March 2010

Everyday Gardeners

Make Your Own Faux Copper Obelisk

GI SP 2010-2The current issue of Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living includes an obelisk made out of PVC pipe. Yes, PVC pipe.

While the version in the magazine is painted lavender, we also made one with a faux copper finish (see below). Here are the steps project creator Mark Chervenka suggests for re-creating the effect.

1) Wet sand assembled obelisk with 220 grit wet/dry sandpaper. A perfectly smooth surface is critical to the realism of this effect.

obelisk12) Apply primer listed for use on PVC. Lightly wet sand dried primer with same 220 paper.

3) Apply two coats of a shiny gold-toned bronze acrylic metallic paint to entire surface; follow instructions for appropriate drying time. Wet sand between coats and after second coat with 220 paper.

4) The weathered patina is created with three different colors of matte finish acrylic craft paint: deep blue-green, pale blue and pale green. Prepare a glaze of 1part water to 1 part paint for each color. Set aside.

5) Working in small sections, wipe on deep blue-green color first with a clean, dampened cotton rag or sea sponge, making sure color density varies across surface. Immediately saturate a second rag or sponge with water only and squeeze it randomly over the recently applied paint allowing drops of water to create drips and streaks in fresh paint. Move on to next section and repeat technique for pale blue then pale green. Allow to dry 8 hours between each color; do not sand between coats of patina colors.

obelisk26) The powdery corrosion found on old copper is created with a mixture of equal parts water and white craft glue (PVA). Apply mixture sparingly to some joints and random spots on pipes. Immediately sprinkle whiting (ground white chalk available at paint stores) over mixture. Lightly whisk whiting with small paintbrush or pounce with dry cotton rag. Let mixture dry 36 hours.

7) Protect entire completed faux finish with at least two coats of matte finish UV resistant clear sealer.

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Jane Miller

birthday bloom

HepaticaBlogI celebrate two flowers on March 30th every year. On this date, without fail, Hepatica blooms in my yard. One of the earliest woodland wildflowers to emerge in spring, its tiny cup-shape purple, pink, or white flowers grow just 6 inches tall, often appearing before the foliage unfurls. This native is so delicate in stature that its arrival each year often brings me to my knees for a close-up view. Unlike woodland ephemerals that die back to the ground after they bloom – such as spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, and Virginia bluebells – the heart-shape, three-lobe leaves of Hepatica keep growing during the spring and summer months. My little clump never requires attention other than my yearly gestures of appreciation. The leaves that drop on the plants in autumn act as both blanket and nourishment.

The other flower I rejoice on March 30 requires a little more upkeep. On this day 14 years ago, my daughter Jayne came into the world. Jayne’s birth was every bit a miracle for me as Spring’s rebirth is each year. She’s a beautiful bloom in her mother’s eyes.

Welcome back, Hepatica. And happy birthday, Jayne.

Jayne's interest in gardening began when she was just two.

Jayne's interest in gardening began when she was just two.


Everyday Gardeners

Pick of the Crop: Spring, season of joy and tears

What happens when you unplug the birdbath too soon.

What happens when you unplug the birdbath too soon.

The photo at left is the result of my pushing the season – trying to make it be spring in Iowa before it was really ready to be. I may have unplugged the heated birdbath one day too early.

Also pushing the season is my good friend The Planting Queen. And although she’s talking about going naked in the garden, it’s got nothing to do about the “topless in the garden” debate going on in Colorado. (Google it if you want to know more. I got 617,000 results for “Colorado topless gardening”) I’ve been trying to avoid the topic, but Deb’s blog forced me into talking about it. Honest.

The birds in my yard didn’t have to wait long for the birdbath to thaw today, so they didn’t suffer too much. But the BBC says the cold winter was very hard on songbirds in the UK.

USA Today is ready for spring, too.

But the Irish Times carries a humorous column (at least it think she was being funny) about too much blue-sky thinking about gardening. Just keep in mind that she’s right about some gardening projects ending in tears.

And then there’s that big seasonal to-do at Macy’s that lets us know that the season of joy is once again upon us. No, not the Thanksgiving Day parade.

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Denny Schrock

signs of spring

I heard them yesterday on my lunch-hour run near the Raccoon River. The spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) were chirping in full chorus. These tiny little frogs are one of the sure signs of spring. The males create a cacaphony of music in their attempt to attract mates who will lay their eggs in small ponds that often dry up later in the year.

Yellow crocus (Crocus flavus)

Yellow crocus (Crocus flavus)

Those spring peepers made me think of other signs of spring that I noted in my yard this week, and wondered whether they could be consistently connected. These cheery yellow crocus came into full bloom in my backyard, where they fill two quadrants of a boxwood parterre. Other crocuses also have come into full glory this past week. Pale blue ‘Blue Pearl’, deep purple ‘Grand Maitre’, and creamy ‘Romance’ snow crocus brighten the garden beds.

I also noticed some of the early irises blooming. This bright yellow danford iris (Iris danfordiae) greets me as I walk to the mailbox. Deep blue ‘Harmony’ reticulate iris (Iris reticulata) and purple ‘George’ Spanish iris (Iris histrioides) popped through the winter mulch this week, too.

Danford iris (Iris danfodiae)

Danford iris (Iris danfordiae)

Could these early-season crocuses and irises be indicators of the awakening of spring peepers? I’ve not necessarily made the connection before. Phenology, the correlation of biological phenomena with climatic conditions, can be used by gardeners to watch for or treat certain pests. For example, recommendations to apply crabgrass preventer when forsythias are in bloom stem from the need to get the weed preventer in place before the ground warms to 55 degrees F, the temperature at which crabgrass seeds begin to germinate.

Have you made connections between bloom dates in your yard with other natural phenomena? If so, we’d love to hear about them.


Everyday Gardeners

pick of the crop: gardening is fun

Are gnomes an invasive species?

Are gnomes an invasive species?

See, extension folks do have a sense of humor.

But this item is not funny at all. I agree with UK gardener Henrietta Hudson that the plant thieves who have repeatedly targeted her garden are “sick in the head.”

This comes under my category of ‘places you didn’t expect to find garden stories.’ But the JewishJournal.com has a very thoughtful way of using your garden to connect to your religion.

I do expect to find this kind of helpful garden article in the Christian Science Monitor because I do every week. Enjoy.

The Geffrye Museum in London uses its art collection to examine the role of plants and flowers in the home over the past 400 years or so. And here’s a link to a slide show of selected works in the exhibition.

I admire people who stand up in public and admit they made a mistake in the garden. It’s OK to make mistakes when you’re gardening. I once said, and still believe, that you’re not a real gardener until you’ve killed 100 plants. Or 1,000. Or 1,000,000. Just garden.

Debra Lee Baldwin reflects, ahem, on gardening and April Fools jokes.

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Doug Jimerson

Here Comes The Judge

As a lifelong gardener, I’ve always enjoyed growing new and different plants in my garden. That’s why I jumped at the chance to be one of the judges at the trial gardens of Costa Farms in Homestead, Florida. Last week, I spent a full day walking up and down their trial beds grading hundreds of new plant introductions. Judging categories included: growth/uniformity, foliage appeal, flower power/size, and consumer appeal. Plants in the trials included entries from all the big plant companies including Ball, Syngenta, Dummen, Sakata, Ecke, Proven Winners, Benary, Fafard, Gro Link and more. There were three other judges also hard at work in the Florida sun: Delilah Onofrey from Greenhouse Grower

The Trial Gardens of Costa Farms

The Trial Gardens of Costa Farms

magazine, Heather Will-Browne from Disney, and Jim Barrett from the Environmental Horticulture Department at the University of Florida. Each one of us was chosen because we could bring a particular point of view to the results. Some of my favorite newcomers included the Bandana series of lantana from Syngenta, ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia from Gro Link, ‘Sunbathers Gold Coast’ gazania from Ecke, the Arctic series of lobelia, the ‘Sweetunia Soft Pink Morning’ petunia, and the Empress series of verbena from Dummen, the ‘Shock Wave Coconut’ petunia and ‘Breathless White’ euphorbia from Ball, ‘Siam Moon’ and ‘Pink Heart’ caladiums from the Foremost Co., the Sunpatiens series of impatiens from Sakata, ‘Snow Princess’ alyssum and ‘Emerald Lace’ ornamental sweet potato from Proven Winners, and an assortment of new and exciting succulents from Costa Farms. And these are just the ones that stand out in my memory. Frankly, the majority of new plants we viewed performed well, so choosing the very best wasn’t too easy. Now, I can’t wait for them to show up at my local garden centers.

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