Archive for the ‘Soil’ Category

As many of you, my faithful readers, know-I wrote a book, entitled “A Year in My New England Garden”, a few years ago.  This is the story of how that came to happen.

Gardening has been an important part of my life since I was a kid living on Staten Island, one of the 5 boroughs of NYC.  It began when my mother decided she was going to become a “gardener”!

Her first venture was to plant some daffodils.  daffodils-1399483She knew they should be planted pretty deep in the ground, but she overextended that a bit, and when the flowers came up, the blooms were resting with their “chins” on the ground!  They had stretched about as far as they could and it didn’t allow them to get their blossoms farther than the soil surface.  It was pretty funny.  My mother NEVER made that mistake again (and neither did I!).

Her zeal to learn about how to do it right, brought her to membership into three different garden clubs.  She loved them…and boy!  Did she learn about gardening!

We had a very small plot of land around our house on Staten Island, but she filled it with beautiful, aromatic, and even tasty plants, although her passion was really for flowers.  There were climbing June roses, whose odor still bring me right back to my youth when I smell them today.  There were prize winning chrysanthemums, as well as proper daffodils, and other blooming bulbs, and perennials, etc.

She had my Dad build a pergola for her, that was a groaning board for honey-suckle vines.  We ate out there all summer long, right by the birdbath, surrounded by lovely plants of all sorts (and a TON of bees, I might add!).

Her garden clubs titilated her artistic bent and she soon began to make floral arrangements.  Those arrangements were so good that they were not only entered into the NY Flower Show, but she actually won prizes there for her endeavors.  We were very proud, but didn’t fully recognize the awesomeness of her talent until we were much older and realized just what she had accomplished!

She generated in me a life-long romance with flowering plants and anything having to do with them.  I, however, was never a “garden clubber”.  I have always found them to be more social than practical.  Perhaps that was just because where I lived tended to attract gardeners who cared more for the condition of their fingernails, than the soil those nails encountered!-7

At any rate, when I learned about the Master Gardener Programs available all over this country, I felt I  had found my calling!  I became a Master Gardener in Connecticut, where we lived at this point, and found my niche in helping new, or struggling gardeners be able to plant their daffodils right, the first time!

When my husband and I  retired to New Hampshire, I looked for a gardening “hot line” in vain.  At the time I arrived, they didn’t have one of those in my area (the boonies!)  So, I began a BLOG!

I worked on that blog for years, until we made the move to the Pacific Northwest, where we are closer to our daughter and her family, after years of living close to our sons.  (Don’t even ask why our kids all live a continent apart!)  I enjoyed the blog, and started a new one more appropriate for our new area.  I struggled with how I should approach it’s direction.

While struggling with that, I thought perhaps I should put some of my accumulated knowledge into a book, which is what I did.-1

It is essentially a collection of gardening vignettes followed by a gardening calendar.  It does tell about my New England garden, but a daffodil has the same needs in Seattle as it does in North Haverhill, NH and Wethersfield, CT.  Pruning is the same and the birds select their seed and backyards the same way.  Judging when to water depends on the plant, not the location in which you live!  So, although the book talks about a New England Garden…(I wish I had given it a different name.)  It really applies to ANY garden, and the stories are there for your enjoyment.  I’m hoping perhaps you give it a “look see”.  Perhaps you, or a gardener you know, might enjoy an inexpensive, yet information packed, gardening tome.



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Here are the hellebores in all their February glory!  As you saw in my last post, the garden is not sleeping any longer.  The natural alarm clock has gone off, and the plants are busy preparing for their appearance!

Here are some things you can deal with this month in your garden.  At Horizon House, not all of them are appropriate, but there are other gardeners (not living at Horizon House) who read this blog as well, so I’ve added a few things for them.  If something doesn’t apply to you, well just ignore it!

  • Bring home some wonderful blooming flowers to enjoy around the house!
  • This is the time to get out and take a good look at your trees to see if they could stand some pruning. It is easy to see whether there are broken or diseased branches now that there are no leaves.  Always think “could a bird fly right through this tree without banging into a branch?”  That would indicate that air and sun could ALSO fly right through-and that would be a GOOD thing!
  • Are you ordering from those catalogs? This is the time to plan on making your dreams come true! At least in the garden.
  • As you look around the neighborhood, make note of plants that have “winter interest”. Find out what they are and plan to add them to your garden when the weather is better!
  • Trees are easy to identify in the winter because all the leaves are gone. However, you have no leaves to use to help you either…so go to the book store and buy a Winter Tree Identification Guide. (I identified one of MANY appropriate books.  See if there’s one that you can relate with!)  It’s kind of fun identifying trees by their shapes, and the kids love doing it as well.
  • If you haven’t done it already, sharpen those tools-and while you’re at it, organize them as well.
  • Before you know it, should you have a lawn, it will be time to roll out the lawn mower. Has it been serviced? Get it to the shop before everyone else beats you to it.
  • If you have grapes, prune the vines now. If you wait until it begins to warm up, they will “bleed”.
  • Get rid of weeds you see, and if the mulch is getting thin, replenish it.
  • Do you have winter vegetables?  Now’s the time to harvest!
  • If you haven’t done a soil test done lately, maybe now’s the time?
  • If you start seeds this month or next, try using clear topped take-home trays that you get leftovers in, from restaurants. They work really well!  (I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen too many of these around lately.  I guess we’re getting better about compostable containers!)
  • Force some of your spring blooming twigs for indoor color. Try fruit trees, forsythia, dogwood, pussy willow and quince. Just bring them inside and allow them to sit in a large vase with water.
  • Keep those bird feeders full, unless you live in a high rise, like Horizon House…then the feeders attract varmints.  Horizon House residents…NO BIRD FEEDERS, except for Humming bird feeders.
  • Be sure to keep the leaves of indoor plants “dusted”. It helps to wipe them with a damp cloth to keep the pores open.
  • Look around the garden (if it isn’t covered by snow) and be sure none of your perennials have been heaved out of the ground by frost. If they have, press them back down.
  • Plant any bare root trees or shrubs when you get them.  They are usually available now.  They will be cheaper and probably easier to start!
  • Remove any heavy snow (should you have it)  from the evergreens.
  • Be alert!  You may see some signs of spring.  A bulb peeking up where you least expect it?  A robin after that worm?  WHEEEEE!  Can’t WAIT!

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Autumn is surely here! IMG_7026 The trees have turned color, started dropping their leaves and begun looking a bit “bare”.  It is the way of the garden…even our little gardens here at Horizon House.  Here’s a link that has photos and a few comments about our gardens.

But, to get back to autumn, and how it affects us, AND our gardens.  I decided to write this post because I’ve just begun to read a book about soil, called “Growing a Revolution-Bringing Our Soil Back to Life”, by David Montgomery.  Jean D. had asked if the IMG_7018Garden Committee would co-sponsor a program, with the Conservation Committee featuring David Montgomery, to speak about this new book.   I thought that would be a great idea.  He will be coming to HH sometime in the not too distant future.  Anyway, I’m LOVING this book and how he explains about the soil and how we can replenish it with far less chemical intervention.  Anyway, it got me thinking about how we can get into this “mode” here, even in our little gardens!

It is a totally natural approach.  It’s wonderful, not only for the soil, but for insects, and the wildlife, of which many of us are not really aware.  It is also easier on the gardeners, as the chores we usually accomplish in autumn are diminished.IMG_7028

Our garden beds are looking a bit scruffy right now.  It’s a time when we fussy gardeners think it’s time to clean up all the debris.  STOP!!!  DON’T DO IT!!!!

When we remove all that debris, we stop the soil from replenishing itself.  The leaves, if left alone, will become places for microbes and little critters to hide for the winter.  All those little guys will use the leaves for food, passing it into the soil in a form that can be utilized as the roots gobble it up to feed the plants!  So, don’t be too quick to remove those leaves!IMG_7019


IMG_7020Also, the plants themselves, if left standing are happily feeding birds and little creatures.  There are green buds, berries and seeds, all of which keep our wildlife fed and passing it back to the soil as they hop from place to place.IMG_7024

Sure, it doesn’t look wonderful to OUR eyes, but the soil and wildlife will be so appreciative!IMG_7025  Pledge to become a MESSY GARDENER along with the Nature Conservancy.  This link will tell you more about how these techniques will really be good all around!

I think I will write a note in the ALERT telling people that our gardens may be looking a bit “scruffy” during the winter months…and WHY!  So, go ahead and experiment.  Leave those leaves alone, and let’s see what happens.  In the spring, you can clean up your garden if you want.  Letting the leaves break down further will be good for the soil, but if it looks too nasty for you, go ahead and clean it up in the spring, but leave the leaves for now!

Here’s to the Horizon House Garden Committee’s contribution to replenishment of the earth’s soil!  Have fun being MESSY!



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From the time we are just wee, little ones learning a catchy rhyme, “Rain, rain, go away.  Come again another day!” Until the present time when we stand aghast to read the news about yet another terrible rain event in the form of one or more hurricanes.

Rain is one of those things that we hate one minute but know the next, that we can’t exist without.IMG_0371

The most important element that we need to support life (any kind of life) is WATER!  It comes to us in the form of rain.  Rain fills the oceans and pushes the brooks into the streams, which form the rivers, etc.  So, we cannot do without rain!


Some climates have to live with little, or no rain, as in deserts.  Other places like rainforests, have to figure out how to handle the deluges.  As I recall the cliché is “feast or famine”!  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are usually in the “feast” category…but not always.  This is where our skill, as gardeners and farmers, comes into play!

Our gardens have to handle both an excess of water, or in the dryest season of summer hold onto the little we get.  In other words, sometimes we need to deal with drought, just as we need to deal with the occasional flood.  Generally in the PNW,img_5618 the rain is frequent, but light. It keeps us constantly damp it seems, but doesn’t rain enough to get down to the deep roots where it’s necessary in order to be of any use to the plant above.  So, what are we to do?

As gardeners (I’ll include farmers in that all encompassing word) we all know that along with water, the most important ingredient is the SOIL!  Just like water, soil comes in different forms as well.  In a desert, it’s sand.  In a rainforest, it is almost pure compost. If it rains in the desert, the water is gone almost as soon as it hits the ground, because sand does NOT hold water and the dampness is burned off by the sun.  In the rainforest, the water is enclosed in the rich, deep compost, held in the shade, and available for whatever time is necessary!

What do we learn from this?  In a desert, there are no plants dropping leaves, or falling onto the ground to rot…so there is no compost forming naturally.  In the rainforest, there are trees and plants galore, which shed leaves, break off branches, and support animals that leave their detritus.  All of this falls to the ground, rots and becomes compost.  Now, if we could just get the two together!!!!

THAT is where the gardener begins to display his or her skills, and brains! compost-hand

Essentially, there are three things you need in order to create good soil for your garden. The growing material itself (which we call the soil); water; and air.  We aspire to “perfect” this combination in order to grow our crop, be it vegetables or flowering plants.

BUT, the bottom line is that we need to take the RAIN and hold onto it long enough, and deep enough, for the plants to utilize it.  If a plant is watered and just the top of the soil is dampened, the roots have no way of getting to it.  That is an unhealthy situation.  The roots will aim upward to get to the water, leaving them vulnerable to the next burst of heat, which will dry those roots out, and eventually kill the plant.  Water deeply!  THAT is the weak spot in our rainy climate.  We think because it’s always raining, we shouldn’t need to water, but that is NOT necessarily the case.

We need to figure out how to adjust the soil in order to hold and convey the water down to the roots of the plants.  This is done by combining our soil with compost.  That compost also loosens the soil, allowing space for air to be incorporporated.  A good equation!

In Israel, they have turned the desert into farms.  Go to this site and read how they created this miracle.  But, certainly this is not what we have to do in our PNW gardens, is it?

The Spruce has a wonderful article about building soil to hold water.  It would be worth a visit.

Here’s a link from the University of Maine, Extension Service telling everything you’d possibly need to know about soil,

Here’s to Happy Gardening…and perfect rainfall!


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This year I went to the show for TWO days!  My son in-law gave me two tickets.  At first I didn’t know what to do with TWO tickets, and he suggested I either invite a friend or go on  two days!  DUH!!!

I chose the two days because I tend to be a “loner” at things like this.  I hate to wait around for someone else to finish looking when I’m ready to move on.  Not only  that, I’m a “Seminar” kind of gal.  I’d prefer to just look around at the displays quickly; img_6075check img_6071out all the things for sale; and then head for the Seminar rooms to learn something new and see some pretty spectacular gardening photography!  So, that sounded like a great idea.  I did it, and I’m so very glad!  I had two days of seminars, as well as checking out the displays.  I attended 7 in all, and learned a LOT!img_6070

Walking into the venue has the usual effect.  Scents of Spring and color enough to blow your socks off.  The exhibits were lovely, as usual.  Even little children find them attractive!

I went to a number of seminars about Succulents.  I have chosen to make my little garden here at Horizon House an “easy care” garden, and I chose to do that with various pots filled with  SUCCULENTS! *img_5597.jpg In these classes however, I learned that I wasn’t exactly doing it correctly.  Right now everything is growing properly, but according to the “gurus” it probably won’t last that way.  So, it’s back to the drawing board for me.img_6076

I need more sand and some gravel.  That might be a bit tricky, but I’m up to the challenge.  I have to remember that someday, someone else may garden my little plot, and they may prefer not to have gravel!  (Gravel is a nightmare to remove.)  img_6077Of course, the reason I’ve chosen pots is that the soil is root-bound from a neighboring tree.  There will be no cutting back of those roots, because the tree is going to STAY!  SO, the pots will have to have some sand and gravel added.  I’m  not in any huge rush.  It will wait until the weather is cooperative, to say nothing of my body!

Which brings up another seminar I attended about “Adaptive Gardening”.  This is a topic I am pretty conversant with.  I edited a book on this topic awhile back.  It ended up never going to print because the publisher ran into rough waters…but I learned a lot.  Perhaps this is a topic I should give a little talk about here at Horizon House.  Maybe in June, which the Garden Committee has dubbed “Garden Month at Horizon House”.


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At our last Garden Committee meeting the topic of “SOIL” came up.  Although we all have a pretty good idea that as gardeners, we know what soil is…it ain’t necessarily so!  My aim here today is to acquaint us with the REAL meanings, definition and uses of various types of SOIL.  They are definitely not all the same!

For instance, do you know that “dirt” is the stuff under your fingernails; what’s on your dungaree knees; the debris carried into the house on your sneakers after being in the garden; what the dog brings in; and in general, what you need to vacuum up to keep the house clean?  That is NOT the stuff we plant our posies in!

What we plant in, is SOIL!  But, there really are different types of soil.  As gardeners we should be aware of what they are and how to differentiate between them, so we use them properly.

We could start by calling it a “planting medium”.  The reason for that is that there are so many soil types.  Here is a site from the University of Maryland Extension Service.  After a fair amount of searching I found this one which is pretty basic.  No super charts, or long chemical connections…just the simple facts.  I will go into more specifics about what is available to you here at Horizon House.

We essentially have 3 (three) different soil types available for your use.  Remember you should NOT need to add much soil at all.  All the garden beds have ample soil right now.  Occasionally, you might want to top dress, or dig in a bit of compost (as an amendment).  If for some reason you really do need to add soil, it should be in the “top soil” category.  So, here goes!

TOP SOIL   is what you will commonly find beneath your feet, in any garden environment!  Top soil varies in quality, depending on where it is found.  The top soil on a mountain top will  be very different from that on a river flood plain.  So, unless you know where it originates, you really won’t know at all whether it’s any good at all for your garden.  But, having said that, the Garden Soil we get is in a bag. We can rest assured that it is decent soil.  It is NOT special potting soil, that often has amendments added; nor is it mulch or compost.  It’s just plain soil…nothing more, nothing less.  Here is a link about soil basics  that you might find interesting.

MULCH  is what you put on top of the soil, around your plants.  It provides protection from drenching rain; it holds moisture which your plants can access easily; it provides shade for tender roots lying just beneath the surface; weeds cannot find their way into your well mulched garden; it provides warmth, protecting roots from deep freezes.  Over the year(s), if it is organic, it breaks down, adding texture and nutrients to the soil below.  This means that you can add, probably SHOULD add, new mulch every year, either in the spring or the fall.  Go to this link about MULCH which will add to your understanding of this product.  And by the way, do not worry about the mulch getting into the soil.  It will break down and become compost in the soil.  It will also provide instant bulk and moisture retaining qualities. (There is also non-organic mulch which will not break down, like plastic and rubber.  We do NOT utilize non-organic mulch in our gardens here at Horizon House.)

COMPOST is what I define as “Black Gold”!  compost-handIt is naturally broken down organic materials.  These are usually composed of leaves, grass, discarded garden plants (NOT diseased) and even non-fatty kitchen scraps(fat attracts “critters”). It sits and decomposes until it’s totally broken down.  A process that takes about a year.  Here is a link that will explain the process of making and using COMPOST.  For our gardens at Horizon House, we get bagged compost.  We should use this as an AMENDMENT to our garden soil.  It should NOT be 100% of the soil surrounding your plants!

Ragan suggests a ratio of about 4 parts garden soil to 1 part compost.  I’d say that’s even a bit high, but it’s a good guide.  The compost can be worked into the soil around your plant roots.  When you plant new materials, work some compost into the soil.

So there you have it.  I hope that helps.  I’ll try to get that little chart we talked about at the meeting posted somewhere in the E level storage area.





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This morning, one of the first articles I read on “Crosscut” was titled “To solve water pollution, Seattle turns to an old solution“, written by Samantha Larson.

This is what I’ve been advocating for years.  It is a Rain Garden concept.  Rain Gardens capture water coming from your roof, driveway, sidewalk, etc. and direct it into a garden specifically designed to filter the water, filtering it naturally and sending it into an aquifer, rather than the curb.  As I said in my “old” 2008 Rain Garden post, ” An effective rain garden depends on water infiltrating into the soil of the garden. They are actually miniature, temporary wetlands, planted with native plants.”  Do visit that post and read more.

Here is a sketch of a Rain Garden designed for use in a garden, but it is usable between a curb and the sidewalk with different plant materials.  This does give you an screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-9-03-11-amidea.  (The drawing is from an article done by Texas A&M on Rain Gardens.)

It makes profound sense to have these in our Seattle landscape.  They need not be large, every little bit counts!  Having them all along the curbs where the nasty water runs, is a grand idea!  It may not handle the entire filtration of the run-off, but it will surely do it’s part!!!


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