Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year and New Blog!

How does a person begin a brand new garden blog, especially a person who isn't the most social media savvy? Well... I guess you just jump in with a trowel in your hand.  So be it, I have officially joined the countless cadre of people with passion who long to blog. I hereby promise to do my best blog imitation with regular posts and since I’m brand new, ‘regular’ seems so doable. And I will triple check my grammar and spelling for my family and anyone from my high school English class (and you too, the reader, thanks for reading this by the way). Since this is my first blog I’ll give you a brief biography, along with some winter garden container photos and information including Ferris Jem Cahill, our 3-year old soft-coated wheaten terrier.  He likes to be outside in the yard and garden so no doubt you’ll see him as we move along.  

I’m a married ‘baby boomer’ living in central Denver. I’m named after my Aunt Betty, my dad’s sister, and my Aunt Jo, my mom’s sister. Put both together and you get Betty Jo, a pure southern handle, but I was born and raised in Montana. Most people call me Betty.  You don’t meet too many Bettys anymore, and it hasn’t been in the top ten baby girl names for several decades.  I’ve been gardening in Denver since ’88 when I moved from Billings, MT prior to living in Salt Lake City for two years. Gardening is probably in my DNA and my three siblings since they are avid gardeners too. I can trace it back to many generations on both sides of my family.  Of course gardening in the early to mid-1900s was primarily practiced out of necessity for food, and that is certainly the case with my grandparents. My parents gardened; my mom oversaw the vegetable plot (still does today at 89) while my dad arranged for yearly applications of nearly fresh steer manure top dressing for the lawn (he passed away in ’06).  He had a direct source from relatives who farmed and ranched in Raplje, MT, a tranquil, small farming community about 40 miles west of Billings. They still farm there today!

In the late 90s I got serious about vegetable and landscape gardening.  I took the Colorado Master Gardening course which ignited a strong desire to learn more about gardening in Denver and the inter-mountain West.  Through additional coursework, self-study and lots of in the garden practice I’m at a place where I know some stuff and I sure need to know more stuff about plants, vegetables, landscape practices and the latest insect and disease challenges that are arriving to our area. More about those in future blogs. A special shout out thank you goes to Ms. Susan Clotfelter from the Denver Post who found one of my garden ‘to do’ list class outlines and asked me to write a weekly garden punch list for the Denver Post seasonal Grow section.  That began in March of 2012 and continues today with my current first Saturday winter monthly Punch Lists.  Look for the weekly garden Punch List column to resume again in late March.     

Winter Containers-
Looking at empty outdoor containers after the growing season can be rather sad. Creating winter outdoor containers are a natural progression after completing your final fall garden chores and they are fun to do. They can be done any time after hard frosts and well into the winter months, even now after the holidays. I reward myself with doing the winter containers as the icing on the fall garden after finishing the other not so fun jobs like raking leaves out of the rocks surrounding the water feature.  And I think about what materials and design to use or reuse while doing those chores.  What is it about dreaming about how the garden or container should look that is almost as fun as doing the work?  Did Freud garden?  Maybe he had the answer?  

Here’s a recent photo of Ferris in front of our very simple outdoor containers on an iron frame made by Milton Croissant  Milton does an outstanding job of building custom wrought iron fences and he was the right person to ask to build us a couple of outdoor plant frames.  Not only do they set off the containers nicely but they allow water to easily drain, then I hose away any excess fertilizers during the growing season.  And yes, the lawn is pretty darn green in that hosed off area!


The three winter containers are by no means fancy or full of fine greenery and props. Two of the containers are remains from the summer so I chose to let them winter kill and enjoy the foliage all season long.  Some may comment that this is boring and so much more can be done to jazz them up. You’re right more can be done to add interest. Hopefully by sharing my photos and ideas you will get started on creating your own seasonal decorated containers.
These contemporary metal containers consist of a perennial smoke bush shrub (used as an annual last summer) along with the curly willow and spruce cuttings creating two tall accents.  The perennial blood grass (also planted last summer as an annual) round out the third container giving the trio a simple winter interest focal point in the yard.  Snow adds more depth and drama to any outdoor container, and hopefully you can enjoy the wintery view from inside your house or apartment.

Summer containers -  for the winter display curly willow and spruce cuttings replaced the coleus
Winter containers are a snap to put together, no worries about following the exact rules of using thrillers, fillers and spillers (although this rule works just as well for winter pots). Use the left over soil from the previous growing season to stabilize the collection you choose. Start with a bundle of tree branches or twigs and greenery to create easy and versatile brown and green combinations, and then add from there. Or you can buy collections of assorted greenery which usually include branches of juniper, cedar, boxwood, spruce and pine. Use anti-transpirant sprays like Wilt-Pruf to help them retain moisture. If you have access to red or yellow twig dogwood branches you’ll have instant color and attention. 

Add seasonal ornaments, fruit, vegetables (pomegranates, pumpkins), lighting or orange, red or white berry stems or flocked branches to give the container some pop. Fresh berry branches are available in garden centers, grocery stores or florist shops, but can be expensive, so consider buying some artificial berry branches at craft stores or places like Crate and Barrel or Pier 1 (they are on sale now, check their websites for deals). Use them from year to year until they wear out. When transitioning to late winter, take out the seasonal red accents and substitute spring blooming sprays of forsythia, quince or fruit trees.  And don’t forget the pinecones; they add the final outdoor touch to any container.
One note about the stability and longevity of using glazed or clay pots for winter containers.  Since they are porous, even with high-end glazed pots, there is no guarantee they won’t crack.  Some stores may sell them as winter hardy, but any freeze thaw cycle can or will cause expansion and contraction within the container, especially if soil is exposed and moisture easily gets inside.  So know this going in and opt to take the risk and replace cracked containers as needed or use ones that better withstand winter conditions such as concrete, stone, wood, fiberglass, cast iron and heavy duty metal containers.  If you decide not to winter decorate your porous containers move them to a garage or shed for the winter, or cover the top soil portion with cardboard, then cover and tie plastic tarps to keep out the moisture.  Use some kind of stand or layers of bubble wrap to elevate them from sitting directly on cold surfaces. 

For additional ideas for winter containers search on Pinterest or type in winter outdoor containers, then images.  You will see hundreds of examples and get more ideas that you can try. These two photos of containers were taken on a Christmas house tour a few years ago, both are lovely and worth recreating in your landscape.

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