creating edible container garden

UPDATE: This blog post originally was published six-years-ago, and I still like to grow vegetables in pots. It’s hard to believe that my garden helper is now 16 years old and driving a car!

I hope you enjoy it!

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Do you have a patch of lawn in your garden? It can be a cumbersome task to keep a grassy area green and healthy, not to mention weed-free. To keep it this way often means applications of “weed and feed” fertilizers that feed the grass while killing the weeds. These are marginally effective, but the chemicals contained within aren’t what I want to use in my back garden – not with my kids and animals using the grassy area. So, I have made peace with the weeds in my lawn with surprising results.

My backyard is relatively large and divided into three sections with the largest area taken up with a bermudagrass lawn area where my kids enjoy playing. My desert tortoise, Aesop, can often be found munching on the grass throughout the summer months and I like the cooling effect and beauty that it adds. I do have plans to replace my lawn in a year or two, but for now, it fills our needs. 

This lawn is 19 years old, and as a result, there are weeds growing within it. Wind spreads weed seed, and if you have a grassy area, it is just a matter of time before you see weeds coming up.

Now, when I say that I have weeds growing in my grass, I’m not talking about just a few here and there…

In fact, you have to look very closely to spot any bermudagrass in this area, which is filled with bright green clover and some nutsedge growing above it. I must admit to being extremely frustrated at the sheer amount of weeds growing in my lawn, but something happened last year, which enabled me to make peace with these unwanted weeds.

We hosted a small wedding in our backyard last summer, and a lot of preparation went into having the garden looking its best. While I initially lamented the fact that weeds were growing in the lawn, I was surprised to see how pretty and green it looked. A few weeks after the wedding, as I looked at the wedding photos, I was struck by how healthy and beautiful the lawn looked. 

I realize your focus may be on how pretty the bride is, but look at how good my grass looks 😉

 

My granddaughter and grandson – I couldn’t resist sharing this photo of them!

After the wedding was over and I had some time to reflect, I realized that my lawn looked great as it had the most important qualities that I wanted – lush green color, no bare spots, and healthy.

And so, I am now free to enjoy my lawn, and I am no longer upset over the weeds present. The key to keep it looking great and not bring attention to any weeds is to keep it regularly mowed. My teenage son mows ours weekly, and we fertilize it in spring and again in fall. At this point, I don’t know how much longer we will keep our lawn as I have a couple of ideas for this area instead, but in the meantime, I will enjoy the lush green of my backyard grass – weeds and all.

How about you? Have you interested in making peace with the weeds in your lawn?

 

The holiday season is a time where I try to balance out the preparations for Christmas with time to sit back and enjoy the particular elements that only occur this time of year. On that note, I’m happy to report that I’ve finished shopping for gifts, which are all neatly wrapped underneath the tree or on their way to recipients who live far away. I must admit that I have never finished this early before and it is a bit disconcerting as I keep feeling as if I’m forgetting something important.

 

Last weekend, my mother treated us to an outing to The Nutcracker, by Ballet Arizona and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. 

We arrived a bit early, which gave us the perfect excuse to walk through the downtown area. Years ago, I worked in a tall office building as a landscape designer, but it had been a long time since I had spent any time there.

I was delighted to discover a tall Christmas tree in the center of an ice-skating rink – yes, there is ice-skating in downtown Phoenix.

Walking further on, we saw a unique use of umbrellas as art.

My younger daughters couldn’t figure out why the umbrellas were hanging upside down, but I quite liked the artistic effect.

A row of yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans) added a welcome splash of lush green and yellow color. While you’ll see them grown as a shrub, here they are pruned into small trees. Underneath is the groundcover yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata).

Once inside the Phoenix Symphony Hall, we admired the colorful Christmas trees. It was all quite festive, and my daughters were excited to watch their first ballet performance.

My mother and daughter, Gracie.

Although Gracie has autism, and many things cause her acute anxiety, she was doing very well as she had always wanted to see The Nutcracker.

 

My sister-in-law, daughters, and me!

There is one thing about the performance that I haven’t mentioned yet. My cousin’s daughter is one of the dancers in this ballet. She is a ‘snowflake’ in Act 1, and a ‘wildflower’ in Act 2.

This is all I can show you of the stage as photos of the performance aren’t allowed.

It was marvelous, and everyone enjoyed themselves. After the performance, we met my cousin’s daughter at the stage door, (Gracie hoped that she would still have her costume on). She was so happy that we had come to see her performance and I was struck by the fact that all the dancing genes in the family went to her (as well as her mother) – I certainly didn’t get any 😉

On our way back to the car, we passed by a striking vertical garden, filled with chuparosa (Justicia californica), octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), and yucca. Even though the chuparosa was a bit too overgrown, the overall effect was lovely.

Back home, things are rather quiet in the garden, with one exception:

 

 

My Halloween pumpkins that I filled with birdseed are still creating quite a buzz with the neighborhood birds. We have had Alber’s towhees, curved bill thrashers, finches, Inca doves, and sparrows come for a visit. It’s been a real treat watching them out the kitchen window. The pumpkins will probably have to be thrown out in another week, but it’s been nice to find a way to reuse them.

Lastly, we’ve been busy baking cookies for upcoming holiday events as well as to give to friends and neighbors. Snickerdoodles are by far our favorite, and they are so easy to make with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry.

The recipe I use is an old one. I received it at my wedding shower, back in 1986, from a college friend. It has never failed me and cookies are delicious. I’ve had many requests to share it, so here it is:

*Please feel free to print it out and start your own annual Snickerdoodle cookie tradition.

Last week, we celebrated a very special sweet sixteen birthday for my daughter Gracie. 

What she wanted for her birthday was in some ways the same as with most sixteen-year-olds – a birthday celebration and gifts. However, there were some differences. Gracie is autistic and if you have any experience with individuals with autism, it isn’t always easy to predict what they will like, or dislike. 

So, when I asked Gracie what she wanted for her birthday, she said, “I want to go to the Cheesecake Factory” and have mac-n-cheese (from the kid’s menu) and plain cheesecake, which is exactly what we did. 

For her gifts, she had been carrying around a list of what she wanted and would show it to anyone who asked, including siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The list included items such as Hello Kitty plushes (stuffed animals), Sharpie markers, paper, panda plushes, and My Little Pony comic books. 

Living with Gracie is a lot like living with a pre-teen in regards to where her interests lie. Her child-like manner makes it hard to believe that physically, she is now 16.

She did receive a jade bracelet that we had bought for her years ago when we were in China to adopt her. It’s the only piece of jewelry that she has ever wanted to wear, and she had been waiting years to be old enough to receive it. So, it was somewhat unusual to see her wearing a ‘grown-up’ piece of jewelry while wearing her Hello Kitty t-shirt and playing with her newest panda plush.

I’d be lying if I said that life with Gracie was easy – it’s not. But, despite her unique view of the world and limitations, she embraces the things that bring her joy and reminds us all of the simple pleasures that life can bring.

November is a very busy time in the low-desert garden. Cooler temperatures make this best time of year to add plants and as a result, my phone begins to ring off the hook. Many of my clients have established landscapes that they are looking to do some tweaking to the landscape.

This usually consists of identifying what existing plants still add beauty to the landscape, or background structure, from a design standpoint, and then removing those that don’t. New plants are then added that will compliment the older ones.

One easy tip for creating a newer look to the desert landscape is to clean out river rock washes. While it is labor intensive, the process is quite simple. All you need to do is remove all the rocks, wash them off with water from the hose and put them back.

I must admit that I love working outdoors this time of year when the weather is simply lovely.

Here is a colorful surprise that I discovered while visiting a client last month. ‘Loretta’ is an eye-catching piece of garden art and I love her pink arms. She was purchased in San Francisco and is made up of parts from an old bike.

On another note, my grandson, Eric, decided to put on some ‘face cream’. The only problem? It was diaper cream! I think that all of us probably have a story like this one…

I hope that you are enjoying the fall season – I know that I am.

 


Pumpkins play a large part in our fall holiday celebrations. I remember trips to the pumpkin patch when my kids were younger and watching them choose just the ‘right’ pumpkin for our family.


A few weeks later, pumpkins take center stage on Halloween as their artfully carved faces add a festive element to costumed trick-or-treaters.

But, what do you do with them once the holiday is over? Instead of throwing them in the trash can, what if you could find new uses for your pumpkin?

 

Whether your pumpkin has been carved or left whole, I’ve shared 9 ways to reuse them in the garden and in the home, in my latest article for Houzz. I hope you enjoy!

 

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Disclosure: This post is paid for by the folks at Lava Soap. The opinions expressed, are my own.

Are you afraid to get your hands dirty when you garden? I’m not. In fact, I seldom wear gardening gloves when I’m working in the soil. Oh, gloves are useful when using pruners, raking, or dealing with thorny plants. However, I find elemental pleasure with working in the soil with my bare hands.

I especially like to ditch the gloves when I am working in my vegetable garden where whether I am planting seeds, smoothing out a new layer of compost, or harvesting plants – touching the plants and soil with my hands makes me happy.

Last week, I spent the morning out in the vegetable garden, cleaning out old plants and getting it ready for sowing seeds in mid-September. The experience was not unlike the feeling you get after spring cleaning. I have an almost blank canvas on which to add new vegetables this fall.

After the plants are ripped out, I add several inches of new compost to prepare the beds. I buy my compost in bags, which makes it easier to add just where I want it to go.

This year, I am changing things up a bit by adding mushroom compost, which has composted horse manure and straw among other things. I like to try new things to see how they perform and then communicate that information to you.

All told, we added a total of 6 inches of regular and mushroom composts to the garden.

Our desert tortoise, Aesop, came out to see what we were doing. Unfortunately, we discovered that he is able to climb up into the vegetable garden, which we don’t want as he will eat our leafy greens. So, we will have to replace the short wood sides with taller ones.

As if my hands weren’t dirty enough after pulling out plants, they became more so as I smoothed out the newly added mulch around the few plants that remained. Of course, any chance of getting his hands dirty, brings out my grandson, Eric, to help me out in the garden.

Back in the house, we had two pairs of messy hands. So, out came my favorite hand cleaner that I reserve for the dirtiest of messes. Lava Soap is the most effective way that I have found to get rid of the ground in garden dirt from my hands, and Eric was anxious to get started first. Within a couple of minutes, his little hands were nice and squeaky clean.

My hands were worse than Eric’s, coated with soil and plant debris and I knew from experience that regular soap wouldn’t do the job. So I grabbed my bar of Lava and got started.

That is a lot of dirt!

Almost done!

Finished!

In the past, whenever I would use regular soap, it never got them completely clean, and I would have dirt remaining in the small cracks in my hands. I also didn’t like how dried out my hands would feel after working in the garden.

Lava Soap not only gets my hands (and Eric’s) cleaner than regular soap, it doesn’t dry them out either. Most of us have heard of this famous cleaning bar and how it is useful for getting rid of grease, paint, and glue due to the pumice that within it. However, I’m here to state that it also did a fabulous job removing the garden soil from my hands while leaving them moisturized afterward.

So, ditch the garden gloves, reach your hands into the soil and experience the joy of gardening. Just be sure to have some Lava Soap ready to help you clean up afterward.

Lava Soap is available at retailers across the country, including Ace, Walmart, Dollar General and Family Dollar. To find a store near you, visit LavaSoap.com and click on the Where to Buy button.

Vacations are a time that I love to spend with my family doing things that we don’t normally have time for with the busyness of school and work that predominates throughout much of the year. This summer, we spent a couple of weeks in Michigan visiting my oldest daughter and her family. In planning our trip, we list what we want to do and number one on the list for our summer adventures was going to a farm and picking our own strawberries and cherries.

So, on a sunny Tuesday morning, we headed out along a back country road and visited Kiteley Farm ready to pick strawberries. 

I must admit that I have never picked strawberries, other than in my own garden, and couldn’t wait to experience to harvest them myself. Initially, my 15-year-old son couldn’t figure out why we were going to pick them when it was easier to buy them in the supermarket. But, I told him to just wait and see – I promised him that he would change his mind afterward.

 

We were given instructions on where the strawberry fields were located and grabbed our boxes, ready to fill them up with sweet, delicious strawberries.

The entry to the farm is flanked by blue bachelor’s button and the orange flowers of honeysuckle.

 

The strawberry field was very large and we all got started, hunting underneath the leaves for glimpses of bright red fruit.

It’s no surprise that the strawberries that you buy at the store are often large and not particularly sweet, which aids in transporting them to the store without getting bruised. However, berries at pick-your-own farms are smaller and incredibly sweet. 

My granddaughter Lily got right into picking strawberries.

The edge of the field was shaded by tall trees and we discovered that the berries were larger in this part of the field.

The key to finding the best berries is to look at the lowest berry which is usually the ripest.

After about an hour, we had 11 pounds of strawberries. Not bad for amateur strawberry pickers.

Next, it was time to pick cherries. Michigan has a large percentage of the cherry growing market and because cherries don’t grow in my neck of the woods, I always take advantage of being able to pick them whenever I visit in July.

There are several farms where you can go and pick your own cherries and all you have to pay for is the fruit you pick.

The trees were heavily laden with bright red cherries, which were easier to pick than strawberries as we didn’t have to bend over.

Lily was just as good at picking cherries as she was with strawberries.

At the end of a busy morning, we had plenty of fruit and I was excited to take them back and make sweet things with them.

For me, the best part of that morning was when my son said, “That was so fun. We need to do it again next year.” 

Don’t they look delicious? And perfect for…

…strawberry shortcake!

*You don’t have to grow fruit (or vegetables) in your own garden to be able to enjoy the experience of picking your own produce. No matter where you live, there is likely a farm nearby where you can experience the fun of picking your own!

 

The arrival of summer in the desert fills with days where the thermometer surpasses the century mark and trees are heavily laden with apples. People are often surprised to find that apple trees can be grown in our arid climate, but they do surprisingly well. I have two apple trees in my garden, which is the center of our annual apple day where we gather together to harvest, bake, and play games.

The participants range from 2-years old, all the way to 19 and are made up of my kids, niece, nephews, in-laws, and my grandson, Eric. Each year, they all come over for a day filled with summer fun.

Picking apples are first on the agenda, and the kids pick delicious apples within reach of their arm’s reach.

The younger kids are excited to spot Aesop, our desert tortoise munching on grass, and take a moment to pet him.

One of my nephews is a little nervous to pet Aesop, so he observes him from a couple of feet away.

Half a bushel of apples is more than enough for two pies, with plenty left over for the kids to munch on while we bake.

Out comes my handy apple peeler, which makes peeling and slicing apples a cinch. In addition to peeling them, it cores each and cuts them into a spiral.

(Affiliate Link) Johnny Apple Peeler by VICTORIO VKP1010, Cast Iron, Suction Base

The kids line up to take a turn turning the handle for each apple and sneak ribbons of apple peel to eat.


Homemade apple crust is the way to go and I use Paula Deen’s recipe for Perfect Pie Crust. It is a little sweet and uses a combination of vegetable shortening and butter. 

The filling consists of brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice.

Oh, and butter…

The trickiest part is gently laying the top crust on top of the pie without it breaking.


Crimping.

At this point, the kids wanted to know how long it would take to bake.

Onto our second pie, which was a Dutch apple pie, so only one crust was needed.

My niece helped sprinkle the streusel topping. I always make extra streusel topping because I love it so much.

Pies are now in the oven, and it’s time to play our favorite board game, ‘Ticket to Ride’ and see who can complete their train routes across the U.S.

(Affiliate Link) Ticket To Ride

Finally, the timer dings and warm apple pie leaves the oven, making our mouths water with their delicious fragrance. 

Every year, I am pleasantly surprised at how much the kids in both my immediate and extended family, look forward to this day of pie baking. For a few hours, I have the privilege of interacting with them without the distractions of phones, television, and video games while teaching them how to bake as well as where fruit comes from (a tree versus the grocery store). 

I hope to continue this tradition for years to come. *Do you have any traditions that you enjoy with your family that revolves around baking?

Have you ever invited a child outside to help you in the garden? They are naturally curious about the outdoors, and most kids jump at the chance to explore the landscape. That is why, whenever I get the chance, I invite my grandkids to come with me when I’m working outdoors.

However, if you are expecting them to unleash their curiosity on the plants in the garden, when there are rocks nearby, you are apt to be disappointed. Children tend to focus on the rocks scattered throughout the landscape rather than on the lovely, flowering plants nearby.

My grandson, Eric, took the water bowl from our desert tortoise, took my hand shovel and proceeded to fill it up with rocks. 

Several years ago, my granddaughter, Lily, went through the same stage – grabbing rocks and playing with them. That small pile of rocks kept her occupied for a long time while I was planting containers.

I believe that it is the texture of rocks and their weight that attract children. Of course, rocks also make noise when you fill up a metal bowl with them.  

Rocks come in all sizes, and big ones are perfect for climbing on.

The outdoor environment is filled with wonders that children are anxious to discover – including the discovery that water comes out of hoses.

*Do your kids play with rocks? What else do they like to play with outdoors?