Monthly Archives: April 2016

Planning Ideas for Your Garden

Key Planning Tips

Start Small. If you decide to plant up some new areas this year, start small so that you can test for success and appearance. You can always make it bigger next year.

Consider water access. If you are planting an area far from a water source, figure out how you are going to get water there. If a long hose isn’t practical, you may have to carry water there, or plan on carrying the plants (assuming they are in containers) to the water source.

Try something new each year. If something in a seed catalog or in the garden center captures your imagination – try it. Starting on a small scale and a new spot, you can test the plant without a lot of expense or disappointment if it doesn’t please or doesn’t succeed.

Go for variety. Even within the confines of a color family you can achieve a pleasing mixture of different flower forms, heights and textures. While large displays of a single flower can be awesome, too much of a good thing can be boring.

Keep a “cookbook. In a notebook, write down which classes and varieties you planted where. Often you can just tape a plant label to a page and write “front door,” or “patio tubs” next to it. At the end of the season you can write down how it performed and whether you want to plant those again, try them somewhere else, or try something new.

To be sure you take advantage of all your growing areas, get a piece of paper and a pencil and make a rough “bird’s eye” sketch of your lot, including marking out where your house is. Indicate which areas are the sunny, partially sunny, and shady areas. Be as detailed or as rough as you want. The idea is to identify all potential growing spots and then decide what to put where.

Once you have your sketch made, think about each area and where you would like the color and texture of plants. If you have a deck or patio, baskets or tubs of flowers can add a lot to the appearance. If there is a spot in your yard that you look at all the time from the kitchen window or that guests in your yard naturally tend to look at, brighten it up with flowers. And there is no rule that says you have to shove your garden back against the fence or property line – a garden spot in the middle of a yard can become a focal point and attractively break up boring expanses of grass.

If you already have a focal point such as a fountain, a brick barbecue, or even a tree, you can make it more attractive by planting flowers around it to draw even more attention to it. This idea also works for storage sheds or objects that you may consider as less than attractive focal points. Chances are these aren’t going to go away, so dress them up and make them worthwhile to look at.

Choosing a Color Theme

For a really sophisticated look, choose a family of colors for all your flowers. If you choose red, for example, you can select flowers in pink, rose and bright red. You will still be able to get a variety of flowers and plants, but the look will be more unified if you have an overall color theme.

Sun and Shade

Most yards have a mix of full sun and some shade, so you should have plantings for both. If you are planning a vegetable garden it should get the prime sunny spot whenever possible. Even if the sun shines only on your deck or patio you can grow vegetables. Many can be successfully grown in containers, letting you “move” the garden into the sun.

Many people get discouraged over getting any color into shady areas. However, prudent planning can get color just about anywhere. There are a number of colorful plants that will do well in all but the deepest shade. Impatiens are outstanding for brightening up shady spots, as are coleus and begonias. These also have the advantage of a wide variety of colors for your overall theme. If the shady area also has the problem of poor soil conditions, a raised garden bed or different size pots and containers can overcome that problem without a lot of work. Baskets hung from tree limbs can draw attention to the beauty and position of the tree in the garden.

Key Areas

In addition to the yard areas where you are most likely to want an attractive display of flowers and plants, consider the impression your house makes on passersby and visitors. Baskets, pots or a small flower bed near the front door can say “welcome” and give your home a well-cared for appearance. The driveway and garage area is another often overlooked opportunity for gardening. Lining the driveway or putting some baskets or pots in a few selected areas can make an otherwise utilitarian area come alive.

Getting Started

One of the ways to get your garden into bloom or fruit as early as possible is to start plants indoors. Basically, a good sunny location for the started plants is all that is needed, or grow lights if you don’t have a sunny location. You can buy “seed starter kits” at most garden retailers, or do your own seed starting in containers as simple as egg cartons. Books on the subject can be found at your library and at garden retailers, and a wealth of information is available on the web. Within reason, the earlier you start, the more mature and established your plants will be when transplanted outdoors to the garden or to containers. If you start too early, your plants will become overgrown and you may have to cut them back and start with a funny-looking garden. Six weeks or so before the last frost date or normal planting time in your area is a good rule of thumb for starting indoors.

If you don’t have the time or confidence to start plants from seed, there are a rainbow of colorful bedding plant flowers and vegetables at your local garden centers or retailers.

Depending on the weather and how soon you can get outdoors, it is a good idea to prepare your garden bed by digging it up, turning it over, adding amendments such as compost or fertilizer. Your local County Extension Agent can tell you how to have a soil test performed, or soil test kits can be purchased. Soil preparation is one of those areas that often gets ignored, yet is vitally important to your garden’s success.


To create a garden with beauty and balance, begin with planning, not digging. A way to start a plan is by drawing a sketch of all garden areas. This sketch will help identify all of the outside areas to be decorated with flowers or vegetables. Adding a color theme to your garden will help unify it. To record successful plans, or even failures, keep a simple ‘cookbook’ of plants and their performance. This “Cookbook” can be the start of next year’s garden.

Choosing a Special Place to Grow

“What’s best for the environment?” is often asked these days. Well, what’s best for the environment is teaching our children respect and concern for nature. One way to start this training early, and have some fun doing it, is a child’s garden. The immediate and long-term benefits of encouraging a child to plant his or her own garden are enormous.

Through school and the media, many youngsters, even preschoolers, are already very aware of nature and ecology. The garden is an excellent place to reinforce what they have heard and learned and a great place to encourage their creativity and self-discipline. They will be exposed to the beauty of Nature, a beauty they will help nurture, and through growing vegetables they may learn a degree of self-sufficiency. A childhood start on understanding and respecting the environment plants the “seeds” for future responsibilities. We all know it needs to be done, so let’s do it with fun.

Lions and Dragons

Did you ever “snap” the jaws of a snapdragon, or “see” fantastic faces in pansies, or savor the tangy aroma of fresh mint when you crushed some leaves in your hands when you were a child? Whether you did or you didn’t, there are numerous plants that provide their own extra-special sense of fun and learning. Below are a few suggestions. Maybe you have some childhood memories to add.

Some “Fun” Plants to Grow

Four O-Clocks – Easy to grow from seed, these colorful flowers don’t open until mid-to late afternoon.

Lunaria – The ‘money plant’ forms disc shaped seedpods that can be easily rubbed and polished to resemble a silvery quarter sized coin.

Calceolaria – called the “”pocketbook” plant, the blooms resemble old-fashioned purses.

Scallop Squash – Summer squashes that resemble flying saucers

Impatiens – “Bizzy Lizzy” or “Impatient” plant. The ripe seedpods burst open to scatter seed. Put a fat one in your hand and press lightly for a good tickle when it bursts.

Sweet Peas – Dwarf or climbing, these lovely flowers have the same name as the character in Popeye cartoons. Maybe you should plant it next to the spinach.

Torenia – The “wishbone plant.” Inside the bloom is a small ridge shaped just like a wishbone.

Starter Suggestions

A small garden, perhaps no more than 4 feet by 4 feet and planted with a mix of flowers and vegetables, can instill not only an appreciation of Nature, but also provide a place for fun learning activities. Although there is a chance that a child’s garden might not be as neatly tended as a parent’s, give the choicest garden spot you can to the child. Lots of sun and good soil will aid in success. A section of your garden or a separate child’s garden next to yours can make the garden chores a family affair.

Let your child help prepare the garden soil. Dirt can be turned over with a small shovel or trowel, and clumps broken up by hand or by “stomping” on them. Kids love dirt!

Choose easy-to-grow plants and as many different ones as you can get into the small space. Carrots, radishes, lettuces and tomatoes are good vegetable choices. If you have room for the vines, maybe a giant Jack O ‘Lantern or a mini-pumpkin can make the garden experience last a little longer.

For flowers, choose at least some that can be used as cut flowers or decorations for the dinner table or for special “gifts.” Zinnias, marigolds, salvia, and snapdragons are a few recommendations. For something spectacular to a child, plant a few sunflowers, which can range form 2 feet to 10 feet tall. The seeds can be toasted and eaten for a healthy snack, or saved to be put out to feed squirrels or other animals.

Starting from seed is a good learning experience, and starting early indoors in a sunny spot will provide daily “excitement” as a child watches the growth. Small children will find large seeds such as beans and sunflowers easy to handle and plant. Bedding plants too, are an excellent choice for getting started and are good choices for selections such as geraniums, petunias, begonias and many vegetable plants.


Recycling is an important part of our planet’s future, and few activities lend themselves to this as well as gardening does. To grow up to 12 plants you can use a clean egg carton as a seed starter kit. Be sure to punch holes in the bottom of each section for drainage, and use a soilless germinating mix.

Outdoors, small plants can be protected from the weather and hungry animals by cutting the bottom or side out of a milk carton and covering tender plants.

Grass clippings, shredded leaves and vegetable matter can be put into a composting bin to be recycled into composted soil that is very nutritious for plants.

Many communities have active recycling program on a drop-off basis, or as part of their garbage pickup. Instead of just separating recyclable materials for some far-off re-use, using the materials in gardening demonstrates the true meaning of active recycling and may instill the idea of recycling in other ways as well. Less garbage in landfills means more land left for nature.

Garden Anywhere

Don’t despair if you don’t have an outdoor garden plot. Vegetables and flowers can be successfully grown in pots and containers. There are books and online sources available on container growing, and many general gardening books cover the topic as well. A container garden on a balcony, patio or deck can produce a lot of flowers and vegetables, and it often makes the task of weeding simpler.

Getting Personal

Children love something to be their “very own.” Keep your child interested and aware of his or her garden by putting a sign in it that says “Mary’s Garden” (or whatever name is appropriate). For real personalization, make up plant stakes or labels that say “Mary’s beans,” “John’s zinnias,” etc. If more than one child has plants growing in the same garden, this can minimize disputes over whose plants are whose.

If you start from seed, you can use the seed packet stapled to a stake with the child’s name written on it. Bedding plants usually come with a plant tag you might use. Colorful pictures help children imagine what will eventually grow.

Watering and Weeding

Children love to water – particularly at full force of the hose. You will want to remind them that rain usually falls a little more gently and they should imitate the rain. A personalized sprinkling can is a good idea for younger children.

Weeding is another matter. At first, even for adults, it can be difficult to tell small wanted plants from small-unwanted weeds. You may want to let things grow a little before weeding too much. Since children may find weeds as fascinating and as pretty as the chosen plants, a little explanation that the weeds are “little bullies” and want to take too much room and too much food away from the “good” plants may ease the trauma of pulling out some plants.

“Patience is a virtue,” goes an old saying, and the wait for flowers and vegetables to mature can begin to teach the rewards of patience. Watching a garden grow may not be easy: children may want to pull up young carrots and radishes to see if they are “done.” Even if they do pull up a few young plants, they may be far enough along to wash off and give a taste of bigger things to come.

Older Children

Children by age eight or nine may want to be more involved in what plants are grown in their gardens. They might enjoy planning a salad garden that can be harvested and shared with the family at dinnertime, or they might enjoy something special like a garden planted to look like the American Flag.

You may not have to supervise weeding and watering quite as closely, but a wise parent always keeps one of the eyes in the back of the head open.

Watching your child grow

Gardening activities provide an ideal time to really talk to your child. Of course you will want to talk a little about how plants grow, and talk about the birds, insects and worms (kids love worms!) and all that good gardening stuff. But the privacy and quiet of a garden is also an excellent place to just talk about “things” such as school and friends, hopes and dreams. Ask them if they were a plant, what would they tell the gardener?

You’ll be surprised what you can learn in your child’s garden, and your opportunity to hear your child’s thoughts will help you guide their personal growth as well as their gardening growth.

Whether you are in a city, suburb or rural area, the future of the environment is a concern to all. Instilling love, respect and understanding of how nature works and how it affects us all is especially important for the future of our children and the world at large.

And it can all begin in a child’s garden.

Quick Tips to Coloring

In this issue of Today’s Garden we are offering a variety of quick tips for using color, and a brief interview with a color expert – information we think you will be able to use in many different ways.

  1. When planning a garden, think of it as a three-dimensional painting, and the colorful annuals for beds and containers as colors on an artist’s palette. Some colors will dominate and be spread with broad brush strokes here, while other colors will give depth and dimension with small dabs here and there. Try to envision the whole panorama of your garden as you want it to look when it is at its best, and plan accordingly.
  2. To brighten shady areas use light-colored annuals such as white, light pink or palest blues. Dark colors tend to get “lost” in shady areas. You can still use deep colors in a shady area, but be sure to use lighter colors around or behind them to provide contrast so that they can stand out and be seen. Burgundy impatiens surrounded by pale green coleus or coral impatiens, for example, will stand out due to the contrast.
  3. For maximum effect, think about how the colors of plants will blend or contrast with their surroundings. For example, deep red geraniums or red salvia planted against a red brick or redwood fence will not stand out as well as white or pink geraniums. And white geraniums will not stand out dramatically against a white fence or white siding. Think of using a more dramatic color scheme such as purple or magenta against a white or light-color background, and something lighter, such as peach or pink against darker surfaces.
  4. Just as each room should have a focal point, so should each area of your garden. If there isn’t a natural focal point such as a pool of water or garden statuary, color can create one. Instead of long, uninterrupted rows of flowers, create a focal point by planting a mass of one color in the center of a bed and then surround it with flowers or plants that contrast in color, texture or height. If there is something unsightly in your garden that you can’t get rid of and really can’t hide (like a telephone pole or a fire hydrant), create a colorful focal point away from the object to draw attention in that direction and lessen the effect of a “problem” area.
  5. Colors affect our emotions. Bright colors such as red and yellow excite us and can make us feel warm (that’s why they are often called “hot” or “warm” colors). Colors such as blue, lavender, green, pink and peach are considered cooler and calmer. For the entrance to a home, you may want to create a feeling of warmth and excitement, and could choose stronger, more exciting colors such as yellow marigolds and scarlet dianthus. In the backyard garden or for patio containers, you may want to create a more relaxing and serene mood by choosing cooler or softer colors such as pansy rose shades with blue violas.
  6. Just as interior decorators use three or four colors as a theme throughout a home, “exterior decorators” can do the same. Theme colors used with repetition will unify different garden areas just as they unify the rooms of a house. For example, bordering all your garden plots with a row of yellow marigolds or creamy petunias can tie different garden areas together for a unified look. Repeating the same colors but in different plant types can create the same effect. If white and blue are your colors, for example, plant different types of flowers such as lavender, blue petunias and blue salvia, and for white use white geraniums, white impatiens, white petunias, etc. to carry the theme but vary the look.
  7. Dramatic color combinations can give your garden beds a distinctive look. Instead of something as ordinary as red and white, consider orange and blue (direct complements on the color wheel), or light pink and green. For new color trends and combination ideas, see the sidebar.

Many of today’s annuals are available in more colors, tones and shades than ever before. Impatiens, for instance, now come in 24 separate designer colors or blends. Creating a colorful fresh new look is easier than ever.


What are the “fashionable” colors trends for garden and home this year? National Garden Bureau asked color expert Ken Charbonnau, Director of Color Marketing at Benjamin Moore Paint Company, Montvale, New Jersey, to give us an update.

“The biggest thing affecting color over the last five years has been the economy,” said Ken. “People want more value for their money, so we are seeing a return to more classic colors and color combinations. Colors will be less trendy and more long-lasting.”

What’s the big news in color? Purple and blue-violet, said Ken. “But in small doses. Purple and blue-violet bring out the rest of the palette.” An avid gardener himself, Ken noted that purples and blues tend to fade away in the garden. They need lots of sun to highlight them, be massed to be seen, or combined with white or yellow to really show off. (Home gardeners can bring little doses of purple to their gardens with plants like petunias and a wide choice of other annuals.)

Next on his list of important colors was coral. “What was peach is now turning to coral,” he said. In his yard he has masses of coral and peach colored flowers against a weathered gray fence. “People are just amazed when they see it.

“We are also seeing color being used to link new things with things from the past,” he said, calling them bridging colors. “For example, people tend to think of salvia splendens as coming only in red. Well, have I got news for them – it comes in 12 decorator colors today.” Salvia, a long time favorite, is now fresh and new with its new colors. The past is linked to the new. Ken gave another example from his garden and talked about some traffic stopping window boxes at the front of his brownstone home in New York. “I combined purple salvia, blue ageratum and magenta geraniums. People would stop and take pictures!” Ken mentioned that those colors are the same colors in the slip covers for their summer room. “I took our interior colors to the outside,” he said.

Magenta is another important color. “What was pink is now moving into magenta. It is replacing the rose/mauve story.” Mauve is rapidly declining – “It was so trendy and so everywhere that we got tired of it.” Ken said he found the mauves, burgundies and deep greens rather “maudlin.” Now, he says, we are moving on to “happy colors.”

Yellow is returning to the color palette after a long absence, said Ken. “It’s been missing for years and now it’s coming back. Right now it’s very new and at the high end.” He talked about combinations such as yellow and white and periwinkle, or yellow and white and purple, pointing out the use of purple in small doses to bring out the other colors.

Gold and yellow-greens are returning. “It’s new to the younger generation who didn’t grow up with avocado green shag rugs and harvest gold appliances,” he pointed out. Some of the older generation may resist it, but the yellow-greens have a very fresh look, he said. “It’s a brighter, cleaner look” than the old yellow-greens.

“Reds are still doing well, but in the classic shades such as wine and burgundy. Bright but not too orange.”

Generally speaking of color trends Ken said that colors will tend to be brighter and stronger than pastels, but still softer and what he calls “relaxed.” Over the long term he thinks that this relaxed feeling will extend to our gardens, and we will see garden design and floral arrangements that are less formal or structured. “People will experiment more with color combinations and not worry so much about what goes together perfectly.”

Choosing Best Gazebo Designs

So you are planning on adding a gazebo to your garden? Good choice I must say, considering that they are an ideal place to relax under the shade with your friends and family, while enjoying the outdoors at the same time. They have a great ornamental value as well and you will see that the moment they are installed in your patio, it will have an all together different look and a unique feel to it.

When deciding on a gazebo for your garden landscaping, you should pay special attention to the designs and plans. You should choose the one which looks attractive, is durable, and meets your purpose.

There are three important things, which you should consider while selecting gazebo designs. Firstly, the plans that you choose should match and complement your garden. Secondly, they should be in accordance with your personal liking. Lastly, they should fit in your budget.

For a Perfect Shape …
As far as the plans are concerned, the octagon shaped gazebo is what majority of the people opt for. A fourteen feet octagon is the ideal size, which easily accommodates six people, plus leaves enough space to move about in between. However, if you plan to house a hot tub or a pool, go in for rectangle or square plans.

For an Understated Look …
For those of you with budget constraints, or those who wish to keep things simple and modern, metal designs which come with four posts, a roof, and a floor will serve the purpose. You can add a few chairs and tables and a few potted plants to enhance the overall look.

For Durability …
Since you are investing a good amount of money in installing a gazebo, use materials which are long-lasting such as wood and aluminum. The structure should have a very strong base, roof, and side poles. Preferably go in for the ones which come with an enclosed roof, as such structures keep the harsh weather conditions at bay.

For a Royal Touch …
When it comes to design plans, the one which comes in a Victorian style is perhaps the most popular these days. Victorian gazebos are mostly made of wood, although they can even be constructed from bricks and stones. They can lend a very classy and elegant look to any garden they are installed in. Some of them come with built-in ramps, stairs, and benches while others are simply basic structures with a roof, floor, and railing. To add a royal English touch to them, a good idea is to hang potted flowers and add climbing plants all around it.

For Relaxation …
Gazebos which house a hot tub or a pool, provide the right venue and atmosphere for relaxation. When it comes to gazebo designs for hot tubs or pools, there are two options, i.e. fully enclosed and open air. One of the most popular open air pool designs is the one which comes with lattice panels on the sides. Of course, you will need to add lots of tall plants on all the sides to maintain your privacy. As far as the fully enclosed ones are concerned, the wooden ones made from pine or cedar wood and which come with windows and screens are a good choice.

Here’s hoping that these suggestions are useful to you. Although adding a gazebo may seem like a big investment initially, but the kind of relaxation and entertainment avenues it provides is worth the price!