Posted by & filed under Beneficial insects, Insects, Lady beetles, Uncategorized .


An insatiable predator, the familiar lady bug is one of the gardeners best friends. In it’s relatively short lifetime, a single lady bug can devour up to 5,000 aphids. Throughout their life cycles the over 400 species of lady bugs here in the United States also voraciously consume whiteflies, scale insects and mealybugs. Lady bugs, which are actually beetles, go through what is known as complete metamorphosis, or a transformation from eggs which are often laid on the backs of plant leaves, to larvae to pupae and finally to the adult stage.




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Lady beetles tend to have two to three generations per year. During the winter, some species migrate to warmer locations in search of food, while others seek shelter under piles of leaves, within the bark of trees or even in homes. During the winter, they suspend development. When warm weather arrives, they return to the outdoors and begin their life cycle again.

While human beings find  the black spotted, bright orange wing covers atrractive (By the way, not all lady bugs have this coloring.), the coloring serves as a warning to predators. Lady bugs, also known as lady beetles, release a toxic substance from their leg joints when they are in jeopardy of being eaten.

While primarily insect feeders, lady beetles do consume both pollen and nectar. There are several ways to attract these beneficial insects to your garden, Most importantly, AVOID CHEMICAL PESTICIDE USE.  Secondly, plant nectar and pollen rich plants with clusters of flowers. Some excellent choices are:


Golden alexanders, an early spring bloom for emerging lady beetles.



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Butterfly weed





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Posted by & filed under Drought tolerant plants, Grandma's garden, Heirloom gardens, Heirloom plants, Night blooming plants, Old-fashioned flowers, Shade-loving plants, Spring blooming plants, Uncategorized .


My husband and I just returned from a ten day vacation in Virginia. The weather was perfect the whole time we traveled; spring was emerging and everywhere we visited the surroundings were bursting with color.



Since we both love American history almost as much as we love gardening, both Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg made it to our list of places to see. With Jefferson’s passion for horticulture, we knew that his gardens would be outstanding, but neither of us were prepared for what we found in Williamsburg. Truly heaven on earth for two passionate gardeners.



For me, it wasn’t the range of styles or the complexity of the designs (although the boxwood maze at the Governor’s Palace was pretty impressive) that dazzled me,  it was the individual varieties themselves. The gardens named so many of the flowers that I remembered from years ago — from my grandmother’s gardens. Even without the blooms themselves, the names transported back to the shapes and the colors and the fragrances of my youth. They reminded me of chasing butterflies during bright spring mornings, of strolling in the summer twilight and gathering seeds to save in the fall.




Now that I am back home, the wintertime plans I made for my yard have dramatically changed. Instead of so many tomatoes and peppers and cabbages, I’m going to recreate the timeless beauty and magic of my grandma’s garden and hopefully build fond memories for my own beloved grandchildren.





In order to create an old-fashioned garden, the first step is to research and select the Heirloom Plants that will work in your chosen space. Typically, the term heirloom is seen in reference to vegetables, especially tomatoes, but it does apply to flowering plants as well. An heirloom variety is one that is open-pollinated, which means that it is pollinated by wind or insects and that its seeds produce “fruit” (in this case the blooms) that are true to the parent. Heirloom varieties have usually existed for 50 or more years.




In the past, locating heirloom flowering plants and seeds was a difficult task. Since they could not be produced with the same consistency and numbers as hybrids, growers moved away from them. At the same time, consumers’ expectations for form, size and color began to change so nurseries, garden centers and other retail outlets responded by dropping many of the “old favorites” and stocking the new, improved varieties. Unfortunately, the hybrids often lacked some of the characteristics that the heirlooms possessed. Disease resistance, drought tolerance, hardiness and fragrance were among the traits sacrificed.



Today, many gardeners are recognizing the allure of heirloom varieties and are requesting them for their gardens. Nurseries and garden centers are beginning to stock them, seed companies are including them on their racks and there are several reputable online suppliers and seed exchange programs as well. Seed Savers Exchange is one of the most well-known nonprofit sources. (I love their motto: We built a movement, not a seed company.)



Although the choices for an old-fashioned garden depend on your zone and individual location, I have included a selection of plants that are primarily for the Midwest, although some of them will grow well in other areas too. Many are those that I remember from my childhood, some I learned of on my trip and others have been recommended to me. I hope you enjoy them and I hope that you will share your favorites with us in the comments section. Happy growing!





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Posted by & filed under Color; Designing with Color, Designing with Color, Garden Design, Site analysis, Soil, Soil Health, Uncategorized .

I regularly volunteer at our library’s used book sales. It’s fun sharing recommendations with fellow readers and I find that many readers tend to be gardeners as well. In my mind, that’s the perfect combination of characteristics!


This past weekend I was chatting with a young couple who had just bought their very first house and were excited to begin, in their words, “Working in our yard.”  One of the projects they planned was to put in a flower bed that they could see from the window over the kitchen sink.  They chattered on enthusiastically about what they were going to plant, but as I listened, it became apparent they had absolutely no idea how to plan or plant a simple, basic flower garden. What they envisioned just wasn’t going to happen in the space they were describing.



Our conversation got me thinking about first gardening experiences in general. Complete and utter failure can quickly quench gardening fervor in the inexperienced, robbing our pollinators of another potential habitat and our world of another spot of beauty. With habitats disappearing and insect species declining, it seems important to nurture the gardening spirit in the novice gardener. So, with that in mind, we are going to go back to the basics.



Let’s plan a flower garden — a very first garden.  




The first (and most important) step to a gorgeous garden is to KNOW THE SITE.


Concentrate on light; learn how much sunlight the bed will get. Is it in full sun, which means at least six hours every day? If it is, when do those six hours hit — 8 AM until 2, or 12 PM until 6? Those two time frames call for very different types of plants. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those spaces that sit in complete or almost complete shade all day. Plants for a shade garden are vastly different, typically much more delicate, than those for full or even partial sun beds.



While you are figuring out how much sun the area receives, pay attention to what kind of sun it is. Will the plants have the sun directly beating down on them all day, or will they sit in dappled sunlight? Do trees or shrubs or even buildings provide shade for part of the day?  If so, which part and for how long? Will the shading shift as the growing season progresses? Trees in partial leaf, for example, throw a different cast than when they are in full leaf.



As you are monitoring the light, study the soil too. Soil for annual flower beds and most perennial beds should be rich with organic matter and should drain well. (Native plantings have different soil and nutritional requirements. Watch for future articles on preparing beds for native plants.) Part 2 of our Digging Into Dirt series, published March 6, 2018, is an excellent resource on the common soil types, how to recognize each type and how to make soil improvement. I’ve included a link to that article for your convenience.




If, after reading our information on soil, you are still uncertain about your own, we strongly suggest having the soil tested by a laboratory. Testing is the most accurate way to determine the type of soil in your bed and exactly which nutrients your soil may need. State extension services typically offer soil testing at very reasonable rates and will provide exact instructions for taking the samples. Paying a few dollars for a sample can save you quite a bit of money in the long run if you can avoid buying expensive and unnecessary soil amendments.




Plants need to obtain adequate but not excessive moisture to survive, so be sure and check the soil’s ability to hold or drain water. A quick test of the soil’s water retention is to take a handful of soil in your hand and shape it into a ball. If the ball immediately falls apart, then the soil will not hold adequate water for your plants. If the soil forms a hard lump, then it is probably clay and will hold too much water, potentially drowning (or starving) your plants. If the soil stays in a ball, but crumbles at a light tap, you probably have a loamy soil which will hold enough water but also drain well.



Finally, seriously analyze the location of your intended bed. Does the placement make sense and fit with the rest of the yard?  Will it create a focal point or connect to another feature in the landscape, or is it just sort of hanging out by itself? Will the placement be convenient for watering? For weeding? Is it in the middle of an important, well-traveled pathway, making it difficult to get from one space to another? Hauling bags of trash around a bed may not seem like an inconvenience now, but you may feel differently in the pouring rain or blazing sun.



Once your site is thoroughly analyzed, then it is time to get to KNOW THE PLANTS.


Not all plants flourish in all conditions. Take the time to research what environmental conditions various  types of flowers need. Knowing this before you purchase any plants helps you select flowers that you love, and more importantly, that will flourish in your garden. Choosing easy to grow varieties with long bloom seasons helps to ensure success. Having a beautiful garden the first time encourages novice gardeners to expand their efforts and try something new and perhaps just a little more ambitious.



Flowering plants can be divided into three broad categories: annuals, perennials and biennials.


Annuals complete their entire life cycles within one year; they germinate from seed, grow, bloom and die in one season. Annuals must be replanted every spring which allows for easy changes in the garden, but also means more expense each year. Annuals often reward you with a profusion of blooms all summer long.



Perennials live more than one season. They grow, bloom, die back in the winter and then re-emerge the following spring to repeat the cycle. Most perennials bloom for a shorter time frame than annuals, typically 4 to 6 weeks. They are more expensive (per plant) than most annuals, but live for multiple seasons. Many have specific environmental requirements.




Biennials have a two year life cycle. The first year, leaves and stems appear. The plant goes dormant over winter and reappears to bloom the following year. Biennials are less common than either annuals or perennials.



Although all three categories of plants can bring beauty to the garden, annuals are usually recommended for new gardeners. They offer season long, dynamic color, require little summertime maintenance beyond watering,fertilizing and deadheading, don’t need overwintering and are readily available to consumers. Annuals offer novices the opportunity to easily change their designs and color schemes since they are replaced every year.



If you know your site and you’ve learned your plants, then  it is time to consider the DESIGN.


Veteran gardeners typically enter the spring season with an outdoor atmosphere and  a color palette in mind. They know whether their gardens will be places of vitality and adventure or oases of quiet contemplation. Making these decisions in advance helps prevent impulsive purchases that result in a chaotic hodgepodge instead of an harmonious display.



A garden’s predominant colors help to determine the mood of the garden. Colors can be divided into two groups — warm colors and cool colors. Warm colors are made up of reds, oranges and yellows; they are vibrant and tend to jump out at you. Warm colors are stimulating to the senses and liven up a space.



Cool colors, the blues, greens, greys and light purples, are calming and tend to recede into the distance. They relax you and invite you so sit and enjoy the view. Using similar colors in a design gives a sense of peaceful unity, while using contrasting colors, those across from one another on a color wheel, creates a sense of dramatic excitement.



Other elements to consider as you design your bed are the mature height and shape of the flowers.  A controlled variety of heights and shapes that blend into one another adds interest to the bed and helps the eye travel from one section to another. Combinations of contrasting shapes tend to give a feeling of lively movement, while masses of similar shapes communicate tranquility.



Finally, design your garden by placing plants in odd numbered groupings (for example, three, five or seven) for the greatest visual impact. Use only a few of your favorite varieties to avoid an unfocused look and repeat plant groups several times to create a sense of unity. Avoid long straight rows of plants. Instead, subtly blend plant groups together by occasionally interplanting them.




Planting a first garden, whether a very first or just a first in the space, is an exciting and important event. I hope my young friends have success this year and have many more first gardens in their future!