It Was a Dark and Stormy Garden…

gardening after dark

After Dark

I’ve gardened in the rain and cold until my fingers were numb. I’ve gardened at dusk till feasting mosquitoes drove me indoors. I’ve even gardened in the mid-day heat, keeping the tormenting sun at bay with hats and sunscreens and moveable umbrellas. But I’ve never gardened after dark.

“Dark” is subjective of course. It’s that time of day when I reluctantly turn my garden over to the other side. If I’m outside too late, Dark reveals opossums, meandering along the fence.  Frankly, they give me the creeps. I once encountered one on my pathway late at night, walking straight for me. I froze in place, but it ignored me and meandered on.

Raccoons also visit the yard.  They like to play in the fountain and on one occasion, tapped on the cat door. The rats don’t always wait for Dark. They rustle around in the orange tree reminding me to pack up my tools and head on in. Dark is just around the corner.

Spiders, a gardeners friend, have cousins that prefer to wait for Dark. They live under the BBQ and below the eaves. They don’t make a sound, adding to the creepiness factor, but I know they’re there.

I’ve found myself racing the setting sun, trying to pull one more weed before night fall, trying to prune one last vine.  I become a little obsessed with the work at hand and I’m reluctant to stop. In the summer months it’s usually too hot to garden by day.  My fair skin prefers the damp mists of Avalon to the sunny climate of San Jose.  Since I live in the suburbs and not a mystical novel I’m forced to make do. So I race that setting sun while acknowledging the inevitable. My garden is harmless by day, but, like the closet of my youth, with the flip of the light switch, all bets are off.

Working Days in the Garden

English Lavender

English Lavender

Gorgeous weather meant work and play in the garden today.  My back is sure to rebel by morning, but for now it feels good to have put in a day’s work.

Lights and Ladders

One of the lights in the towering pine tree stopped working last summer. As we suspected, a small critter chewed through the wire and its housing. It’s hard to fathom the appeal of a few small, low-voltage wires, but there you have it. My husband rented a twenty-foot ladder and did the repairs.  I worried and paced the entire time. I held the ladder on his way up, then flipped the switch when instructed. Ten minutes crawl by when you’re busy worrying. I was happy to help him take the ladder back to the van. I’m glad that job is behind us.

Sod: Now you see it, now you don’t

I dug up a pie-shaped corner of sod along the sidewalk, creating a 3 x 4 foot area for flowers. After much deliberation and input from several readers, I decided to plant on the property side of the sidewalk, instead of using the sidewalk strip. I’m still plotting alternatives to the grassy strip, but for now I’ll stick to my ‘flower pie’ project.

It was heartening to see so many plump earthworms as I dug out the layer of grass. Worms are a welcome addition in any garden. I can’t wait to start planting.

Lavender: Shave and a Haircut

English Lavender growing along the deck was in desperate need of a haircut. I pruned away dead wood and undergrowth, then shaped the top along the deck.  It looks unkempt for now, but in a few weeks, new growth fill help fill it out. The lavender attracts bees all summer , something I always look forward to. I’m going to participate in the Great Sunflower Project this year, so I’m counting on lots of buzzing visitors.

There is suddenly so much to do as the weather improves and time seems to accelerate.  I wish I could slow things down and take time to savor it all. Ah, Spring!  I love you so. ♥

Twiddling My Green Thumbs

DSC_0024It’s still January.  Boy oh boy this month is creeping by.  I keep checking my Mercury News calendar to be sure I haven’t missed any garden chores.  It’s a short list.

Protect frost-tender plants. Check.  Winter weeding. Check. Watch out for snails and slugs.  Haven’t seen ’em.  And finally, if it’s to cold and wet, order spring seeds. I did that ages ago.

I pruned the fruit cocktail tree, gave the compost a few spins and checked on the worms. I put out a large bag of laundry lint for the squirrels, and made a delicate wreath of the same for the birds.

Today, in need of a few hardware store items, I quickly perused the garden section.  Ho-hum to that as well.

Can you hear me tap, tap, tapping my green thumb? I’m suffering from a serious case of garden withdrawal.

How are you managing the mid-winter doldrums?

Only Eight Weeks Left!

Can you believe it?   The first day of spring is just eight weeks from today.¹  Are you ready?

Of course spring arrives whether we’re ready or not, but if you’re planning a garden it’s nice to be prepared. If you’ve been gardening for a while, you’ll have learned plenty of lessons from past seasons. I sure have. In my experience, no two years are alike.  Once you’ve sorted out soil, amendments and irrigation, you can start planning the fun stuff.

cosmos looking up_opt


A garden can encompass an acre plot or a few pots in a sunny corner of a patio or deck.  I’ve figured out ways to garden most of my life, regardless of circumstance. I once planted corn in a skinny strip of dirt next to an otherwise barren lot in a rented house.  I’ve grown herbs in a sheltered porch.  Many years ago, single and renting a small space, my mom gave me a hundred dollars for my birthday.  I used it to buy several bags of soil and some seeds and created a flower garden outside my front door. My neighbors enjoyed it too. The best gardens are shared.



A sunny kitchen window or a humid bathroom counter are great indoor garden spots. You needn’t have a lot of money to start your own. Ask friends for seeds and cuttings.  Many plants need dividing every few years.  Ask your friends if you can help them divide plants, then take home some of the splits. It’s another opportunity to bring plants into your domain.  Check out Freecyle in your community, and post wanted ads for old tools, pots, and the like.  My neighbor planted tomatoes in an old cat litter container. Let your imagination be your guide.

Are you planning a garden this year?  What will you grow?

Tomato and Basil

Tomato and Basil

¹I’m writing from the Northern Hemisphere.  If you live south of the equator, of course, fall days are just around the corner.

Planting the Strip: Pros and Cons

Like most gardeners with small, suburban lots, I’m always on the look out for ways to maximize my annual planting. This year I have my eye on the sidewalk strip, the space between our city sidewalk and the street.

There are several pluses (and a few minuses) to planting there. I’m going to toss out both, and you can let me know what you think.


  1. Full sun!  (Need I say more.) We have limited full sun in the backyard. I have a pair of raised beds tucked up against the back of the house and last year added a two moveable City Pickers.  Beyond that, the yard is either landscaped or shaded by large trees, or both. The sidewalk strip is prime, vegetable and flower real estate.
  2. A long, narrow strip. It’s perfect for vegetable gardening due to the already narrow space.  It would be easy to manage the box or boxes planted there.
  3. Water. The existing sprinkler system would be easy to tap into. My handy husband could run drip irrigation directly into the boxes.
  4. The view. I can see the strip from my kitchen window, and from the front deck.  A flower and vegetable bed is infinitely more interesting than grass.
  5. Additional yields.  More dirt, equals more fruits and vegetables.  I can taste those sweet tomatoes now.


  1. Cost.  I no longer have the back to dig out heavy sod, nor the means of easily getting rid of it.  I would need to hire someone to dig out the existing lawn.  Additional costs include the raised bed (built or purchased), soil and seeds or plants.
  2. Public access. We have great neighbors who’ve openly expressed enjoyment when we’ve grown pumpkins and tomatoes in the front yard. Not everyone that walks by, however, will  respect the garden’s sanctity.
  3. Street parking.  The space in front of our house accommodates two cars. Maintaining my good-neighbor creed means maintaining continued access to those spots.
  4. Late-season doldrums.  Not everyone appreciates the messiness of a vegetable garden going to seed.
Sidewalk Strip

Sidewalk Strip (to the right of the Chinese Pistache

Lots to think about in the next few months.  I hope you’ll weigh in on the poll below.

Gifts for the Joyful Gardener

Gardeners are practical souls.  We don’t mind dirt under our nails, or bruises on tired knees.  We’ll get up early or stay out late, weeding, pruning, planting and generally enjoying our time in the garden.  We love sharing seeds and flowers fresh from the earth and enjoy swapping tips for keeping the garden pests at bay.

If you have a joyful gardener in your life, here are a few gift ideas to tuck under the tree.


Your gardener will never lose their gloves in the garden again.  Floral Gardening Gloves allow you to pull weeds in style.

Floral Garden Gloves

Floral Garden Gloves

Seed Keeper or Seed Keeper Deluxe. I’ve been using mine for several months. It’s an easy and efficient way to store and retrieve the seeds you save or buy. They come packed with all sorts of garden goodies as well.

Seed Keeper Deluxe

Seed Keeper Deluxe


Slipcovers: They’re not just for sofas!  Dress up your pots with a Patio Art Planter Slipcovers. You can change with the seasons, or simply cover up an ugly pot. It’s a nice way to wrap up a potted plant to gift as well.

plant slipcover

Slipcover Your Plants

Fair trade birdhouses attract birds to the garden. Keep those baby birds toasty warm till it’s time to leave the nest.

Felted birdhouse

Fair Trade Birdhouses

What a clever idea! It’s a card and a desktop garden all in one. It’s edible too. It’s a postcarden!  Click on the photo below and check out the time-lapse video on their site.



For the gardener with the travel bug: “Botanically themed cruises and garden tours of Europe are designed for gardening and gourmet enthusiasts who enjoy taking in ancient castles, magnificent châteaux and stunning landscaped gardens with iconic sites.”

Let’s all go! Who’s with me?

Organizing Garden Tools: Bucket Jockey® Goes “Green”

Bucket Jockey® where have you been all my life!?

In all my years of gardening, I’ve simply “made do” with my tool storage.  For the past several years I’ve used a small plastic caddy intended for cleaning supplies.  Not bad for a two dollar investment.

So I can’t tell you how excited I am with my upgrade: an all-in-one tool storage caddy from Husky® and Home Depot.  I’m not sure why I assumed this would be a costly investment. I grew up in an all-female household, so I never really learned my way around a hardware store.  For just ten dollars I was able to create this system, below.

For starters, I wanted to personalize my new tool organizer.  I have nothing against Husky who made this fabulous system, but you must admit they have a grouchy-looking logo.  Since I’m organized at heart, I used a jewelry finding full of hearts.  I blacked out the logo with a permanent marker, then attached the hearts with a safety-pin.  Now I can change out the bucket jewelry when the mood strikes.

Husky Bucket Jockey

I hid the logo with a jewelry finding (with apologies to Husky®)

I used the inner pockets to store my freshly cleaned and sharpened hand tools, including spades, pruners, saws and weeders. My garden fork hangs from an outer pocket, originally intended for a drill. I cut an unused garden glove to cover the prongs so I don’t scrape my leg on the rough edges as I carry it from place to place.

Bucket Interior

Bucket Interior houses tools

Gloved garden fork

Gloved garden fork

Drill holder doubles for tools and gloves

This would typically hold a drill. It works well for gloves and a garden fork.

The Bucket Jockey includes a strap attached to the exterior. I don’t know its intended use, but I’ve re-purposed it for twine. One of the tricks I learned on a garden tour was to cut several lengths of twine ahead of time so you have them at the ready when you need them. I threaded several pre-cut lengths of twine through a couple of binder rings.  They’re attached near the ball of twine.

Strap and Hook
Strap and hook attachment
Garden Twine and binder ring

Garden Twine

strap holds garden twine

Strap holds garden twine

"Bucket Jockey ®" for garden tools

“Bucket Jockey ®” transformed

What a joy to have all the tools sharpened, cleaned and stored in one easy to access, portable system.

On the subject of organizing, I recently launched my new and improved organizing website and blog, Organized at Heart. If you’re interested, please take a look.  If you would like to follow along, you can subscribe to receive regular updates.

Garden Clean-up on Aisle Alys

It’s that time of year again.  Garden clean-up.  I’d rather decorate than clean, but I know how good I’ll feel when these chores are finally done.

Garden Tools

Garden TrowelI’m a lazy gardener when it comes to tools, but I’ve promised myself I’ll be better this year.  I expect the spades and forks to dig on demand, with very little TLC between seasons.   When my hand shears are dull, my husband works his magic and returns them in sharp shape.  The rest of the tools deserve the royal treatment as well.

Lounge Cushions

loung cushionsI can hardly wait to get them out of storage each spring, but putting them away feels like such a chore.  I’m ready to move on to the next thing.  Right now, they’re stacked in the garage in a not-so-convenient spot. I need to slap them together to loosen the dust. Then I’ll damp wipe the surfaces before storing them in the shed for the winter.  I use extra-large Ziploc® bags to keep them clean between seasons.


Garden slipcoverI made a slipcover for the garden swing in May with a few easy ties for quick removal  I tossed it into the washing machine yesterday, then dried it on low.  It’s ready to store for the winter.  I want to come up with a teepee-styled cover for the entire swing to keep the original cover and frame clean and dry.  One year I used an old vinyl tablecloth with flocking on the back.  It worked fine until the squirrels moved in, shredding it into nesting material over the course of a few days.

Empty pots

I don’t have too many empty pots, thanks to our mild winters.  I clean the pots that aren’t in use  and store them upside down in the side yard.  Some gardeners scrub with a mild solution of bleach to kill off any parasites, but I try to go the organic route.  Using mild detergent and super hot water does the trick.

Stakes, trellises and supports

Saving the easy stuff for last, I just stack these in a corner near the shed and have them at the ready for next season.

Have you already tackled your garden-cleaning chores?  Do you put it off like me?  Check back tomorrow for a progress report.  Once I click the “publish” key, the pressure is on!

Halloween Countdown

Hawaii pumpkin

Hawaiian Vacation Pumpkin

Tips for cleaning and storing your garden tools.

The Dulcet Sounds of a Fountain

Landscape designers call them “water features” and they can cost a pretty penny.  Our water feature is a faux stone fountain, purchased 15 years ago for $79.

Moving water soothes the senses.  It masks the uglier sounds of the suburbs like traffic or noisy neighbors.  If your lucky, it attracts wildlife, stopping by for a drink.

garden water fountain


Even though we have an indoor water fountain for the cats, two of the four kitties prefer to drink from the outdoor fountain, green algae and all.  Squirrels hop on and off on occasion and I’m pretty sure the visiting raccoon washed his little hands in the splash after turning our lawn into a muddy mess.

Our small and unremarkable water feature brings serenity to the garden.  If you are lucky enough to live near the ocean or a lake, you’ll know exactly what I mean.  If not, consider investing in a bird bath, a small fountain or your own creative version of water in motion.

Here’s to peace and serenity.

Pumpkin Mishaps, Emotional Gardening

A watched pot never boils.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

A watched pumpkin slowly produces fruit, but while your busy hatching plans for Jack o’ lanterns, nature intervenes.

Split pumpkin

What started as a scar is now a split in the side of this pumpkin. Oh well.

Clichés and tortured prose aside, when things go wrong my disappointment is palpable.  Pumpkin vines grow from seed to fruit in just 90 days.  If I could cast the seeds over my shoulder and forget about them till harvest, would it temper my sense of loss when things don’t work out?  Perhaps.

I’m not that kind of gardener.

When I lay seeds on the warm earth, I tuck them in with soil and hope. Emerging seedlings make my heart pump a little faster. Flowers and fruit arrive on the scene and I can’t wait to drag family and friends into the garden to see the latest earthy surprise.

Talking about tomato yields with fellow bloggers gives me a wonderful sense of community. Glancing up from the kitchen sink to see a neighbor slow down to admire the sunflowers makes me smile.

Sharing my disappointments, however, makes me sad. I learn from my garden failures and continue to plant every year, but still it’s such a let down. If only I would take things a less personally.

Emotional gardener or gardening sap? I’ll leave that to my readers to decide.

Fallen Pumpkin

The weight of the pumpkin snapped the vine from the trellis and sent it tumbling to the ground. It’s such a beautiful shape, but since it broke away prematurely, it won’t develop a hard, protective shell.