Friday, December 1, 2017

DIY A Basic Fresh Evergreen Centerpiece

Nothing says traditional Christmas centerpiece like fresh evergreens. The options for crafting a fresh evergreen centerpiece are limitless so this post will focus on the basics. Once you have that down, you can experiment with loads of colors and materials.

What you'll need:
1. Waterproof container
2. Wet floral foam (dry foam is just for silk flowers)
3.  Floral Tape, wire or glue to attach foam to container.
4. At least two types of evergreens, preferably 3. I prefer a short needle spruce or fir, a long needle pine and something fun like cyprus or holly.
5. Ribbon
6. Taper Candles if you want them.
7. Pine cones and real or fake berries
8. Sharp pruners
9. Leaf Shine (optional)

First, attach the foam to the container. It's ok to use a sharp knife to cut the foam down to the size you need. I fi
nd tape is the easiest method to use. Then thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly soak the foam.

Second, and this is important, if you want to use taper candles you must put them in now. Be careful because you really only get one chance to put the candles in strait and even. Large, multiple holes in the foam will cause it to fall apart.

Third, use greens around the bottom to outline the shape of centerpiece you want. Be sure to strip the needles off the stem where it will go into the foam. The needles can rip up the foam. Then fill in completely with evergreens. You should not be able to see any foam when you're done putting in greens.

If you're using leaf shine (available at craft stores) now is the time to use it. It improves the appearance of your greens and can lengthen their shelf life.

Fourth, add your decorations! I made two simple bows to put on each side. I also wired pine cones and artificial berries to add color and texture. You can also add fresh flowers of course but they won't last as long as the greens will.

This can be a hard skill to learn. I've literally created hundreds of them. Be patient, practice and don't demand perfection of yourself. It should be fun! Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Toddler Proof Christmas Decorating Part 2

Last week I wrote about how to enjoy beautiful Christmas decorating even if you have young children in the house. This week, I want to focus in on the ultimate Christmas decoration - the tree. We've all heard of or experienced a pet or child related Christmas tree disaster. While I can't make any guarantees, I will share what's worked well for us.

First, a smaller tree might help if you have a younger toddler. In our old home, we had a really small living room so we would buy a fresh, four foot tree and tie it to the top of a side table. We then put a small skirt over the stand and the rope and it looked lovely and was, for the most part, out of our daughter's reach.

If you love a full size tree, as I do, then you can tie it to the wall in the back to help prevent the tree from being pulled over. While the tree is up, you can't see it at all. When the tree is done, there is just a very small nail that no one ever notices.

Second, many writers suggest that if you have pets or children, then you should buy a tree with soft needles (assuming you're buying fresh, if you like artificial trees then this won't apply). However, I see things differently. It's a pain to decorate but if you use a fresh tree with very prickly needles - like a spruce tree - will act as a deterrent to the smaller inhabitants of your home. 

Third, everyone knows to put the fragile ornaments at the top of your tree out of the kids reach. Be sure to affix them firmly so if the tree is shaken for any reason the ornaments stay put. Also, be sure to have plenty of unbreakable ornaments around the bottom of the tree to keep your kids distracted from the ones higher up.

Finally, keep a sense of humor and remember that this is your kids home too. Even as perfectionist as I can be, last year I was fine with my daughter pulling ornaments off and playing with them. As long as she left the lights alone, we were fine with her "messing it up".

I know some people put gates or fences around their tree to keep the kids away but I never liked that idea. It takes up too much space, it looks bad and it sends the message to the kids that Christmas is hands off. However, every home is different and you've gotta do what works for you.

Also, I should mention that safety is crucial. Be sure to use relatively new lights that have less or no heat and won't start a fire. Keep all open flames well away from your tree.

How do you keep your Christmas tree beautiful? Be sure to post your tips in the comments below.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Toddler Proof Christmas Decorating Part 1

I realize this post is a departure from my normal subject matter but my garden is all but done for the year and this topic is very pertinent right now. Before becoming a stay at home mom, I actually got paid to decorate private homes and businesses for Christmas and I miss it, but having a two year old has brought new challenges. If you too, would like a festive home but have little ones (or pets, come to think of it) then this post is for you!

First, and I hate to state the obvious, consider scaling back on decorations in general. I'm a flaming hypocrite for saying it but think of it this way: you may love that wooden nativity set (and yes, it's not fragile) but do you want to pick it up off the floor six times a day? Me neither.

Second, embrace soft textiles. The stores are full of festive throw blankets and decorative pillows. You kids can't break them and they'll also keep you warm and comfortable - win, win! Just keep the grape juice and sharpies out of the family room....

Third, floating shelves are your friends. If you do want to display figurines, candles and vases that are breakable, then clear off your floating shelves and re-decorate them for Christmas. You can get your regular stuff back out in January. Floating shelves can make your house look festive and beautiful without your heirlooms getting broken.

Fourth, have a designated mess zone. I've actually heard moms say they dread making cookies with their kids because of the mess. How sad, because crafts and baking projects are the stuff that priceless memories are made of! So, designate a place in your house, for me it's my dining area, where the kids are allowed to make a mess. Ideally, there won't be carpet or anything else you don't want getting dirty.

Finally, be careful with poinsettia's and decorative berries like Holly and pepper berry. None of them are good for your pets or kids. They're beautiful but I'm not having them in my home until my kids are old enough that I don't have to worry about them eating them.

So, those are my best tips. How do you decorate with kids in mind? Stay tuned for next week when I share my tips for your Christmas tree.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Review of the Dirt Doctor

Have you ever accidentally happened upon information that you needed at just the right time? A few weeks ago I had a blast at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. One workshop I almost missed out on was "Tree Maintenance and Care" with Howard Garrett.  I almost didn't go (end of the day) but our only mature tree had been showing signs of distress and I was also planting several other trees and didn't really know what I was doing. This class really helped.

Please note, I don't get paid any thing from Mr. Garrett or his company nor did I get special permission to write about his methods. This is just my review of the class as well as how I've applied the information to my yard. Also, Mr. Garrett is also known as the "Dirt Doctor" and you can learn a lot from his website: 

Mr Garrett's main theory is that it is very difficult to plant a tree too shallow but it is very easy to plant a tree too deep. He says trees need to show a "flare", that is, you should see the root system starting to branch out away from the trunk. Trees should not look like telephone polls coming out of the ground he says. So, if you have a tree in need of help, here are his three steps.

1. Dig away from the tree till you can see the root flare. You may see some superfluous roots spiraling around the trunk and they should be removed. 
2. Aerate the soil and sprinkle soil amendments over it. He mentioned a few but the only one I remember is Corn Meal. I remembered that one because it was the cheapest. 
3. Make Garrett Juice and spray on the foliage. He generously gives out the recipe so you can make your own. It's an organic plant food. 

So, on my ornamental cherry, I dug out several inches of mulch and soil to expose several roots. I had to remove spiraling roots and then placed decorative rocks to fill in a bit of the hole created without touching them to the trunk or putting them over the roots. I could have made the Garrett Juice but it was so much cheaper to order the concentrate online so that's what I did. I sprayed it on many of the leaves and also created a ground soak to pour around the trunk. I've bought corn meal but haven't used it yet. I won't really know how well it works till next spring though.

How about you? Have you tried Mr. Garrett's advice? What advice do you have for tree care?

Friday, September 22, 2017

How to Perk Up Your Fall Garden

For those of you ambitious gardeners that planted for a fall crop to extend you harvest, this post is for you. If you haven't started your fall veggies yet, then here in central Pennsylvania it's too late to plant. Except for garlic and perennial onions of course, but that's another post. However, if you've planted lettuce, spinach, peas, beets, etc then I'm here to help.

So, fall gardening is all about managing resources. The days are getting shorter, so sunlight is more scarce. The weather tends to be drier in the fall so water is of concern. If you fertilized your soil in the spring, it may be in need of a boost. All of these things can cause your garden to stall. If you're disappointed in how your veggies are doing, then follow these steps.

First, eliminate competition for resources. That means be thorough with pulling out weeds. The good news is that weeds aren't as aggressive now as they are in the spring but be sure to get rid of the ones that are there. Also, it means thin out your seedlings more than you usually do. Seedlings packed together too closely will be stunted in growth.

Second, you can't do anything about a lack of sunlight but you can keep your garden beds watered regularly. As I'm writing this, we haven't gotten rain in quite a while so I gave my plants a good shower tonight.

Third, if you haven't fertilized it recently, now is a great time to side dress your plants. That means putting fertilizer or well rotted compost alongside your plants. Don't put them right on the plants as it may burn them. Your plants will thank you for it.

Do you enjoy fall gardening? Feel free to post your tips in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Garden Center Review: Ashcombe Farm and Green House

Every once in a while it's good to try something new, so here's my first garden center review. Anyone who's into gardening loves a good garden center so here's my take on Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouse in Mechanicsburg, PA. Please note I'm not getting paid by them or any other garden center to write reviews.

So, I'd heard about Ashcombe's from my co-workers back when I was a full time florist. However, I just assumed it was a small green house in a field some where. Out of desperation for some winter savory, I decided to follow the signs off of route 15 in Cumberland county and see if they carried unusual herbs. Boy, was I surprised to find a massive barn encompassing a gift shop, a cafe/ice cream parlor, a winery booth and more. Outside of the barn was several green houses with the largest selection of plants I've seen anywhere. They also have a picnic area, a children's garden and a separate area for bushes and pond plants.

If you're looking for a great selection, Ashcombe has it. Their herb selection was amazing. (Yes, they have winter savory). Imagine whole rooms full of tomato, pepper, and any other kind of vegetable and flower plant you can think of. Having a two year old, I was a big fan of the children's garden which is a bit rough around the edges but my daughter didn't notice. She loved it. The picnic area is very pretty and we really enjoyed the ice cream parlor too.

Where there any down sides? Sure. Most of the gift shop was way too expensive for me. It's not the cheapest place to get plants either but if you want an unusual variety then I think it's still worth it. Some plants seemed reasonably priced to me and other seemed too expensive. Also, their clearance plant section was overpriced. If a plant looks that bad, you've got to mark it down more than 25% to get me to buy it.

Getting back to positives, the staff were all helpful and pleasant. They also have a lot of special events, including stuff for kids. Over all, I'd definitely recommend going there but give yourself lots of time and prioritize your budget ahead of time. For more information, check out their website at Have you been to Ashcombe? Feel free to write about your experience below!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fall Gardening 101

The beginning of August may seem too early to talk about fall but if you want to get into fall gardening, now is the time to start. I don't mean start planning, I mean get out there and plant stuff. If you haven't gotten into fall gardening before, you should try it. Harvesting fresh vegetables in October and November is really great.

First, you have to know when your first frost date is. That's when you're most likely to have a first killing frost. Here in south central PA, the date is October 21st. To find your frost date, go to Look on the seed packets to see how many days they need to ripen. Then you can count backward to figure out when you have to plant them. For instance, I just planted peas and they require 65 days to ripen. So I know I have more than enough time.

Second, you have to plant cold hearty vegetables. Many of the veggies you planted last march will work great now. Great selections  for fall include: peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, and beats. These plants will thrive in cooler temperatures.

Third, do what you can to keep the seeds cool during the hot August days. Probably the hardest part of fall gardening is keeping your seedlings well watered. When the seedlings get three to four inches tall, you can thin them out and mulch them to help keep the soil cool and moist.

As a side note, October is the best time to be planting garlic. It won't ripen till the following July, but it is SO GOOD. So, try some garlic.

And that, my friends, is it. If you want to extend your harvest even longer into the winter, you can use row covers to keep the frost off. It's not hard. It's not expensive. You can do it and enjoy delicious vegetables this fall. Have you ever gotten into fall gardening? Please write about it in the comment section below!