Arty Fun for My Garden


Creative container projects are found all over the internet, and it’s great to recycle what you can. If you want big effects without huge expenses, try decorating with paint. In this case, I bought the 5 gallon pots above from a garden supplier on Amazon, and the price for five of them was around $30. You’ve seen, I’m sure, how large ceramic pots can cost upwards of $30 for a single one. The treatment I’ve given these, to get the marbleized look, is simple. Use a sanding sponge to prep the surface, and add a base coat of outdoor paint. A dark color gives good depth when you add white on top. Using outdoor craft paints, add a second base layer after the first is dry, and dab on accent colors. The real trick is in the Magic Eraser, a Mr. Clean product. If you buff the paint while damp with the Magic Eraser (paint damp, eraser dry), it blends the paint into these marble patterns, and removes any appearance of brushstrokes.


Here’s another paint project with very cheap materials. These are collected sticks, wired to bamboo stakes (for fixing them in the ground), and painted from some of the half and quarter bottles I’ve accumulated from various projects. The trellis is really optional, I just happened to have it there and wanted to jazz it up a little. But you can teepee the sticks easily. The purpose is to give a colorful and quirky support for flowering vines. I’m going to try Cobaea this year.

Last fall, I got curious about the flower stalks on my heucheras. I’d never heard of starting these from seeds, but I Googled, and “they” said it could be done. The seeds were in a bowl by the back door glass, and stayed tiny for months. Last week I put up my first round of seed flats under lights for the indoor growing season, so I repotted my small heucheras and carried them up to the lights. They’ve been getting sizable and all seem to be a basic type, with round leaves that come out red and turn bronzy. Great for edging a shady border. 

Meanwhile, it is a good time in zone 6b to start perennials. For three reasons: Because they can be slow to germinate, because they can be slower growing to size than annuals, and because if they get overlarge for indoors by April, they can be hardened off and kept outdoors, even planted in the garden, being frost hardy.


I’ve written about my Bradford pear, its stinky flowers, and its being fed on by the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. I had an ash tree snag, as well, the tree killed by the Emerald Ash Borer, that arrived some years ago in Southeastern Ohio and has done a lot of harm in the forest. I got them both cut down last week. I was going to have the pear’s weird branches, that threatened to tear the trunk in half, cut off, but the tree cutter suggested removing it. And the truth is, I don’t know of a good reason not to remove a Bradford pear. Some states are even offering bounties and free replacement trees for the disposal of them. 

Like other invasives, they’re bad because they spread aggressively in nature. Birds eat the fruits, and eliminate the seeds, and the thorny callery pear (the underlying species of the Bradford variety) takes over roadsides and woodland edges.

(You can see, by the way, from the state of the snow, how much animal traffic I get in my yard.)


Garden Prep Work

Photo of azalea roots from layered branches

A chore worth doing, is to cut low-hanging branches off your shrubs. When branches are scraping ground, you have a hard time raking out debris; and when you rake under your shrubs, your garden’s appearance is improved—but also, pests and funguses are reduced. You may find some branches that are under piles of leaves have produced roots. This is the principle behind layering, the name for propagating shrubs by deliberately burying their branches. Above are two azalea starts. The parent plant gets assaulted by mites every year, although it comes back in the spring and blooms.

Planting in shade will sometimes ward off pests that thrive in bright sun, so I’ll find out if these do better in my back yard under trees. I noticed this phenomenon with a green beetle that used to devour my sunny phlox, but never bothered the shady ones.

Photo of grow lights setup for starting garden seeds

Here is my seed-starting arrangement. Gardeners who grow their own plants tend to hang onto their lights forever, but we’re living in a good era for upgrading. LEDs are better than fluorescent tubes, and don’t create the same disposal issues because they last so long—these I’ve bought this year, at the photo’s right, are linkable, so I can use fewer plugs in my surge protectors. They draw 45 watts, times six (plus the old ones) still well below a household outlet’s capacity. I use daylight, though I’ve seen advice to mix daylight with warm bulbs for the full spectrum. I don’t, and my seedlings all do fine. The coleus and impatiens, seen on the left, are cuttings from plants I brought indoors last fall. These two species root so easily that even stripping the leaves from the stem isn’t necessary. They will sit wilted for a week and then their leaves will plump up again.

I use peat pellets to start my plants, because the peat is resistant to fungus, so the seedlings do better achieving their second set of leaves without damping off (a fungal disease). But the following year, I have to dig up the remains from my annuals. (Perennials just grow through the netting and carry on.) This year, since I’ve been improving my front border with a double-height edge of blocks, it’s occurred to me these old pellets would work well stuck in gaps and spaces, where the netting will prevent water from carrying away garden soil, a good use for last year’s leavings.

Photo of cobblestones placed on furnace filter

An idea I have about what to do with an old furnace filter. The wire mesh holds the cobblestones in place, and the cardboard should decompose into the soil. The problematic item is the fiberglass filter. Landscape fabric is a polypropylene, so its decomposition into the environment has some impact, although it’s considered outdoor-safe. Fiberglass is substantially a plastic product, too, and is used for pool and pond filters.

The alternative to finding a use for old furnace filters is to add them to landfills. This arrangement could be covered with sand, pebbles, or mulch, and the filter would block weeds, while its decomposition ought to be well contained. Let me know if you have more information.


A last idea for reusing plastic. The above is a large cat treat cannister. I buy lettuce for sandwiches, not salads, so I need it to last a few weeks. Transferring lettuce from the store packaging to this upright configuration, then adding paper towels top and bottom, really helps my greens last a long time. 

April Garden News

Here’s a sassy orange tulip I saved from the deer. I have two blooming, and one that will probably get away with making a flower. The others have had their heads bitten off.


I’ve been getting into the gardening magazines, getting inspired by projects. I don’t subscribe anymore, but still have a stack never read. So, I’ve gone through my garage, finding every pot or article (large pieces of pipe, an old dryer vent), that could be spruced up with craft paint. At the left is nothing but a shrub-sized plastic pot, such as garden centers use. Here’s one kind of recycling to keep plastic out of circulation altogether! The paints are Martha Stewart metallic and pearlized, and the decoration is done by dipping crumpled plastic wrap in contrasting colors after a base coat dries, then tamping on the freeform design. When they’re ready to go out, add a coat of car wax, to make them more rain resistant.


Here are my garden seeds, sprouted and on their way, after two weeks. It’s something of a balancing act to get them early enough they have a healthy amount of growth, comparable to plants you’d buy at the garden store. But growth is especially important with perennials. Last year, for example, I put out probably a dozen hollyhocks, which like most perennials won’t bloom the first year. This year, I count less than half that number surviving, from voles and deer, and crowding by the roots of other plants. Last year’s achillea (deer resistant) has pretty much all come back, but this is the first season they’ll bloom. I had good monarda (also deer resistant) last year, a plant that will flower like an annual, but this year a couple stands don’t seem to have returned. But since even tender annuals can go outdoors in April during the daytime (unless the temperatures are below the upper fifties), it’s better to start early, and have big plants that will bloom as soon as possible.

Seedlings, though, then young mature plants, do get to be a lot to handle indoors.

And by the way, the impatiens flowering pink, above, are from cuttings. They’ll grow easily that way—just snip a top with buds, making your cut between two sets of leaf nodes, and stick it in potting soil. It will root and start blooming within a week or two. The downside is that cuttings are clones. Impatiens are also very easy to start from seeds, and that genetic diversity will improve their chances of not picking up disease.




The Gardener Looks Forward

Photo of yellow-bellied sapsucker sapwells on tree


This is the effect of a yellow-bellied sapsucker on my callery pear tree. These sap-wells won’t start to flow until the springtime. The male I’ve seen, who owns this tree and comes out to patrol it, may be living a little out of his traditional range (there must be a female around, too). He’s been making rows of holes on this tree for years, but seems to have moved to a new stage. Sapsuckers can actually kill trees—for myself, I’d rather have happy birds. They aren’t likely to attack species of tree that don’t produce volumes of sap, those being mostly maples, birches, and fruit trees.


Photo of frog statue in snowy garden


The frog is always getting knocked off his perch. I have visiting deer who come every night looking for corn around the feeder. A couple of males have racks, and I’m guessing they bump the frog trying to maneuver their heads into the space around the tubs and pots.


Photo of Tufted Titmice on snowy branches


These guys were easy to capture in the lilac. Tufted titmice are some of the tamest birds, and don’t mind letting a person with camera get close. They, the chickadees, the downy woodpeckers, and the Carolina wrens, all prefer to go on eating, whether I’m there or not, than fly off to hide in the brush pile.


Photo of seed packets


Here are all the seeds I’ll be starting around the last week of March, and in early April. It takes a few weeks for sprouting to begin with, and nothing other than hardened-off perennials can go out until the end of May, when frost is really finished. Growing your own gives you some gardening fun until the outdoors is ready, and also saves a lot of money these days, when a single perennial can cost fifteen to twenty dollars.