Posted by & filed under Children and Nature, Cutting Garden, Garden Design, Gardens, Uncategorized .

The crocus, grape hyacinths, daffodils and tulips all bloomed at once this year, turning my  yard into an absolute work of art. That is, until the grandkids decided they needed to pick bunches of pretty flowers for their mothers. Two and three-year-olds do not have a great grasp of how to cut flowers for a bouquet; within the blink of an eye my blooms were plundered….and I was left with nothing but decapitated stems. I was heartbroken.



After losing all of my early blooms, it occurred to me that this probably wasn’t an isolated incident and I have to admit it made me sad to imagine all of the potentially lost flowers. Little ones thrive on presenting bouquets of blooms to those they love and each fresh wave of flowers is a new opportunity to offer someone, even me, a treasured gift. On one hand, trying to squelch that joy by stopping them just for the sake of aesthetics seems a very un-grandmotherly like thing to do. On the other hand, walking among my garden beds gives me a sense of peace that nothing else does. It seems like being caught between a rock and a hard place.



Leafing through some old magazines, I found my solution  — planting a pint-sized cutting garden. Cutting gardens, as the name implies, are planted for the sole purpose of having  flowers to cut and enjoy. Historically, cutting gardens have been considered less attractive than borders and beds because of their shorn appearance and have been tucked away out of sight. One article I read even implied that letting your visitors see your cutting garden would be a blemish on your landscaping reputation.  



More contemporary material had a somewhat different outlook. In recent years with landscaping becoming less formal in appearance, some of the reservations about cutting gardens have diminished. Instead of being relegated to a hidden corner of the yard, cutting gardens can now claim a place on the edge of the vegetable garden or sharing a sunny spot with the prize perennials.



When establishing a cutting garden, especially a small one, pre-planning is essential to success. First of all, determine the bed’s basics: location, size and shape. The vast majority of flowers suitable for bouquets require a minimum of six hours a day of direct sun each day so look for a sunny, well-drained location. Make sure that the garden will not be hampered by the root systems of nearby tree or shrubs which can compete for water and nutrients as well as make working the bed difficult. Avoid spaces that remain soggy after a watering or a rain shower.



The size and shape of the bed are interrelated elements. Both depend on how much space is available, how much maintenance you wish to do and how many flowers you will expect to cut over the course of the season. A larger sized bed can allow for more plants as well as for generous paths in between rows of flowers. A smaller bed will not produce quite as many flowers for cutting, but also may not need any space devoted to pathways if it can be easily worked from both sides. Most experts in flower production advise starting small and expanding a little each year.



Once the basics are decided, it is time to prepare the bed for planting. Work the soil until it is loose and weed free. Add plenty of organic matter (compost)  to enrich the soil and to ensure both water retention and good drainage. Finally, incorporate a balanced, slow-release granular fertilizer to give your plants the nutrients they need to produce strong, healthy flowers throughout the growing season. If your flower production seems to decline later in the summer, liquid fertilizer can be applied.



Next, think through what varieties you would like to have available for your arrangements. As tempting as it is to want them all, be realistic, picking no more than five or six of your top choices for the first planting of the first year. (I’ve included a list of easy to grow annuals that are suitable for cutting at the end of the article) When choosing flowers, there are a few things to consider:



  • What are the stems like? Will they be easy to work with?
  • What colors will work well together? What do I like?
  • What are their mature heights? Will I have a variation in size?
  • What are their shapes and textures? Have I selected a variety to give interest to the arrangement?
  • When is their bloom period? Do they bloom once or are they rebloomers?
  • Have I selected varieties that will reach peak bloom at different times?
  • How long do the blooms last when cut?
  • Do I want filler plants (baby’s breath or foliage) for my arrangements?
  • Do I want fragrance?
  • Do I want annuals or perennials? (Smaller sized beds may do better with annuals because of their extended bloom season.)


When your final list is in hand but before you head to the garden center to purchase your plants (or seeds), sketch out a grid of your bed to determine how many plants of each type you will need and where they will lie. Since this is a cutting rather than display bed, plants can be placed closer together than their labels suggest. Most cutting gardens are designed with a 6 x 6, 9 x 9,  12 x 12 or 18 x 18 inch grid on center and are planted in rows or blocks for ease of care. It is wise to place varieties with similar growing requirements next to each and arrange varieties by height so that the taller plants don’t block the smaller ones.




Because the flowers are for cutting, worrying about a specific, overall design concept isn’t really necessary. With their profusion of shapes, sizes and colors, many cutting gardens become reminiscent of old-fashioned cottage gardens.


fence lawn flower wall cottage backyard garden gate picket fence shrub private estate yard fenced garden door outdoor structure home fencing


A well planned and planted cutting garden should require very little intense maintenance throughout the growing season. A layer of mulch between plants is beneficial for newly planted gardens, helping to control soil temperature and moisture levels. If you included pathways in your bed, make sure to mulch them as well to reduce weed growth and to slow down water evaporation.



The most important maintenance task however, is deadheading blooms, cutting back tired foliage and pulling dead plants. Removing faded flowers and cutting back weak foliage encourages a flush of new leaves and blossoms. Removing dead plants helps prevent diseases from spreading throughout the garden. It also frees up space to replant a different variety that will bloom throughout autumn, giving you choices for beautiful bouquets until the hard, fall frosts hit.



Including a cutting garden in the landscape, even if it can’t be hidden from daily view or from the sight of visitors, adds an important dimension to our lives. Having a place to freely cut freshly grown flowers gives us the opportunity to surround ourselves — and those we love — with the beauty and benefits of nature. That realization places a high value on each remaining stem.




Annual Plant Suggestions for Beginners

Ageratum (taller varieties)



Blue Salvia

























Sweet Peas





Posted by & filed under Beneficial insects, Fireflies, Lightning Bugs, Nocturnal Insects, Uncategorized .



Those of us who are “of an age” have fond memories of quietly witnessing, or perhaps breathlessly chasing, the glow of hundreds of fireflies as they flitted across the grass on a summer’s evening. It was pure magic. Unfortunately, because of habitat destruction, overuse of pesticides and light pollution, this magic is disappearing as the number of fireflies declines.

Often considered just interesting entertainment, fireflies are actually part of our beneficial insect population. The larvae voraciously consume slugs, snails, and other insects larvae by injecting them with an enzyme that paralyzes their prey and then liquefies them. Most adults continue to feed on other insects, while some feed on pollen and nectar. Adult fireflies, because of their bioluminescent enzyme luciferase, are important to scientists and researchers doing gene studies.



Fireflies are not flies; they are actually part of the beetle family. Of the 2,000 species of fireflies worldwide, between 150 and 175 types are found in the United States and Canada. Fireflies, or lightning bugs as they are sometimes called, can be found in meadows, around streams, at the edges of woods and in yards that offer the right conditions.


.LIke other beetles, fireflies go through four stages of their life cycle —  egg, larva, pupa and adult. Eggs are typically laid in mid-summer and, depending on the species, are placed in or on soil, under mulch or piles of leaves, or burrowed in rotten logs and branches. The eggs hatch in 3 or 4 weeks, usually late summer. The larvae (sometimes called glowworms) live in the soil, and like the adults, are nocturnal.



After passing the winter (some species go through two winters) the larvae create mud chambers in the soil or attach upside down to a tree branch to pupate. Within a few weeks, adults emerge, ready to reproduce, which brings the cycle back to a summer evening and a spectacular light show. Their bioluminescence, those flashing lights, is really not meant as entertainment for us, it is  in fact a courtship ritual. Each species of firefly has its own pattern of movements, flashes and rhythms to attract a mate.


As with other beneficial insect population, the decline of firefly populations is an environmental warning signal. Thankfully, there are steps that can easily be taken to help create an inviting habitat for these cherished insects. Invite fireflies to your yard by:


  • Eliminate pesticide use. Toxic chemicals don’t discriminate between the good bugs and the harmful. They just kill them all.



  • Give them a place to call home. During the daylight hours, fireflies need to rest. Tall grass, leafy shrubs and low-growing plants like ground covers give them a safe corner.



  • Provide moisture. Fireflies gather together around puddles during mating season.



  • Keep it dim. Night lighting can interfere with their ability to complete their mating rituals.



  • Plant native trees, especially thick evergreens that block out artificial light.



  • Add a wood pile that can become a buffet for feeding firefly larvae.



  • Add plenty of native flowers that provide pollen and nectar for adults.



  • Let them be wild. Catching fireflies in a jar is fascinating, but may cause an unintentional insect homicide.




Summer is fast approaching. Let’s invite the fireflies.


Posted by & filed under Beneficial insects, Spiders, Uncategorized .



Neither an insect nor a “true bug,” this fierce-looking arachnid is a common visitor to the garden. Black and yellow garden spiders (also known as  Corn Spiders or Zipper Spiders) and their impressive orb webs (up to two feet in diameter), are typically found in sheltered, sunny places near houses and in gardens or grassy areas.

Because of their size, females reaching an inch in length, these striking spiders may seem threatening, but they typically do not bite humans unless tormented. Instead, during their lifetimes, lack and yellow garden spiders consume countless garden pests such as grasshoppers, katydids, mosquitoes, moths and wasps.

In our cold climate, black and yellow garden spiders typically die out when the first hard frost hits. Left behind in her web however, mama spider leaves a formidable cocoon filled with 300 to 1400 dormant baby spiders who will exit the egg sac the following spring, searching for more harmful insects to eat.

If you run across one of these beauties this summer, resist the temptation to squash. Instead, spend the summer watching this fascinating creature build and maintain her architectural wonder.


Posted by & filed under Fragrance Garden, Heirloom gardens, Heirloom plants, Night blooming plants, Old-fashioned flowers, Uncategorized .

As I mentioned last week, I am determined to recreate an heirloom flower bed. Not finding heirloom seeds in stores here, I spent much of the past week browsing through and making lists of potential purchases from online heirloom seed company catalogs. Although my initial sheet had over thirty varieties on it, I was able to rein myself in and set a limit at ten packets of seeds.



Just a few days after ordering, my seeds arrived. As a poured over them, reading the back of the packets and drinking in the pictures, I realized something revealing. I didn’t remember what half of them looked like; I had ordered them because I remembered how sweet they smelled.



Of our five physical senses, the sense of smell evokes more memories than any of the others. An unexpected drift of a long-forgotten scent can carry us back to times and places that we thought we had left behind. For me, the perfumes of the garden bring back cherished remembrances —  especially of times I spent in my mother’s and grandmother’s backyard flower gardens.



Garden fragrance though, is not just for humans to enjoy. Research shows that flower scent has a critical function in the insect world. Flower scent is tied to pollination; certain scents tend to be paired with particular pollinator types. According to Natalia Dudareva, an associate professor in the department of horticulture and landscape architecture at Purdue University, “Species pollinated by bees and flies have sweet scents, whereas those pollinated by beetles have strong musty, spicy, or fruity odors.”  Pollinators can recognize their preferred scents at distances over a mile away, leading them directly to their specific food sources.



The timing of a flower’s maximum fragrance is related to the species of pollinators that visit it. Those plants that release their fragrances during the day are pollinated by bees and butterflies. Those that are night bloomers are pollinated by moths and bats.



The strength of a flower’s scent is also directly related to its readiness to be pollinated. Blooms that are newly opened are not as ready to be pollinated and are not as fragrant as older ones. Blossoms that have been sufficiently pollinated are also not as fragrant and are less attractive to pollinators, which will typically move on to more efficient food sources.



Regardless of your interest in fragrance — whether it is pure joy or pure science, the innate wisdom of my ancestors amazes me. Without ever studying pollination science or techniques of design for fragrance, my mother, my grandmother and probably all of my community’s elders knew how to create a garden of beauty that aligned well with nature.




Heirloom beds in my community certainly weren’t the huge, cottage-type borders that are often featured in today’s glossy, magazine pages. Instead, they were often narrow, simple beds carved out of spaces that laid next to the kitchen door, lined sidewalks, hugged the neighbor’s fences, rested along the garage and defined the space where a favorite resting chair sat. They were all placed in spaces we passed by often in our daily tasks.



They weren’t pristine beds perfectly mulched to control weeds either. In fact, what open ground did exist was lovingly hand weeded in passing. (I can remember following my grandmother through her garden and listening to her talk to her plants — in Slovak so I never knew exactly what she said to them….Based on my own conversations with my plants, now I wonder what she told them…)



Not surprisingly, their ideas still work well today and are worth considering.




Choose your planting spaces carefully. Make your garden part of your everyday life by planting them in places where they will be viewed easily and visited daily. Spending even a few minutes in nature everyday improves your mental and physical health.



Place your beds in a warm, sheltered area, such as next to a fence or a building. The warmth will allow the fragrances to build and protection from the wind will keep the scents from being dissipated by the wind.



Keep in mind that several of the fragrant flowers are night bloomers. Place those near windows, patios and entryways that are likely to be frequented in the evening.



Position your beds so that they are easily managed. Several of the fragrant plants must be touched in order to release the essential oils that contain their scent. Some of the creeping thymes for example, form a mat that releases its scent when walked on. Use them to line pavers and stepping stones.





Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)



  • Purple or white clusters of blooms all summer long
  • 12 to 18 inches tall
  • Blooms May – September
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Scent of vanilla or some say cherry pie


Sweet Peas  (Lathyrus odoratus )





  • Mixed colors
  • Vining 5 – 6 feet tall
  • Blooms May to July
  • Full sun*
  • Strong daytime scent


Night -Scented Stock  (Matthiola longipetala)




  • Purples, pinks, whites
  • 12 to 18 inches tall
  • Blooms May to July
  • Full sun or partial shade in hot summers
  • Strong evening scent


Pincushion Flower  (Scabiosa atropurpurea )




  • Whites, blues most common
  • 24 – 30 inches tall
  • Blooms May to September
  • Tolerates some shade
  • Sweet scent


Moonflower  (Ipomoea noctiflora )




  • White, 6 inch blooms
  • Vining to 12 feet
  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Strong perfume scent at night


Phlox  (Phlox paniculata)




  • Whites, pinks, reds, purples
  • 24 – 48 inches tall
  • Blooms July to September
  • Full sun
  • Sweet scent

Sweet Alyssum  (Lobularia maritima)




  • White blooms
  • 12 inches tall
  • Blooms April to June
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Sweet scent

*Modern hybrids in various colors are usually shorter and may have fragrance


Nicotiana  (Nicotiana alata)




  • Purples, pinks, whites, bronze
  • Up to 5 feet tall
  • Blooms June to frost
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Night blooming fragrances

*Modern hybrids are shorter, open during the day and do not have the fragrance


Sweet William  (Dianthus barbatus)



  • Pinks, whites, reds
  • 12 to 24 inches tall
  • Blooms May to September
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Light, sweet scent

Common Lilac ( Syringa vulgaris)




  • Purples, whites
  • 3 to 7 feet tall
  • Blooms April to May
  • Full sun
  • Strong, sweet fragrance