Irresistible Shed Makeovers

artist shed, courtesy of Lowe's

Courtesy of Lowe’s

Today I’m sharing a post I wrote for HGTV.com about transforming an ordinary garden shed into –well, whatever you like. Turn it into a she-shed, a yoga studio, a place to paint or just a personal escape. Click here the to explore all the possibilities.

Roadtrip to the World’s Largest Working Wildflower Farm

Texas Bluebonnets at Wildflower Farms

Recently I visited Fredericksburg, TX, home to WildSeed Farm. This beautiful place is considered the world’s largest working wildflower farm, which means you’ll see tractors, workers harvesting seeds and much more amind acres of Texas bluebonnets, poppies, Indian paintbrush plants and more. Follow this link for a virtual visit: https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/wildseed-farms-texas-hill-country/

How to Grow Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Trees

Turn the juice from Meyer lemons and Key limes into delicious drinks and desserts.

This dwarf Key lime tree is studded with juicy, full-sized Key limes. Courtesy of Gardens Alive! van Bourgondien Photography

I’m hungry for something that’s sweet, yet slightly tart, with a refreshing, summery taste. In other words, I’m thinking about lemon meringue pie, strawberry jam flavored with tangy lemon juice, and a gorgeous Meyer lemon tart with a gingersnap cookie crust. Lemons and limes are the gems of the citrus world, as far as I’m concerned, fruits that cost way too much at the supermarket. This year, I’m growing my own.
 
In my Zone 7b garden, winter temperatures can average as low as 5 to 10 degrees F. Meyer lemons are hardy in Zones 8 to 11, and Key limes overwinter in Zones 9 to 10. So how do I plan to grow and harvest all those juicy yellow and green fruits?
 
It’s easy. I’m growing my dwarf Key lime and Meyer lemon tree in containers that I’ll move indoors when the mercury drops. I had a Meyer lemon for almost ten years before an unexpected freeze caught me off guard in 2018, and my tree perished. (It was in a large pot that I forgot to move in time.) Until then, it flowered and fruited beautifully, giving me enough lemons to last all summer and perfuming my cool basement when its flowers opened.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree Courtesy of Gardens Alive!

 
This spring, I’m starting over. My dwarf Key lime tree promises to give me golf-ball-sized limes while topping out at just two feet tall. I could plant it outside if I lived where the winters are warmer, but it’s ideal for my container garden. It’ll start bearing in one to three years, and while it’s self-pollinating, I’ll put it outside every summer to let the bees help. If I planted it in the ground (it prefers loamy, sandy soil), it could reach four to six feet tall and wide.
 
Of course, I had to plant another Meyer lemon too. It’ll get a little taller, hitting four to six feet high in a pot or six to ten feet in the ground. When it blooms, the flowers will release a sweet scent that can fill a room. Little green lemons follow and soon ripen to an orange-yellow color.
 
I’ve read that the original Meyer lemons were imported from China, but today’s trees are a kind of cross between regular lemons and oranges, which accounts for their tangy, slightly sweet flavor and good disease resistance. The fruits are thin-skinned and juicy. I’ll need a little patience because I know it can take up to two years for a Meyer lemon tree to start bearing. Like Key lime trees, it’s self-pollinating.
 
If you’re planting lemons and lime trees in the ground, give them a spot with at least six hours of sun a day. If you live where the summer heat and sunlight are intense, Meyer lemons like morning sun and some afternoon shade.
 
You can these trees in garden soil or a commercial potting mix but be sure the soil drains easily. Keep the crown of your trees just above the surface of the soil when you plant. Then gently firm the soil over the roots and water.
 

Citrus Alive Citrus Fertilizer
Citrus Alive! fertilizer
Courtesy of Gardens Alive!
van Bourgondien Photography


When you water again, give your trees a good, deep drink. Shallow watering, especially if you do it often, encourages roots to grow near the surface where they can dry out too fast.
 
A sign of overwatering: yellow or cup-shaped leaves. Underwatering: wilted leaves. My best advice is to watch the weather and adjust as needed. Give your trees more water when it’s hot and less if it turns cloudy, overcast, or cool.
 
I fertilized my original Meyer lemon tree each spring with citrus plant food, and that’s what I’ll do with these new trees. A special citrus fertilizer has the extra nitrogen they need. I’ve also started using a Four-Way Soil Analyzer that gives me info on light levels, my soil’s pH, and how moist my soil is. It even tells me about the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in my soil.
 

4-Way Soil Analyzer
Courtesy of Gardens Alive!


My old tree didn’t need much pruning, although I cut off any shoots that grew below the graft union (the knobby spot on the stem). I didn’t know for a long time, but it’s okay to remove the thorns.
 
I never had to spray my first Meyer lemon for diseases, but if I was trying to prevent fungal or bacterial disease, I’d use a bio-fungicide like Garden Sentinel. It’s fine for organic gardening and comes ready to use or in a concentrated formula.
 
I’d love to hear how you use your Meyer lemons and limes in recipes. Please share a link with me in the comments!
~Lynn
 
 
 

Black Petunias: Black Magic For Your Garden

I know, I know. This petunia doesn’t look very black in the photo. It’s more dark purple. But I promise–when you see it in person, it looks like black velvet.

You know what they say about a little black dress. Every woman needs one in her closet.  But black flowers in your garden? Aren’t black blooms usually dead blooms?

Well, no. I recently found a basket of gorgeous, near-black petunias at our local Home Depot, and they were so velvety and unusual, I just had to bring them home. But they aren’t completely black. It’s hard to find truly black plants, and many are just very deep, dark shades of purple, purple-red, or blue.

I’m telling you, so when you look at the pictures of my petunias, you won’t wonder what I’m talking about. That’s because my “black” petunias, when photographed in the sunlight, look purple. But when the light is right, they’re dusky and mysterious and beautifully, velvet-black. Each bloom has a pale yellow star in its throat.

I  don’t know the variety name, or I’d share it.  It’s possible that mine are ‘Pinstripe’ petunias; click here to see for yourself.  I don’t think I have ‘Phantom,’ which is sold by other seed sellers and garden centers, because the yellow markings look too wide.  But I bet if you look around, you can find something similar.

If a dip into the world of inky plants makes you yearn for more, check out a book called Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden, by Paul Bonine (Timber Press). The author covers black pansies, lilies, agapanthus, hollyhocks (like the ‘Black Watchman’ heirloom hollyhocks in my gardening book), and more, all of which might persuade you that black is the new green.

I’m not ready to convert my garden, with its springlike palette of pale blues, yellows, pinks, and rose-red, to all-black, but it’s fun to try something really different–and that’s how gardeners are. We always want someone to visit and ask, “Where did you get that?”

Update: Thanks to Gary, at PlantCareToday.com, who wrote to tell me that King George III sent Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph, to explore Argentina. While he was there, he collected samples that were used later to confirm that petunias and tobacco are related. Learn more about petunia care here.

Beautiful, Useful Rain Chains

Rain chain from Rain Chains Direct

A chain of hammered copper cups. The cups are open at the bottom, so rainwater can flow through to the ground.  Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

I love watching water move, whether it’s at the beach or in a puddle stirred by the wind. I love the sounds of water, too, and sometimes I know it’s raining before I look outside, because I hear the water  gurgling down our gutters.

Recently we replaced one of those gutters – the ones my husband complains about, because they get choked with pine straw every fall – with a rain chain. It was super-easy to install. All we had to do was take off the downspout and measure the distance from the bottom of the gutter to the ground, so we’d know how long the chain needed to be.

Then we attached a gutter installer, a device that holds the chain.  You put the installer into what’s called the leader hole (the opening in the gutter that directs water to the downspout). Add the chain, tighten a bolt, and you’re done.

rain chain gutter installer, courtesy of Rain Chains Direct

Here’s the gutter installer. The chain hangs from the bar in the middle. You tighten the bolt to hold the installer in place. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

To keep the chain taut, we tapped a stake into the ground and attached it. Next I’ll put some rocks from our creek under the chain to help distribute the run-off, but you can also buy catch basins to match your chain. They don’t hold a lot of water, but they add to the charm.

And rain chains really are charming, although they’re functional, too. Best of all, they don’t clog, so nobody has to climb a ladder and dig out wet, decomposing leaves.

Rain Chains Direct

Rain chains come in many styles. Some look like flowers or small cups; others are lengths of single or doubled loops. This 100% copper rain chain has aged to a soft patina. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

All I need now is rain, since we’re currently in a drought. I’m looking forward to seeing the little copper cups on my chain channel the water to the thirsty shrubs around our foundation, and to hearing it splash and tinkle. I’m watching the skies for clouds…and watching…and watching.

Thanks to Rain Chains Direct for providing the rain chain used in my review.  The opinions are my own, freely and sincerely given.

Hydrangeas!

My hydrangeas have really exploded with colorful blooms this year. It’s no thanks to me, really. I suspect the recent rains helped. Take a look!

 

 

 

 

 

Gardening Talk at the Smyrna Library

morning glory

Morning glories

Did you know that nasturtium blossoms once sparkled with lights?

Want to grow a tomato that’s so delicious and prolific, it helped a farmer pay off his mortgage?

Join me at the Smyrna Library on Monday, April 25, and I’ll spin some stories about old-fashioned, heirloom flowers and veggies. I’ll tell you why today’s gardeners still grow these “antique” varieties, and where to find them (hint: the big garden centers don’t usually sell them).

My talk starts at 6:30 p.m., and admission is FREE. Check out this link for more info. See you there!

~Lynn

2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide

The 2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide is out! There are articles on making the most of a small garden space, and another on how to landscape when water is scarce.

I wrote two of this year’s stories: one on heirloom flowers, and one on garden trends.

Garden Guide 2016One trend won’t surprise most gardeners, because it’s ongoing. Our bees are in trouble. Their populations have been declining for years because of disease, parasitic mites, overuse of pesticides, and other issues.

Now gardeners are actively trying to help them, says Jeanine Standard, a spokesperson for Proven Winners. We’re using fewer chemicals in our yards and planting more flowers, shrubs, and other plants they can use for food and shelter.

Another trend: gardeners want to replace the impatiens they’ve been growing in shady spots, since the plants are still dying from powdery mildew. Standard recommends using caladiums and Browallias, although she says she thinks impatiens will make a comeback, since developers are working on their genetics.

As for trendy edibles, look for ‘Suntava Full Season Purple’ corn, available from W. Atlee Burpee & Co. It’s a stunning variety that’s purple from cob to husk to stalk. Burpee’s is also offering ‘Meatball,’ an eggplant that makes a great meat substitute in your recipes. I’ve tried them, and they’re delicious. The fruits are heavy, firm and sweet tasting.

Read about more new varieties in the issue–it’s on newsstands now.

 

A Trip to Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens

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It’s gray and overcast here today, although the recent warm temperatures are giving me spring fever. In the Atlanta area, we could hit 75 degrees in February, plunge back to freezing a week later, and have daffodils in bloom a few days after that. Since I’m getting tired of the bare landscape, I dug out some pictures from last April, when I visited Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens and Home. It was cloudy then, too, but azaleas and lots of other plants were starting to blossom.

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Some azaleas had already hit their peak. Their fallen petals look like confetti on the path.

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Bellingrath is a 65-acre Southern estate that opened to the public in 1932. It’s been drawing visitors ever since, and this Gulf Coast icon is a popular place for weddings and other events.

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The water looks so cold, doesn’t it?

SDC10173Purple, yellow, and lavender pansies and violas perked up this woodland scene.

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Love this froggy fountain.

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Stunning orchids were blooming inside a Bellingrath greenhouse.

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Angel’s trumpets perfumed the air that day.

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I was on a group tour, but I wish I’d had time to just sit and enjoy this beautiful, peaceful scene.

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Sigh….pictures like these will have to do for a little while longer, but spring isn’t far away.

 

Fall Leaves

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No need for many words today, when the trees are turning such brilliant fall colors.

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Don’t rake your leaves and burn them–that’s such a waste. Pile them in an out-of-the way spot and turn them occasionally to help them decompose. They’ll make good mulch later. Or save a handful and dip them in melted wax. String them with a needle and invisible thread, and hang them in a window to enjoy. Your leaves will last for many weeks!