By Hand and Hoe

Weedy garden bed soon to be cottage garden

Off the side of our house is a garden bed that has been overgrown since we moved in two years ago. It is the bane of my existence.

The grass has crept in, the soil is poor, and it’s so close to the road that I don’t care to work in it — I don’t particularly like feeling watched by the neighbors or any cars driving by. The most we’ve done to the bed is to remove an overgrown and unsightly Japanese maple shrub and sporadically plant a few perennials — primroses, a couple peonies, a grape hyacinth, columbine, and tansy. Way back when we moved in, I had visions of turning it into a cottage garden. (Truth be told, I still do.) I weeded the whole thing once, but then it rained the weeds came right back.

The other thing that’s kept me from doing much to this garden is this cinderblock planter/raised bed it’s flanked by — it’s built against the side of our house, and we need to replace the skirting behind it soon. I’m apprehensive about planting anything that might get trampled in the process, you know? (I do know that those shrubs have got to go, though.)

But it’s gotten so weedy and out of control that I can’t take it anymore, and I’m going to make it my next project, now that our front yard reno is just about finished. Ideally, I’d lay down a thick layer of cardboard + mulch to kill the weeds and keep them from coming back, but I’m all out of cardboard just about out of wood chips! Who would have thought I’d use them up so fast?

I’d wait until the fall to do it, but I have some perennials I winter sowed that I’d like to plant there — hollyhocks, foxglove, bee balm, and such. So, I guess I’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: by hand and hoe.

Fortunately, the forecast is predicting rain, rain, and even more rain, so the soil should be easy to work this week. And while I’m a tad disappointed to take a break from planting out tomatoes and dahlias (yes, still working on that momentous task…), it’s been nice to have a respite from the daily watering.

Archie the corgi helps weed the garden

But, you know me — I can’t stay still for a minute, so I’ve already made a small start on this project. This side of the bed, closest to our back door, is now mostly cleared of some sort of creeping vine that the previous owners planted here. I even discovered a concrete splash block under the mess! You can see more of the vine inside cinderblock raised bed and off to the right of the picture, where it has surrounded a large concrete pot.

Clearing a weedy garden bed and planting flowers.

After clearing the soil, I planted a bleeding heart, an orchid primrose (I thought next to the gutter downspout was a good spot, since we get so much rain and this plant grows in boggy areas), poppies, hollyhocks, and a few nasturtiums (not pictured). The peony I planted in this spot last year. Eventually this bed will get a new border of either large rocks or pavers, but for now the priority is clearing the weeds.

Wish me luck — I’m going to need it!



An Iris Infatuation Ensues

Smitten Kitten iris from Shcreiner's Iris Gardens

You probably already know, but I am a complete sucker for end-of-season plant sales. I love a good deal, and I don’t mind waiting nearly a year to reap the rewards of some late-season, seriously cheap plants.

So, without further ado, I present to you these iris rhizomes that I purchased last fall. I couldn’t resist. (Don’t worry, I promptly planted them.)

Iris rhizomes from Schreiner's Iris Gardens

I was extremely reluctant to add irises to my garden after helping my mom yank out irises from her perennial garden last summer; they’d gone near invasive, and they were purple — kind of a blah, common color for irises, in my opinion.

But then last fall I stumbled upon Schreiner’s Iris Gardens, and I discovered that irises are most definitely not “blah” flowers. In fact, they come in many more colors than just purple! I was wooed by the blush- and cream-colored blooms (I’ll chalk it up to last year’s obsession with the Cafe au Lait dahlia), and I decided I could probably whip up a raised bed to contain some irises so they don’t get too out of control.

I ended up ordering five rhizomes:

Unfortunately, it looks like Schreiner’s only sells Smitten Kitten and Padded Shoulders now, so you’ll have to hunt for the rest if any of those wooed you as they did me.

Freshly planted iris and sedum raised bed

I planted the rhizomes in a square bed with some sedum and various tulip and daffodil bulbs for company. It looked pretty sparse until March, when the irises really started to put on some growth and the bulbs started sending up foliage.

And, here we are today, with the first and long-anticipated iris bloom from Smitten Kitten! She’s the most beautiful champagne-blush color that was pretty difficult to photograph, and this picture truly doesn’t do her justice. But I tried!

Smitten Kitten iris flowersI am definitely obsessed. I’m looking forward to the other varieties blooming so I can make a few bouquets to grace our home.

I have my eye on just a few more irises to add to my garden once the end-of-season sale rolls around again — “Downtown Brown,” “Smoke and Thunder,” and “Man’s Best Friend,” all of which I intend to plant in the side garden off our house, which I’m hoping to turn into a cottage garden, of sorts. I’ll talk more about this at a later date!

I’ll be back in a few days with a mid-May garden update, but in the meantime, I hope your week is filled with sun and seedlings!


It’s Dahlia Day!

Last year's dahlia blooms
Remembering last year’s dahlias

The lilacs are blooming and Mother’s Day is right around the corner, which means the most anticipated day of the year is finally here — it’s time to plant the dahlias!

I’m hoping to get them done in one fell swoop tonight after work, since we’re going out of town on Saturday. And since there are so many to get in the ground this year, I made a list (organized by height) to guide me — I don’t want to accidentally shade out a 3-ft. variety by planting it next to a 5-ft. variety. I’m not too concerned about color combinations; I’d rather it be a riot of color and a bit of a surprise when everything finally blooms. It’s more exciting that way, wouldn’t you agree?

Since I’m doing wood chip mulching this year, my plan is to push the mulch aside with a hoe, creating wide furrows that I’ll plant the tubers in and then top with soil, rather than pushing the mulch back — Swan Island advises not to mulch your dahlias, so this will be a bit of an experiment in sort-of mulching but not really.

I’m pretty ambitious when it comes to planning tasks for myself after work, and I still have to clean the house tonight in preparation for the sitter, so it’s highly possible I won’t get all the dahlias planted tonight. But I can certainly try!

Archie the corgi in our new radio flyer wagon
Archie for scale

One thing I’m counting on helping with the extensive dahlia planting is my “new” garden wagon — it was a lucky Craigslist find! It will be perfect for transporting the potted-up tubers to the garden without tipping them over or making numerous trips back and forth. It’s got all-terrain wheels, too, so I don’t have to worry about  having a difficult time pulling it through the grass. It’s going to be a life safer!

Potted up dahlias in our new garden wagon

Some of the dahlias are already putting on quite a lot of growth — I can’t wait to see which one will bloom first! A few varieties that I’m particularly looking forward to are Castle Drive, Tengai, Big Brother, Labyrinth, Terracotta, Papageno, and Wyn’s Mauve Mist.

But, before blooms comes hard work — wish me luck getting all these tubers in the ground; I’m going to need it!

Winter Sown Update #10

Winter sowing beans

Well, here we are, folks — my last sowing session of the spring! As you clearly can see, our deck and picnic table are quite cluttered with seedlings, potted dahlias, and WS containers. I’m getting really excited to start planting out soon!

Since my last sowing update, the weather has continued to warm up, and more of the containers have been opened — I’ve even cut off the tops of about five or six milk jugs! I have to carefully monitor the unopened ones now to make sure the soil is moist and that they’re not too hot inside. This weekend the temperature is expected to climb to 90 degrees, so I expect to open nearly every single container.

As I mentioned in my last winter sowing post, this weekend was dedicated to sowing beans. I started two more varieties of bush beans (“Crockett” and “Tanya’s Pink Pod,” which I’m super excited about because, as the name implies, they’re pink beans!) and two varieties of pole beans (“Purple Pod” and “Rattlesnake“).

Sowing bush beansSowing pole beans

These salad containers worked really well for planting, and I was able to cram a lot of beans in them. It may seem like I’ve gone a little overboard, but I know they won’t all germinate, and I have big plans for canning massive amounts of dilly beans this summer.

Sowing pole beans

I actually planned on starting some “Transylvanian Giant” sunflowers  and “Chinese Red Noodle” beans too, but I ran out of potting soil. I’ll probably end up direct sowing them instead. I’m getting a little tired of buying soil.

I also have loads of sweet peas I germinated inside that I need to get planted out — only three germinated in my winter sown container, which isn’t terrible, but three seedlings won’t cover a trellis. I did a quick Google last weekend to find out if I could rapidly germinate sweet peas inside, and lo and behold, you can, and I did — in just under a week! I’ll talk a bit more about this later.

I hope your week is off to a sunny start!

Until next time,


The rose arbor is up!

Cattle panel climbing rose arbor

That’s right, phase three of our front yard renovation is now complete: The shrubs are gone and the rose arbor is up!

I’m so incredibly thankful I have a husband willing to spend all his free time last week ripping out eight well-established shrubs from our yard so I can have the rose hedge of my dreams. How’d I get so lucky?

Here’s a sneaky action shot I took of Jordan hard at work:

Jordan hard at work removing shrubs

The arbor is a 16-foot cattle panel held upright by four 6-foot fence t-posts and secured with UV-resistant zip ties. Overall, a pretty easy and inexpensive project that took just under 10 minutes to put together.The finished cattle panel arborI mixed some steer manure into the soil and got two of my David Austin roses planted in the evening when it was shadier in the area: “Jubilee Celebration” and “Lady of Shalott.” This weekend I plan on mulching the whole thing with wood chips. Eventually I’d like to put some bricks or pavers of some sort beneath the arbor to keep the grass from growing in.

It looks pretty bare right now, but despite the bareness I think it still looks much better than before. I have three more roses arriving toward the end of this month from Heirloom Roses that will also be planted here: “Ginger Syllabub” (which will climb over the arbor), “William Morris,” and “Abraham Darby.” I’m hoping to eventually plant four roses on each side of the arbor, but it might be a while before the rose hedge is completely finished because it appears I have expensive taste in plants… 🤷🏼‍♀️Jubilee Celebration and Lady of Shalott David Austin rosesIn the meantime, I picked up two clematis from Lowe’s for some instant color! I’ve been told that clematis is a good companion for climbing roses because it’s not invasive and won’t compete for space. The dark purple one, “The Vagabond,” will go on our flagpole trellis, and the lighter-colored one, “Pink Champagne,” will go on the arbor.The Vagabond clematisPink Champagne clematisIt’s been immensely satisfying watching our place transform into something that feels more “ours,” and it’s an even better feeling knowing that we’ve done the work ourselves. I’m excited to keep planting and watch it fill in!



May in the Garden

A variety of double tulips

Happy May, everyone — have some virtual tulips, courtesy of my garden!

Can you believe how fast April went by? I don’t know about you, but I’m loving how progressively warm it’s getting — almost time to break out the summer dresses and shorts overalls!

April was a productive month here at our place, and we’re starting May off on the right foot with lots to show for our hard work. I’m feeling so much more prepared for this growing season as opposed to last year, when all I had was a small, freshly tilled plot and no plan whatsoever.

The biggest change since last year (other than actually having a plan)  is that I’m trying wood chip gardening, a no-till method for building healthy, happy soil. (Many of you have already heard me talk about this method, but if you haven’t, you can learn more about it in the film Back to Eden Gardening.) And while it’s a little early for a report on its advantages and disadvantages, I will say that so far it’s proved excellent for suppressing weeds and retaining moisture in the soil. I’ve only planted out a few things so far, but the plants do seem to be doing well. The trick is to make sure you’re planting in the soil, not the wood chips.

Margo in the wood chip garden at dusk

Aside from the wood chips, one of the other things I’m really excited about this year is growing upward to make the most of my growing space. I read a number of books on vertical gardening over the past couple months, but Vertical Vegetables and Fruit was by far my favorite and the most inspiring. I’ve now got a potato tower, a squash arch, a cucumber trellis, and three bean teepees in my garden, all thanks to the ideas in this book!

Another thing I’m feeling pretty prepared for is my dahlia garden — it appears I successfully divided my tubers from last year (yay!), as many of them are already coming up (I potted them up a month ago to give them a head start on growing), and I have bamboo stakes to support the dinnerplates this year. (And there are a lot of of them.)

My very last dahlia tuber order is arriving this week, so I’m hoping to get every single one of the dahlias in the ground this weekend, along with the rest of the tomatoes now that we’ve passed our last frost date. I can hardly contain my excitement!

Hot tip: If you’re in need of tons of stakes for your garden, you can buy them in bulk on Amazon. I got 50 6-ft stakes for $35 with free shipping. These will be great not only for dahlias, but for tomato supports and bean teepees, and they’ll last a long time — I’ll probably never have to buy more.

Bulk order of bamboo stakes

Just make sure you remember you ordered them, otherwise you may return home from work to this surprise.

While April was certainly a productive month, I still have my hands in a few unfinished projects — what else would I do in May, right? 😉 Jordan finished the shrub removal and we put up the arbor, so now I get to plant my rose hedge. I’ve also been working on a hugelkulture garden bed that is shaping up nicely — but I’ll talk more about these projects later on as I wrap them up.

I hope your May is off to a sunny start!

Winter Sown Update #9

not-so-winter winter sowing

Hey everyone! I’m back for another large not-so-winter-anymore winter-sown update.

This last week I took the tops off a couple of my milk jugs (sweet peas, rhubarb, and comfrey) since they’re getting pretty big and it’s starting to warm up considerably outside. And since I’ve already planted out a few things, it seemed safe to finally start sowing all the beans (among a few other things).

In this session, I started catnip, vining nasturtiums, scarlet runner beans, burgundy bush beans, dragon’s tongue bush beans, sunflowers (“summer mix”), and more cucumbers (pickling, with a few lemon cukes thrown in for good measure).

Nearing the end of winter sowingWinter sowing bush beansProcessed with VSCO with a9 presetWinter sowing sunflowers

There are a few more varieties of beans I’ll be sowing within the next week, along with a few more sunflowers, and then I think that will be the last of the seed starting. (But who knows? Pinetree Seeds had a 50% off sale for Arbor Day, so I ordered a few packets of seeds I wasn’t intending on purchasing until next year. No guarantees I’ll grow any of them this year, though.)

Here is the current state of our deck, in all its winter-sown glory. I’ll readily admit that it looks like a bit of a trash heap, and I’m more than ready to get these plants in their permanent homes and remove some of the clutter from our deck.

A plethora of winter-sown containers

And that was before I added the new containers. Yikes.

I keep reminding myself that even if I had some sort of setup in our house — complete with grow lights — dedicated to starting seeds, there’s absolutely no way I’d have enough room to start the amount of plants I’ve currently got going. Winter sowing may be an eyesore, but it’s incredibly frugal and takes very little effort. I’d highly recommend it for anyone without a greenhouse or indoor growing setup. The only real problem I’ve run into is a hungry bird eating some of the seedlings from the open containers, but that’s just how it is sometimes.

This week I’ll be planting out the cabbages and a few of the tomatoes to see how they fare before planting the rest, and tonight I’ll be transplanting the peppers into bigger pots before hardening them off.

Here’s wishing everyone a productive week — I know I’ll be busy!