oh, no, i had an idea and now i am obsessed. (as one does.)

ok, i blame google.

i was looking up ways that i might be able to heat the greenhouse, ideally using solar or some other passive technology, because part of me is just not confident that hooking up a small heater to an extension cord won’t be an excuse for a massive fire.  short answer:  it’s hard.

less short answer:  compost, an ever-wonderous thing.

i came across a blog post from the (sadly now-defunct) hudson valley garden association were one of the members was heating her greenhouse using compost – even in the winter, even when compost materials collection would be hard.  she was using a combination of coffee grounds from her local starbucks and leaf litter collected in the fall and spring.  the result?  a few degrees’ warmth and, more importantly, an indoor “hot bed”, which more googling revealed to be an old victorian gardening technique which involved using the decomposition of materials to generate enough heat to start seeds or force bulbs even in the winter for a longer season.


oh, man, how much did my mind go into overdrive?  TOO MUCH.  it was impossible to concentrate on my “nikita” reruns for the rest of the day, and i think i tore apart my gardeners supply company catalogue thinking about raised beds and other sundries (so much for narrowing my shopping list).

my goal here would be simple, really:  generate enough bottom heat so that i can start all my bedding plants, including hundreds of cosmos, zinnias, etc, and save that precious few weeks in the spring for other stuff.  maybe force my dahlia tubers (because yes, obviously i ordered more of them).  that’s it.  relatively modest.

the greenhouse is 6×8 and currently has two tables in it.  i think i can build a bed under one of the tables, and i will move the other table outside for use as a potting bench during the summer.


in the end i’d like to have something like this:


though right now all i have is this, which is much less cool/effective/useful:


(the surface area/volume is so small that i probably won’t get any heat, so it’s back to the drawing board while i continue to hoard materials.)

also, this is the path to my greenhouse right now:


the current materials ratio:  approximately 2 parts UCG and 3 parts shredded hay (which means this batch, if it composts, will not be useable in the garden due to unkilled weed seeds from the hay), plus 1 cup, give or take, of high-nitrogen blood meal in an attempt to activate it like a straw bale garden.

maybe i should put a straw bale on the floor and treat the straw bale like a mini hotbed?


in which i must do all the things. NOW.

oh, good, it’s that restless, joyless, “are-we-there-yet”, must-do-all-the-things time of winter.

the days are just starting to be long enough to notice, and we haven’t had any snow, and the ground isn’t even FROZEN, only there is a blizzard forecast for tuesday, so there is that.

i’m trying to focus my energy by making a smart and short shopping list about what i am allowing myself to buy this year.  i did splurge on some azalea and a new magnolia and a new crabapple for my birthday, and i stocked up on some specific ground covers from my favorite mail-order nursery sale.  also, it’s time to start thinking about seed starting.  i want to try again this year to start my own bedding plants (cosmos, zinnias, nasturtiums, calendula) and i will probably do a few vegetables in the hopes my (new!!) vegetable garden.

i just need to figure out a strategy for the greenhouse, which is unheated and currently unheat-able.

(assuming we are not buried under a mountain of snow for another month, which is totally looking like a possibility)

also, do i want to try more dahlia tubers this year?  i think yes!

in which i have difficulty committing to a beginning

a few weeks ago, i had a dream about the garden.

my mom was there.

in a way it was kind of funny because she would, unequivocally, hate my garden.  it is very high-maintenance and full of flowers and bees (she was allergic) and things that deer like to eat, so it is basically a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet that never stops needing things from me – these are all things my mom, an experienced gardener herself, hated.  but i do know that she would be quite impressed at the things i have learned and the things that i have been doing (or trying to do), and we even sat a few times, back in the day, and made sketches together of things i might do.  (though i never did tell her about the orchard)

anyway, the dream.  it was a wake-up call, really, a siren song from the new season when all i wanted to do was STAY UNDER THE BLANKETS, PLEASE.  just five more minutes, mom!

even pulling out my design notebook, buried under so much crap in a closet that it took me a week to find it, felt hard and tiring.  i find myself consumed with thoughts of all the things that might have died off this winter (even though it has been, on average, 20* warmer than usual) and how stupid and wasteful it will feel when i can finally take an inventory in another 6 weeks.  i look at the pots of things i tried to overwinter outside and feel like a failure.

on the other hand, i look at my winter-sown pots, all lined up and labeled and covered with reemay, and my fractional shopping list, and i feel like that is progress, that i am doing something right.

i think this year needs to be about cleanup and maintenance and structure.  it is time to spend money on things that the garden needs:  fences and walls and pathways.  mulch, mulch, mulch.  build beds and edge the ones that already exist.  clean up the pond and the stream bed so they are assets and not eyesores!

(now i am tired again.)

8 may 2016: continuing the woodland wildflower garden


over a couple of different weekends i have laid out and prepped (with black plastic for solarization) my woodland wildflower garden under a small copse of trees.


this was my first round, using the basic layout from my garden-planning book, and i added to it with some ‘dalmation creme’ foxgloves because why not? i also added, behind the trees as a sort of shrub hedge, several species peonies that are woodland suited. they have the greatest name ever: molly-the-witch. who wouldn’t want a peony named molly-the-witch? most of the time, it is a yellow flower, with occasional variations into the pink spectrum. perfect. i am going to underplant them with violets and geranium samboor.


here’s a better shot of the area, where i added several more combinations. the main one is a grouping of Trillium lutem with a border of heuchera and interplanted with lilies of the valley.  i saw this combination in david culp’s the layered garden and i have been obsessed with it.  i also plan to add pulmonaria, because i love those as well.  they are so interesting too look at and they have awesome foliage.

pulmonaria ‘opal’

finally, i bordered the whole shebang with a combination i found on pinterest:

japanese forest grass, sedum sieboldii, ladys-mantle



garden diary 16 april 2016: the “spring garden” gets a plan and a layout, and some of the boxes get emptied


another bit of inspiration from my go-to source, perennial combinations by c. colston burrell.  i fell in love with the combination of native woodlanders and more exotic beauties, like daffodils and pulmonarias and hellebores.

i was also struck by this combination (also from the book) and it became my ‘mood board’ photo:


i love foamflowers (tiarella) and developed a weird obsession with primula kisoana after reading about it and discovering that it is hard to find, because of course i did. i did track down some seeds from Plant World Seeds in the UK, and i have winter sowed them (no sprouts yet) and i found them for sale at both my local catskill native nursery and by mail-order from edelweiss perennials.

in one of my (many) plant orders from this spring, i indulged in some special selections just for this combination, including a hybrid of heuchera and tiarella called “heucherella”. this one, ‘cracked ice’, has gorgeous purple-blue foliage that went really well with the color scheme i am going for under my birch trees:  yellow, white, blue, and pale pink.  to that end, i eschewed a classic bleeding heart and went with a pale white selection called ‘amore rose’.  i think it will blend well into a design i am working on behind the birch trees as well.

the big score (and sigh of relief) on this design was the virginia bluebells, which i ordered bare-root earlier in march and which came, like, the one weekend all winter that it was cold.  i was convinced that i had not properly potted the roots, but as i dug them out this weekend i saw them emerging just the way they are meant to.  i guess mother nature really has it under control – it’s us who mucks it up!

i also filled in and added to the planned combo with some new ideas:  crested iris (iris cristata), siberian iris, bloodroot.  here’s a kind of weird shot of the area with the plantings laid out for digging in:


on the gray area, really close to the roots of the trees, i plan to put a mixture of ferns (probably christmas fern / Polystichum acrostichoides) and a sedge (probably pennsylvania sedge) and if i can get it, four-leaf milkweed (asclepias quadrifolia). all of these guys can take the dryness that close to the roots.

about those new beds…

i have this very troublesome area under a weird patch of trees. it’s sort of open shade, but kind of full shade, and very occasionally gets partial sunlight.  it’s moist, i guess.  definitely not dry or sandy.

it really is a perfect spot for some woodland wildflowers, but i’d been struggling with the appropriate plant mix for over a year. last year, it was a repository for some cool, half-baked thoughts (purple palace heucheras, primroses, a very rare and awesome epimedium called ‘the giant’) but not a lot of follow-through or execution.

i’d developed, sort of accidentally-on-purpose, a purple and yellow color scheme, and to this i added a ‘molly the witch’ shade-tolerant peony (yellow), and a ‘kiki’s broom’ magnolia (purple).  and i got some of my drive from this awesome combo of actea simplex and japanese forest grass:


okay, so here’s the moodboard:


and here’s the cut-and-paste version from my design notebook:


i’m toying with the idea of trying some terrestrial orchids, but i am not going to order any yet.  i’d rather wait until my local native nursery opens, and talk to them about potential easy(ish)-to-grow varieties for an orchid novice.

‘woodland wildflower garden’ design from perennial combinations by c. colston burrell

and then, finally, comes the design breakthrough – and i had it all along. this past weekend i was perusing my favorite garden design book and found the inspiration sketch right there on page 353. it’s the ‘woodland wildflower garden’, which not only fits the space perfectly but complements what i have, perhaps with some slight nudging around of already-planted specimens.

1 – originally slated as a white baneberry, i found this cool terrestrial orchid (not a lady’s-slipper) from plant delights and added it to my birthday order. the color fits perfectly and it has a reputation for being easier to grow than its native american counterpart.


2 – bloodroot, as directed, but the blush form, to keep the color scheme more homogenous and pleasing. i splurged on this little guy from lazy s.




3 – subbing out the virginia bluebells – i have a better spot for them – and bringing in this super-cute variegated form of merry bells (Uvularia perfoliata ‘Jingle Bells’, also from plant delights, also part of the birthday bash)




4- celandine poppy, and i’m not going to mess with a classic. been keen to try this one out since i read margaret roach’s raves about it on the a way to garden blog.


polystichum-acrostichoides1-i-0295-s-62132-r-01   Athyrium niponicum 'Lemon Cream' (Lemon Cream Japanese Painted Fern)   burgundy lace japanese painted fern

5 – i’m going to go with a combo of ferns here, to stay true to the color scheme but also to the intent of the design. so i’m sticking with the christmas fern suggested by the author, but added some color with two painted ferns.



6 – ‘home fires’ creeping phlox (phlox stolonifera), as directed but with a color change.



7 – woodland phlox.  i LOVE woodland phlox.  it’s so delicate-looking, and the flowers are tiny and star-shaped.  what is not to love?




8 – trilliums, definitely part of the birthday splurge. these were a hefty price, but they are seedlings, so that means that i can nudge them toward multiplying and giving me many more of my very own.




9 – hello, gorgeous! a chinese mayapple too interesting to refuse swaps out for the umbrella plant originally intended. i think it is going to be a star.

garden diary: 11/12/13 march 2016



spotted:  wood frogs, daffodils (DAFFODILS ALREADY?!), grape hyacinth, cherry buds, monarda foliage, yarrow foliage, witchhazels in bloom (FINALLY)


also, my first winter sowing results: some annuals in my large box of “bee-friendly” plants for the willow bed, and breadseed poppies.

i cut and prepped three new areas for flower beds, meaning, i laid out their approximate shape and size with either a garden hose or a 100-foot extension cord, then edged around it with my old half-moon edger.  then i took a rest, because that was tiring.


then, fortified by hot pockets and diet coke, i sallied forth again into the yard and prepared the cut areas for solarization.  this year, for a change, i actually splurged and bought several rolls of thick black plastic for the purpose.  that way, i can cover the to-be-planted areas and smother the grass underneath without any herbicides or other sprays.  depending on what is ready to be planted when, i will either cut through the plastic where appropriate or pull it off and mulch around the plantings.  i am anticipating that this year the plastic will stay on for most, if not all, of the summer, so that the new bits can settle in without too much competition.  then next year i can mulch and build up the beds.

in fact, while doing this i finally had an epiphany on a tough shady area i’ve been battling for a few years…

…so of course i had to order more plants to fill the aforementioned shady area.

garden diary: 6 march 2016

today i potted up an ambitious bare root order of bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) from a new online supplier i’ve been trying.  earlier this winter, on my never-ending quest to collect ALL THE MILKWEEDS, i finally found a place that had one of my most elusive quarries (but more on that another time).  then, seemingly by magic, they recently had an amazing sale on bare root shrubs.

historically i have terrible luck with bare root shrubs, but the price was so good that even with a 50% failure rate i would still come out ahead of ordering from one of the larger, specialized nurseries – and even farther ahead of waiting until spring and heading out to catskill native nursery, so i took the plunge and ordered 15.

they came, and they are beautiful, healthy plants, and not sealed up in plastic bags with some peat moss (which is how i’ve always gotten bare roots before, especially from prairie moon nursery), but in a nice damp bag with proper root systems.  i feel cautiously optimistic.


someday, my pretties….someday