Thirty Days in the Garden: Dirty Jobs and Empty Nests

I’m not averse to most dirty jobs, but I always dread cleaning the fountain. It’s not so much the dirt and slime, but the challenge of getting it clean.

For the birds

Before placing the fountain in front of our living room window, I researched the best location. Wet wings slow the bird down after they bathe, so they suggest a nearby tree. The fountain is in the shade, so it doesn’t get too hot. Surrounding shrubs discourage easy access by a certain feline.

Tessa as a kitten

Or so they say.

What keeps the birds safe is what makes this job a challenge. The fountain invariably collects plant debris in the water and around the pump. In between an extensive cleaning, I reach into the pump cavity and clear away debris. I use a stiff brush to clean the sides and then refill the fountain with fresh water.

The deep clean is more involved. I cut power to the pump, then tip the heavy fountain to empty the water. It’s a balancing act, sloshing out the dirty water while keeping the fountain from tipping over. I pour white vinegar into the emptied fountain, then top it up again with water and let it soak. Vinegar is non-toxic, so it’s harmless to the birds. It does a great job cleaning out the nooks and crannies.

On the other hand, white vinegar is not suitable for surrounding plants. I can’t blast out the vinegar water with the hose, and I have to be careful when I scrub not to splash the nearby foliage. I usually bail out the vinegar water and pour it down the drain. Only then do I feel comfortable rinsing and refilling the fountain.

It’s worth it, of course, when you spot birds taking a bath, sipping from the bubbler, or hopping in the branches in the nearby tree as they dry off.

Ana’s hummingbird on top of bubbler

On the subject of birds, we’re seeing more activity in the garden. Mike called me to the kitchen window earlier this week to see a male house finch on the railing. When I leaned over the sink to get a better look, I spotted a nest on the patio drapes. Squeal! That was unexpected.

Bird nest sitting on the fold of the drapes.

We use the drapes during the hot summer months to block the evening sun. Off-season, the drapes stack together under the eaves. A house finch built a nest on top of the folds.

After that first sighting, she didn’t return. I’ve been worried all week that either we scared them off with our regular activity or that she met with a different fate.

It turns out that female house finches build several nests, then decide which one they want to use. I hope she chooses the one outside our kitchen window. Only time will tell.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Where Wild Violets Roam

Wild Violets (Viola odorata) are easy to propagate or invasive, depending on your perspective. I think they’re charming. These purple gems come back year after year, adding a vintage vibe to the garden. I don’t remember planting violets, but it’s possible I bought one as an annual and they later seeded on their own.


Tiny Violets fill in gaps between plants, giving the garden a filled-in look that I love. A few months ago, a violet flowered in the fairy garden. It’s remarkably to scale.

A self-seeded Violet grows behind the boots.

Next to the patio, we have an elongated ellipse between paving stones. The now-forgotten plants that grew there eventually died, but the violets have slowly filled in. A yellow freesia planted itself there, too, complementing the delicate purple flowers. Purple and yellow are among my favorite color combinations, so a hat tip to nature for planting these two together.

Ellipse filled with Violets and a yellow freesia.

Violets make a terrific backdrop for cat portraits. They’re rugged, too, standing up to feline traffic. All three kitties enjoy lounging near the nepeta, but the Violets are none the worse for wear.

A mixture of Violets, Serbian bellflowers, freesia, and hydrangeas
Mouse the Cat

If a kiss could be seen, it would look like a violet.

Lucy Maud Montgomery

I agree!

Thirty Days in the Garden: Oh My Gourd, It’s a Tiny Tea House

Have a look at my tiny tea house, made from a birdhouse gourd.

Birdhouse Gourd Tiny Tea House

Here’s a bit of history: Several years ago, when my boys were still young, we planted birdhouse gourds. They were fun to grow, but they need a lot of space. When all was said and done, we ended up with two gourds.

2015, Growing and harvesting birdhouse gourds

The gourds took a year to dry out. I knew they were ready when I could shake them like an oversized rattle. The color changed too, from bright green to a spotted brown.

Mike drilled a bird-sized hole in one of the gourds and a few pinholes in the bottom for drainage. Year after year I dreamed of a nest of birds, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. One year I found the gourd filled with tiny pinecones, a discovery that made me laugh. Squirrels no doubt.

Today I turned the second gourd into a tiny tea house.

Tiny Tea House sign made from cyclamen petals

Like most of my miniature fairy gardens, the concept evolved. The gourd proved too small for the tea house, so I moved the furniture “outside” and created a patio instead.

Birdhouse gourd draped in Wisteria

I placed a battery-operated tea light in the stem of the gourd for some ambiance. It’s a perfect fit!

I fashioned a small curtain from a tattered silk scarf, then hung the curtain from a reed once used in a diffuser. Unlike full-sized drapes, it took me longer to thread the needle than to sew them.

I put more fairy lights behind the silk, delighted with the soft, romantic effect.

The gourd sits in the corner of a shallow wooden tray. The tray arrived at Christmas time, filled with delicious cheese and crackers. I knew I could put it to good use, and today was the day.

Tea service for two on the patio

I lined the tray with moss and tiny shells from a broken necklace. I made the patio using three wooden blocks that were originally intended for rubber stamps. I applied rub-on transfers to make a leafy patio, then wedged them together on the tray. They keep the gourd in place, and they’re just the right size for the rusted furniture.

The charming tea set and the beehive were a gift from my friend Kelly. We met through blogging many years ago, and we’ve become the best of friends. I got her hooked on fairy gardening as well.

Tiny tea house treasures from Kelly

I draped Wisteria across the opening and made a small sign using a Sharpie and a cyclamen flower.

Tea is served at 4:00 sharp.

Wisteria seat cushions

Thirty Days in the Garden: ScrapHappy

What’s a ScrapHappy post? It’s an opportunity to create something new using scraps of paper, cloth, yarn, really anything. Our host, Kate, of Tall Tales from Chiconia, turns out gorgeous projects month after month. If you would like to join us, please let Kate know.

Pink geraniums

My dear friend Laura sent me a gift last year wrapped in beautiful blue paper, dotted with bumblebees. Bees have significance for her and her family, so she incorporates them in her art, cards, and other beautiful creations.

I gently unwrapped the gift to preserve the paper and set it aside to make her a card.

Gift wrap can be tricky to work with as it’s generally thinner and easier to tear. In this case, it worked beautifully.

Laura’s Bee Card among the succulents and nasturtiums

In addition to the gift wrap, I used a scrap of black card stock. I stamped the sentiment “You are Wonderful” on the upper left, then attached it to a 5 x 7 card. I used my die-cutting machine to cut circles around several of the bees.

Elevated bee

One of the bees sits on the front of the card, raised with a few foam dots.

The bees take flight on the envelope

Two of the bees decorate the envelope, and a fourth one acts as a seal on the back.

I enjoy these monthly ScrapHappy posts. If you’re reading this and thinking of joining us, please do. Be sure to check out all the other scrappy posts this month linked below. Most of these blogs will be live on or just after April 15, 2021.

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChris,
KerryClaireJeanJon, HayleyDawn,
Gwen, Bekki, Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin,
Vera, NanetteAnn, NancyDawn 2, Noreen,
Bear, Carol, Preeti and Edith

Thirty Days in the Garden: A Glider Debut

Are you ready for the big reveal?

The garden glider is open for business. I inadvertently included a sneak peek on Sunday, but now it’s official.

The glider came with a seat cushion which is thankfully removable. I picked up a couple of toss pillows at Target, perfect for an afternoon nap. The cushions are a bland grey, but they’re covered in that outdoor material the squirrels abhor.

I made that up. They probably love the pillow fabric, but for now we’ll pretend otherwise.

Gliders, unlike swings, glide back and forth instead of arching in a curve. I had a chair glider when I nursed both of my babies and loved it. Gliders have a smaller footprint than a rocker, so that’s also a plus.

The area under the half-umbrella looks and feels great. We ordered a replacement cover for the umbrella last year, but due to COVID, it took months for it to arrive. The umbrella fit is looser than the old one, but nothing can be done for it now. I like the way the green blends into the garden. The umbrella collects debris from the orange tree, so the darker color will help disguise the dirt.

With the glider assembled and in place and the new umbrella cover overhead, I changed my mind about the small blue tables. I’m using a round table instead. I’m going to paint the top of the blue tables with chalk paint, but I’ll leave the legs the faded blue. I’ve moved the tables close to the hose bib, where I’ll use them for my assorted watering cans.

Here’s what the area looked like before with the tattered umbrella and swing.

Here’s what it looks like now:

I like the cleaner lines, the color of the wood, the arched back, and the extra space around the glider. The swing legs took up a lot of room. It’s now easier to walk around the glider to rake leaves from the gravel.

I’m so pleased with the way it all came together.

As for the squirrels, I’ve presented an offering behind the glider. I hope it does the trick.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Kalanchoe Thrysiflora

A couple of summers ago, I emptied one of the planting beds and filled it with succulents. I’m always looking for ways to save water. I’d never planted a Kalanchoe thrysiflora, so I didn’t know what to expect. I loved the saucer-sized leaves and the unusual growth pattern, so into the cart they went.

Succulents, July 2020

California just ended the second year of dry conditions. We’re not officially in a drought, but water rationing can’t be far off. I keep adapting. I used to buy annuals each summer and fill pots on the deck. I’ve now replanted all of my containers with succulents. They have the added benefit of growing slowly, so they don’t need translating for several years. That said, it’s time for several of my succulents to find a place to spread out. Pots can only take you so far.

Kalanchoe thrysiflora are informally called paddle plants or pancake plants. The leaves remind me of saucers, with slightly upturned edges and pretty trim.

I didn’t know that the plant would bolt after it flowered, so imagine my surprise when the Kalanchoe tripled in size. I had to stake the plant over the winter to keep it from toppling. The plants unique qualities are enchanting. I learned today that I can propagate more.

Gorgeous red and yellow leaves

Over the weekend I noticed tiny florets or offsets along the stem of the plants. These can be propagated as well according to gardening know-how, though I’ll need to read more on this technique. You can cut the leaves, allow them to scar, then plant. I’m not sure how to remove the offset, though I’m curious to try.

Tiny offset on the mature plant

What do you think? Would you grow this unusual plant in your garden or a sunny window? I’m rather smitten.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Sunday Snapshot

Here’s a snapshot of our garden at the end of another lovely weekend.

I spent a little time pulling weeds and dead-heading flowers, but I had to buckle down and write my Lifted Spirits board report, in addition to other mundane activities.

Mike finished assembling the glider, and we all took turns sitting on it. I promise pictures soon.

In the meantime, here are several photos of the garden at dusk. This is such a wonderful time of year in the garden.

Thirty Days in the Garden: VegTrug Cozy

We planted our tomatoes in the VegTrug a few weeks ago, then promptly covered it with a net canopy. I wanted to keep Tessa out of the box if possible

Tomatoes, herbs, and strawberries in the VegTrug

There are a pair of tomato plants in the box, and an oregano plant from my friend Mary who inadvertently bought two.

Tessa’s a clever feline, so she figured out a way to lift the cover and climb inside. I tried tightening the velcro strap, but to no avail. So far, she’s only sleeping in there. Hopefully, she’ll take care of her other business elsewhere.

Tessa enjoying the warm mesh covering

A handful of strawberry plants grow along the perimeter. I noticed today that a few stray geranium plants are back. They’ll fill the box if left there, so eventually I need to take them out.

Flowering strawberry plant

I stuck my head under the netting to take photos, and I have to admit that it’s cozy in there.

The underside of the VegTrug. No wonder Tessa likes it in there.

I bought the VegTrug five years ago so that I could expand my growing area. It fits perfectly over the business end of the garden that houses the low-voltage transformer and an irrigation manifold intake valve.


The VegTrug is a marvel. The base is shaped like a V, allowing for deeper planting in the center and shallow-rooting herbs along the perimeter. It works perfectly on the gravel bed near the other two planting boxes and has added a lot more planting space for sun-loving vegetables.

Another fun assembly project
Young tomato plant starting to flower
Growing food is gratifying

In about a month, I’ll add some basil to the mix. I used to plant the tomatoes and the basil simultaneously but the basil started to flower. I kept pinching back the flowers, but you have to stay on top of it. Once the basil flowers, it bolts. Once the plant bolts the energy goes to the flowers instead of the tasty basil leaves. We love making Caprese salads, so with luck, I’ll get my timing right this year, and we’ll have lots of salads on our summer table.

Caprese salad from 2014

I’m off to bed. I hope you’re enjoying your weekend so far.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Flat Pack Glider

The garden glider is here!

Some assembly required

Yesterday I mentioned replacing our garden swing with a glider, and today it arrived. Wow, that seemed fast. I received the shipping notification while downtown volunteering, and I could hardly wait to get home.

When I got here, Mike had already disassembled the old swing. It sat in a pile near the driveway.

I raced into the back yard picturing a fully assembled glider. Only then did I realize the some-assembly-required part of the deal. The new glider arrived in a flat cardboard box.

Flat pack glider

I should know better. Unless it’s a couch or an appliance, there is almost always some assembly required.

We moved the stacked pieces into place and removed the packaging. Straight out to the box, we realized one of the glider arms had been pulled away from its screws. Seeing the bent screws and shredded wood left me crestfallen.

Damaged glider arm

Mike is Mr. Fix it, so when I suggested we call and request a replacement part, he assured me he could make it work. While I attached the seat to the back, he pulled out the damaged screws and set about the repair. The wood glue in his workbench is past its usefulness date, so that meant a trip to the hardware store.

Mike applying wood glue to broken glider arm

We had a quick dinner, and then Mike glued and reassembled the glider’s arm. It needs two hours to cure, so it’s resting against the kitchen counter under a couple of boxes of sparkling water.

Waiting for the glue to dry and set

We’ll be back at it on Sunday. I’ll share more photos then.

Happy weekend! May your days be assembly-free.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Projects

I enjoy a good garden project. I like refreshing things as needed, but I know my skill set. I don’t tackle the unmanageable.

I have two garden projects lined up. Now that I’ve committed them to my blog, I know I’ll see them through.

San Jose summers are getting hotter, so I’ve learned to tackle outdoor projects long before the summer solstice. If I wait, then it’s just too hot.

My first project is to replace the top of my potting bench. The bench doubles as a sideboard when we entertain (ha), and it also stores our emergency earthquake kit.

Our earthquake kit lives here

I sanded and repainted the entire bench a few years ago and it turned out well. I used chalk paint, a first for me. I stenciled a fern pattern on the lower half, a small detail that made me smile. It’s fun trying something new.

2018: The rest of the bench looks good, but the top is shot

Unfortunately, the surface of the bench didn’t last. The paint started to chip after just two years. Last year I decided to repaint the surface with house paint. House paint is made to stand up to weather, so it seemed like a safe bet. It was a production buying anything last year due to the pandemic, but we waited in line, got the paint, and came home. I sanded and repainted the surface and it looked ok.

This is what it looks like today.

2021: A year after house paint application

This time I plan to remove the boards and replace them with a solid piece of wood. I’m hoping the hardware store can cut a couple of notches for a snug fit, but if not, I’m happy to go with a rectangle. I’ll apply to coats of the house paint, and I might even buy a topper to extend the life of the bench.

The second project will come as a shock to my regular readers: I’ve decided to replace my garden swing with a glider.

2012: My first and most ambitious makeover

Mike and the boys bought me the swing for Mother’s Day in 2009. I’ve finally crossed over from sentimental to enough already. The challenge with this swing is that the cover and cushions are built-in to the structure. You can’t remove them during the off-season. Instead, I covered the entire swing with a clear drop-cloth. This protected it from the rain, but not the squirrels. Season after season I replaced the cover, re-stuffed the cushions, made new pillows, only to start over again in a year or two.

Mike will help me take apart the frame so we can move it through our narrow sideboard. Curbside recycling will haul and recycle the frame. Only the tattered cushion and mesh will go into the landfill.

I ordered the glider on-line, so it’s slowly making its way across the country. I hope it’s as pretty as it looked in the photo. Once the glider is set up, I’ll replace the half umbrella cover, and I might even paint the tables.

Once upon a time

I’ll let you know how it goes.