Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leaves Can Add Lots of Color to a Garden!

As gardeners, we always think of flowers as the way to add color to a garden. But as we all know, flowers only bloom for a short period of time and the color goes away. Most people who garden add flowers with different bloom times to keep the garden in flower for the growing season. Adding more flowering annuals and perennials can become expensive. Have you ever considered plants that have colorful leaves as a way to add color? The other day I made my annual trip to the local garden conservatory. In February, it is just nice to walk in the conservatory and enjoy the warmth and blooming flowers. As I walked around the conservatory, I found that much of the color in the conservatory was not from flowers of the plants but the beautiful and striking leaves of the plants. Exploring the conservatory gave me lots of good ideas for adding more leaf color to my own garden.

As gardeners, we have a much larger selection of plants to choose from for our gardens than we did 20 or more years ago. Now you can go to any local nursery and find all types of tropical, rare and new varieties of plants. It really is exciting what is available to the gardener today.
After my visit to the conservatory, it was time to look for plants with interesting leaf color for my garden. I am adding lots of colorful caladiums, variegated cannas and cannas with dark burgundy leaves. I am also adding colocasia 'Tea Cup', 'Red Stem Rhubarb' and 'Lime Zinger' for that large leaf tropical look. I also plan to add a few more colorful hostas to the garden. With the other plants that I have in the garden, it should be a very exciting growing season. Many of the plants that I am adding will be planted directly in the ground or planted in containers to move around the garden.
Alocasia 'amazonica'

Crotons add lots of color to a garden!
If you are starting to design or selecting your plants for your garden, "think" colorful leaves for that extra punch of color that keeps on giving when the flowers don't!
Do you have a favorite plant with great leaf color? Leave a comment and share it with other readers.
Happy Gardening!
The Creative Gardener

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day - February 2012

This Garden Blogger's Bloom Day finds the gardens covered in snow. There are signs of life starting to show in the gardens. Daffodils and tulips are starting to grow and are between two to three inches high.

The gardens look like a winter wonderland. I have spent most of the winter working on the gardens when the weather permits and the other days finishing a house remodel. Never a dull moment!

The garden fairy looks a little bit cold lying in the snow. Soon she will be lying in a bed of ostrich ferns.

The Witch Hazels are now starting to show the first color and blooms in the garden. I love this shrub in the garden because it is the first plant to start blooming and it does well in the snow.

Witch Hazel in yellow

Witch Hazel in orange

The greenhouse continues to provide lots of blooms in begonias and geraniums. Inside the house, the orchids are still blooming and a few have set new buds. I am looking forward to next month when the gardens should start to provide a little bit more in blooms for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day.

Happy Gardening!

The Creative Gardener

If you like hostas check out my other blog - "Discovering Hostas with the Creative Gardener" at

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Toad Patrol

If you do not have a pond in your garden, you do not know what you are missing. Ponds do require some maintenance, but the benefits out way the work required to maintain the pond. I installed a small pond with a liner years ago. The pond contains goldfish and some water plants that I enjoy. Over the years, one of the benefits that I have received from my pond is what I call the "Toad Patrol". Each year around April, the toads come to my pond and lay their eggs. The male toads arrive first and start singing for their mates. For around two weeks they sing night and day. After they have mated, they all leave and in the pond are strings of toad eggs. Two years ago I enlarged my pond area with two additional preformed ponds. One preformed pond contains no fish. I move the toad eggs to this pond as a tadpole nursery. Hatching of the toad eggs occur within 3 to 12 days and the pond will be filled with hundreds of tadpoles. The tadpoles group together and feed on plant life in the pond. They will remain in the pond from 40 to 70 days depending on the temperatures before they change to toadlets and leave the pond and move out into my gardens. The baby toadlets are about the size of a small pea when they leave the pond. In about two to three years these toadlets will become mature enough to mate in the pond for future generations. Most will not make it to become adults.

I know that many people would not want these warty cold blooded creatures in their gardens, but they serve a purpose eating all the insects and slugs that damage my garden plants. I seldom have slug or snail holes in my hosta leaves due to the toad patrol. If you would like to have toads in your garden, here are some suggestions.

1. Install a pond that has sloped sides that allow toads to easily enter the pond and toadlets to easily leave the pond.

2. Do not use chemical pesticides in your garden or use chemicals in your pond water.

3. Toads like slow moving water. I turn my pumps off during the time I have tadpoles to keep them from getting into the filter system.

4. Add some pond plants to your pond for breeding purposes. The toads will attach their eggs to the plants.

5. Female toads prefer to lay their eggs in ponds without fish.

6. Tadpoles feed on plant material like algae. I do not clean my pond algae from my nursery pond during this time. The tadpoles feed on it and help maintain a good balance in the pond. When the tadpoles leave the pond they will now be feeding on animal material.

Did you know that one American Toad can eat up to 1,000 insects a day! They prefer snails, beetles, slugs and earthworms as part of their diet. Most animals will not eat toads due to a defensive chemicals in the toad's skin. This chemical is toxic to garden animals, humans and pets. Make sure that you always wash your hands after holding a toad and "no" they will not give you warts. However, don't be surprised as your toad population increases in your garden that you might see a garter snake arrive in your garden. Garter snakes can eat toads. Just remember that a garter snake can also serve a purpose in your garden! Maybe that will be a post for another day.

Happy Gardening!

The Creative Gardener

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sycamore Gardens - 10 Years in the Making

The hydrangea garden as it appears today

The other day my husband asked me the question if I had ever thought about selling our house and moving. My answer was a quick "No way"! I have an emotional attachment to my house and gardens because I have spent endless hours remodeling the house, cabin and creating the gardens. It has been a challenge considering what we started with and I could never see myself leaving it.

Several days latter, I was looking through some old pictures of my gardens. I had forgotten just how much work really went into the gardens over the last 10 years. I put together some of the pictures to share with you on how my garden found it's beginnings.

Lots of weeds

Our house was built in 1895 and it was the barn of a much larger farm property. Over the years the property and buildings were divided down and sold off. We purchased the house 10 years ago and then the caretakers cabin several years after that. Most people would have walked away shaking their heads if they had been in our shoes, but we loved the property and could see the possibilities. The yard was knee high in weeds, poison ivy and lots of vines covered every tree on the property. The gardens did not exist at that time.

And more weeds!

The yard looked like a jungle with trees growing within inches of the foundation of the house.

Clean up begins

The first big task was cleaning up the landscape and painting the outside of the house. My husband tackled the house painting and I took on the jungle. It took weeks to clean up leaves and weeds, cut down dead limbs and pull the vines off the trees. I had more cases of poison ivy on my arms and hands than I care to remember. I started a small garden close to the house that first year for the plants that I had moved from our previous home.

By year two, I had started enlarging the garden. I dug a pond and added a greenhouse. I did not add gardens down towards the river due to yearly flooding. I had seen several floods by this time and I just did not want to see my gardens destroyed. To give you some idea where the gardens are today if you see the line of white rocks in the above picture, that area is now the woodland garden. Behind the pine tree, you see a fire pit that is now the hydrangea garden that was in the first picture at the top of the page.

As time goes by the woodland garden was enlarged and more flower beds were added in the yard. We added a gravel path that takes you from the house to the woodland garden and down to the river. My husband and I moved lots of gravel that year! We have also purchased the cabin and I cleaned up that section of landscape.

I added two arbors to both ends of the woodland garden and added landscape beams to keep the gravel contained.

The woodland garden is now full of hostas, ferns, hydrangeas, wild flowers and other plants.

I recycled old bricks for steps that I found buried on the property or that had been dumped in the river.

My garden near the house and greenhouse had grown in so much that you can hardly see the pond anymore. Over the years, I decided to add gardens down by the river. Next to our property is a woods that stays flooded for six weeks after a flood. After watching flowers grow and bloom in those conditions, I got brave and started adding gardens near the river. Due to this area becoming more shaded every year, I dug up and moved this entire garden in the picture, down to new flowers beds near the river.

Gardening near the river

I recycled the old fence, bricks and planted an herb garden inside the fence. The outer circle area is the white garden that was planted with apple trees, roses, boxwoods and white climbing roses.

Two years ago, I decided that I was not using the herbs and since I had planted a few roses into this garden, I decided to turn the herb garden into a rose garden. This year I am adding more roses. I did notice that when the herbs left, that my population of butterflies went down. I plan to add some herbs this year back into other surrounding gardens for the butterflies.

This is the gardens as they are today. I have over forty hydrangeas, over 600 hostas, roses, tropicals and a little bit of anything and everything. I have been told that I have more plant selections than a nursery. I like diversity in my garden.

When I dug up the perennial bed near the house, this is where I moved all the plants. This is the smaller of the two gardens that I added two years ago. It is growing in very well.

I built the gazebo two years ago. I just added an arbor, fountain and another garden around the front side of the gazebo this past fall.

This is the garden with the pond and greenhouse as it is today. I replanted the garden with hostas, a weeping cherry, several Japanese maples and assorted shrubs. The garden is more of a shade garden now. This past year a major tree over this garden was hit by lighting and died. The garden may be changing again due to more sun. I will see what happens! I also enlarged the fish pond, added a stream bed and a bridge. We also fenced in this section of the gardens. The dogs enjoys being in the gardens!

Rose garden flooded

I mentioned flooding earlier in this post. Yes, it happens every year, late in the winter or early spring.

Gazebo and gardens standing in or under the flood waters

Flood waters heading into the woodland garden

Each year we flood and I have yet to have one plant die. I have learned that when you live in a flood area that anything that can float needs to be tied down in the garden. You also do not use hardwood mulch because it winds up in the river. I use homemade compost in the gardens. The gardens have never had pesticides used in them. I also do not use herbicides or sprays in the gardens for disease. I have a very diversified garden and one that is chemical free. I have lots of wildlife that live and visits the gardens because of these practices. My hostas are protected from slugs by the toad patrol that breed in the ponds every year. The garden is nearly 1 1/4 acres in size. I maintain my garden with the help of me, myself and I. Sometimes it is a lot to maintain, but I have made it a very low maintenance garden and I love working in it.

Could I ever leave this garden - NEVER! This is my little piece of heaven nestled amongst a grove of sycamore trees. By the way, if I didn't mention it, my gardens are named "Sycamore Gardens".

Hope you enjoyed the tour and happy gardening!

The Creative Gardener

'Golden Shadows' Pagoda Dogwood

Years ago, I purchased a very small tree that was only 6 to 8 inches tall. It was a 'Golden Shadows' Pagoda Dogwood. It had beau...