What type of soil do I use?

What happens is that I have a question: "What type of soil should I buy for my windowbox?" that I look up online and get sucked down into a rabbithole of people fighting over types of compost and terms like soil amendments.

My August windowbox.  Wrong soil.  

My August windowbox.  Wrong soil.  

The simple answer is:

Windowbox/container= Potting mix

Garden= Potting soil

Windowboxes and containers are their own micro environment created by you, not Mother Earth.  Potting mix actually contains NO SOIL, and therefore is very light and fluffy, thereby delivering more of the water and nutrients to the roots.  I plan to remember that bags of Potting Mix are lighter to carry (thus me not buying it in the past bc I was thinking I wasn't getting my $ worth.  HA!  Joke's on me!).  

Container planting at the MN Arboretum.  Willing to bet there are steroids in this potting mix.  

Container planting at the MN Arboretum.  Willing to bet there are steroids in this potting mix.  

As for gardens and raised beds, I started to read about soil but my brain turned to mush in about 5 minutes.  Some people are waaaaay too into debating the nature of compost and manure.  Listen, I don't have time or energy to get my car washed, let alone worry about soil amendments.  So until the time I am done using my time to drive two boys around to numerous baseball practices and music lessons, I am not stressing about my topsoil.  I'll add a little topsoil and compost of some sort in the spring and be done.  

Dahlia Fever!

Is it me or are Dahlias suddenly the most popular girl at the dance?  I'm seeing them everywhere online and they seem to be a flower farm favorite.  

All photos taken at the MN Arboretum last week!

All photos taken at the MN Arboretum last week!

Personally, I've never been a big fan.  I think it's because a lot of Dahlias don't fit into my color scheme (white, purple, blue, pink) and I'm into plants that have more blooms.  But my curiosity is starting to get the better of me and I feel like a little experimenting next year.  After all, what is gardening other than experimenting with what a). works in your yard and b) tickles your fancy.  

IMG_7366 (1).jpg

So, I'm going to order some tubers this winter- large white and pink Dahlias that do well in colder zones.  


Garden Notes:  Full Sun, 4-5 ft height, plant in late spring and use supports, blooms Mid-July thru Sept, when dies in fall dig up tubers and put in paper bag with peat moss in basement until Spring (LABEL THE BAG!)


Tulip Mania is a real thing.

I looked up a tulip that was pretty and ended up down an internet rabbit hole of flowers and riches and economics.  

Semper Augustus.  Painting by Johannes Bosschaerth.

Semper Augustus.  Painting by Johannes Bosschaerth.

The Semper Augustus tulip was the most expensive tulip in the world in the 1600's.  One bulb cost ten times the yearly salary of a craftsman of the time.  Why was it so expensive?  When tulips were introduced to the Dutch, they quickly became very popular due to their bright colors and tulip gardens outside one's home became an outward symbol of success.  

But tulips take 7-12 years to grow from seed into flowering bulb.  And streaked tulips, such as the Semper Augustus, were due to a virus that resulted in the 'breaking' of the color of the petal.  This virus made the propagation of this variety of tulip almost impossible, thus driving up the price.

Painting by Hans Bollongier.

Painting by Hans Bollongier.

This is the part of the story when economics takes over.  Some sources claim 'Tulip Mania' as one of the first instances of an economic bubble, when an asset price far outweighs the intrinsic value.  Tulip dealers soon became speculators and were driving up prices based on tulip availability years from the present time.  {This explanation is probably all sorts of wrong.  I know nothing about economics.  Other than getting burned on our house sale in 2008}.  Anyways, the bubonic plague hit, no one cared much about the flowers in their front yards anymore, and the tulip market crashed leaving lots of people penniless.  

The Semper Augustus does not exist today, but there are a lot of look-alikes.  

Candy Cane Tulip

Candy Cane Tulip

I even discovered a mystery novel based on the history of this time: "The Tulip Virus" by Danielle Hermans.  I'll read it based on the cover alone.

I guess this means I need to get some Broken Tulips for my yard next Spring.

Fiddle Leaf Fig: How to Care for a Diva

The Fiddle Leaf Fig's popularity in interior decorating has yet to abate.  It's easy to see why it is in virtually every single decor photo spread (!!!!!).  It is a gorgeous, dramatic, glossy-green-big-leafed tree.  

After a couple years of playing "find the fiddle leaf in the photo spread", I decided I needed one.  But not one that cost upwards of $100.  Luckily, I found a baby Fiddleleaf (we're talking 12 inches high) on a trip to Ikea.  And it was something like $5.  So I got three.  And then got home and decided three wasn't enough.  They had a couple stalks in each pot, so I took one pot and separated the stalks into separate planters.  And thus began my adventures in annoying Ms. Fiddleleaf the Diva.  

Fiddle Leaf Fig Front Hall

There are a lot of very popular houseplants that are hardy.  The Fiddleleaf is not one.  It knows what it wants and will not accept anything else.  And don't put it somewhere it doesn't like.  Diva Attitude.

My Fiddleleaf let me know in no uncertain terms it did not want to be divided.  It lost its leaves and didn't grow for over a year.  The only reason I kept it was because I read about "replanting shock" and felt guilty.  The other two plants were doing OK, not great.  Then I put one in the dining room.  Which was just the gorgeousness the corner of the dining room needed.  Until my Fiddleleaf drooped and shed leaves within HOURS.  

Moral of the story- the Diva always runs the show.  And no one is happy until she is happy.  All five Fiddleleafs now live in my family room area which is south facing with 14+ hours of bright sunlight a day.  It's a little much.  It's the plant equivalent of a cat lady.

But there's nothing I can do.  They are bossy and prima donnas and fabulous.

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up"  {photo via DesignLoveFest}

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up"  {photo via DesignLoveFest}

May Windowbox

May is a tough month.  Too early to do any real gardening, yet there are the occasional 70 degree sunny days that make you want to get out to the garden and GET GOING.  So, I usually make a spring window box or container planter to have a little fun.

Before:  Ugly beat-up wood window box that looks as cheap as it is.  [Windowbox prices are a little crazy].   I did three coats of a slightly tinted exterior primer and was done.

After:  Pretty white window box to match the front porch with colorful Spring blooms.

Now the real fun begins: which plants will make it until June?

Using the "thriller, filler, spiller" method, these are the contenders.

The thriller:  DIPLADENIA.  This is a tropical plant, so we're starting off at a disadvantage.  It's hot pink blooms just lured me in.].  It supposed to get over 12" and 8" wide.  So it will certainly look like this by June:

The filler:  SNAPDRAGON.  These are promised to get 18-20" tall.  If I'm so lucky that they survive through May, I'll transplant them into the garden.


The spiller:  GULLIVER BACOPA.  This guy only gets 6" high, but 12-18" wide.  Fingers crossed.

There you have it.  I have never used any of these plants before, so I'm trying to think of it as a window box experiment rather than a suicide mission.

I'm sure by June I'll have something incredible.  

The below images are from window box wizards on the internet, not something I have even come close to replicating.

Deciding on a Tree

We live in a development and when the house was built 3 years ago, there were two trees planted in the front yard.  No one told us what they were.  The first one died and was replaced by the developer with what we (think) is a Red Maple.  A very sickly, sad Red Maple.  The other tree choose to hang on until year two, when the developer no longer replaces trees free of cost.  We think it was a Linden Tree.

I'm choosing to look at the replacement of the Linden as an opportunity.  To get exactly what I want.  I DON'T want a 70 foot tall Maple that will shade my entire front yard and drop tons of leaves each fall.

So I've been doing lots of research into possible trees.  My requirements are:

1.  Hardy in Zone 4 (we're technically Zone 5, but it's MN, so I'm not taking chances.  The front yard is pretty unprotected from the wind and frost).

2.  Likes mostly sunny yards.

3.  A height of 15 feet to 25 feet.  Larger than a bush, but won't cast shade on my flower garden.

4.  Tolerates clay/wet soil.  Our yard is solid clay.  Probably a factor in the Linden's death.

5.  Pretty.  Something with interest, preferably some type of flowering going on during the year.

My first choice was an Ornamental Pear.  We had one in our backyard in MA and it was glorious with white blooms for 2 weeks each Spring.  Plus, it was a low leaf-dropper in the fall.  BUT in doing some research, I'm not sure how it does in clay.  And some people are very anti-Ornamental Pear because it's not native to the U.S.  You wouldn't believe how angry some online posts are about it.  Yikes.

I heard good things about the River Maple Tree (aka Silver Maple).  It's beautiful and tolerates clay, but good lord, it can get to 80' tall.  Can you imagine the leaves?  Bye, Felicia.

Another tree that tolerates wet clay well is the River Birch (I'm noticing that any tree with 'River' in the title is a safe bet).  There are a ton of these planted in our town and they have pretty white buds right now.  But I would have to find out if there are dwarf versions, since my research shows some can grow to 40'-70'.  

How about a Magnolia?  The Leonard Messel Magnolia above is beautiful, but it's not fond of wet feet and hard frosts.

royal star magnolia 2.jpg

The Royal Star Magnolia is a much better fit.  Grows to 15' tall, likes sun, good in clay/wet soil, fast grower, Zone 4, and HUBBA HUBBA it's beautiful.

The Gray Dogwood also has a lot going for it.  15' height, likes sun or shade, wet or dry, MN Native (always a plus!), and attracts birds.  But I'm seeing a lot of pictures where it gets a little 'shrubby'.  So I'd have to learn how to prune a tree.  

The last contender is the Ivory Silk Lilac.  It grows to 20-25', likes sun, and tolerates clay.  I have a love for lilacs and am really leaning toward this.  Here's another picture:

It just takes my breath away.  I might do research to make sure about the clay soil.

To sum it up, the Lilac is my first choice.  With the Royal Star Magnolia a close second.  I guess third would be the River Birch, but it doesn't excite me.  It feels like a 'safe choice'.  Do I want to go safe or go BIG?!?!

Planter Planning

One recurring issue I have with container gardening is getting fullness.  I start out with the "Thriller, Spiller, Filler" formula and by month two the plants are leggy with one scraggly bloom.  

They're sad.  I'm sad.  And I feel guilty for taking them out of the container and starting all over in July.



I'm thinking of experimenting with using a Hosta as my filler.  As in this Hydrangea, Hosta, and Ivy combination.  

Hosta, fern, and ivy.  And some magic fertilizer.



This coleus and dragon begonia might be a little much for my front step.

"The Fed-Ex guy stepped onto my front porch a week ago and hasn't been seen since".



Brainstorming is the ultimate snowy day activity.  It's snowing here.  Like, white-out conditions.  April 7th.  Grrrrr.....

Floral Fashion Friday

It's tricky to get clothes with a floral theme that don't make you look like a throwback to the 80's.  I've had good luck the past few years with the floral tees that J Crew has been offering.  Excited to wear my latest:



I love that these are perfect for the Spring or Summer, but can also be dressed up for a nicer occasion (e.g. Michelle Obama killing it in the J Crew striped floral tee).

This floral dress is gorgeous and currently half off (meaning it's still over $200)

What is a Ha-Ha?

Imagine you live on a huge estate in the English countryside and don't want sheep and the like coming into the yard.    Build a wall?  But a wall would block your incredible view.  How about a Ha-Ha wall? 

It's a wall built down into the land with a slope leading up to it, preventing animals and the such from getting onto the property, yet it's almost invisible from ground level (hence the element of surprise- Ha Ha!)

Now imagine you love to garden, but don't want to block your view of Nantucket Sound.  How about a Ha-Ha garden?  That's right, build your garden below the elevation of your yard, so that when you're drinking gin & tonics on your porch, you don't have to choose to look at either the water view or the magnificent garden.  You can have both!!

Susan Burke's garden, Architectural Digest

Susan Burke's garden, Architectural Digest

Mind you, I will NEVER own a piece of property necessitating these types of hard, hard decisions.