This is a gardening blog by a guy who dared to veer off the beaten path and discovered plants and gardening along the way. Join me as I write about my processes and inspirations from my “Midwest” point of view.

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Professionally Engraved Garden Markers

I had never really given much thought to plant identification when I first began gardening. Somehow, I figured I could/would simply memorize all the plant names. It wasn’t long before my garden outgrew my memory! I searched and tried all sorts of markers, but few could stand up to our temperamental weather here in Indianapolis. Another problem I was not prepared for was how the wildlife would take to my markers. I never caught anyone in the act, but found many of the flimsy metal markers chewed and sometimes several feet away from where they were staked. I suspect it was the work of all the baby foxes– no proof though.

A few of my new additions for 2010.

Yet another challenge was how difficult it was to keep the writing on the tag. I tried everything, lead pencil, a sharpie, and even wax pencils. It went on clear but a season or two later, it was as if I were trying to decipher a doctor’s handwritten note.

Imagine my joy (yes, joy) when I stumbled upon a company called Gardenmarkers.com. These were the elusive markers that I had seen at so many public gardens and museums!

The flat face stake is made of galvanized steel and has a hinge behind the face.

So far, I am very happy with the long sturdy stakes and easy-to-read labels. They cost more than the average marker, but they are not the most expensive marker on the market. One thing to remember when ordering is that plant labels and stakes are sold separately.

In addition to the plant markers shown above, there is another style to choose from. Tree labels are also available. The website even has Plant Encyclopedias to help find the correct names for your plants and trees.

Note: This is a personal endorsement. I am not affiliated with Gardenmarkers.com in any way.


Overnight Sensation

Another beautiful snow at Sutherland. Here are a few images from the back yard and creek bank. It’s shaping up to be a white Christmas!


It’s official...

I can see no beds or borders! That means I can shift my focus to the great indoors for a while. Thank goodness I have a good little winter elf that handles the shoveling, salting, and snow blowing.

The season’s first snows are always exciting at Sutherland. This shot of the house and front yard was especially nice because the sun was shining.

I admire the neighbor’s crabapple tree from the front porch all year-long. Soon, the fruit on the branches will be all gone. That’s my cue to get the bird feeders filled and hung.

The rail on the balcony is always a good visual indicator of how much snow has fallen.

I love how visible the creek is when there is no foliage on the trees. Although unseen in this photo, there are several sets of tracks from all the wildlife scurrying about.

The main Hosta garden was designed to not be seen until you lowered all the stairs from the upper level. It’s usually hidden from view behind all the branches of the maple tree in the foreground. I added about 20 new plants this fall. Can’t wait to see how they do.




The Importance of Mapping


It’s no secret. I’m fastidious about certain things. I’ve been gardening about 4 years now and from the beginning, I instinctively started documenting where and when I planted things. At first, my ‘maps’ were simple black and white drawings from hand. As the garden grew and changed, I became more and more obsessed about how I could accurately keep records of everything that was going on. It’s a work in progress, but I think I have the mapping part down.

Throughout the growing season, I make notes and draw on plain paper with a pen or pencil. Less obsessive gardeners can stop there. Since I have a graphic design background, I utilize some fancier tools to finalize the hand drawn maps. Adobe Illustrator is my program of choice because it allows me to work in layers. I can easily turn layers off and on with the click of the mouse to focus on particular aspects of the map. Sometimes I need to zero in on utility lines. Sometimes I only want to see the trees and shrubs, or maybe the hardscape only. If you’re inclined to use a computer, I suspect that any basic drawing program would do just fine. Just remember to save early and save often.

Just use circles to signify a plant on the map. I try to chart in the approximate size of full mature spread. ‘Mature Spread’ simply means how wide the plant is expected to be at full maturity. The circles will help you plan for size and quantity as you begin to plan for new additions. Other great reasons for mapping include:

Locate Individual Plants and Structures  Ever forget the name of something? Chart it on your map and you’ll always have a record of it. Chart where the gas or water line is before the backhoe digs in, etc.

Chart and Compare Growth  Keep notes in the margins or in a separate document to compare changes from year to year.

Document Color Grouping  Color in the circles can signify foliage or bloom colors. This is particularly useful for grouping by color which helps provide visual continuity.

Plan for Future Additions  Know where you have blank space and designate proper quantities. Not sure what to plant? Take your map with you to the garden center or nursery so they can fully understand your site.

Consider Space Limitations  Be familiar with mature height and spread before you plant. Draw it on the map first and see if it fits. It’s easier to move a circle around than it is a Dogwood tree.

Locate and Mark Problematic Areas  Document areas where plants don’t thrive and mark this on your map. Investigate the reasons and keep records of your amendments.

These are just a few reasons I find it useful to draw maps of the garden. If the task seems daunting and you don’t know quite where to start, here’s a tip: capture an image of your property with Google Earth and use it as a guideline. Oh, and if you ever move, be sure to leave a version with any of the plants you leave behind charted on it. I wish someone had done so for us when we moved in!


Savor the Moments

Last week I gave the Limelight Hydrangeas a heavy prune just before the first blast of cold temps swept in. Since these are paniculata hydrangeas, they will withstand hard pruning in late fall, winter, or early spring because they bloom on new wood. (More on that in a different post) When all was done though, I found it difficult to part with all the large dried blossoms. I decided to keep a few and bring them indoors, a practice I’d reserved for ‘living’ blooms only. I selected the heaviest glass vase to support the weight and started arranging them one stem at a time. As I lifted each stem, I marveled at the size and kept thinking back to summer and how magnificent they were then, and how beautiful they were still. Now, I don’t endorse this type of arrangement for a proper dining setting, but it does work well as a decorative display. I flanked the arrangement with platters of ornamental pumpkins which were grown in the vegetable garden. Voila! A beautiful autumnal arrangement. So, why hang on to this stuff? Well, it’s complicated, but I’ll try to explain it.

Gardening has deepened my connection with the earth. And more than that, it has led me to investigate the relationships that all living things share. This is especially true of the relationship we have with time. Every day, every season, every year. Passing, passing, passing. The garden is a reminder that nothing lasts. Still, between all the passing stages, we get a transition phase. And it’s what you do with the transition that enables you to pass onto the next phase smoothly. Steadily. These little pumpkins and dried hydrangeas, they’re part of my transition phase. A reminder of what was accomplished. Evidence of something beautiful. And more importantly, inspiration for what is possible.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Savor the moments.


Overwintering Geraniums

It was time. The temps were dipping into the low 30s and there was actually a bit of sleet in the air. I had to act quickly if I was going to save the little troopers. It is November after all!

I’m going to attempt to overwinter my geraniums for the very first time. I figure I’ve nothing to lose and three beautiful geranium plants to gain if it all works out. There are three different ways to overwinter geraniums: Cuttings, which seems a bit fussy, Potted Plants, which I don’t have room for, and finally Dormant Plants (Hanging), which seems to be the lowest maintenance option. I’ve chosen to let my plants go Dormant using the ‘Hanging Method’. Here are the steps.

Prior to frost, simply dig the geraniums from their containers and carefully shake all the soil from the roots, taking care not to damage the roots when digging or lifting the plants out of the soil.

Next, prepare to hang the plants upside down. After a bit of deliberation, I’ve chosen a wire clothes hanger to hold each plant. First elongate the hanger, then bend it in half.

Next, bend the hook outward so your plant will suspend nicely without any damage to the stalk.

You may need to adjust the tension of the hook a bit so the plants don’t slip through. Now, to the dungeon!

I have the perfect creepy corner in the basement to finish the job. It’s dark, the humidity is low, and the temperature is 45˚-50˚F.

The last step (and perhaps the most important) is to take the plants down monthly, and soak the roots in water for at least 1-2 hours, and apply a protective fungicide. I’ve marked my calendar for the watering on the 1st of each month so there is no chance of forgetting. Most of the leaves will eventually dry and fall during the long winter nap, so be prepared for a bit of cleanup every now and then. Or not.

Check back this spring when I cut the plants back to about 1/3 of their original height and replant outdoors once the danger of frost has passed.



Fall Color Report

Beautiful colors and textures abound at Sutherland all year long, but fall is always the most spectacular season. Take a look at some of my favorite hues from around the property.

These Limelight Hydrangea blossoms transformed from light green to creamy white during summer. In their final stage, they are becoming more golden and parchment brown. Their texture is very papery.

Another view of the Hydrangeas with bright yellow Chrysanthemums in the foreground. The mums are also beginning to turn a bit brown around the edges.

Toward the creek, this lone Maple tree is slowly turning. Weather permitting, it will be fiery red before total leaf drop. It really stands out against the White Pines in the background.

These Sedum plants were collected from all over the property. They were moved near the creek bank a couple of years ago and are much more impressive as a single mass.

A fading Hosta with brilliant yellow and chartreuse hues. This is Hosta ‘Liberty’.

Oak Leaf Hydrangeas are a favorite around Sutherland. One of the few hydrangeas native to the United States, the leaves often turn brilliant red, orange, and burgundy in the fall. I just love the leathery texture of the leaves.

Rain has been scarce in Indianapolis so every drop is welcome. Although melancholy, the greys on this warm rainy day are soothing and serve as a reminder of what lies ahead.


End of Season Chores

Fall has arrived. Reluctantly, I begin to deconstruct all the containers which have been so prolific this year. But before I can begin planning next year’s compositions, I must property clean and store my terra cotta pots for a long winter’s nap. Here’s how I do it.

The first step is to remove all the plant material from the containers. This is always the saddest part because many of the annuals are in such good condition still.

I’m transferring all the soil to the garden cart so it can be hauled away in bulk. Notice the shard that was in the bottom of the pot for drainage. I’m going to save any good shards and use them again next year.

Extra large containers are too heavy for one person to be moving around. For these, I use a shovel to transfer the soil into a bucket. The bucket is much more manageable as there are several stairs down to the garden cart.

Above: My trusty pot brush. I love all the beautiful foliage in the back yard.

Now for the not-so-fun part… washing the pots. This task always leaves me with wet sleeves and pants. Not fun on a cold day! My tips for cleaning are:

  • Watch your weather forecast and plan this activity on a warm sunny day.
  • Prepare a mild water/bleach bath for dipping the washed pots. I use a 1:10 ratio of bleach to water in a galvanized tub.
  • Have your garden hose with sprayer nozzle at hand.
  • Use a sturdy brush to scrub the pots inside and out. Any stiff brush will do. You could even used a dish scrubber or fine steel wool.
  • Locate an area for the pots to dry before moving to dry storage.

After a good scrubbing and rinse, I dip in a mild bleach and water solution. This kills off any bacteria, viruses and fungi. They should soak in the solution for about 30 minutes. Bleach can weaken materials over time, so make sure you are working with a very dilute solution.

Some of the pots have developed a white crust on the outside. This can be caused by salts in fertilizers passing through the porous pot’s walls. To clean off, try a baking soda paste. Personally, I love the crusty character and aged look.

Almost done. After the pots are completely dry, I place everything on shelves in the garage over winter. I store the pots upside down and out of the way of heavy traffic to avoid any breakage. It’s best to avoid stacking because the pots can get stuck and break when you try to separate them. However, if you must stack, make sure they are loose. You might even wrap them with bubble wrap or unprinted newsprint to avoid breaking and sticking. Because of the unpredictable winters in Zone 5, I never store outside. If you can’t winterize indoors, I suppose it would be best to keep them massed together, upside down (so they can’t hold water), off the ground, and insulated. Southern exposure would be ideal.

Well, back to work! There’s more clean up to do before I can begin dreaming up container recipes for next year.

What do your end of season chores consist of?



Hello world!

This is my first post. Join me as I write about my gardening processes and inspirations from my “Zone 5” point of view. 

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