Gardening With Kids

Gardening With Kids: A Love Affair With Rocks

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.

Gardening With Kids

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.

 A Love Affair With Rocks

Gardening With Kids: A Love Affair 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.

Gardening With Kids: A Love Affair With Rocks

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.  

Gardening With Kids: A Love Affair With Rocks

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

Gardening With Kids: A Love Affair With Rocks

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?

Petoskey, Michigan lighthouse

Petoskey, Michigan lighthouse

While spring break is a time where masses of people escape the cold for warmer climates (like Arizona), we decided to do the exact opposite.  We flew out of warm, sunny Phoenix and headed to cold and snowy Michigan.

Petoskey, Michigan lighthouse

Now before you start to question my sanity, I have an excellent reason for bundling up and bracing myself for the cold, windy weather. My daughter and her family call Michigan their home now, and since then, we try to make it out at least twice a year, and spring break just happened to be the best time to do it.

Petoskey, Michigan

I always look forward to visits to their town of Petoskey, Michigan which sits on the shore of Little Traverse Bay.  It is a popular summer destination, and I spent several weeks here last year helping my daughter move into her new house and add new plants to her garden.

Petoskey, Michigan

It is always fun pulling out my warm weather gear, which seldom gets used at home.  I knit these fingerless mittens a few years ago and rarely have a chance to wear them.

Petoskey, Michigan

As a Southern California native and Arizona resident, I must admit that I have relatively little experience with cold weather so, it has been fun exploring the landscape and seeing the effects of winter.  Seeing the bay frozen in time where we waded in with our feet last June was exciting.

At the beginning of our week, the temperatures were in the mid 20’s with a brisk wind, and we were excited to see an unexpected snow shower.

I realize that many of you who have lived in areas with cold winters may be rolling your eyes at this point, but for someone who has always lived where winters are mild, the weather has been a novelty.

Petoskey, Michigan lighthouse

However, the novelty quickly wore off this morning when I stepped outside, and it was a frigid 16 degrees, and I learned why people start their cars a few minutes before they get in to let them heat up inside.  But, I braved the few steps from the house to the car, and we were off to my granddaughter Lily’s preschool class where I was to give a presentation on the desert and Arizona.

AZ Plant Lady

I brought photographs of the animals, cactuses, and flowers of the desert.  The kids were a great audience and seemed especially impressed with the following pictures:

  • The height of a saguaro cactus with people standing at its base 
  • A bird poking its head out of a hole in the saguaro
  • Cactus flowers
  • Aesop – our desert tortoise

I was struck by how different the desert is from the Michigan landscape and felt honored to expand their horizons.

Petoskey

On the way back from pre-school, we were tasked with bringing the classroom pet, ‘Snowball’ the guinea pig home where he will stay with Lily for spring break.  Doing little tasks such as this bring back happy memories of when our kids were little.

We will be home soon, and spring is a busy time for me.  I have new plants coming in the mail (straight from the grower) for me to test in my Arizona garden, I’ll be showcasing two new plants from the folks at Monrovia, and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be traveling again – this time to Savannah, Georgia for a fun project that I’m excited to share with you soon.

*What are you doing for spring break?

Life has been awfully busy lately.  So much so, that it has affected me from doing blogging as regularly as I like to do.  So, I would like to take a little time to let you know what I have been up to this past month.

Work has seen me driving me from one corner of the Phoenix metro area to the other, meeting with clients and helping them to create beautiful outdoor spaces.  In fact, I broke my record for the most landscape consultations in a single month.  Now that the holidays are here, work has slowed down a little.

A beautiful succulent, Euphorbia trigona

A beautiful succulent, Euphorbia trigona

One thing that I enjoy about visiting new clients is that I get to see impressive specimen plants like this Euphorbia trigona that flanked the entry of the Phoenix home.

beautiful succulent

beautiful succulent

This is a truly beautiful succulent that lends a tropical look to the landscape.  It is very frost tender and must be protected when temperatures dip into the 30’s.  I’d say it’s worth the effort for a plant like this.

Coyote

Coyote

Encounters with wildlife happens often during my work.  However, seeing a coyote in the middle of the day is rather rare.  As I was driving home from a consultation, I saw this beautiful coyote walk across the street.  I stopped my car and it stood off to the side of road while I took a few pictures with my phone.

Coyote

While I’ve seen a number of coyotes over the years, most often their appearance reflects the hardship of living in the desert.  However, this coyote was the healthiest one that I’ve encountered.

Coyote and

I think that it enjoyed the attention that I was giving it as it stood still for several seconds before walking off into the desert.

video shoot

Christmas is my favorite season of the year.   I enjoy shopping for the perfect gift, decorating the house, baking my favorite desserts, singing along to Christmas music in the car, and rejoicing in the reason for Christmas.

video shoot

Earlier this week, we filmed a video segment for our church’s upcoming Christmas Eve services.  We were asked to share the story of our daughter Ruthie’s adoption along with her cousin Sofie.  They were best friends in the orphanage when my sister and her family adopted Sofie back in 2006.  One year later, my husband and I went to China and adopted Ruthie.  So, they are not just best friends, but cousins.

video shoot

We taped the video at my sister’s house, which took over 3 hours.  The segment will probably only be 3 – 4 minutes in length, but I can hardly wait to see their story shared and hope that it will inspire others.  I will be sure to share it with all of you at that time.

I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are enjoying this holiday season.

10 Cold Hardy Succulents That Add Beauty to the Winter Landscape

Landscape Renovation Project

Photo: Landscape Renovation Project

As a mom, grandmother, and horticulturist, the fall season is a very busy season for me.  Whether I’m busy on the work site, hosting a Halloween party, or helping out my mother as she recuperates from a broken leg – there is never a dull moment.

I thought that I would show you just a snippet of the events of the past few weeks.

My mother’s orthopedist knows how to decorate his office for Halloween.

Photo: My mother’s orthopedist knows how to decorate his office for Halloween.

Over a month ago, my mother suffered a very badly broken leg that required surgery.  My very active and independent mother has been working hard with physical therapy and her recovery, but still has a few weeks left in a wheelchair.  As a result, my siblings and I have stepped in to help her where we can.  One of my favorite ways to help out is to take her shopping wherever she wants to go.  Of course, it helps that she and I like the same types of stores.  We got into a lot of trouble in Target’s dollar section buying Christmas decorations and gifts last week.

My granddaughter Lily enjoyed talking to our desert tortoise, Aesop, during her visit to Arizona from Michigan

Photo: My granddaughter Lily enjoyed talking to our desert tortoise, Aesop, during her visit to Arizona from Michigan.

Visits from my oldest daughter and her family are always a highlight for us.

My 3-month old grandson, Leo, slept through most of his first visit to Arizona.

Photo: My 3-month old grandson, Leo, slept through most of his first visit to Arizona.

Every year on October 31st, my siblings and their kids come over for a fun night of Halloween-themed food and trick-or-treating.  It is so much fun to see the little kids get all dressed up for Halloween, including my grandson, Eric.

Eric dressed up like a 'Minion'

Photo: Eric dressed up like a ‘Minion’

While my two youngest kids are almost too old for trick-or-treating, they enjoyed dressing up and going with Eric.

Gracie was a 'bag of ice'

Photo: Gracie was a ‘bag of ice’

Kai was a 'computer error code'

Photo: Kai was a ‘computer error code’

Life hasn’t slowed down in November, which is the busiest month of the year for me as a horticulturist.

Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

Photo: Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

A highlight of this month was a visit to an open house at one of the pre-eminent nurseries of the Southwest.

Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

While you may not have heard of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery, you have undoubtedly seen plants that they have developed, many which may be in your own garden. Flowering shrubs such as ‘Valentine’ and ‘Blue Bells’ have their origins in the fields of this nursery as do many of the newest tecoma and desert willow species.

Landscape Project Installation

I spent a fun-filled day with friends and colleagues touring the facilities and getting a sneak peek at their newest plants in production.  The perfect way to cap off our visit was being gifted with a new plant!

Next up on my agenda was overseeing the installation of one of my landscape projects.

Landscape Project Installation

Photo: Landscape Renovation, Before

My clients, who live in New York City for most of the year, spend their winters and spring in Arizona.  They recently purchased a home with overgrown, excessively pruned shrubs as well as artificial grass with a putting green that they wanted to get rid of.

I initially met with them in April and put together a plan for a landscape that would reflect their style.  Once they came back to Arizona in November, they asked me to come out and oversee the installation.

A mixture of pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) are being planted in the area formerly covered by artificial turf.

A mixture of pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) are being planted in the area formerly covered by artificial turf.

Many of the old shrubs were removed as was the fake grass.  Contouring was added to help add height and interest to the formerly flat backyard landscape.

Landscape Project Installation

Matt, is the landscape contractor, who I refer many of my clients too.  He has the uncanny ability to find the biggest, best plants – he holds his sources close to his chest, but as long as my clients are happy, so am I.

Landscape Project Installation

I must admit that I am sorely tempted to grab one of his specimen cactus or succulents for my own garden.

Landscape Project Installation

Photo: Landscape Renovation, Before

The client wanted an area for a cactus garden.  So, we took out the shrubs in this corner and added cactus.

Landscape Project Installation

Photo: Landscape Renovation, AFTER

The saguaro cactus isn’t in place yet, but soon will be.  Our goal was to add several different types of cactus and succulents that the client liked, including beavertail, candelilla, golden barrel, Moroccan mound, and torch cactus.  An ocotillo anchors the corner and will eventually leaf out and flower, which usually occurs about a year after planting.

A palo blanco (Acacia willardiana) tree will soften this area without outgrowing this area.

Photo: A palo blanco (Acacia willardiana) tree will soften this area without outgrowing this area.

It is so rewarding to be a part of the process of homeowner’s landscape be renovated into a space that will provide them with years of enjoyment.

Despite the busyness this fall season, I am getting excited for the upcoming holiday season.  How about you?  What is keeping you busy this fall?

mother's vegetable garden

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

This is what my mother’s vegetable garden looks like in the middle of winter.  

She works hard at growing a variety of vegetables in her two raised beds.  On Wednesday nights, we all gather for dinner at her house and get to enjoy many of the delicious vegetables straight from her garden.   

Sadly, her plans for this season’s vegetable garden faced a serious setback.

mother fell and broke her leg

My mother fell and broke her leg while cooking dinner with my youngest daughter.  Both bones in her lower leg suffered multiple fractures, and a metal rod had to be inserted down into her tibia.

Understandably, she cannot put any weight on her foot for at least two months.  So, while she works hard at physical therapy to gain as much independence as she can – we decided to help out with her garden.

mother's vegetable garden

My kids, along with my nephews, were eager to help with Grandma’s garden.  We stopped by the nursery to pick up broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and leaf lettuce transplants while I brought some carrot and radish seeds from home.

Lucky for us, she had already amended her soil with one of my favorite soil amendments – used coffee grounds (from Starbucks).  I added some of my favorite organic vegetable fertilizer for the garden, and we were ready to start planting.

mother's vegetable garden

I instructed the kids on where and how to plant the vegetable transplants in staggered rows.

My sister was also watching us and even stepped in to help out, despite the fact that she never gardens.  

mother's vegetable garden

The kids were eager to help out their grandmother, and we all enjoyed out time out in the garden.  

I took a few photos to bring back to her at the rehabilitation facility where she is recuperating, to show her what her grandkids had done for her.

My mother is doing well and is working hard at her daily physical therapy sessions so that she can get home as soon as possible.  We visit her daily, and her room has pictures drawn by her grandchildren and cards from friends and family.

 

On our most recent visit, my grandson discovered the delights of pushing around his grandpa using great-grandma’s wheelchair.  His smile and laughter brightened everyone’s day.

Meanwhile, back at the vegetable garden.

mother's vegetable garden

I came back to check on the newly planted vegetables.  Most were doing quite well, but I did see a few plants with telltale holes in their leaves.

mother's vegetable garden

I discovered the culprit nearby.  Cutworms are caterpillars that eat holes in leafy vegetables as well as ‘cut’ off young vegetable transplants at their base. 

mother's vegetable garden

The cutworms did kill some of the newly transplanted broccoli, but most of the leafy greens were fine other than a few holes in the leaves.

I brought my favorite organic pesticide, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills the caterpillars.  I like to use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden, which helps keep the caterpillars at bay.

mother's vegetable garden

I sprayed all the vegetables, taking care to spray both top and underneath the leaves.  

BT can be reapplied every 7 – 10 days until the caterpillars are gone.  

**Note; it can be hard to find BT in your local big box store or even some nurseries.  However, you can find it offered online from garden supply companies and Amazon (affiliate link).

Have you planted any vegetables this season?  What are your favorites?

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

Family Olympic Celebration

Are you one of those people who obsessively watches the Olympics?

I am.  Every two years, I find myself rearranging my schedule and converting our kitchen island into my makeshift office so that I can watch the Olympics.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

You would think that my love affair with the Olympics would mean that I am somewhat athletic myself.  Well, other than playing on a softball team when I was 12-years-old, my athletic prowess is rather lackluster.

But, that hasn’t stopped my armchair athleticism from coming out whenever the Olympics comes around.  My passion for the Olympics comes from my mom, who would have my siblings and I watch it when we were kids.  Today, she has made sure that we celebrate it as adults by holding our version of the games.

Summer Olympics 2012

Summer Olympics 2012

For our last Summer Olympics, we were each assigned to one of four teams: China, France, Great Britain, and the USA.  

This year, we went with the same teams, mostly because we had all the stuff left over from the last time.  

Instead of team shirts this year, people looked for other ways to show their team affiliation.    

France

France

French team captain

French team captain

Team China (note the Top Ramen noodles and chopsticks in the hair)

Team China (note the Top Ramen noodles and chopsticks in the hair).

My sister decided that she would try ‘cupping’ like Michael Phelps to help her muscles recover faster after each event (not really).

My daughter, Gracie, decided to wear her medal that she won in the Special Olympics earlier this year.

Team Great Britain

Team Great Britain

As you can see, there was no shortage of fun ways to display our assigned country’s pride.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

Last time, I was on Team China.  But this year, I was asked to be an Olympic official, judge, and scorekeeper while my mother ran each event.

My grandson, Eric, was our sole official Olympic observer, because, what’s an Olympics without people to watch?

 
 

We began with the Parade of Nations and then gathered for a group photo.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

So why were we all gathered today on this hot, summer’s day?

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

For a chance to win one of these medals.

Let the games begin!

Team Captain's Challenge

The first event was the ‘Team Captain’s Challenge’, which involved walking as fast as you could holding a mandarin orange on a spoon in your mouth.

I’m telling you; we are very serious about the complexity of our games – ha!

High Jump
High Jump

Next, it was time for the ‘High Jump’, which was a kid only event and tested who could jump the farthest off of a step ladder.

Finger Flingers

Back outside and it was time for ‘Finger Flingers’, which were rubber chickens that you shot off your finger – I think that was the kid’s favorite game.

neighborhood police officer

While competing, we attracted the attention of our friendly, neighborhood police officer.

balls into water buckets
balls into water buckets

The ‘Diving’ event involved throwing foam balls into water buckets.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

For some parents, it was a particularly anxious time as they watched their children compete, much like a famous U.S. gymnast’s parents?

Shooting

Indoors again and it was time for the last event, ‘Shooting’.

Using Nerf guns

Using Nerf guns, you had to hit one of three targets.

Using Nerf guns

As many found out, it was easier said than done.

official Olympic observer

Being an ‘official Olympic observer’ builds up your appetite!

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

After tabulating the scores, it was time to award the medals.  All were wondering who would win the most medals.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

As you might expect, it was so exciting to see the culmination of years and years (hours) of hard work.

Winners of the 'Captain's Challenge.'

Winners of the ‘Captain’s Challenge.’

Winners of the 'Long Jump.'

Winners of the ‘Long Jump.’

'Finger Flinger's Winners

‘Finger Flinger’s Winners

The 'Diving' event victors

The ‘Diving’ event victors

vFinally, the winners of the 'Shooting' competition

Finally, the winners of the ‘Shooting’ competition

So, who won the most medals?

5-year-old nephew, Danny

My 5-year-old nephew, Danny, who could scarcely believe that it was him!

Olympic

In the last Olympics, he wasn’t old enough to compete.  He has certainly come far in just four years.

We had so much fun that we have decided to hold a Winter Olympic event in two years.  We might expand the number of countries represented and come up with some new winter-themed games.

Do you watch the Olympics?  Have you ever held an Olympics event or party?  

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Summer Fun

“What did you do over the summer?”  It is a frequently asked question as kids get ready to head back to school.  

For some of you, this may be a bit early to ask this question, but my kids started school a couple of weeks ago, so I am in a sort of retrospective mood, looking back at our summer fun.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Much of our summer vacation was spent in Michigan.

Now, if you had told me a year ago that I would be headed to Michigan, the next summer, I’d ask you “Why?”

However, that was before my daughter, and her family moved from Arizona to Michigan, which I wrote about in an earlier post.

So, my husband and I found ourselves on an airplane along with our three youngest kids headed to Petoskey, Michigan, which is located “on the tip of the mitt” as Michiganders like to say.

This was to be our kids first trip to Michigan, and they were understandably excited.

Enjoying a tea party.

Enjoying a tea party.

Our trip was split into two parts: the first in my daughter’s rental house and the second part, in their new home.

'Welcome Summer' festival with the local high school's steel drum band

‘Welcome Summer’ festival with the local high school’s steel drum band.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip
Victorian homes line the streets in my daughter's neighborhood.

Victorian homes line the streets in my daughter’s neighborhood.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

While waiting for escrow to close on their new home, we spent time playing games, walking down to the historic downtown area, enjoying local festivals and of course, eating ice-cream at the local parlor.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip
Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

This is the type of small town, where life moves at a slower pace, and we enjoyed escaping the demands of our busy lives at home.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

I kept busy with my daughter’s lone basil plant, moving it into the sun and out of the shade throughout the days, as their rental house was shaded by a lot of trees.  The basil was to be planted in the new home’s garden.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Petoskey is located on Little Traverse Bay, which opens out into Lake Michigan.  It is a popular tourist destination throughout the summer months, and we had fun exploring our daughter’s new town.  

Because they lived on the shore, a few of our days were spent on the beach wading in the water and searching for ‘Petoskey’ stones.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

‘Petoskey stones,’ are found along the beaches in this area.  You’ll find them in gift shops throughout all of Michigan.  The stones contain the fossilized remains of ancient coral, who lived over 350 million years ago.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

So, we went on our own search for Petoskey stones.  

My son-in-law is the geology professor at the local college in the area and gave me some pointers on how to identify these unique stones from the others.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

You see, the fossilized coral isn’t obvious in unpolished rocks until they get wet.  So, we would look for some likely stones and then dip them into the lake to see what we had.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was to search for rocks and I even found a few small Petoskey stones of my own.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Along the shore of the lake were large lilac shrubs and their intoxicating fragrance perfumed the air.  

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

My daughter had some in her rental house, so we picked some and used them to decorate the dinner table.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Finally, moving day arrived, and not a moment too soon as a new baby was set to arrive five weeks later.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

While my daughter and I spent time checking out the inside of their new home, we were equally as excited to look at the outside.  

Bearded iris, peonies, and daisies were the primary plants in the landscape.

Bearded iris, peonies, and daisies were the primary plants in the landscape.

More daisies, bearded iris along with hydrangea and purple coneflower.

More daisies, bearded iris along with hydrangea and purple coneflower.

Part of the front yard.

Part of the front yard.

A weed-filled raised bed - home of the future vegetable garden.

A weed-filled raised bed – home of the future vegetable garden.

A fire pit, perfect for roasting s'mores

A fire pit, perfect for roasting s’mores.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

The view, off to the side of the backyard, looks out onto a farm and its planted fields.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Enormous maple trees mark the end of their property.  How big were they? That tiny spot of pink is my 4-year-old granddaughter.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Stepping into the woods, surrounding their backyard, you can see their white shed.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Lovely forget-me-nots are growing underneath the trees, all part of their property.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

It was so fun exploring their new surroundings.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Before moving day, we spent some time in the garden, pulling out unwanted plants and adding new ones, such as this lavender.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

The kids all helped.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

The one plant that my son-in-law wanted was an apple tree.  So, in went a ‘Red Delicious’ apple tree.  The kids all had a great time helping while learning about how to plant a tree.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip
Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

The soil around their house was extremely rocky.  A good-sized Petoskey stone was found on their property.  You can see the how different they look when wet.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

After a few days of hard work, moving my daughter and her family into their new house, we all decided to take a well-deserved day off and visit Mackinac Island, which is only a short distance away.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

I had visited this lovely place two years ago, but it was the first time for everyone else.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip
Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

I had told the kids that there are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island (except for a couple of emergency vehicles), but I don’t think it sunk in until we were greeted by views like these.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip
Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Exploring the history and beauty of the island took much of the day.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Smelling the lilacs.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

We just happened to arrive during the Lilac Festival and the lilacs lining the streets were in full bloom.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip
Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

A fairy garden in an old wagon.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

A pair of unique planters for succulents.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

The gardens in Mackinac Island are truly stunning.

Summer Fun: A New Garden, Hunting for Stones, and an Island Trip

Posing for a picture on the island with the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.

Summer Fun: My son-in-law, the geologist, looking at rocks along the shore of the island.

Summer Fun: My son-in-law, the geologist, looking at rocks along the shore of the island.

Summer Fun: Mission Point Lighthouse

I love visiting this island, and it was so nice sharing it with my family.

As our trip to Michigan was drawing to a close, we visited Mission Point Lighthouse, just outside of Traverse City.

Summer Fun: stormy day

It was a brisk, stormy day, which simply made it more fun.

Summer Fun: climb to the top of the lighthouse

The kids climbed were able to climb to the top of the lighthouse, before heading to the beach.

As the last day of our vacation arrived, we asked the kids to choose what they wanted to do.

Summer Fun: beach and swim

It was unanimous – go to the beach and swim!

We had a fun-filled vacation, exploring a new area while spending time doing activities together as a family.  

**What did you do for summer fun this year?  

For those of you who have found yourselves in a new place without a clue how to care for your garden, this post is for you.

In my last post, we talked about six things to do before you make any changes to your landscape.

Today, it’s time for the fun part – putting your personal stamp on your garden.

How to Gardening In a New Climate, The front of the house had a continuous row of bearded iris, several peony bushes, and a rose.

How to Gardening In a New Climate, The front of the house had a continuous row of bearded iris, several peony bushes, and a rose.

To illustrate the steps, I will be using my daughter and her new home in Michigan as an example.

1. Remove any unwanted plants.

For many people, this is the hardest step to take.  Quite a few have a problem with killing plants. 

How to Gardening In a New Climate, My daughter didn't particularly like bearded iris.  So I dug up most of them.

How to Gardening In a New Climate, My daughter didn’t particularly like bearded iris.  So I dug up most of them.

Let me help you with this big step:

– The outside of your home should reflect you and your tastes, as the interior does.

– We eat plants (vegetables) every day without thinking twice about it.

– In many cases, you are replacing old plants with new ones that you like much better.

How to Gardening In a New Climate, It was a lot of work, but we got it done.

How to Gardening In a New Climate, It was a lot of work, but we got it done.

– You can try to give your unwanted plants away to friends, neighbors, or your landscaper may have a use for them.

2. Figure where you want to add new plants and how many you need.

Just because you have removed some plants, doesn’t mean that you need to replace all of them.  Empty space can be used to draw attention to the plants present and create a more streamlined design.

Measure the area where you want new plants to be added so that you don’t inadvertently purchase plants that are too large or small.

3. Decide what types of new plants you want and how many you will need.

How to Gardening In a New Climate

If you’ve followed the guidelines that I outlined in Part 1, you will have a good idea of what plants you will want to add along with their requirements.

My daughter and her husband wanted roses, an apple tree, and lavender.

It goes without saying that you should select plants for a certain area, based on what exposure they require.  West and south-facing exposures are considered full sun.  North-facing is shady.  Eastern exposures can be tricky as they have both full sun and shade during parts of the day.  In those cases, choose plants that can take the sun and filtered shade for best results.

4. Take your list and shop for new plants.

After canvassing several local nurseries, we finally found the Mr. Lincoln rose we had been looking for.

After canvassing several local nurseries, we finally found the Mr. Lincoln rose we had been looking for.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is a good idea to form a relationship with your local nursery, who can be a wealth of helpful information.  

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

Take time to ask questions about specific plants that you are buying – nursery staff will often provide information on how to care for it along with other characteristics.

Sometimes, you just have to do a little impromptu pruning in the parking lot to get your new apple tree to fit into the car.

Sometimes, you just have to do a little impromptu pruning in the parking lot to get your new apple tree to fit into the car.

Although big box stores aren’t the best source for plant advice or whose plant stock is reliable hardy for that specific climate – they can be a good source for plants if you know what you are buying ahead of time and can’t find it anywhere else.

5. Dig holes 3X as wide as the root ball.

How to Gardening In a New Climate, The soil in this part of Michigan has a LOT of rocks in it.

How to Gardening In a New Climate, The soil in this part of Michigan has a LOT of rocks in it.

The majority of a plant’s roots spread outward into the top 18 inches of soil.  By digging the hole wider than the rootball, you are helping it to become established more quickly.

How to Gardening In a New Climate, Get your kids involved - they will have fun while learning about nature at the same time.  (A recycled cardboard box makes a great temporary knee rest or place to sit).

How to Gardening In a New Climate, Get your kids involved – they will have fun while learning about nature at the same time.  (A recycled cardboard box makes a great temporary knee rest or place to sit).

**It’s important to note that the depth of the hole should be slightly shallower (a couple of inches) than the rootball.  Settling can occur after planting, and if plants are too deep, they can suffocate from a lack of oxygen.

6. Install new plants

This is perhaps the most rewarding part of adding your personal style to the garden.  

All you’ve done to this point comes to a head as you place the first plant that you chose yourself in your garden.

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

There are a few tricks to transplanting new plants successfully.  One of the hardest can be to remove the plant safely from its nursery container without damaging the roots.

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

For 5-gallon to 15-gallon size plants, a sharp pair of hand pruners, or loppers are invaluable.  Use them to make two cuts from the top to the base, about 1/3 of the circumference of the pot apart. 

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

Carefully fold down the cut section of the nursery pot and gently slide the plant into its hole.  

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

Press the soil firmly around the plant and water deeply.

7. Prune and maintain what you already have.

My third oldest daughter, pruning the lower branches of the dappled willow trees

My third oldest daughter, pruning the lower branches of the dappled willow trees.

As we talked about in Part 1, learn about your current plants and what type of maintenance they require from the nursery and cooperative extension office.  They should be able to tell when and how much to prune certain plants.  Don’t know what type of plant you have?  Take a picture with your phone and take it to the nursery, who should be able to identify it for you.

Weed-filled, future vegetable garden

Weed-filled, future vegetable garden

Remove any and all weeds.  

Don't be afraid to have your family help you.

Don’t be afraid to have your family help you.

8. Whenever possible, get your kids involved in the garden.

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

If possible, give them their own small plot of land where they can grow anything they want.  *This can be a place to add some plants that you ripped out of other areas of the garden.

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

Provide them with kid-sized gardening tools such as gloves, hand shovel, and a watering can.

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

Let them pick out plants.  This will give your child a sense of ownership of their new house and garden, which can help decrease any homesickness for their old home.

While weeding the vegetable garden, my youngest daughter, and granddaughter found a tiny frog.

While weeding the vegetable garden, my youngest daughter, and granddaughter found a tiny frog.

Gardening In a New Climate: Putting Your Own Personal Stamp on Your Garden

Gardening encourages your child to spend time in an outdoor classroom where they can run and play while discovering new things.

No matter where you live,  I hope that the following tips will help you create a garden the reflects your personality while adding beauty to your outdoor space.

In today’s post, I’d like to share with you a very special day that we spent with our youngest daughter, Gracie.

our youngest daughter, Gracie.

For those of you who have followed me for a while, you will have read about Gracie’s story and how we adopted her from China back in 2003.

Gracie

She was one and a half years old when she was adopted and had a sweet smile and a club foot.

Gracie

Gracie brought instant joy into our lives and despite having a clunky cast on her foot and leg as her foot was being straightened, she always had a smile ready for us.  She rejoiced at belonging to a family for the very first time her short little life.

Gracie

Three months after flying home from China, Gracie underwent surgery to repair her club foot.  

While her foot healed quickly, we soon came to realize that Gracie was suffering some delays in her development.  At first, we thought it was from her time spent in an orphanage.  However, later we learned that she had autism, or more specifically, Asperger’s, which is a high-functioning form of autism.

Gracie is now 14 years old and as you can imagine, life hasn’t always been easy for Gracie (or us), but on most days, she brings us joy and a smile.

This past weekend, we were able to take part in a special event in Gracie’s life.

Gracie participate in Special Olympics event representing her school.

Gracie participate in Special Olympics event representing her school.

She was set to participate in a Special Olympics event representing her school.

record-breaking temperatures

The day was set to be a hot one with record-breaking temperatures, but it was still lovely outside while sitting in the stands waiting for the events to begin.  

record-breaking temperatures

Only in Arizona are you equally as likely to bring an umbrella for a hot, sunny day as you are for a wet and rainy one 😉

Special Olympics

The kids were all gathered off to the side of the field, enjoying the shade of the trees while awaiting their turn.  Gracie’s teachers were there along with other classmates who were to participate in the event.

There were also ‘typical’ kids who were there representing their teams as well and we waited while they competed until it was time for the Special Olympics portion of the event to take place.

Special Olympics

Of course, waiting can also make you more nervous and Gracie wasn’t sure if she could do it.  Her events were scheduled to be the 100-meter dash and the long jump.  The problem was, she didn’t want to do the long jump.

Those of you who are parents of teenagers know that it can be hard to reason with your teen, but when they have autism, it is even harder as the regular arguments and persuasions don’t work. 

I wish that her dad and I could take credit for figuring out a way to inspire her to do the long jump but Gracie figured out a way for us to motivate her – promise to buy her a box of ‘Cookie Crisp’ cereal afterward.

At this point, I should mention that we rarely give our kids what we call ‘sugar cereals’, which are filled with empty calories and don’t fill you up.  But, I happily promised to drive to the store and buy her a box right after the race if she was brave enough to do the long jump – her school team was depending on her.

She also wanted a medal very badly.  So, I said that if she didn’t get a medal, I would make her one, to which Gracie said, “But you’ll have to buy spray paint, a circle-piece of wood and ribbon.”  At this point, I told her that I would be happy to make her the coolest medal I was capable of for her to wear.

Kai, also came to cheer Gracie on

Our son, Kai, also came to cheer Gracie on.  I love this photo that I was able to get of them – they rarely stand this close to teach other – ha, ha.

If you’ve ever spent time with people with autism, you may have noticed the blunt and honest ways they phrase things.  One of Gracie’s classmates noticed Kai standing next to Gracie and exclaimed excitedly, “Gracie, your brother, Kai, is here.”  To which Gracie replied, “Uh, I know…. he’s standing right next to me.”

The first event that Gracie was to participate in wasn’t the 100-meter dash as previously scheduled.  That event was cancelled and her team needed her to fill in the space of a missing team member for the 400-meter relay race.  Since that would entail Gracie running 100-meters, that would work.

running

She was nervous about dropping the baton, but she grabbed it and began running.

running

So far, so good. 

Gracie in Special Olympics event

Gracie in Special Olympics event

Go, Gracie!

Gracie in Special Olympics event

Almost ready for the hand-off!

Gracie in Special Olympics event

The hand-off went off without a hitch except that Gracie got a stomachache from all the excitement and running as she walked with her math teacher and coach to toward the rest of her team. 

After the race was over, the teams were asked to gather around the medal podium.

team come in second place

Guess who got a medal for helping her team come in second place?

team come in second place

Yeah!  That’s my girl!

All the kids who participated in the Special Olympics relay race received medals, but Gracie’s team did get second place, which made her feel extra special.

wooden medal

I guess I won’t have to make her a wooden medal now.

Next, it was off to the long jump, and hopefully, a box of ‘Cookie Crisp’ cereal afterward.

Gracie's long jump in Special Olympics event

Gracie waited patiently for her turn and then pumped her arms very fast (for extra energy, she said) before taking off running.

Gracie's long jump in Special Olympics event

And she takes off…

Gracie's long jump in Special Olympics event

Gracie’s long jump in Special Olympics event

This is Gracie’s favorite photo since it looks like she is flying.

Nice landing!

very memorable day for both Gracie and us.

As you can see, this was a very memorable day for both Gracie and us.  Being a teenager is hard enough without having autism.  When you pair that with the challenges that they face everyday trying to fit into a world whose rules and social norms don’t make sense, then you get an idea of what a momentous occasion this was for her.

Gracie wore her medal to church yesterday and it warmed my heart to see members of our congregation come up to hug and congratulate her.

**Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read Gracie’s story.  It is an honor being her mom and sharing her story with you!

If you would like to read Gracie’s adoption story, you can do so here.

This year, the anniversary of a very important date in our family’s life quietly snuck up on us.

Happy Gotcha Day

Exactly 11 years ago in a hotel lobby in China, my life was changed when our son Kai, was first placed in my arms.

He was 2 1/2 years old and wasn’t sure what to think about me at first.  But, by the next morning he was calling me “mama” and was following me around our hotel room.

Happy Gotcha Day

The first photo we ever saw of Kai, which captured our hearts.

Kai wasn’t our first child adopted from China, he was the second.  However, he was and still is our only son.

Happy Gotcha Day
Happy Gotcha Day

Our two oldest daughters came with us on this journey to China as well as Gracie who was excited to have someone her own size to play with.

Happy Gotcha Day

We spent 2 weeks in China completing the adoption paperwork, which was filled with touring the sights as well as enjoying our newest family member.

Happy Gotcha Day to my wonderful son

My husband was fast learning that little boys take wrestling more seriously than little girls do.

Happy Gotcha Day  to my wonderful son

Kai spent the first year of his life in an orphanage and then the next 18 months in a foster home.

Happy Gotcha Day to my wonderful son

It was obvious to us that he had been well cared for.

Happy Gotcha Day to my wonderful son

Our Chinese guide saw us through the maze of paperwork as well as showed us around some beautiful places in China.  We traveled in January and it was cold!

Happy Gotcha Day to my wonderful son

We took some time to visit the orphanage where Kai grew up and say “thank you” to the nannies who helped raise him.

Happy Gotcha Day

As we neared the end of our trip, we paused to take this family photo before we left to fly home.  Little did we know that we would be back to adopt again 2 1/2 years later.

Happy Gotcha Day to my wonderful son

After a long flight home, we stepped off the plane and into the arms of family who were anxious to welcome the newest member of our family.

Happy Gotcha Day

Our first day home was spent with Gracie showing Kai some of her favorite things to play with – a yard stick and a wooden spoon 😉

The age difference between these two is only 6 months (Gracie is the oldest) and it’s funny to see how much taller that she used to be.  Now, Kai towers over her.  

Kai had some severe special needs involving his feet, hip and hands.  He has been through countless surgeries and doctor office visits. But through it all, he has shown us how resilient he is and the joy that he finds wherever he goes.

I can hardly imagine life without him.

Kai and Gracie

“Happy Gotcha Day” to my wonderful son

Kai and Gracie still get along (most of the time) and he knows what she loves most for Christmas – ‘sugar’ cereal and chocolate.

So, “Happy Gotcha Day” to my wonderful son! We will enjoy your favorite dinner and dessert tonight 🙂

**If you would like to learn more about Kai’s incredible journey along with the other challenges that he has faced, you can click here.