Author Archives: greenishthoughts

A Tale of Three Pots

pots1I was never crazy about these three pots (industrial grey) but they came with the house. Thriftiness is bred in my bones and what is better than no-cost pots. So they’ve been in use for two years. 20191107_132341Last fall they were potted up with pumpkins, white mums and a little culinary herb, (Sage berggarten). The sage over wintered beautifully and is now threatening to take over. The mums and pumpkins are now replaced with Salvia ‘cathedral deep blue’ and Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold,’ two of my favorite summer annuals.

Then I met Linda Vater – on her Youtube channel. She’s an Oklahoma City gardener with a huge following. Her garden is splendid. In one episode she mucked up plastic pots to “age” them in a shabby chic sort of way using leftover paint.  I thought, that’s a great idea. I can make my grey pots pretty. I have leftover yellow paint from the sunroom and leftover pink paint from the bedroom – little bits sitting in gallon cans in case a touch up job is called for. Leave that paint long enough and it will be a solid brick at the bottom of the can.

pots4Voila! Pink and yellow morph into pale terracotta. Yes they do. I stopped at the color change point, being happy with that. I could have added more age with moss green smudges or moldy black patches. I’ll leave that to nature. In this damp beach climate it’s a possibility.pots7


What’s in a Name?

serviceberry plantThe Arbor Day Foundation sent me five serviceberry trees this week. They’re little guys but I’m a sucker for free plants.

Some background about  Arbor Day . The Arbor Day Foundation is a truly American holiday. It was the idea of J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraska newspaper editor. In 1872 he declared April 10th Nebraska Arbor Day and had one million trees planted in his state. The day became official in 1907 when President Theodore Roosevelt issued an Arbor Day proclamation to the school children of the United States about the importance of trees in our world. There are no Hallmark cards for Arbor Day but the Foundation is still going strong planting trees all over the world. Our garden club celebrates by planting a tree in the park to commemorate those in our community who have died in the past year. This year the ceremony has been postponed.

Back to my five Serviceberry trees (Amelanchier Canadensis). I’ve potted up one, waiting until I find a place for it in my garden. The other four I’ve planted in the woods across the street so, if they grow, I’ll see them from my porch.

Why are they called serviceberry? You have to look back to the beginning of our country when roads were unpaved. People didn’t get out much in the winter. (A bit like this past winter.) In rural areas acknowledgement of births, deaths and marriages generally had to wait until spring. That’s when the preacher made his rounds to officiate at funerals, baptisms and weddings. When this tree bloomed the ground could be dug for burials and all the ‘services’ could be performed.

Amelanchier is also called Shadbush. Guess what, it blooms when the shad runs in the rivers.

Serviceberry It’s a small tree, (15 to 25 feet) native to North America that has multi-season interest. Fragrant white blossoms in May are followed by edible dark purple berries and pretty fall foliage. Some say the berries are tastier than blueberries and the birds love them. I’m not looking for a serviceberry pie this summer but maybe in another summer or two if the birds are not too gluttonous.

The Art of Borrowed Scenery

Reading The Garden of Evening Mists has awakened my interest in the art of Japanese traditional gardens. Does it have any relevance to my garden? A stark landscape of carefully raked sand and carefully placed boulders wouldn’t do it for me. But maybe there is some wisdom in this centuries-old tradition that will make my garden more beautiful, more tranquil. I’ll take a look.

The novel emphasizes one element of Japanese garden design described as the “borrowed view.” Elements outside the garden are considered part of the garden and should be incorporated.  It’s good to remember that most Japanese private gardens are enclosed.  Borrowed elements could be the sky, trees, hills or water. They are appropriated from outside to enhance the inside of the garden. Openings are created to view them. Examples would be an open gate, an arbor or an opening in a hedge. Okay, I want to highlight my view of water; I don’t want to dwell on the view of my neighbor’s air conditioning unit.

 The Japanese garden imitates nature; seasons are important. In spring the soft colors of new bulbs appear even as the branches are still bare. Summer in Japanese gardens is not so much for the brightness of flowers but for the coolness of greenery as a respite from the hot weather. I can see that but I wouldn’t want to do away with lilies and black eyed Susan’s and coreopsis. Fall needs a color change to represent the bounty of the growing season’s end. Yes, bring on the mums and orange pumpkins and golden squash.  Winter plays up the structure of plants. Snow may even give definition to the grace of bare branches. Each season does have its own beauty. It’s worth remembering to consider all seasons when planning what to plant.

Proportion is important in Japanese garden thinking. A large shade tree is out of proportion in the average home landscape. It belongs in a park or public garden where its size is in scale with larger spaces. I never thought of it before but the elements in a private garden should be in proportion to the human body. Maybe that’s why I like my dwarf Alberta spruce. The spaced apart two in my front yard feel comfortable. The two in my side yard that, of necessity, I turned into topiaries and under-planted with astilbe make me smile.

I’m planning a deck and patio and am glad to bump into this wisdom on the importance of scale before it’s too late. Too big or too small will forever be jarring with no chance of a do-over. Pruning the shrubs is doable; it’s even therapeutic. No pruning the patio.

The view is what a Japanese gardener is looking for. That’s the view from inside. Large windows are a big help. And, foundation planting is purposeless as it can’t be seen when small and obstructs the view when big. So the shrubs go from mid garden to back garden and will help create a sense of depth in the garden

Setting out a pagoda in an eastern shore garden may not look authentic. But considering native plants for each season may be. Installing a koi pond in blue heron fly-over country may not be smart, but creating a water feature may subtly inspire peacefulness.

A Month of Sundays

It feels like a Month of Sundays, but it’s only been one month since we thought nothing of going someplace. On March first we packed up our coffee thermos and breakfast sandwiches and headed to Philadelphia for a day among an abundance of plants and a super abundance of people. We didn’t think it out of the ordinary to drive one hundred and fifty miles to a crowded city and walk the streets with not a worry in the world. Our feet hurt but what a great day we had.

At lunchtime we crossed the street to the Reading Terminal Market to grab a bite. If the convention center was elbow to elbow, the market was cheek by jowl. There were lines for every vendor and tables up for grabs. We ate at a communal table, sharing napkins with people we had never seen before. That was our norm and it didn’t bother us. The only thing we had wrong was considering it the first of our springtime expeditions.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Philadelphia Flower Show is the oldest and largest indoor flower show in the world. 2020 was its one hundred and ninety-first year. 250,000 people walked through the “Riviera Holiday” themed exhibition. Elbow to elbow, with craned necks we were whisked away to Mediterranean colors and scents of lemon and olive and lavender and cypress.

This year the show paid tribute to a hometown girl – Princess Grace of Monaco. A replica of her wedding dress was on display among a re-creation of her rose garden. That was only one display among the acres of exhibits showcasing the beauty of the Mediterranean region.





Here are some of the glorious sights at the incredible Philadelphia Flower Show.

This last picture was a warning I didn’t recognize. Never stop taking in the joy of nature and what we can do with nature, but be mindful; life can change on a dime. It always has personally. This time it’s globally.

Plant More Pulmonaria

Right at the time we are obsessed with world-wide respiratory distress, pulmonaria pops out of the earth and blooms in delicate pastels. Last spring I bought two “twinkle toes” because the flowers looked so sweet. In the fall I cut each into three with my trusty bread knife and moved them to the front of a wet shady patch. Now look at them, all surviving and all in bloom.

These cute little guys were named by Leonart Fuchs, a German physician in the 1500s. He is considered one of the fathers of botany. At the time, Christian doctors believed in the “doctrine of signatures.” That is that God put plants on earth to help humans. (Aren’t we amazing in considering ourselves to be the center of the universe.)  So he shaped them to look like the parts of the body they could heal.

When Fuchs saw this plant he must have said, “My lord, all the spots on these leaves look like a diseased lung. I will call it pulmonaria.” So he did and we still call it by the Latin word for lung and in English, lungwort. Whether it helps coughs, I don’t know. I do know it gives pleasure to the eyes to see these perky fellows and know their leaves will be around into winter.

The light green or silver spots on the leaves are actually air pockets that cool the leaves. I must say ingenious; a word I often find myself uttering when plant facts come my way. Mixed with hellebores and ferns, they brighten the wet shady garden in spring.

Pandemic Blues

All socializing is off the table. What to do. I can go outside by myself and kneel in the springtime sun. It’s the perfect time for weeding. The winter weeds are small, the soil is moist; the roots yield easily to my tugs.

Time to get personal with mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum). What an adorable name for this garden scourge. It’s trying mightily with its hairy, green mouse ears to strangle the emerging lilies and iris and allium. Given my forced isolation from garden center shopping, I’m on it. Bags of mouse-ears are ready for pick up by the yard waste collectors.

Cool weather and a shovel. It’s time to dig out the compost and spread it around. Exhaustion.

Sit on the garden bench and admire what’s blooming. Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense) is  flouncing graceful sprays of brilliant scarlet  fringe. When I first saw the rather drab burgundy branches I thought I’m gonna cut that bush down. Thankfully I never found the time. The delicate fringe brightens up the early spring garden before other shrubs have even popped out their green.

Down on ground level the crocus have come and gone and the tete a tete mini daffodils are having a private conversation with the grape hyacinths.

I’m listening.

Tweezers, Toothpicks and Tiny Flowers

I had not heard of “petite flower design” until I attended a garden club talk on miniature flower arrangements. It’s an official category at Federated Garden Club competitions. Although I never plan to compete at flower arranging, I do enjoy learning to make better bouquets for myself and for friends.

We were told bring tweezers and toothpicks, little containers and flowers. Flowers in January? I brought nothing. But others did. I had decided to just watch and was amazed at the imagination in the room. The tweezers deftly held the little flowers and toothpicks inserted first made a ready hole for the slender breakable stems. As far as keeping the plants in place, floral oasis worked well in wide containers as did floral frogs or wire. Containers with narrow necks needed nothing but water. Turns out I wish I had put more thought into the day; wish I had taken pictures of the garden ladies tiny arrangements.

But better late than never! When I got home I started looking around the garden and found more than I expected. Periwinkle was blooming its namesake blue, the mosses were brilliant green, rosemary had miniature white flowers and delicate gray-green branches. Chartreuse sedum was thriving in the cold as was variegated boxwood and deep green juniper tips. Why did I think there was nothing of value in a January garden? I forgot to look.


Just a Little Something! Petite Flower Design is a good place to look for guidelines on this smallest of flower design.

When the weather warms the choices will quadruple. The little rosy blooms of Chinese fringe flower shrub and yellow spring barberry bush flowers are just two examples of what will pop out if you’re on the lookout. Harry Lauder’s walking stick will provide small twisted limbs. Minor bulbs like grape hyacinth, tete a tete daffodils, snowdrops and crocus are a good fit. Their tininess made me not think of cutting them before. But what a delightful greeting they would make on a bedside table, a powder room vanity or as dining table favors.

Containers? I was surprised at what was sitting around the house. Even more possibilities are sitting in thrift shops for the price of a dollar or fifty cents. Consider mini liquor bottles, perfume bottles, toothpick holders, small ashtrays and baskets. Whatever looks good, looks better with flowers.

A Grayish Green Thought


I’m holding on to my front door holiday décor even though Christmas is long gone. The dark still creeps over the land in late afternoon and fog blankets us many mornings. This makes me feel the need for a welcome that only light can give. When someone comes to my door or when I come home I want the welcome of light.


How lucky we now have lights that don’t put out heat, don’t need to be plugged in and best of all have memories to turn themselves on and off. So I’ve kept the dwarf Alberta spruce in its red pot and little lights at the side of the front door. I’ve also kept the red basket filled with pine cones, greens and one of those candles with a brain. The wreaths can stay too until warm weather calls for springtime décor. A great discovery is that in cold and humidity greens last much longer than inside the house – Valentine’s Day at least.

The growers help perk up January with primroses at the garden centers. The homegrown hellebores are beginning to bloom and pulmonaria is putting out its spotted leaves.

Technology makes the gardener’s life exciting all year long. However, reading directions on each new product is essential, at least for the older brain. I bought an instant read meat thermometer from OXO. One problem – it kept recording 145 degrees whether I turned it on or off. I took out the battery and put it back in. I checked the packaging for a clue. I considered throwing it out. I turned to Google for one last attempt to solve the problem. At a question and answer forum someone said. “Well, you have to pull off the protective plastic film.” Oh my god, why didn’t I figure that out or why didn’t OXO print “peel me off” instead of 145.

winter9So there you have it. Technology is a help and  a headache. The instant read thermometer is great now that I’ve overcome the protective coating puzzle, but planting primroses on a balmy January day brings more joy.

Garden Resolutions 2020

front gardenTaking stock. That’s what this day is for.  In the garden that is. 2019 was a “getting to know a new garden” year. It was for removing plants hiding under other plants. Last April I found an azalea stuck behind a giant laurel and an out of control juniper. I dug it out and even reaped an extra plant from a branch that had put down roots and sent up a baby. This April we’ll see if they bloom where they can be seen under a pretty stand of pine.

daylilyLast summer Stella d’Oro daylilies popped up under the same overgrown laurel and juniper. They were moved into sunny spots along the driveway. Those daylilies I know will thrive in 2020.

This fall we dug out four knockout roses that, although they bloom lavishly, didn’t justify their place in the front garden. I admit to not loving them so much since they are everywhere in our community and as hybrids are not good pollinators. They were replaced by evergreen cherry laurel, variegated boxwood, dwarf elegans spruce and a spreading juniper in a lovely shade of blue.

Digging out the overgrown junipers, euonymus, and laurel will be one dirty job in 2020 but will make room for a new patio and deck. Researching a suitable design is the plan for the next cold months.

A pleasurable task I’m looking forward to is establishing rock gardens among the piles of rocks on each side of the driveway. The spot gets relentless summer sun so it seems perfect for stonecrop, sedum and Mediterranean herbs. Last summer I tucked lavender, sage, thyme, lemon coral sedum mexicanum, hens and chickens and Irish moss in spaces between the rocks. Hopefully some will gain a foothold and overtake the weeds that are so comfortable among stones.  I remember the perky portulaca in my grandmother’s rock garden and will sprinkle some seeds among the rocks in her memory. That’s the thing about gardens. Life in the Garden bookPenelope Lively in her book, Life in the Garden, says:

“To garden is to elide past, present, and future; it is a defiance of time.”

I confess I had to look up ‘elide’. It means to merge. What a nice idea for the first day of 2020. I was taken back to my grandmother’s 1950’s kitchen where something tantalizing was always on the stove and the screen door leading to the rock garden was close by. And the path through it led to the grape arbor and the chicken house beyond.

First, Get Chicken Wire

Kitty's Flower Shop

Ocean Pines Shop

Robin Gravenor, owner of Kitty’s Flowers,  spoke to our garden club this month. The talk was billed as flower arranging for the holidays. I considered not going. Well, thank God that thought was banished. Because Robin taught us the practical nuts and bolts of the task at hand: putting together a winter arrangement. Those same nuts and bolts apply to arranging all through the year.

First, get chicken wire. Robin came prepared. She had chicken wire by the foot. Who wants to buy a bale of chicken wire that would forever gather dust in the garage.  Not me. In fact I wish I had bought more pieces from her.

A little background on Kitty’s Flowers. This is a family business of three generations. They’ve been providing flowers to the Delaware/Maryland Eastern Shore for seventy years.  With a main shop in Salisbury, Maryland they have three satellite shops in Laurel, Delaware; Millsboro, Delaware and Ocean Pines, Maryland. From Robin on down they are friendly, gracious and ready to help with whatever you need.  Of course they make arrangements for every flower-necessary occasion, but they also sell flowers, berries and branches by the stem. They are generous. When I order three of an item I often get more.

I bought these stems for my Thanksgiving arrangement:

Arrangement 2


Winterberry: This is a deciduous holly native to North America. It’s considered a bog plant (perfect for my poor drainage) and is berry-heavy in winter.  I’ll look for a male and female plant next spring.




 Bittersweet: This is a fall beauty with yellow skins that pop open to reveal brilliant orange seeds. Beware. It’s an invasive Asian plant that can actually strangle large trees if given a chance. Use in arrangements but do not plant. There’s a native American called false bittersweet that’s not invasive with berries only on stem tips.

Arrangement 6a







Hypericum : This beautiful berry is commonly known as St. John Wart. It’s native to the Mediterranean and produces berries in pinks and reds and burgundies. So romantic, it’s popular for winter wedding bouquets.



Sorghum: This is a cereal grain (also called broomcorn) related to corn that has many uses: livestock food, ethanol, sweetener. I like the natural color but floral designers often spray it to compliment arrangements.  It’s perfect for fall as is shown in a blog entry in Dirt Simple: observations of a landscape designer.

Beautyberry: This grows in my garden and I’m thrilled to be able to make use of the deep amethyst gems native to the Eastern U.S. Last January I received ten plants that looked like nothing more than skinny whips. But they thrived and grew into pretty shrubs laden with purple berries.

Back to chicken wire. Robin believes it’s better than Florist Oasis at holding woody stems in place. Just form a piece of wire into a sphere large enough to fit in the opening of your container. The bonus is that, unlike Oasis, it stays clean and fresh for use over and over.


Arrangement 6

Finished Thanksgiving Arrangement

I can’t claim to knock it out of the park in flower arranging, but what a pleasure to hear from a pro and to benefit from the years of experience of a dedicated local businesswoman. Robin gave us many tips on flower arranging. Ever heard of “negative space?” That’s important in the final product.