The Impatient Gardener: November 2014

26 November 2014


It's Thanksgiving in the U.S. tomorrow so a lot of people are running around like chickens turkeys with their heads cut off trying to get the last minute details out of the way.

We'll be going to my parents house for the largest family gathering we've had in years. All three of my dad's sisters and their spouses will be there in addition to the usual suspects. My mom had split up the cooking duties between me and my brother and his wife and herself so no one has to do it all.

I'm in charge of apple pie and although I was only told to bring one, I'll probably bring two because honestly, it's not that much more work to make two than it is to make one. We're also in charge of mashed potatoes, which we'll make at home and bring in a crockpot (we're doing buffet style this year because of the number of people). That will work out very good because my mom is a health nut and thinks  you make mashed potatoes with skim milk. Every year we sneak butter and cream into them and she proclaims that the potatoes are so good, why would you need to add more calories. My mom's in great shape and that alone is testament to the importance of a healthy diet but for crying out loud, if you can't eat a few extra calories on Thanksgiving when can you.

My grandma with four of her nine grandchildren. The littlest one is me and that's my brother to my left.
I'm also making creamed pearl onions, which is a throwback to the Thanksgivings of my childhood at my grandma's house. I loved Thanksgiving as a kid. We always made place cards (hand turkeys, etc.) and got to sit at the kids table which was super fun. I remember my grandma almost never sat down for dinner. She was constantly popping up to refill a dish or get something from the kitchen that she had forgotten, even though everyone told her to just sit down. She always overcooked the green beans and let me tell you, she never made mashed potatoes with skim milk.

Many years later, this photo of her with four of her five granddaughters was taken. I think this may have been her 90th birthday and she was stylish even then. See what cream and butter in mashed potatoes does for you? 
We'll miss her this Thanksgiving, as we have in all of the six years since she died, but I'm sure she'd be happy to see her whole family together again for Thanksgiving.

And this is the part where I'm going to exercise serious restraint and not get into how I feel about stores opening on Thanksgiving, meaning that those employees cannot be with their families on the holiday. What would I rather have: One more Thanksgiving where I got to sit around the table with grandma or a $300 giant television? There's no contest.

And I leave you with this fantastic video, one I hope to recreate for you tonight because we are definitely going to try this.

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25 November 2014


We got our first real snowfall (a few inches) last night which makes it a little harder to ignore the freight train that is Christmas.

Let me start by saying I really hate that Thanksgiving seems to have been forgotten other than to mark the Thursday before the weekend that everyone is putting up their Christmas decorations. I love decorating the house for Christmas but I also tire of the stuff pretty quickly, which is why I usually don't put up a tree until about two weeks before the holiday.

The exception I make is for outside decorations, which more and more is where I really focus my attention when it comes to holiday decorating. Despite the nice coating of white, outside is looking pretty bleak these days and I love adding a little color and interest out there.

I'm hoping to get the outdoor decorations finished this coming weekend so I've started gathering my supplies. You might recall the photo I posted a couple Fridays ago with the really fun holiday containers. These will serve as my inspiration for the large container by the front door. I found some birch branches on sale at a craft store a couple weeks ago and snatched them up. Yes, I paid for birch branches. It's a little embarrassing, I'll admit.

When I "planted" the steel rings in the septic mound, I had two leftover that I intended to put in one of the gardens closer to the house, but I never really found the right spot for them. That's still my intention, but in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to incorporate the smallest of them (3-1/2 feet in diameter, I think) into the holiday decorations. I think it's destined for a place in the window box.

Don't be too impressed. It wasn't my idea.

Deborah Silver photo
As always, I will need to collect some dogwood branches. There is dogwood growing wild all over the place here, but you only get good red color on newer growth. Also there is that little issue of just helping yourself to prunings from property that isn't yours. I got some very good branches from my parents' property last year so I'm just hoping it grew enough to be harvested again. Otherwise I might be in for a bit of searching. I refuse to pay for branches.

The same isn't true of evergreen boughs. I don't have any trees in need of pruning so I have no choice. I've had a little luck cleaning out the scrap bin at Home Depot where they throw the cuts from Christmas trees, but it turns out that little trick is no longer a secret, so you have to have good timing. I also like to incorporate a variety of greens so I usually end up buying some nice cedar boughs.

I scored a pretty good deal on weatherproof faux berry picks from the florist supply/craft store so I will be able to reuse those and of course I have lots of lights handy.

Last year, I used Deborah Silver's method of putting foam in the containers and it was so helpful. I saved all that foam (it was not inexpensive) and will reuse it this year.

I also splurged again and ordered several bunches of silver dollar eucalyptus. I used this last year and it lasted the whole winter and looked great even when it faded. I ordered from here because I was happy with how quickly it came last year and how nice it looked. 

I hope to show you the finished product next week in a special holiday decorating round-up.

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19 November 2014


I've whined about the deer problem in my garden many times before and there is no perfect solution. Every year I learn more in the war in combatting them and what I learned last year was that they can do major damage in winter.

Up until last year, we've had many years of mild winters. But last year we had a very cold and very snowy winter. The snow that fell early in the season never melted so it just kept piling up. That meant that the deer could not get to their usual food sources. The deer population by us has also flourished in recent years, so there is a lot of pressure on the environment to feed the herd.

Last year they ate anything they could reach, so even plants and trees that they had never shown interest in before were targeted.

And weather experts are predicting this winter will be as bad as last. So I took some extra precautions in protecting some plants.

This is not a method I've ever seen before and it is completely untested, but it's cheap, easy and easier on the eye than a lot of other protection methods.

To my knowledge, the only way to protect a plant from deer in winter is a physical barrier. If a plant also needs protection from the cold and wind, that may come in the form of burlap, but if it just needs protection from gnawing, that generally means some kind of fencing. Except deer have a knack for biting through fencing, so you can't just wrap a plant in it; you have to get the fencing away from the plant to create a gap. That means that you have to set poles in the ground.

Lots of deer fencing isn't pretty either.

So I thought as long as I had to put poles in the ground anyway, why not try something that is a little less noticeable and much less expensive.

When I was researching deer fences for the property, I learned that deer have pretty lousy sight. I also believe that deer are pretty lazy, so they usually won't work too hard for something that isn't really special, and in winter, nothing is really special (well, maybe cedar trees but they've already eaten everything 7 feet high and lower).

I created a large string "cage" around the viburnums that were munched on last winter.

So I used nylon string to create a string "fence" around specific shrubs and trees. I tied clove hitches (perhaps that should be the second in my how-to-tie-knots series) around each pole, spacing the string out about 7 or 8 inches. On some of them where the string got a little saggy, I also created a big string X on each side.

At some point I'll go back and tie a little something onto the string (ribbon, maybe) so the deer can easily see that it's there. I made sure to place the poles far enough away that a deer can't just stick its head in between the lines and reach the plant.

I made a large string "cage" around the viburnums on the east side of the property because they were hit by the deer pretty bad last year. I also made one around the new 'Mariesii' viburnum by the bird feeders (a favorite deer hangout) and around the Japanese maple, which they also did a number on last year.

Will it work? I have no idea, but I know I'd much rather look at my string cages than big fences. Only time will tell if its enough to keep the deer moving.

Do you have to protect plants from deer in winter?

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14 November 2014


I am such a sucker for a workout fad. I didn't even finish this article before I ordered the foam roller. What can I say, she had me at "taller and thinner." I've been doing it for almost a week and it's definitely helping with my neck pain (I get that tense neck thing so many women tend to get).

I'm telling you, everything Loi touches is amazing. Check out this basement "man room" and be prepared to be envious.

I'm trying hard to balance the urge to STOP THE MADNESS that has made Christmas creep into early November but also not end up rushing around like a mad woman so I don't even get to enjoy the holidays. So I'm trying to gather Christmas decorating inspiration so I have a plan when it comes time to decorate. These containers are really fun and different from what I've done in recent years.

Yep, I need a cocktail tower.

Lemon and Rosemary Drizzle cake. Um ... yum!

It seems like a lot of bloggers have been having babies lately and as I do not have that in common with them I generally just ignore baby posts. But this might be the cutest baby ever.

That's it, gang. I hope everyone has a great weekend. Perhaps we'll get a little farther on the garage pergola this weekend (there's now a bandsaw involved).


13 November 2014


A few weeks ago I told you that I was contemplating adding some fence panels along a portion of our driveway. I'm still very much in favor of that happening, especially since the house next door recently sold. We don't know what the situation with the new neighbors will be, but odds are they will be around much more than our previous neighbors.

The other idea I've been tossing around in my head for several months now is something to dress up the driveway. You might recall that I was hesitant to have the gravel driveway paved. I looked into the cost of lining it with cobblestones or some kind of decorative edging but that was very expensive. As many of you predicted, I already love the paved driveway and I can't believe we waited 12 years to do it.

But it is a bit blasé. My mind usually goes to plants when I start thinking about how to spruce up an outdoor space and that's where I landed with this quandry as well. But whatever happens next to the driveway needs to be tough as nails. We get a lot of snow and ice in winter and plow the driveway, which pushes the snow well off of the driveway. There is no planting that will stand up to being driven over or plowed in winter that I'm aware of.

See what I mean? It's a little boring, right?
Snoozefest ... especially now that all the containers are empty.
More and more I've been craving symmetry in the garden. There is no one more shocked by this revelation than I am, I assure you. But what I love about our house and yard is that is casual and comfortable so formal symmetry has no business here.

And that got me thinking about a line of planters on either side of the apron, which also serves as the approach to our front door. At first I thought pleached trees (think of free-standing espalier where all the branches grow into one another to create a living, raised wall), but that won't work for winter. But cute little lollipop trees absolutely would work.

So imagine this: three large planters on either side of the apron, situated across from each other (possibly set in an alley of small riverstones or something to avoid having to mow between them, but that's up for debate). In each planter, a short tree with very densely packed foliage, preferably something that turns color in fall. I'm not thinking of anything that approaches topiary territory, for as much I like that look in some circumstances, that would never work in my yard. Rather, I'm envisioning something with a mostly round habit but a bit more free-form than a topiary ball.

I did a couple bad Photoshop mock-ups to better explain what I'm thinking of. Both are a bit out of context since the photos were taken in fall, but hopefully they'll give you an idea of what I'm contemplating.

Here's one with very formal topiaries and I think you can see what I mean when I say that's not right. Ideally I'd like the canopies of these trees to almost touch when they have grown for a few years.

 Here's another with the tree concept a little better represented (although I would want more trunk) with terra cotta pots that don't work at all and are rather distracting.

There are obstacles to this plan, which is why it's been rolling around in my head for several months with no action on my part. Six large planters are expensive. And I guess I've proven that we could build them, but honestly, I don't want to spend all winter building them when I know someone else could bang them out in a weekend. I'd probably call on Ryan who built our kitchen cabinets and the built-in in our bedroom for this project. I'd also have to solve the planter liner issue, because the steel box in the planter we built was a huge unexpected expense. I imagine staining the planters a soft gray, similar to the color of our deck underskirting.

I've contacted a local nursery about suggestions for a tree that might work and they very nicely came up with several suggestions, the most interesting of which is a small cultivar of hornbeam that would be appropriate for pollarding, which is what they suggest for the look I'm going for.

Caring for the trees would be no easy task. Obviously they have to be watered and tended to regularly. They would need feeding as well (something you don't have to worry about with a tree planted in the ground). Every three to five years I would have to root prune them, meaning they would have to be completely removed from their containers while dormant, cleaned of all their soil and pruned at the roots, similar to what you do with bonsai.

And in fall, they would be moved, containers and all, to the backside of the garage where they could winter in a sheltered area free from the ravages of the plow.

It's an expensive and arduous proposition, but I feel like it could completely change the feel of the yard and the entry to our house.

No decisions have to be made yet, but obviously if I'm going to do it, the sooner I can get Ryan working on the planters, the better. In the meantime, I'm just letting that idea marinate a bit.

I have a Pinterest board dedicated to this concept so if you're interested in a little inspiration, check it out here

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12 November 2014


I forget how difficult it is to keep on top of photos when Daylight Savings Time ends. Seems like I'm only home when it's dark these days.

The deep freeze is scheduled to arrive this week and stick around for at least a week. Temperatures next week will struggle to break 20. In other words, it was time to get going on my garden cleanup.

Here's how I prioritize garden cleanup in the perennial garden.

1. Pots. Pots must be cleaned out (and by this I mean dumping the soil and plants out, not actually scrubbing them, which I realize you are supposed to do but I rarely get around to) and moved into the garage to get them out of the way for shoveling and to avoid damaging them.

I finished this project up Sunday and I'm feeling much better just having that done.

The Venus dogwood gets a heap of chopped up leaves over its roots. The poles will come into play later for protection from deer.

2. Leaves. I don't like tons of leaves left sitting in the garden over winter. They form a huge frozen mat that takes forever to thaw and they never break down. So I try to get as many leaves out of the garden as I can. Then I run over them with the lawn mower a couple times before bagging them with the mower. The chopped-up leaves are then either used for leaf mold (kept in a separate pile or bins), added to the compost pile or used as a winter mulch around the roots off plants I want to offer extra protection to.

These chopped up leaves are like gold to me. I'd take as many of them as I possibly could. Mr. Much More Patient has wisened up to this and has started lobbying for a fancy new riding lawn mower (that we don't need) with a huge leaf mulching/collecting attachment that he says would work so well he'd even go collect neighbors' leaves.

The main garden is mostly cut back and ready for winter.

3. Cutting back perennials. I've read plenty of articles that suggest it is better for the health of the plants to leave them standing over winter and certainly it is good for wildlife. What it is not good for is the gardener in spring. That's a lot of work added on to an already busy season.

I split it about half and half. I like to leave ornamental grasses standing as well as sedums. I will leave a few coneflowers standing for the birds and I always leave all the spent flowers on the hydrangeas. I will also leave everything that was newly planted this summer standing. And the same goes for things like clematis that shouldn't be pruned until late winter. Although I only have about half of the gardens (half of the half of the stuff I clean up) finished, this is a project that can go on as long as I can get in the gardens, so I'll probably pick it up again over the weekend and even beyond if we get a little warm spell.

Anything I can do now saves time in spring and there is never enough time in spring.

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06 November 2014


Did you all enjoy the weekend? As much as I am not a fan of the whole outdated concept of Daylight Savings Time, the Sunday in fall after we turn back the clocks has to be the single most productive day of the year. You work and work and work and you look at the clock and it's only 11 a.m. I love that.

Last weekend was meant to be dedicated to one of big projects at our house. I speak, of course of the garage pergola, a project that I've been swearing we're going to do for more than a year (I first wrote about it here).

And here's where it's at.

 After two days of working on it, we have two brackets up. That's it.

Allow me to fill you in on the details. But first, let me put this in context. Mr. Much More Patient is not in favor of this project. He thinks pergolas are dumb and serve no purpose (and this one really does serve no purpose other than to pretty up the garage). It is clear that if it were up to him, there would be no pergola.

Because that feeling was pretty clear from the beginning, the first thing I did last year when I cooked up this idea and got a hesitant "OK" from MMP, was buy the brackets from

Lesson No. 1 in how to get your partner to get on board with a project they are clearly not jazzed about: Buy the most expensive supplies first. Once you've committed the money to the project it becomes real and therefore must be finished.

Because he's not really a fan of this idea, MMP has been dragging his feet big time on this. A couple weekends ago it couldn't be done because we had to deal with all the fallen leaves. Other weekends there were mysterious "meetings" that couldn't be avoided. After he had used up ever possible excuse, he had to gather supplies.

And if you're trying to avoid a project, it can take a LONG time to gather supplies. In fact, MMP spent Saturday morning going to the dump (we don't have local garbage pickup by us) ... twice. Then he spent a lot of time with a pad of paper and a pencil making some notes. Then he ate lunch. And then, just as he was walking out of the door to go gather said supplies, we noticed that a tree on the northeast corner of our lot had fallen down and upon further inspection, realized that it had fallen on our neighbor's cherry picker that he uses for work. MMP went to gather supplies for (I swear) hours and when he came home he had to go to town on our stupid fallen tree and well, Saturday was kaput.

MMP had no excuses left on Sunday so we actually did get down to business. The problem was that we were a little unsure about measurements, mostly how high to mount this thing. Higher is better, but then it will overlap (not hit, but overlap visually) with the corner of the roof which we thought would look weird. Honestly, I still have concerns about the height, but there's no going back now.

A down jacket and shorts and flip flops? Mr. Much More Patient will do anything to avoid wearing pants and proper shoes, including freeze.

Anyway I won't bore you with more details, but basically it took us a few hours to mount the two outside brackets. We're waiting on the middle bracket until we finish making the main "beam" that will span across the width of the garage.

That is going to be made of a double width of 2x8s, with two 12-footers in front and a 12-footer and two 6-footers sistered onto the back. The whole thing will be about 24 feet long. The problem? We're not sure we're going to be able to get a 24-foot-long "beam" out of our basement because of the angle of the exit.

We also found out that the router that we have (my father-in-law's, I think) does not accommodate a long bit, meaning that we can't cut the detail on the end of the boards that make up the top part of the pergola until we figure that out (the curved bit would be very difficult to cut with a jigsaw).

Anyway, how's that for an update? But what are you going to do? Sometimes projects don't go as planned and a lot of time they take a lot longer than you planned. In this case this one has taken about a year longer than I had planned.

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