Aah...summer is in full swing. The days are long and the skies are blue (with the occasional thunderstorm.) We’ve waited all year for this. We want to savor every minute of this glorious season, right? In fact, if we had the power to stretch out those perfect, sunny days, many of us would. Family get-togethers and reunions. Independence Day with picnics, outdoor games, and fireworks. Biking and boating. Vacations. Swimming and sun and getting outdoors. It’s when we get to relish the countless delights found in our own backyards.
The weekly chores of weeding, deadheading, and mowing keep our yards looking neat and attractive. But as we water our plants and admire the fruits of our labor, we should think of midsummer as the perfect time to focus on the Four P’s:
"The Practical Stuff: Regular Tasks that Matter
Keep tabs on rainfall and water as needed. Most plants need at least an inch of water per week, more if the weather is very hot and dry. Remember to water deeply. Install a soaker hose to a timer to keep any new plantings watered during busy work and family weeks as well as while you are on vacation. During dry spells, be sure to water the base of the plant. Wet leaves from overhead watering, combined with hot humid air, creates optimal conditions for disease. Sometimes there is too much rain. Waterlogged plants literally drown, because roots need air in the soil. Over-watered soil will cause slug populations to bloom; even worse is the ensuing fungal issues. While you can’t predict mother nature, you can control how much you manually water. Use a hand shovel and take an occasional inventory of soil moisture. Push away soil and observe how deep moisture is. If you’re planning a new garden, take into account wet areas and select plants that like ‘wet feet’. Another alternative is to make raised beds or mound beds. If you have a short- term problem, a simple trench funneling excess rain away from your garden may be enough. For more on too much water, check out this article. “Too Much Rain in the Garden--Managing Wet Dirt and Waterlogged Plants."
More Ways to Breath Life into the Midsummer Garden
The peak bloom time of midsummer is a smart time to assess your landscape and formulate a work plan. This is because your trees and shrubs have undergone their annual growth spurt. Based on your goals, your plan might focus on the maintenance of your existing trees, shrubs, and plants. Or maybe you plan to tackle larger projects such as planning a new garden room, the removal of overgrown shrubs or an unhealthy tree, or the addition of french drains or a new walkway.
Gardens don’t have to be all work! Take advantage of the season by sitting outdoors to fully experience the scents, sounds, and beauty of your yard.
Hope both you and your garden will benefit from these tips. During each season, we will share a timely list of Four P’s. Subscribe to the blog so that you will not miss fall’s garden tips. In the meantime, dedicate part of every day to joys of gardening !
Do you have a thing for the finished look of freshly mulched flower beds? You’re not alone. Each year homeowners spend hundreds of dollars on mulch. That’s not all - you need to account for what you might pay for the labor to spread it and clean up.
An ideal mulch product mimics nature by covering plants with organic matter that provides nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to the soil. You probably use mulch to suppress weeds, but mulch does much more: it retains moisture, controls erosion, and moderates fluctuating soil temperatures in our plant’s root zones. When properly applied, at the right time and depth, it naturally enhances the soil and plants with the gradual decomposition of organic matter. A thin layer of about 2 inches is all you need to achieve these benefits, plus add uniform color to your garden.
To save you time and money, avoid these ten common mistakes:
1. Volcano Mulch:
This looks exactly like it sounds—a deep pile around the base of a tree trunk. This type of mulching causes the lower trunk to become waterlogged and eventually compacts and interferes with oxygen reaching tree root cells. Volcano mulching decays the tree’s bark and harbors rodents that chew on the base of the tree.
Better choice: Keep mulch away from the base of trees. (PSU Mulch Fact Sheet)
7. Cocoa bean mulch smells good and is organic, but is toxic to dogs.
Better choice: Use another type of mulch.
9. Using chemicals to eliminate weeds and grass for future planting beds. Chemicals harm the environment, our bodies and soil.
Better choice: Lay down newspaper under soil and mulch to kill grass and weeds.
When to Apply Mulch
According to the Ohio State University Extension Office, the first round of mulch is normally applied in spring after the soil is warmed and has dried up somewhat from winter rain and snow. This is normally in the middle or late spring season—perhaps early May. If there is more rainfall than usual, or temperatures stay cool longer than usual, it may be best to delay mulching even until late May or early June. Some gardeners or landscapers may choose to apply another layer of bulk mulch in fall as well. This is often done when growing annuals or fall-planted bulbs as it will help protect against the cold of winter.
Some like to mix compost into the mulch and a 1:4 ratio is good. However, it may be better to mix the compost into the top layer of soil, then mulch. This way, you are amending the soil, not the mulch. Often weed seeds develop in the mulch and the mulch breaks down faster when there is manure mixed in. By applying compost or manure under the mulch, you may be able to delay mulching to every two years.
Wood Mulch vs. Rock Mulch
(Unsponsored Information from Davey)
VERDICT: Mulching your garden reaps benefits throughout the growing season. But what you use makes all the difference. Seek out a local supplier. Ask about the ingredients of their mulch. When buying bagged mulch, look for the MSC product certification. Never buy dyed mulch and never volcano mulch. And finally, remember that organic mulch is overall better than stone. But stone is better than no mulch at all.
Mottos of a healthy and sustainable landscape:
Plant a 10 cent plant in a 10 dollar hole.
Feed the soil, not the plants.
Welcome to our Garden Inspiration Blog! We’re glad you’ve found us. This particular blog is more technical and detailed than our previous blogs. What you’ll learn here is one of the most essential building blocks of creating a healthy, sustainable home garden. Improving your soil organically will save you money too -- money you’d waste on chemicals and replacement plants.
Believe it or not, soil is not dirt. Dirt is the stuff you wash off your hands or sweep off the sidewalk, undesirable stuff to get rid of. Soil, on the other hand, is an ecosystem, a diverse and intricate mix of minerals, organic matter and a range of flora, fauna, and fungi. (plantnebraska.org) If you want healthy grass and plants, feed the soil, not the plant. “Plants need the right combination of nutrients to live, grow and reproduce. Whether you are planting grass, perennials, shrubs, trees or crops, soil anchors plant roots. Soil serves as a storehouse for nutrients. When plants suffer from malnutrition, they show symptoms of being unhealthy, because they are a living organism. Too little or too much of any one nutrient can cause problems.” (University of Arizona Cooperative Extension)
“Soil consists of minerals, air, water, organic matter, and microorganisms. Poor soils lack one or more of these essentials, making it challenging, if not impossible to grow healthy plants. (plantnebraska.org) The mineral portion is made up of small fragments of rocks that have disintegrated from weathering. Thus, each region's soil is unique due to the native subterranean rocks. The organic portion is composed of plant and animal remains in various stages of decomposition. This breakdown of matter creates humus, adds stability to soil, buffers the pH, and is effective at storing carbon. The quantity of water and air in soil depends on the soil's texture and structure." (example: clay, sand, silt) (Penn State)
Practices Harmful to your Soil
Have you used landscaping fabric and:
Still have weeds?
Plants look weak and are dying?
Landscaping fabric appears to be the obvious cure for preventing weeds. It does more harm than good to your soil and the plants. Eventually, within a few years, organic matter accumulates on top, weeds still grow and their roots can penetrate through the landscaping fabric. Landscaping fabric does not promote healthy plant growth or support healthy soil, which we know, is the anchor of all vigorous plants. The holes cut in the fabric strangle plants as they mature, as well as stop perennials or groundcovers from spreading because they do not have contact with the soil. The fabric prevents organic material from decomposing in the soil. It also inhibits worms and other beneficial insects from doing their role because they cannot travel through the fabric to decompose organic matter or aerate the soil. During heavy rain events, water runs off quickly. The slick surface increases the speed of water movement, thus washing away mulch and preventing absorption of the water into the soil.
Soil Compaction occurs when soil particles are pressed together. It is the reduction of soil volume due to external factors, like pedestrian traffic, cars, riding mowers, and heavy machinery. Consequently, compacted soil has a reduced rate of both water infiltration and drainage. To prevent soil compaction, control traffic in your garden with paths. Protect mature plantings when building homes, additions or buildings.
If you would like more detailed information, check out this article on soils and plant nutrients for the home gardener from the NC State Extension.
One way to think about creating your garden is to compare it to a musical. The bones give it the
beat or rhythm that you can tap your foot to throughout the seasons.
This is our fifth blog. Thank you for joining us as we share our advice with you. If you’ve missed the other four, check them out. We’ve talked about color and creating garden rooms. Bones of the Garden builds on the development of garden rooms. Every garden room has structure, rhythm and of course your personal touch. Any part of your garden room — the floor, wall or ceiling - offers an opportunity to provide the bones of your garden. Rosemary Verey, a famous English garden designer, made ”the bones of the garden” a vital consideration for any landscape, whether formal with clipped boxwood hedges, an informal cottage garden, a foundation planting in suburbia or a city garden.
Why are the bones of the garden important? They provide structure, dimension, and foundation for the rest of the plantings on your property. Bones offer winter interest and can be living like a hedge or inanimate like an arbor, fence or gate. Bones are the first design element to consider when updating or starting from scratch.
For those who live in climates with all four seasons, it is worth considering what your garden looks like when deciduous plants have lost their leaves. It is best to evaluate the bones of your garden when all the flowers have faded and plants have dropped their autumn leaves. Views from within the house and those seen by the public are especially important. Southern gardeners also benefit from starting with a strong backdrop to support the continuous seasons of flowers and greenery. Bones of a garden include structure, rhythm and winter interest. They serve as the backdrop for the landscape. Without good bones, a garden looks like a sloppy, hodgepodge collection; the result is unpleasant on the eyes. Even perennial and casual country gardens have bones. Purposefully including garden structure gives the gardener the luxury to splurge purchase a favorite plant without creating a mismatched landscape.
One way to think about creating your garden is to compare it to a musical. The bones give it the beat or rhythm that you can tap your foot to throughout the seasons. Certain plants dance in the chorus line and during the various acts, star performers take center stage. Some plants, like those with a beautiful voice, command more attention than others, like the color yellow or variegated foliage. In the winter, the star performers are the bones of the garden.
If you prefer a gray- green color theme, use the varied sized blue spruces. Iseli fastigiate is tall and narrow, globe type is lower and round. Pancake or Bowling ball (cypress) offer a shrub layer. Heuchera leaves have all- season silver interest. Special note about variegated foliage: for example, Daphne, boxwood, certain iris, and others. Use these unique plants with interesting foliage as focal points or place in areas to attract attention. Too much variegation looks busy and fussy. Variegation also does not show up well against light- colored backgrounds, such as pale stone, white or vanilla- colored brick, light siding, and white fences.
With some thought and planning, using color to offer structure is easier than you might think.
Texture is another way to create rhythm and bones. For example, if you are a collector of daylilies, ornamental grasses, hydrangeas, or camellia, you can provide rhythm by repeating your collection throughout the landscape. Then mix in contrasting foliage to make your favorite plants pop. For example, for grasses or daylilies, add oakleaf hydrangea or other large-leaved plants, or strongly structured evergreens.
Perennial, English or Cottage Gardens
While all landscapes benefit from having a strong foundation, it is even more critical for perennial, English or cottage gardens. Without structure or rhythm, these areas may look weedy and hodgepodge. There are a couple of ways to create rhythm. First, you can use evergreens or structural elements like trellises or obelisks and repeat them within the bed. Second, plant larger structural herbaceous perennials like ornamental grasses, baptisia, peony, or cohosh or large hostas and repeat like you would a shrub. Then add your favorite perennials in between. Another option is to create groupings. Each grouping would include 4-6 plants, one for each season: early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, fall, and winter. Repeat these groupings throughout the planting beds. Perennials tend to only bloom for 2-3 weeks, so varying seasonal bloom time ensures color and visual interest throughout the year.
When creating or evaluating your existing landscape, the first step is to evaluate its bones. Do you have too many star performers stealing the stage? Is there one season when your garden appears flat and one-dimensional and could benefit by adding the height of a flowering tree or tall evergreens? What does your landscape look like in the winter? What is creating a beat? Is it color? Evergreens? Hardscape? Keep views in mind as you evaluate the landscape. In a front yard where traffic may travel quickly, use bold statements of rhythm with strong color or structural evergreens. For informal gardens, or gardens experienced while strolling or meandering along a path, you have the opportunity to use more subtle forms of structure, like groupings of perennials. Remember that creating the bones of your landscape doesn’t have to be the repetition of a tightly sheared, round boxwood. There are infinite ways to achieve good bones in your own garden. Each method is a chance to infuse the landscape with your personal style and creativity.
Visit me on Pinterest for more inspirational photos.
Now that you’ve evaluated your site and put some thought into your needs,
The floor can be divided into rooms and halls (paths).
This two-part blog lays the “groundwork” for you to plan your very own Garden Room. Don’t be surprised if it becomes the favorite room in your house!
Check out more garden rooms and their elements on Pinterest. There are so many pictures I want to share!
We've all seen them in Better Homes & Garden, Fine Gardening, Arboretums, Garden Tours -- "Garden Rooms." If creating a garden space seems complex, we can simplify it by examining the landscape and considering it as an extension of your indoor living space. Evaluate your landscape as if it is a room in your home. Outdoor garden areas aren’t complicated to create as long as you follow a few basic guidelines. If you consider these guidelines, you'll be well on your way to visualizing your own space.
Big or small....reflective or public....all share these basic elements of design:
Before you purchase anything for your outdoor space, step back and assess your site and your needs. A summary of these will serve as your touchstone. As you plan your garden room, continue to revisit the answers to the questions below to ensure you are headed down the right path. This will save you from disappointment, as well as wasted time and money.
The thought and planning you invest in designing your garden room will pay you dividends for years to come. In Part Two, we narrow the focus to concentrate on selecting the most appropriate materials to suit your individual needs. At the end of the day, you’ll get the most use of your garden room if you make all the parts of the space work for you!
Check back in two weeks for part two.
Monochromatic Color: shades all on one color block. Think red and pink, red being the more saturated color.
Complimentary: mixing colors. Use the color wheel as a guide, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Eye-catching combinations include blue/orange, violet/yellow, and red/green. Use these in areas that you want to attract attention, such as next to your front door. A pot of blue salvia with yellow/orange zinnia, for example.
Analogous (Tertiary): groups of three colors next to each other on the color wheel. Ex.: red, orange and red-orange, or blue, indigo and violet. Many displays at the Spring Show at Phipps use analogous colors for a cacophony of gorgeous color.
Neutral: colors that can be used with any other color without changing the effect you’re trying to achieve: white, grey, silver, and shades of brown. These tend to tone down other colors, and can be used as a buffer. While white serves as a neutral, it serves another purpose. White flowers glow in the early morning and evening. If you work all day and can only enjoy your garden in the early morning and evenings, you’ll want to include splashes of white and silver.
And one more thing....
Special note about yellow: Yellow attracts attention because of its psychological effects on the eye. We are trained to notice yellow in our environment…a yellow light, yellow vest worn by crossing guards and construction workers. Likewise, yellow (or white) will accentuate an eyesore.
Avoid doing that.
Colors fall into two basic categories: dark and bright. Dark colors, such as blue and purple, tend to be calming and serene. So, on a bright, sunny patio or deck, try darker colors. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” because they won’t get washed out in the glaring sun. The opposite is true in the shade where there are lots of shadows. Dark colors fade, so choose bright colors like yellows and oranges as well as pastel pinks, blues, and lavenders. Bright colors will also draw attention to areas you want to highlight: a front entrance, featured flower beds, seating areas, or even garden art. Bright colors are also festive, conveying: “Let’s eat, drink, and have a party!”
Container Gardening Inspiration
Grouping Pots of Various Sizes
The rainbow offers us a myriad of possibilities to play with color in our gardens. Get outside and let your creativity guide you! Your colorful containers will provide months of pleasure for both you and the bees and butterflies.
Whether you experiment with color or not this year, the display at the Gardens of the Rainbow at the Spring Show at Phipps Conservatory is open through April 21 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily and until 10:00 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is $17.95 for adults, $16.95 for seniors and students, $11.95 for children ages 2-18, and free for members and kids under 2.
If you have a few more minutes check out our recent garden adventures to Charleston, SC and Phipps Spring Flower show.
Container and Window Box Inspirations from Charleston, SC Garden Tour
Thank you for taking the time to meet us and join us on our gardening journeys. We love landscaping, gardening and sharing our knowledge, experiences, and mistakes with you. We plan to post twice monthly.
Gardening is in my blood. Growing vegetables, harvesting sour cherries from the tree in our childhood backyard (that doubled as a climbing tree,) being raised in a home surrounded by pretty specimen shrubs and roses, having an uncle with a masters in horticulture who loved flowers so much his nickname was Rosebud…tagging along as my parents pruned and deadheaded…asking questions…and soaking in the pleasures of connecting with nature. That's when my love for growing things started. It’s been a life-long journey of fulfillment.
Let me tell you about myself. I have lived in Pittsburgh most of my life, except for seven years in Colorado during high school and college. Married thirty-four years to one of my favorite people in the world. We have two sons, 19 and 26. They make me so very happy.
Professionally, I have a B.S. in Advertising from the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Journalism and an M.A. in Broadcast Journalism from Point Park University. My work experience has been fairly diverse. Was part of a creative team in Product Information for Federated Investors, Inc. Freelanced as a production assistant and makeup artist for corporate video. Was a location assistant on a movie shot in Pittsburgh. Collaborated and wrote scripts for training and educational video. Freelance contributor (mostly features) for Mt. Lebanon Magazine. Twenty plus years of writing experience.
Active volunteer with my church, community, and board service with Family Promise of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which serves homeless children and their families.
Gwen and I have been friends for thirty years. We met through our husbands, who were and still are work colleagues. We also attended the same church. That connection helped establish an enduring friendship as we volunteered together and raised our young children in a community of faith.
Gwen and I have a lot in common. We share a passion for gardening. I was so proud when she went back to school for her second Masters degree, focusing in Landscape Studies. Out of her passion, she grew a thriving business.
Other ways we are similar: I’d say we are both independent women and prefer to define our own paths in life. We have similar priorities. We love meeting new people, but we also maintain old friendships. We’re lifelong learners. We share a reverence for both the magic and complexity of horticulture. And we love life.
Through the years, Gwen has always been there for me when I struggled with everything garden-related. Selecting out-of-the ordinary ornamental trees, adjusting from a shade garden to full sun after we lost an enormous silver maple in an ice storm, designing a hillside garden, seed-starting, and trips to nurseries where I tried to memorize her tidbits of wisdom while trying to manage my excitement of being in my “happy place.”
Gwen has a treasure of knowledge to share that will make us all better gardeners. We hope you’ll subscribe!
My love of outdoors started when I was a young girl sailing with my family on the Chesapeake Bay. When we weren’t on the water, I was watching my father tend to our vegetable and flower gardens. Some weekends my sister and I would go on ‘expeditions’ with my dad in the woods and swamps of my sleepy southern Maryland community. Gardening is in my blood, too. My maternal grandfather owned and operated a thriving apple business in West Virginia and my paternal grandfather traded his home in Mt. Lebanon, PA for a farm in Peter’s township, PA. The desire to transform my gardening hobby to a profession was during a visit to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada. When I had a young family, I created an English perennial garden, children’s garden and taught myself about composting and amending tough clay soil.
Let me tell you about myself: I married and raised my family in Pittsburgh, PA. I have been blessed with four wonderful children and one grandchild. I married the love of my life 29 years ago. We continue to enjoy hiking, traveling to see our family, national parks, cycling, and skiing.
Professionally, I have a BS in Communication Disorders and MS in Curriculum and Instruction from Penn State. Like Holly, I spent my initial career in training and development, developing customer service and team training videos and print material. After my third child I closed this chapter and focused on my family. When this door closed (corporate work) another opened when I pursued an education in gardening and landscape design. I began teaching garden and landscaping at a local community college, taught annual gardening classes at Trax Farms as a PAWC outreach, and started my formal Landscape education at Chatham University. From here my business started as my students asked for design assistance. While continuing my landscape consult work, I continued with my graduated studies and earned a MA in Landscape Studies in 2004.
I love to learn and teach others. During the past 5 years I have continued my professional education and enjoy sharing the knowledge with my friends and clients. In 2016 I completed Phipps Conservatory’s Sustainable Landscape Certification and courses in Organic Lawns, Pests and Diseases. The Penn State extension offers many informative classes. I have taken IPM (Integrated Pest Management), Pest Identification, and an 8-week seminar called ‘Woods in your Back Yard’. I am also a certified Master Watershed Steward.
My landscape design mottos: Plant a 10 cent tree in a 10 dollar hole. Plant the right plant in the right spot. The best designs are formed when I have a collaborative client relationship.
Stay in Touch with us. It is a gift to know Holly and her family. I am excited to collaborate with her to bring you fun and informative landscape, gardening, and sustainable environment topics. We will begin with some broader landscape subjects for the first couple months and then dig into more specifics later this summer. Along the way we may share some of our own gardening challenges and successes. In the future we hope to visit various botanical gardens and share our visits with you. If there are topics you’d like us to cover, please reach out via email: email@example.com.
Have you recently purchased a house? Tired of your current landscape? Inspired by a recent visit to a botanical garden or a friend’s amazing yard? Have you binge watched gardening and outdoor shows this winter and feel inspired?
You can transform your drab yard into a delightful garden.
But where do you begin? Money doesn’t grow on trees. There’s not enough time in the day, right?
First let’s start with: What type of gardener are you? Choose the ones that best describe you.
Final Words of Advice
for every type of gardener.....
Thank you for finding us! Holly and I have collaborated to bring you informative, fun, and seasonal garden inspiration blogs. Friend me on Facebook to stay updated. Please visit us often., especially on the 1st and 15th of the month when we plan to update our blogs--Gwen
Follow my landscape & garden design Pinterest Page to see more pics, inspiration and Gwen's home garden journey!
Gwen Wisniewski: Landscape and Garden Designer. Contact me. Let me help you integrate these garden inspirations. Choose the links below to find out more about my landscape design service or to make an appointment.