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Do you have a container, or two, filled with flowers or maybe a succulent? Chances are you do. Many of us settle for the bland shades of brown or beige when choosing pots and miss out on an excellent opportunity to add interest and color to our outdoor spaces.

I am a strong proponent ditching boring neutrals in favor of colorful pots with unique shapes and textures in my ongoing attempt to encourage people to think of plant containers as outdoor decor. As a result, I was thrilled with I was contacted by Annette Gutierrez, one of the authors of Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Containers and asked to review her book.

Innertube from an old tire converted into a planter at the Tucson Botanical Garden.

Within the pages of Potted, Annette and her co-author, Mary Gray, inspire as they show the reader how to create unique and unusual containers that create instant interest.

During my garden travels, I seek everyday items that are reimagined and converted into unorthodox planters such as a recycled tire innertube. 

Annette and Mary refer to themselves as decorators rather than gardeners and own a store in Los Angeles, aptly named Potted where they create innovative receptacles for plants using everyday items such as cinderblock, PVC pipe, and even old wood doors to name but a few. 

If you have ever shopped for colorful or unique containers, you’ve undoubtedly experienced sticker shock at the high prices and settled for a boring, but sturdy terra-cotta pot. Over twenty container ideas await the reader, each of which, meet the following criteria:

  • It must be affordable
  • Materials must be easy to find
  • A good DIY project for the average person

I must admit that after finishing the book, I was looking at ordinary items like paint cans and plastic garbage pails in a different light – decorated and filled with plants.

**UPDATE: The giveaway is over, but you can always order your own copy of Potted.

Disclosure: I received a copy of ‘Potted’ free of charge for my honest review.

Have you ever seen the beauty of cactuses showcased in containers? Adding a cactus to a container helps to set it apart from the rest of the landscape and helps it to stand out so that its unique texture and shape really stand out. However, if the thought of having to plant a prickly cactus yourself has given you second thoughts about doing it yourself, it isn’t as hard as it seems. Let’s take a closer look at how to plant a cactus in a pot.

I have planted my share of cactus in the past, usually without getting accidentally stabbed with the spines. My method of choice was to use an old towel to cover the cactus while I removed it from its pot and planted it. However, on a recent trip to B&B Cactus Farm in Tucson, I was able to observe an expert plant my newly purchased cactus.

B&B Cactus Farm

 

Whenever I find myself in Tucson, I try to find time to visit this cactus nursery, which has a large selection of my favorite type of cactus. Torch cactus (Trichocereus hybrids) are rather unassuming when not in flower, but are transformed when their large blossoms open, several times in summer.

‘First Light’ Torch Cactus Hybrid

I first traveled to B&B Cactus Farm last year with the intention of buying one torch cactus. However, as often happens with me and plants, I came home with two, including this stunning ‘First Light’ torch cactus.

This time, I decided to buy one more torch cactus hybrid – unsurprisingly, I bought two again as well as a colorful container to plant one of them in. 

I had planned on planting it myself once we returned home, but a conversation with one of the cactus experts changed my mind.

Damon was busy potting cactus at a table with a large pile of succulent potting mix behind him. I struck up a conversation with him and found that he had an interesting story that had him ending up at a cactus nursery in Arizona. He worked in the banking industry and moved to Arizona from Oklahoma a year ago, and began work at a local bank. After awhile, he decided that being a banker wasn’t for him and found happiness working with cactus. As he put it, “People are always stressed about money when they visit the bank, but everyone who comes to the nursery is happy, because plants make people smile.”

We had a great time talking and I decided to have him pot my cactus, which would make it easier to transport home. When I explained that I had a gardening website and wanted to take a video of him potting the cactus, he graciously agreed and provided lots of helpful advice.

So here is a banker turned cactus expert, showing you how to plant cactus in a pot: 

I hope you enjoyed Damon’s helpful tips. For more helpful videos, subscribe to my YouTube Channel

It’s one of my favorite times of year in the garden – my peach trees are heavily laden with delicious, sweet fruit ready for picking.

Many people are surprised to learn that you can grow peaches in Arizona, but they do very well. However, they do ripen earlier than in cooler climates. May is peach season here in the desert.

My peach trees sit outside my kitchen window, and I’ve been keeping my eye on them to see when they were ready to harvest.  Finally, the day arrived, and I brought out my bushel basket and got to picking.

One peach tree can provide you with most of the peaches you need. Last year, I made peach blueberry jam, which was so good, that it didn’t last long. Today, I’m planning on making regular peach jam, but I can always buy peaches from the store at another time to make other variations if I choose to.

Every May, I haul out my water bath canner, canning jars, and spend 2 hours making delicious peach jam.

Growing peaches and making jam isn’t difficult or expensive, but there are guidelines to follow. I made a video of the process, from what type of peach trees do best in the desert, how to tell if your peaches are ripe, and how to make jam.  I hope you enjoy!

https://youtu.be/jEcyAzCB-W4

Do you like to use herbs to flavor your favorite dishes?  If so, than you’ll want to try herb salts.


So what are herb salts, you may wonder?

They are created by mixing the herb of your choice with kosher or sea salt, which is used in place of plain salt to add delicious flavor to food.

Herb salts are easy to create and make great gifts.

I’ve made several different types of herb salts in the past and recently set out to make a batch of rosemary salt.


Since I don’t have rosemary growing in my garden, I drove to my sister’s house to clip some fresh sprigs of rosemary from her garden.  (You can also use fresh rosemary from the grocery store).


You will need 3 1/3 cups of kosher salt and 1/3 cup of fresh rosemary along with a jar to store it in.

1. Rinse the rosemary sprigs in water.
2. Remove the leaves, starting from the top downward.


3. Put the rosemary and salt in your food processor and pulse until the rosemary leaves are approximately 1/8 of an inch long.
4. Place the rosemary salt onto a baking sheet and put in an oven that is heated to 200 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.
5. Let the herb salt cool and then put in jars with a lid.

That’s it!  I told you it was easy.

Rosemary tastes great on your favorite meat dish including beef, chicken or pork.  I also like to sprinkle it on the top of buttered rolls – yum!

While rosemary salt is delicious, it is just the beginning – there are other herbs that can be used to make herb salt.


Basil salt is a great flavoring for Italian dishes such as marinara sauce or sprinkled on pizza.

To learn how to make basil salt, click here.

If you love cilantro, how about a sprinkle of cilantro salt on your favorite Mexican dish?

Cilantro is one of those herbs that many people can’t get enough of.  Click here for instructions to make your own cilantro salt.

Whether you use herbs from your own garden, the farmers market or grocery store – they are a delicious addition to your pantry as well as a great gift idea for the ‘foodie’ in your life.
Do you grow fruit in your garden?

For those of us who live in warm, southern climates, you’ll often see a citrus tree or two in the growing in the backyard.

While I do have a lemon and orange tree growing in my garden, that is just the beginning of my fruit crop.  I also have a pair of apple and peach trees that generously provide us with fruit in late spring.  

The final fruit crop that I grow isn’t found on a tree but rather on bushes.


Ever since I was a child in Southern California, I have loved blackberries.  We had a line of blackberry bushes growing along the back wall of our suburban home and it was often a race between us and our dog ‘Smitty’ to see who would get to them first.

Now, I have my own blackberry bushes growing in my side garden, which are located right behind my apple trees.

While I enjoy eating fresh fruit, I also like to make jam so that I can enjoy the fruits of my garden throughout the entire year.

Last month, I made several batches of peach jam and last week, it was time to make my first batch of blackberry jam.  

It took a few weeks to get all of the blackberries picked from the bushes.  The reason for this is that not all the berries ripened at once, so we would freeze them after picking until the entire bush was clean of berries.


My 13-year-old son asked if he could help me make the jam.  I was pleasantly surprised that he would want to help me, but I will take any opportunity I can to spend time with my son.


We gathered supplies – canning jars with lids, sugar, powdered pectin and a canner.

The first step involved mashing the blackberries in a large pot before adding the powdered pectin.


The blackberry mixture had to be heated to a high temperature until it began to boil.


Then it was time to add the sugar.  Jam takes a lot of sugar, but I don’t like mine overly sweet, so I decreased the amount of sugar by 1 cup.
It helps to have the sugar pre-measured before boiling the fruit mixture.


After adding the sugar, we needed to heat the mixture back up to boiling.  It was nice to have a helper, since you have to stir the entire time.  Once it begins to boil, you have to let it continue for 1 minute before taking off the heat.

Take a couple of minutes to scoop off any foam that accumulated on the top of the blackberry jam before filling sterilized jam jars.


We carefully added the hot blackberry jam mixture into the jam jars.  It smelled so good that we were tempted to try some, but decided against it since we didn’t want to burn our mouths.


Using the handy magnet utensil that came with my canning kit, I carefully put on the lids.

At this point, you can allow the jam to cool and then enjoy it on toast or English muffin.  But, you will need to refrigerate the jam unless you want to preserve it by processing it by water bath canning.


A hot water canning bath involves submerging the jars of jam in boiling water for several minutes.  This will preserve the blackberry jam and allow it to last over a year on the pantry shelf.

Canning kits include a large pot, metal insert, funnel, magnet utensil for lids and tongs.  They are relatively inexpensive and can be found at Walmart or Amazon.  I have even seen them in my local Ace Hardware store.


After a 10-minute boiling water bath, the jam was ready to be taken out carefully with tongs.  

We let them sit overnight to cool before eagerly tasting the fruits of our labors.  

It is hard to compare the delicious taste of homemade jam that was made from fruit from your own garden.  In fact, I find myself tempted to make a second piece of toast just so I can enjoy some more delicious blackberry jam.

Of course, you don’t have to grow your own fruit to be able to make jam – simply buy some fruit at your local grocery store or farmers market.  Earlier this month, I saw 1/2 pint containers of blackberries on sale for 97¢.

While I make jam every year, this was the first time I’ve made blackberry jam and I can’t wait until next year to make some more.

Thankfully, I have eleven jars to last me through the next year.

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Want to learn more about canning?

If you are lucky, maybe your grandmother, mother or aunt can teach you.  5 years ago, my mother taught me how to make jam and I’ve never stopped.
If you don’t have anyone to teach you, a simple Google search can help you find a class offered nearby or you can learn how to online.

I am always on the lookout for new things to make from the garden.


Recently I learned how to make specially flavored salts using herbs from my garden.  ‘Herb salts’ have become a popular flavoring tool in the culinary community and they are very easy to make.


The process of making herb salts starts out looking like this…



And ends up transformed into this…

Are you interested in making your own herb salts? 

Summertime means that many of my herbs are actively growing and I sometimes run of ways to use all of the fragrant leaves of them.

Herb or ‘gourmet’ salts are a great way to preserve herbs while adding a new twist to flavoring my favorite foods.

Basil Salt

In my last post, I shared how to make basil salt using two ingredients – fresh basil leaves and kosher salt.

Today, I’d love to show you how to make your own unique herb salt blend.


For my herb salt blend, I went out into the garden and looked for a variety of herbs that I love to cook with.  I found rosemary, sage and thyme. I then grabbed a head of garlic and kosher salt.
I must admit that I was thrilled that I had all these herbs growing in my garden.  I grew the garlic too! 

For equipment, you should have a cutting board, a sharp knife for chopping, a baking sheet and a glass jar with a lid.  
You can make this recipe using a food processor, but it is optional.


1. You will need 2/3 cup rosemary, 2/3 cup sage and 2/3 cup thyme leaves.  These are the amounts I used to get the flavor I liked, but you can play around with the ratio of each herb or choose different herbs to get the flavor you want.  


2. Place 1/2 cup kosher salt on your cutting board and add 5 peeled garlic cloves and chop them together.  The garlic should be finely minced at this point.


3. Chop all of the herbs together.

4. Combine the salt/garlic and the herbs together and continue chopping until finely chopped.

**You can use a food processor for steps 3 & 4 instead of chopping.  Simply put all ingredients in at once and pulse for 30 seconds. 


At this point you can use your herb salt to flavor a roast of beef, chicken or pork before cooking or to flavor roasted vegetables.  But, if you aren’t using the herb salt right away, continue on…


5. Put your herb salt mixture onto a baking sheet in a thin layer and bake in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.  This step dries out the herb mixture.  You can also allow it to air dry over a couple of days instead of putting it into the oven.


6. Place your dried mixture into a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds to get rid of any lumps.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can put the dried mixture into a Ziploc bag and roll it with a rolling pin until it is finely ground up.


7. Put your herb salt into a glass jar with a tightly-fitted lid.  Store in a dark, dry place with your spices and dried herbs to preserve its flavor.

I will use my herb salt blend to flavor a pork loin, baked chicken or even a beef roast.  It would also taste great when sprinkled on roasted vegetables or put into soups, don’t you think? 


As you can imagine there are a number of different types of herb salts that you can make.  Here are a few different combinations that you might want to try:


Rosemary Sage Garlic Salt

All of these herb salt blends can be made following the same steps as I have done for my herb salt blend – except where noted.


Rosemary Lemon Pepper Salt – 1/3 cup rosemary leaves, 2 tablespoons lemon zest, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 cup kosher salt.
*(Increase cooking time to 1 hour)


Rosemary Sage and Garlic Salt – 1/2 cup of rosemary leaves, 1/2 cup sage, 5 peeled garlic cloves and 1/4 cup kosher salt.


Sage Thyme and Garlic Salt – 1/2 cup sage, 1/2 cup thyme, 5 peeled garlic cloves and 1/4 cup kosher salt.


If your garden is filled with herbs, this is a creative way to use them in the kitchen or give them as gifts.  Even if you don’t have a garden filled with herbs, you can find fresh herbs at your local grocery store or farmers market.


So, how about you? What would herb(s) would your ideal herb salt contain?

I enjoy DIY projects – particularly when they involve things that I have grown in my garden.

It seems that a lot of the things that I make from the garden include herbs.  I have dried herbs, frozen them into ice cubes and have done homemade herb butter.

Using herbs from my garden when I cook always gives me a special satisfaction, and my food tastes great too!

Basil Salt
 
Today, I am excited to share with you how to make basil herb salt.  If you haven’t heard of herb salts before, they are referred to as ‘gourmet salts,’ which are very popular in the foodie community.
 
Herb salts are easy to make – especially if you have a food processor.  The salt helps to preserve the fresh flavor of your favorite herbs, and they add fabulous flavor to your favorite dishes.
 
Gourmet salts also make great gifts.
 
 
It is hard to find anyone who doesn’t love basil and the flavor it adds to so many different dishes.  I enjoy making Italian food and am often using basil.  Usually, I tear or chop some fresh basil leaves and add them as flavoring.
 
Basil salt can be used in a variety of ways including sprinkling into your favorite tomato sauce, on top of a fresh-baked pizza, adding to bruschetta or simply sprinkling some on the top of fresh tomatoes.
 
Are you ready to get started?  
 
You will need fresh basil (either from your garden or the store) and kosher salt – pretty simple!
 
Grab your food processor, a baking sheet and a glass jar with a lid.
 
 
1. You will need 1/2 cup each of kosher salt and basil leaves.  
 
 
2. Add the basil and kosher salt to your food processor and pulse for 30 seconds.
 
 
The finished mixture should look like this.
 
 
3. Pour the mixture out onto a baking sheet in a thin layer.  The mixture will be somewhat moist.
 
 
4. Bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 225-degree oven.  After the first 10 minutes, lightly mix the basil salt mixture and bake for another 10 minutes – this helps it to dry out completely.
 
 
5. Put the dried basil salt mixture back into the food processor and blend to remove any remaining lumps.  *Make sure that the food processor is dry beforehand.
 
 
6. Put your basil salt into a glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
 
That’s it – you are done!
I must admit that this is a pretty easy project and the food processor does most of the work.  
 
Keep your basil salt in a dark, cool space where you keep your other herbs/spices to help preserve its flavor.  Use it within a few months for the best flavor.
 
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This is one of the rare times that I didn’t have to spend any extra money on a DIY project – I had the basil growing in my garden, the kosher salt was in the pantry, and I used a mason jar that I had on hand.
 
 
I made three batches of basil salt and will keep one for myself and start using it right away.  The rest I plan on giving away as gifts.  
 
Gifts from the garden and kitchen are personal and much appreciated by others.  Last year, I gave away homemade jam from my peach tree.  This year it will be basil salt.
 
I can’t wait for my basil plant to grow more leaves so I can make more!
 
‘Herbes de Provence’ salt
 
**Basil salt is just the beginning of different types of herb salts you can make.  In my next post, I will show you how to make a customized herb salt blend as well as some ideas of other herb salts you can make.
What would you use basil salt to flavor?

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Have you ever had to leave town for a few days and wanted to ensure that your potted plants don’t dry out?


Look no further than your wine cabinet…

Glass bottles, like this empty wine bottle, can help water your potted plants for a couple of days.
All you need is a clean glass bottle and water to create your own self-watering bottle.
 
 
1. Water your potted plants well.
 
2.  Fill an empty glass bottle with water and cover the top with your thumb to keep the water from dripping out as you turn it upside down.
 
 
3. Insert the mouth of the wine bottle into the soil, about 2 inches deep.  
 
That’s all there is to it!
 
 
As the soil dries, water will slowly seep into the soil from the bottle, essentially watering your potted plants for a couple of days.
*This can also be done to plants in the ground as well.
So, the next time you find yourself putting empty glass bottles in the recycle bin, keep out one or two to use to water your plants while you are away.
 

Do you have a border in your garden? 


How about a decorative one that you made yourself?

 
Last year, I visited a garden that had a beautiful border that the owner made herself using concrete mix, broken dishes and glass beads.
 
 
There were also lovely step stones as well.  
 
The creator of this functional garden art was kind enough to show me how she made them.
 
 
Have you ever made a piece of art that you display in your garden?
 

What kind of household cleaner do you use?


Earlier this year, I had heard of DIY natural cleaners made from grapefruit and decided to try it out myself.

 
The cleaner was very easy to make and I used grapefruit from my mother’s tree, although you can get yours from the grocery store.
 
I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.