Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

Posts by Whitney Curtis

If you’ve ever wandered into your local garden center and been overwhelmed with the selection of tools and gadgets, you are not alone! With an abundance of options, it can be overwhelming to start your collection of garden tools. I think there are just a few essentials you need to grab as you get started, and the rest will come with time and experimentation!

Garden trowel - A basic garden trowel for planting and digging, this one will be your constant companion in the garden!

Potting scoop - Make it easy on yourself and don’t try to use a trowel as a scoop! I’ve done it many times and I end up with spilled dirt everywhere. Plus, there’s a fun story behind this particular scoop – Shawna had a hand in its creation!

Hand hoes – Two types of hand hoes that are both great for breaking up tough soil, one with sharp teeth for and one that’s skinny for tight spaces.

Bulb planter – When you plant your bulbs this fall, you’ll be glad to have an easy bulb planter around. Just stick it in the ground and pull it out for the exact right hole size!

Hand fork – Great for weeding and loosening the soil. I’ve been known to dig with mine when I’m too lazy to grab a trowel!

Images from Garden Tool Co.

I’ve mentioned here before how I use a gardening journal to keep track of what I’ve planted, where I planted and how plants fare in my garden. Here’s how I use mine and a few tips if you’d like to start a garden journal of your own. It’s always been really helpful to look back on these notes!


1. Save Your Tags

I have three types of gardenias in various places around my garden and sometimes I need to reference which ones are in which places. Someday I might want to add another plant of the same variety or if one plant dies I will need to know the what kind it was so I can replace it easily. Plus, some annuals have done much better than others, so I keep track of which pansies or calibrachoas are my favorites. I promise, it makes everything easier!

garden journal the curtis casa

2. What You Planted Where

Last year I planted a beautiful, bushy bleeding heart beside a lovely old bench in my garden. It was a lovely scene for a few months until winter came and bit everything back. Then this spring, I had almost completely forgotten about it when I noticed a bleeding heart that was blooming in a friends’ garden. Where was mine?! I checked everywhere as soon as I got home. My precious bleeding heart was no where to be found! I have no idea what happened to it and I’m so disappointed. It’s good to know though, when you plant something and it doesn’t come back, so that you avoid making the same mistake twice. I’ll likely try again with a bleeding heart, in a different location this time.


 3. Sunlight

I like to keep track of how much sunlight different areas of my garden get during all the seasons. The backyard, except for early spring, can only be defined as one word: shady. But I have one sunny garden bed (you can see it here) that gets plenty of light around mid-day. When I was first starting my garden, I used to run outside and check if the sun had popped over my neighbors roof yet or if it had fallen down behind the trees across the street to set. I wanted to keep track of the sunlight so I’d know what type of plants would do best in that environment.

4. Nostaglia

When we started our garden plans, there was literally nothing in our yard. Since we were starting from nothing, it was easy to write down our plan. We planted three ligustrum shrubs for structure, a little Solomon’s Seal here, groups of hostas there, and a few ferns sprinkled in between. These plants have become the backbone of my garden and I love to look back at sketches of what we planned to do. We’ve created a little haven here and I love seeing how far we’ve come.

(The brick garden path I drew here doesn’t look like this anymore! It had a small brick patio at the end there, but this past spring we got rid of the end “patio” and laid the bricks to continue the winding path around to the right. It’s fun to look back and remember structures of the garden too, not just the plants.)

Now, this reminds me that I need to update my garden journal on our projects from this past spring and summer – what worked and what didn’t and what’s growing and what’s not. Next year, I’ll be glad I took the time to write it down. Do you all keep a gardening journal? What’s most helpful to keep track of? I’d love to hear your suggestions for what I should add!

I love how this relaxing patio packs in so many containers – I see a plethora of succulents, a couple of boxwoods, a tall yucca plant, and even an orange tree tucked away in there! My dream patio would definitely have containers galore, just like this. With plenty of places to sit, the red cushions and lanterns lend an inviting, relaxed look.

To recreate this look, feel free to combine different colors and shapes in your patio furniture. A sleek black chair from Pottery Barn or Ikea looks great paired with the traditional teak furniture pictured above. I love the addition of mismatched, colorful lanterns too. A couple of modern strawberry pots, a succulent bowl and an orange tree complete the look for this container-covered patio! Enjoy!


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One of my all time favorite plants is my perennial begonia. We transplanted it here from my Mom’s garden, who transplanted it from my Great-Aunt Ruby’s garden. It has lovely heart-shaped leaves with tiny pink flowers, spreads very easily, gives great ground cover, thrives in my shady garden (zone 7b), and provides a structured, yet loose look. It’s one of my most prized plants and I’ve never seen it available for purchase!

perennial begonia

The most striking feature though? The undersides of the perennial begonia leaves! The bright red veins really pop against the bright green of the stalks and leaves.

 perennial begonia leaves

perennial begonia flowers

I have perennial begonias lining my pebble stairs and around the garden path. I love the way they bend over into the stairs, reaching out to greet your feet as you walk down into the garden.

perennial begonias

They look beautiful paired with ferns!

perennial begonia and fern

I hope you can get your hands on some perennial begonias in your area – they are definitely a staple in my shady garden!

perennial begonia

Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa


Are your summer months spent traveling and vacationing in and out of town? Weekend road trips or a week at the beach can do some damage to your garden if you’re not careful. We take a lot of weekend trips during the summer and if I go a few weekends in a row hoping it’ll rain or forgetting to ask my neighbor to water, I’m in for dry and disappointing containers!

My herb containers are small so they dry out very quickly. The last time we headed out of town for the weekend, I tried a new method: upside down bottles. I grabbed a few old wine bottles and beer bottles, filled them with water, and stuck them upside down in the soil in my smaller containers. Voila!

The water in the bottle will slowly seep into the soil, keeping the soil and the roots consistently moist for a couple of days. If you’re gone for a whole week, you still might want to ask a neighbor or a friend to check in on your plants! I’ve also started using this method when I’m home, on particularly hot days. My small collection of herbs – basil, parsley, and mint – seem to love it!

Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa

I’ve learned many important lessons about life and plant life since I started gardening a few years ago. There are three tips that always come back and repeat over and over in my mind…

side garden hydrangea and calla

If it’s not thriving, move it. This one must be my Mom’s favorite gardening advice. She casually mentions as she walks by even big shrubs, “if it’s not thriving, just move it!” And she’s right. If a plant isn’t thriving where it is, it’s not magically going to sprout healthy blooms or throw out new, green growth. For whatever reason – sunlight, water, soil condition – the plant isn’t going to make it. You’re better off trying it out in a new spot. If it lives, great! If not, you’ve still got the same sad plant. No harm, no foul. I saw this tip in action last month, actually. I had two dwarf gardenias planted up next to our screened in porch. They happened to be planted next to where the concrete foundation of the porch was creeping into the soil and they never looked healthy – no blooms, no new growth. I kept thinking I’d just give them a little extra fertilizer and one more season and they’d catch on. But Mom wandered by one day and casually mentioned her favorite advice “if it’s not thriving, just move it!” I moved them the next week and BAM! Six blooms and lots of new growth. In a week! Turns out, Mom’s usually right.

Mark it. Last fall, I planted a Virginia Bluebell bulb I ordered from White Flower Farms. I was so excited to receive my first mail-order plant and get it in the ground. I was really ready for those precious blue bell-shaped flowers to lend some much needed color to my early spring shade garden. I knew right where I planted it for about two weeks. The leaves fell and my memory faded. Where exactly, between a hosta and a tree trunk, I planted it was much harder to find six months later. By the next spring, when it was supposed to be blooming, I poked around everywhere for a hint of growth sprouting up. Nothing to be found. I couldn’t find the exact spot so I couldn’t figure out if the root had rotted or been eaten. Lucky for me, Beverly, my childhood nanny turned friend and gardening mentor sent me a four Virginia Bluebells from her own garden. I planted them in a few different places around the garden and the first thing I did was to mark them – even before watering! I’m determined not to lose track of this batch.

It’s better together. This one’s easy. I’ve learned it from Mom, Beverly, and E. Gardening is a hobby better enjoyed in the company of friends and mentors. It’s easier to dig holes, carry containers, shovel the dirt, and even enjoy the blooms… together.

Photo by Whitney of The Curtis Casa
(Side garden: hydrangea, daylily, calla lily)

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