big challenge. On the other hand, two "extra" days after the holiday were pretty darn amazing to have.

Christmas was great. Lots of good family time, great food, a Christmas Eve showing of the new "Star Wars" movie, the series finale of "Downton Abbey" and massive amounts of decluttering.


There were cookies. So many cookies. There are still many, many cookies.


I caught a photo of my brother walking around with a tape dispenser on his wrist on Christmas Eve (he was ready to wrap a gift at a moment's notice). I have one with his face in it and I plan to hang onto it for blackmailing purposes.

My sister-in-law had such beautiful wrapping this year!

"Star Wars" was fantastic. Great as a movie and great as a "Star Wars" movie.

"Downton Abbey" on my TV! YAY!

Yes, I watched all of the last season of "Downton Abbey" as it was shown on the other side of the pond. After all the issues with trying to watch "Gardener's World" and other shows, I finally just used a paid VPN (virtual private network) provider but then that got blocked too! I now use the Smart DNS service through CactusVPN, which costs $3.50 a month. We got an Apple TV system for Christmas (I'm still figuring out exactly how it works, but we're hoping it's the first step to cutting the cord on cable this year), so I was able to watch the Downton finale on the TV via Airplay, which basically beams whatever is on your computer screen to your television.

There will be no "Star Wars" or "Downton" spoilers here, but I am pretty sure you're going to like them both.

Onto the decluttering portion of the weekend. The weather was lousy so I pretty much hung out in the basement most of the weekend, finally attacking the giant pile of junk down there. And it turns out that that's exactly what most of it was: junk. It was dusty (hardy to clean regularly down there with stuff everywhere), a little dank and occasionally downright gross. I pulled out a huge pile of stuff for Goodwill, a couple items to be sold (although other items that I think I could have sold just went to Goodwill because I just didn't feel like dealing with it anymore), and six 55-gallon garbage bags of junk that were not in good enough shape for donation. SIX! We filled up the entire back of my too-big car with garbage from the basement and all of Mr. Much More Patient's station wagon with donations.

And while there is some of that amazing relief you feel when you go through such a process, mostly I'm just mad. I'm angry that for years (honestly, this probably started the moment we moved into the house and just put things in the basement "while we found a spot for them") we allowed this stuff to clutter our lives and our house. The fact that so much of it was deemed to be garbage proves that there was no need to have it in the first place.

I've come to the conclusion that those big plastic tubs are evil. They are just an excuse to store stuff you don't need to be storing. I've decided that unless one of those bins has a very specific purpose (i.e. Christmas decorations) and a permanent home on a shelf, it will not be used. It's way too easy to forget about things forever in them.

With the majority of the stuff organized or purged, we vacuumed like crazy and I steam mopped the entire floor and it is so freeing. There's a lot more work to do, but it's a very good start. And it's not even 2016 yet!



CHRISTMAS WISHES

Ever since we threw a Santa hat on our first dog Hudson when he was just puppy and mailed it out, Christmas cards featuring the dogs have become "a thing." Mr. Much More Patient says we've been slacking off in recent years and needed to do something more extravagant this year, but I've found that the more complicated we make the setup, the less likely the photo is to work.

So we went for plain old cute this year and, in a nod to the past, we brought the Santa hats back.

And here's what we ended up with.


And here are few from the big Christmas card photoshoot that didn't make the cut.





Here are some of our Christmas cards throughout the years:
My favorite will always be the snowman one because we did not expect Hudson to eat the carrot nor Rita to look so horrified about it.



A lot of people don't send cards anymore and I can certainly understand why, but they are one of my favorite parts of Christmas. I love seeing photos of my friends' kids as they grow and just hearing from friends who we see all the time and those we don't. We get one good old-fashioned Christmas letter and I sort of love it because it's completely nuts. Plus, it's so nice getting something other than a bill or a catalog in the mail! 

Do you send cards?


CHRISTMAS CHEER

Christmas is pretty basic at our house this year and I can't tell you why. Maybe it's the unseasonably warm weather we've been having that makes it seem not-at-all like Christmastime. Maybe it's having house projects in the plans and not wanting to have to deal with anything more. Maybe it's the logistics of a lot of decorations with a 135-pound puppy running around. I really don't know.

There will be no Christmas tree at our house this year. Saying that makes me sad. I love having a tree. I love the tradition of bringing out my beautiful ornaments and finding the perfect spot on the tree. I know that I will be very sad about it Christmas morning when there is no tree to turn the lights on. On the other hand, I'm happy to have saved the money we would have spent on a tree, and I'll be VERY happy to not have a tree when it comes time to take it all down and pack it up. But mostly, I've been far less stressed this year than ever before and that's undoubtedly because I scaled everything back. What is the point of going all out for the holidays if it turns you into a miserable person?

Other than the outside, Christmas decorating in our house this year has been limited to the mantel. No garland anywhere else, no bowls of shiny ornaments. In other words, watch out next year because it is going to be holiday crazy in our house!

In the meantime, let's take a look at some of what I did bother to decorate this year. Sadly, as much as I tried, I couldn't get a decent photo with the lights on the outdoor decorations. I broke my tripod a few weeks ago and those kind of shots are pretty much impossible to take without one. (Master of excuses!)

Raindrops, not snowflakes are nature's decoration this year.
The window box isn't much different from last year. I loved it then and I love it this year.





I did some special decoration on each of the garland attachment points on the pergola.

Detail of the wreaths on the garage, which really look horrible in the photo below but I have so many lights on each one that it looks great at night.





I followed these instructions to make bleached pinecones and I love them.




Maybe not impressive, but simple and heartfelt.

I may not have done much decorating this year but check out some years past.




FRIDAY FINDS

'Tis the holiday season of slow and steady for me. I can't believe I've shown you pretty much nothing in the way of decoration at my house yet. I do have photos, but I'd like to supplement them with some taken at dusk with everything lit up and, since dusk is at about 4 p.m. these days, I only see it two days a week. I didn't really intend to, but I scaled back on everything this year and so far, I'm not regretting it. It won't win me any blogger of the year awards but that's not exactly a change.

So next week you'll get to see everything going on at my house. And you'll probably be sick of Christmas by then!

But, hey, it's Friday, so let's celebrate with some Friday Finds.

Check out these massive and amazing garlands made by Deborah Silver's team.

Tone on Tone photo by Loi Thai.

While I was busy posting about the plans for the bathroom, turns out Loi was finishing up his own, and of course, it's perfection.

Are you jazzed about Star Wars or wondering what all the fuss is about? I'll admit it, I'm a fan, but not a collect-all-the-toys-and-leave-them-trapped-in-their-boxes kind of fan. I'm looking forward to seeing it but don't know when that will be. For the Star Wars fans in your life I thought this DIY wall art was really cute.

As long as we're on DIY stuff, I think this foraged tree topper is really cute. When I was a kid, I loved doing Christmas crafts and I think this would be a good one for kids or adults.


I love this Gif't a Tree campaign. Read about it here and go here for more information. Create a gif, plant a tree!

I love me a conifer, at Christmas or any time of the year. Margaret Roach did a great Q&A on conifers that's worth checking out.

Ever wonder how to care for a pond in winter? Me too. Wonder no more.

What's on your agenda for the weekend?  For me, it's parties, cookie baking, gift wrapping and general merriment.


STAGHORN STAGING

Houseplants are my downfall. I love them but I abuse them. Or perhaps neglect is the more appropriate term. Either way, I avoid buying expensive houseplants because my track record with them is not good.

Flora Grubb greenhouse photo

For years I have wanted a staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum). I think they are the coolest looking plants, with their big, strappy leaves that really do take on a very antlerlike look. But staghorn ferns are expensive and, I though, fussy. They want a moist atmosphere, which is not what my house offers in winter. They want spritzes and soaks and a little fertilizer.

But last year I happened upon a half-price houseplant sale at a nursery and found a small staghorn fern in a 6-inch pot for $5. How could I pass that up?

That was a year ago and that little staghorn has been doing great. It particularly loved its summer vacation outside and has been thriving since. I've done nothing to it other than running its fronds under water once every couple weeks and giving it a full-body soak every three to four weeks. Still, it has grown and has now put out a large sterile frond (the platelike bits at the base) that has far exceeded the rim of the pot and just keeps going.


As it turns out, that's a sign that it's time to get that baby out of its pot. It's common to mount a staghorn fern on a board with a mound of spagnum moss under it (they are epiphytes so they don't require soil) and then hang it on the wall. There are lots of tutorials out there about how to do this and I'll save my opinions on them until I actually try it.

The care continues in the way: frequent misting (or at least some water on the fronds) and a good soak when it is completely dry. And this is where I have questions. Everything I've read suggests soaking the entire thing, including the board (which it is permanently mounted to until it outgrows that home). So I understand that you are to let it dry before you rehang it, but won't the board still be wet when you do that (or at least damp)? How do you avoid damaging your walls?


If you grow staghorn ferns, I'd love to know how you manage this aspect. And I'll take any other hints you have. I've become quite attached to this little guy.

UNSEASONABLE WEATHER LEADS TO GARDENER'S GUILT

I have rarely felt a case of the gardener guilts in mid-December. Gardeners are allowed to go whole hog on the holidays because, for most of us, there are few gardening tasks to be tackled at this time of year. The garden has been put to bed for the winter and it's too early to plant seeds for next spring's garden.
The creek through the back yard is full up and flowing fast.

But as most people in the northern half of the country have noticed, this is not a typical winter, so far, at least. We've had a couple inches of rain in the last few days and the temperatures for more than a week have been stuck in the 50-degree range. The normal temperature this time of year is a high of 35 degrees and a low of 19.

I never did get around to cutting down the monarda this fall, a job I like to do to keep the reseeding to a minimum. Look how green the grass is!

The ground is not yet frozen (or really, even thinking about it). The grass is greener than it usually is in early June. And the creek through our back yard is flowing at the same rate we see during big spring thaws. I can't say I'm unhappy about any of it. Winter will come soon enough and there will be plenty of it.
It actually is pretty, just strange to see it this time of year.

The other day I was walking through the back yard and noticed a nasty weed in the garden. Without a thought, I just leaned over and pulled it out. Satisfied with the full root now in my hand, I came to the crazy realization that I'm certain it is the first weed I've ever pulled in December. Since then, I've noticed many other weeds in the garden standing out as bright green in a see of brown, all waiting to be pulled or thrive where they are. I should be out there pulling them.

Of course I'm busy with other things: Christmas shopping and baking and wrapping and decorating and partying. But as I was doing those things this weekend, I had that nagging guilt that sneaks up on a gardener who is neglecting a less-than-thrilling job that needs doing.

Just a little sneak peek of one of the containers.
As I finished up the outdoor decorations (photos to follow when it dries out a little) this weekend, I couldn't help but think that if I put down the garland and instead put on my gardening gloves and got out there with my soil knife, I'd be a big leg up on the spring gardening duties. Oh well, old habits died hard.

How's the weather where you are? Any gardening jobs that you really should be doing but have been pushing off for more seasonal duties?