Create an ARRR-guably Playful Wind Chime

Pirate wind chimeFor those of you who can’t get enough of crafting wind chimes from recyclable materials, let me introduce the pirate family chime.

Note the resemblance between Daddy and Baby, who inherited Dad’s skin tone, as well as Mother’s hair. The two teenagers are going through a rebellious phase, what with the chalk line dreadlocks and irreverent facial expressions. Mother looks stressed and disheveled from managing her brood.

To begin this creation, I drilled a hole in the bottom of each can, then painted the can with latex paint. Oops paint (mis-tint) samples from the hardware store may be plentiful and cheap to use if you don’t have paint already sitting around.

Once the latex paint dried thoroughly, I used acrylic paint, fabric scraps, yarn and chalk line to personalize each can. If you don’t want a pirate family, you might use your own family members as models for the chime.

For the hanging supports, I chose purple smokebush stems for their color and character. Any wood will do, however.

Finally, I decided on rustic jute twine to string the cans and attach them to the supports.

Unlike silverware wind chimes, which offer a tinkly sound, the pirate family wind chime produces a clunking sound—which, when you think about it, is probably similar to sounds you might hear on a pirate ship.

Incidentally, I’m scheduled to facilitate a Dirt-Cheap Garden Whimsy workshop on June 24 at Denver Botanic Gardens.  If you plan to be in the Denver area, I’d love to see you there.

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Want to Move Your Plants Without Killing Them? Try Trenching

Plants stand, mulched in their trench, until their move to a permanent home.  Identifiable tenants (from front) include autumn brilliance serviceberry, Cheyenne mockorange, Genista lydia and Isanti dogwood.

Plants stand, mulched in their trench, until their move to a permanent home. Identifiable tenants (from front) include autumn brilliance serviceberry, Cheyenne mockorange, Genista lydia and Isanti dogwood.

Have you ever turned down a friend’s offer of free plants because you didn’t know where to plant them? Or have you missed an opportunity to move plants from one home to another because you didn’t know how to care for them? If those occasions arise again, consider parking your trees, shrubs and perennials in a temporary trench. That way, you can keep them alive while you prepare a more permanent location for them.

I recently sold my Denver home to a developer. It’s not something I wanted to do, but because my house had severe mold issues and was sitting on valuable land, selling the house for a scrape was the most sensible option.

Fortunately, the builder told me that I could take all of the landscape plants with me. That, of course, wasn’t feasible. So I gave many of the plants away to neighbors so my babies could live on in the neighborhood. There were quite a few plants, though, that I took with me—stalwarts, such as Genista lydia, Isanti dogwood, serviceberry and Cheyenne mockorange.

I moved the plants temporarily to my sister’s home in Windsor, CO in late February, which is just about the worst possible time to move plants. I dug a trench about 1 foot wide, 25 feet long and 5 inches deep. The ground was frozen, so the clay soil came up in massive, solid chunks. I then placed the plants in the ground, preserving their root balls as best I could, and replaced the soil chunks, piling them around the root balls. Needless to say, there were all kinds of air pockets around the roots—not a good situation. But as the weather improved and the soil softened, I began filling in the air pockets.

It’s now late March, and the plants are starting to bud out and behave normally.

Shade-loving Corydalis ophiocarpa stays alive and even puts on new growth in the sunny trench.

Shade-loving Corydalis ophiocarpa stays alive and even puts on new growth in the sunny trench.

Is this a good long-term situation for the plants? Absolutely not. But for the 2 ½ months until I move to my own place and transplant them, they should be fine. Even my corydalis, which prefers shade, is hanging in there, putting on new growth in the sunny trench. I planted my ground covers in an area of the trench that’s about an inch below grade to help them retain water in Windsor’s dry, windy climate.

I water the plants every other day. It’s a good idea to keep them mulched for water conservation, weed prevention and soil temperature moderation. Dig your trench a foot or so deep, if the soil’s not too hard, to provide maximum room for roots. And try to move your plants when they’re not in bloom, so they can focus on growing roots instead of producing flowers.

Tiny red leaflets emerge from stems of the fire meidiland ground cover rose.

Tiny red leaflets emerge from stems of the fire meidiland ground cover rose.

The next time someone offers you plants or you move to a new home, don’t leave beloved plants on the table simply because you don’t have the perfect spot for them yet. Dig a trench to create a small parking lot. Chances are, your plants won’t mind, as long as they don’t have to stay there for more than about 3 months.

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Ogren’s ‘Allergy-Fighting Garden’ Can Help You Breathe Easier

The reddish-gold leaves of the low-allergen Regent serviceberry brighten a garden in the fall.

The reddish-gold leaves of the low-allergen Regent serviceberry brighten a garden in the fall.

When I consult with my landscape design clients, I typically ask if any family members have allergies. Over the years, I’ve learned that landscaping with low-allergen plants can improve an allergy sufferer’s quality of life considerably.

For a reference guide, I’ve used Thomas Leo Ogren’s Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary New Guide to Healthy Landscaping. This week, Ten Speed Press released Ogren’s latest book, The Allergy-Fighting Garden, and I like it even better than his earlier book.

In The Allergy-Fighting Garden, Ogren again includes his Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) for ranking various plants. He has updated the rankings since publishing Allergy-Free Gardening in 2000. He also devotes a chapter to eliminating mold spores, a major source of allergic reactions. Then there’s his chapter on allergy-blocking hedges.

Ogren rates plants on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lowest in allergens, and 10 being highest. Using Ogren’s rankings, what low-allergen plants might you install in your Colorado garden?

For ground covers, you could use prairie winecups (Callirhoe involucrata), veronica, soapwort (Saponaria), orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii) and cranesbill geraniums, all of which I’ve grown successfully in my Denver garden. They rank from 1 to 3.

Blue iris and pink allium add beauty to your garden without producing masses of allergens.

Blue iris and pink allium add beauty to your garden without producing masses of allergens.

As for taller bulbs and perennials, try iris, allium, tall garden phlox, geum, Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber), hummingbird mint (Agastache), sea lavender (Limonium), wild indigo (Baptisia australis), Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus).

Then of course, there are trees and shrubs to consider. They’re particularly important because the males (who are the pollen producers) generate significantly more allergens than smaller plants do. Good choices include hawthorns (Crataegus), barberry (Berberis), butterfly bushes (Buddleia), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), deciduous viburnums, serviceberries (Amelanchier), and some maples, such as Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Glory’, ‘October Glory’ and ‘Red Sunset.’

Avoid most grasses, especially Kentucky bluegrass, whose male cultivars carry a 9 rating. But be aware that the female cultivars (if you can find one) carry only a 1 rating. A good choice for turf grass is tall fescue, which Ogren ranks at 3.

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Filed under Landscape Design, Plant Geekiness

Happy Holidays!

Thank you, readers, for your support over the past 2 1/2 years.

I’m taking a break from my blog for personal reasons. In the meantime, I wish you the best of holidays, and I look forward to rejoining you in 2015.

March 7, 2015 update:  My house in Denver developed a mold infestation due to over-insulation, which prevented the house from breathing properly.  So I sold the property and have moved to the Fort Collins/Loveland area in Colorado.

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Take Steps Now to Protect Your Landscape

Wrapping young, thin-barked trees can help prevent the sun scald shown here.     (Photo courtesy of Robert Cox)

Wrapping young, thin-barked trees can help prevent the sun scald shown here. (Photo courtesy of Robert Cox)

Now that we’ve had a couple of snowstorms in Denver, you may think it’s too late to take steps to protect or improve your landscape.  However, that’s not the case.  Here are a few tasks you can perform to enhance your outdoor environment.

* Wrap the trunks of your young, thin-barked trees to ward off sun scald and frost cracking, and leave the wrapping on until late April.  I’m talking, in particular, about young maple trees and fruit trees, including crabapples.  If you’re in doubt as to whether to wrap a particular tree, wrap it anyway.  It won’t hurt.

* Twine jute cord or chalk line from bottom to top around your your upright evergreens to protect their branches from snow breakage.  Think Hicks yews and arbovitae.  Unwrap them in late spring after the risk of heavy snowfalls has passed.

* Prune your trees and shrubs, now that they’re leafless and their shapes are easier to see.  Once the ground is frozen, you won’t compact it as you navigate around your woody plants.

* Let sleeping leaves lie and decompose on your soil over the winter.  Then turn the material into the soil next spring.

* Smother grass in areas where you want to create planting beds.  On the grass, place six layers of newspaper topped with one inch of topsoil, then one inch of compost.  Be sure to seal the edges of the newspaper with rocks, bricks or other material to prevent sunlight from reaching the covered grass.  Over the winter, the grass will die and you’ll wake up to a fertile planting bed in April.

* One more thing. . .do not prune your roses.  Pruning encourages new growth, which will be zapped by the winter cold.  Wait until late April or early May for rose pruning.

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How to Create a Welcoming Landscape

If you don't have yard space to devote to a Little Free Library, try planting one in a container.

If you don’t have yard space to devote to a Little Free Library, try planting one in a container.

Little Free Libraries have been popping up all over Denver. You may have spotted a few. Each is essentially a box of books where passersby can either borrow a book or drop off a book. They’re such a delightful way to add warmth to a landscape while promoting literacy. You can either build your own little library or buy one online at littlefreelibrary.org.

People often love curling up with books in the winter, so now is an ideal time to install a little library.

There are other ways to warm up your landscape, as well. For example, you can strategically place small lights along a sidewalk or pathway to lead the eye to your home or a focal point.

Then, of course, there’s signage. Who doesn’t love a rustic sign, often sprouting a tongue-in-cheek phrase, inviting guests into the garden?

Other enticing elements you might consider include:

  • Informal stepping-stone paths recessed into the ground.
  • Bold, bright flowers and foliage. This time of year, purple smoketree and tiger eye sumac provide knock-your-socks-off fall color.
  • Vine-covered arbors. Try wisteria, climbing roses or honeysuckle on an arch. Watch out for English ivy and Virginia creeper, though, because they can become invasive.
  • Whimsical gates. Canadian plantsman Doug Green offers an amazing display of garden gates, trellises and other architectural elements on his pinterest page.

As winter approaches and you spend less time tending your plants, explore creative ways to add affection and whimsy to your landscape.

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Who Knew Tin Can Lids Could be Such Fun?

Tin can lids and glass beads reflect sunlight in this easy-to-make wind chime.

Tin can lids and glass beads reflect sunlight in this easy-to-make wind chime.

The great thing about creating crafts from repurposed items is that you can experiment like crazy at virtually no cost. I mean, if you mess up a few tin can lids and discarded stove drip pans, who cares?

For my garden whimsy workshops, I had collected a plethora of can lids, as well as a few drip pans. So I decided to design a wind chime with them. As I sorted through my treasures, I discovered that the insides of the lids come in different colors. Some are silver; others, gold; and still others, copper.

To begin, I drilled five equidistant holes in the top of a drip pan. Then I strung tin can lids in alternating colors and sizes, interspersed with glass beads and spacers, as shown in the photograph.

The lids reflect light so well in my kitchen that I’ve decided to keep the chime inside. But I’m also curious to see how the chime would look if I left it outside and let it rust. It might look hideous. Then again, it might take on an interesting patina. So I’m going to make a second chime for outdoors just to see how it responds to Mother Nature.

Try making one yourself. It’s easy, and it won’t cost you more than the price of a few beads which, come to think of it, you may already have stashed away.

For more wind chime ideas, check out woohome.com.

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