Rose Cottage a Warm Welcome to Raleigh

You had to “tweet to meet” for Wednesday evening’s tweet up at Rose Cottage in Raleigh, N.C.

rose-cottage-backyard-blogAfter a long day of travel to the annual Garden Writers Symposium in Raleigh, it was a welcome change of pace to stroll through Raleigh’s historic district to Rose Cottage.

On the way to the GWA twibe tweet up, I passed the state capitol and a historic marker proclaiming that Andrew Johnson, U.S. President from 1865-69, was born in a kitchen only a mile from where I stood.

Rose Cottage is the home owned by Jim and Sharon Bright who opened their garden for the GWA twibe’s tweet up. The event was organized by Helen Yoest (@HelenYoest) and Elizabeth Licata (@GWI).

Proven Winners sponsored the get together and it was an enjoyable way to meet face-to-face with more than 40 personalities I knew only by their twitter tags.

Planting tips for the fall garden

Crops with tasty roots, shoots, and leaves are nature’s way of making sure we get plenty of fresh vegetables even when the weather turns cold.

beets-blogIf you’ve never grown a fall garden, now’s the time to start. Besides the joy of bypassing expensive veggies in the produce aisle, many cool-season vegetables are also good for your health.

Vegetables belonging to the cabbage family, like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and flowering kale, have cancer-fighting phytonutrients.

Other delicious cold-weather vegetable friends include beets, onions, carrots, peas, chard, endive, lettuce, collards, mustards, turnips, radishes, spinach, and even Chinese cabbage. Look for cultivars that are known to be cold-hardy and fast-maturing. Garden centers often carry transplants of fall crops that are most suitable for their specific area.

An added benefit of planting for cold weather is that the frosty temperatures actually bring out the flavor and sweetness of some vegetables, like parsnips and kale.

The great garlic harvest is about to begin

If you planted garlic in the fall, it should be ready to harvest right now. The mature scapes on hardneck varieties signal the bulbs are ready in my garden.

garlic-scape-blogI haven’t had the best luck growing garlic in my garden, even though most gardeners says there’s nothing to it; just plant it and it will grow.

But that technique didn’t work for me and I was always disappointed with the size of my garlic bulbs at harvest time.

So last fall I decided I’d put some real effort into it to see if I could improve my yield. I researched websites and then attended the Garlic Festival at Tagawa Garden Center to learn every possible best practice for growing garlic. Then I went to work in my garden.

Because soil is the most important part of growing good-sized bulbs, I really worked at improving drainage and fertility. I added compost and top-dressed with fertilizer when I planted.

Grounds for gardening success

The best use for coffee grounds is as an addition to the compost pile.

coffee-grounds-blogThe “Grounds for your Garden” program started by Starbucks in 1999 is a terrific example of win-win-win-win in business.

By giving away tons of used coffee grounds, the company has been able to recycle a product it would normally throw away, frugal gardeners get a free soil amendment, compost piles get a good source of nitrogen and birds, bees, butterflies and other insects are the ultimate beneficiaries.

Used coffee grounds are a good soil amendment but, contrary to popular belief grounds don’t make a good fertilizer when used alone. The best use of used coffee grounds is to add them to the compost bin as another source of “green.”

The researchers at the Oregon State University Extension Service say when coffee grounds are used as a soil amendment “keep them damp and add some nitrogen fertilizer when you do this.” Apparently the grounds feed microbes in the soil, which depletes nitrogen and needs to be replaced.

Guest Blogger Leah Ingram: Lasagna Gardening

Leah Ingram is a lifestyle expert and seasoned spokesperson who appears frequently in the media to discuss shopping, gift buying, eco-friendly topics and frugal living.

Her forthcoming book “Suddenly Frugal,” will be published in the Fall. Leah is also the creator of the Suddenly Frugal blog and I’m delighted she’s guest blogging here today about building a lasagna garden in your backyard. This originally appeared in October 2008.

leahs-lasagna1-blog1I recently posted about our ability to become accidental pumpkin gardeners at our old house. In response to that post “Jen on the Edge” made a comment about lasagna gardening. Of course, my mind went immediately to that gooey Italian dish. But this isn’t what Jen meant.

“Instead of digging a garden, you build one by layer leaves, grass clippings, compost, dirt, etc. on top of layers of newspaper or cardboard. If you do it now, you’ll have a great garden and amazing dirt next spring,” Jen wrote.

Get the Rocks Out of Your Containers

If you like container gardening, you’ll appreciate Better Than Rocks.

better-than-rocks-blogIf you’re still using rocks in the bottom of your containers to aid drainage, there’s a new product that can make your gardening life a bit easier. Better Than Rocks is…well, you know.

This product is made of 100% recycled plastic and comes in squares that can be cut to any size for use in planters of every shape and size, including window boxes.

It was easy for me to layer the mesh-like product in the bottom of the planter and then fill the container with potting soil before planting.

The pots were so much lighter to move around the patio and I used less potting soil.

So far, I’ve found the product does help prevent soil from draining away during watering. I also like the idea the plastic can be reused for several seasons.

Better Than Rocks is located in Hudson, Wisconsin. You can read more at

Plant Irises for a Spring Garden Show

I think these irises are as beautiful as any orchid.

iris-blogIrises have been part of the landscape for so long it’s easy to take them for granted. Cultivated for hundreds of years, and a staple of grandma’s garden, the bearded iris is the perennial that keeps on giving.

These easy-to-grow plants are colorful, drought-friendly additions to any landscape. The plant’s upright leaves add vertical interest throughout the season and the flowers come in a dazzling array of colors, color combinations, shapes, sizes and bloom times. They also multiply each year.

Irises also serve many purposes in the landscape. Tall irises are traditionally planted along fences or in corners as specimen plants. But mixing heights and bloom times can add color to the garden throughout spring.

Irises can also fill in areas where it’s difficult to put other plants, like the edge of a sidewalk or along the driveway because they can take the heat.

My Garden is a Happy Home for Squirrels

A litter of four squirrels has found a happy home in my garden.

squirrel-kids-blogOne day John and I looked out the office window and saw a little squirrel head poking out of the opening of the wooden squirrel nesting box at the corner of the garden. Then another head poked through. And another. And then one more.

The squirrel box was one of the last projects my father-in-law made for me and he would be delighted to know that it’s made such a hospitable home for these four juvenile squirrels.

It’s so much fun to see them chase through the garden in the morning, jumping from the picket fence to the arbor and then playing hide-and-seek. We watch them from inside our house as they take turns at the squirrel feeder chomping furiously at sunflower seeds or hanging upside down at the “squirrel-proof” bird feeder. I love to watch them take long drinks at the birdbath.

Companion Planting Improves Gardening Efforts

Bergamot, also called bee balm, is a native perennial that causes bees to linger longer in the garden.

bergamot-blogSome things in life make ideal combinations like cookies and milk, peanut butter and jelly, and spinach and radishes.

Spinach and radishes not only make a delicious spring salad, they also make perfect partners when grown together in the garden. Radishes attract destructive leafminers to their tasteless leaves and away from the spinach. These botanical buddies are one example of how plants team together to help each other thrive.

Companion planting is the art and science of arranging combinations of two or more plants to benefit one another. Planting certain crops together saves garden space, controls pests and encourages healthy gardens.

Native Americans practiced companion planting for centuries by growing corn, beans and squash together. These vegetables are called the Three Sisters because they complement each other when planted in the same hill. The corn provides tall stalks for the pole beans to climb. The beans help replenish the soil with important nutrients. The large squash leaves serve as a living mulch to maintain soil moisture and choke out weeds.

Sunset Garden Book is Indispensable Resource

This edition of Sunset’s Western Garden Book, published in 1976, was the best gardening guide for a gardening greenhorn.

sunset-western-garden-blogWhen I first started gardening, I needed a lot of help. I had always thought gardening was a relaxing pastime that rewarded one with beautiful flower beds, baskets of fresh vegetables and a luxurious lawn.

I had no idea how much work it would take.

One of my indispensable resources was Sunset’s Western Garden Book. Because it was written for those of us who garden in the West, it helped me understand that gardening was definitely regional and that understanding “climate zones” was critical to gardening success.

This book also helped me understand how plants grow. This may sound elementary, but understanding roots, stems, leaves, and fruits and flowers was also a good reminder that nothing should be taken for granted in the garden.

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