Sometimes, the do-it-yourself projects we attempt do not turn out exactly as seen on the internet or television. At least in my experience.
While editing the 2015 issue of Easy Garden Projects, I watched dozens of DIY ideas materialize into useful and interesting garden improvements under the expert hands of our contributing editors. I vowed to tackle a handful of the projects featured in the magazine to see if my skills matched those of our experts. To start, I picked a project my kids could assist with – plant markers made of polymer clay.
My three elementary-school-aged boys helped me select the colors of polymer clay at the craft store. They also helped roll out the clay (once I kneaded it to soften) and cut out the markers using a template. After arguing over letter stamps and puzzling over the correct spelling of “thyme” they also stamped herb names into the clay. According to the teeny-tiny print on the clay packaging, I baked the finished markers at a low temperature until hard.
The kids were thrilled with the finished product. It doesn’t quite look as perfect as the ones made by Marty Ross and her husband for the Easy Garden Projects photo shoot, but my kids were thrilled with the results.
For detailed instructions and other inspiring ideas, check out Easy Garden Projects, on sale this summer at newsstands across the nation.
Spring is definitely Cardinal Season…and I’m not just speaking for my steadfast baseball-loving friends and family in St. Louis—where I grew up during my junior and senior high school years—but for red-bird-lovers everywhere. Every evening as I walk my good dogs Scout and Finch on the sidewalks of our turn-of-the-century neighborhood here in Central Iowa, I’ve noticed at this time of year that a ruby-red male Northern Cardinal’s defended territory seems to encompass about every other property. There he is, in every other front yard, perched on a prominent branch with his head thrown back and singing his territorial song. The male sings in a loud, clear whistle from the top of a tree or other high location to defend his territory. He will aggressively chase off other males entering his space. The Northern Cardinal learns its songs, and as a result the songs vary regionally. He is able to easily distinguish the sex of another singing Northern Cardinal by its song. So while we were on our stroll the other night, I noticed a pair of cardinals perched in a full-on blooming redbud. The distracted couple didn’t seem to notice me or the dogs from a few feet away as we witnessed an endearing courtship ritual: the red-robed male would flit to the ground and return to his prospective mate with a single seed which he would proceed to feed to her beak-to-beak in a simulated kiss. Mate feeding is thought to be part of the pair-bonding process; it gives the female an inkling of how well her suitor will provide food for their eventual young. Makes sense, right?
So imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox and discovered Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds by Laura Erickson and Marie Read from Storey Publishing (2015). This is such a cool book! I immediately turned to page 177 to find the image above of a courting male Northern Cardinal as he feeds his mate. Organized by species, this book focuses on the details of courtship, mating, and parenting that are so often hidden from our view. With the support of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the authors bring the diverse personal lives of raptors and hummingbirds and woodpeckers and wrens into stunning focus. Buy the book!
Excerpted from Into the Nest (c) Laura Erickson and Marie Read. Photography by (c) Dave Welling. Used with permission of Storey Publishing
Be sure to check out the Today Show this Friday (between 8 and 9 a.m.) and watch Country Gardens build a garden for Tamron Hall’s mother in Texas in honor of Mother’s Day. Editor James A. Baggett and Art Director Nick Crow worked with Tamron to create the garden her mother had always dreamed of…in honor of her late husband. Set your DVRs!
Nothing has served as a better “welcome home” greeting this spring than my Suncatcher tulips. The tulips began blooming in mid-April and continue to dazzle my slowly-waking front yard with petals of brilliant yellow and cherry red. They are the first thing I see as I return home, sparking life into the southwest corner of my front yard where all passers-by stop to admire their rather optimistic cheerfulness projecting above the brown pine needles and hesitant green spikes of new spiderwort.
Last fall, when I hastily poked a dozen holes into the slope of my front garden, I gave little thought to the fat tulip bulbs that had just arrived from Longfield Gardens. Pressed for time, I covered the bulbs with soil and promptly forgot all about them until pops of color announced that winter was over. Even my young sons noticed the tulips after they first bloomed. “They should have named these ‘Rainbow Tulips’” decided my 8-year-old. “Because these tulips have the first three colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow.”
For those who live in the colder climes, where months of gray and brown prevail, a clutch of tulips planted along driveways or front entrances makes an ideal greeting. Returning from work at the end of the day seems like arriving at a little spring party (and shouldn’t it be that way this time of year?).
Our friends at Ball Horticultural invited me to attend their impressive Spring Trials for 2015 at their growing facilities in Santa Paula, California, last week. This is when plant growers and breeders show off their new introductions for next year—and I was given a sneak peak at cool new plants from Ball Flora Plant, Selecta, Ball Ingenuity, Burpee, Wave Pansies, Wave Petunias, PanAmerican Seed, Kieft Seed, Darwin Perennials, and Ball Ornamentals. Here are some of the highlights:
Here’s a sensational new macrophylla hydrangea, L.A. Dreamin’ Hydrangea (Ball Ornamental), the first macrophylla to bloom in blue, pink, and everything in between without any aluminum sulfate or special fertilizer.
This great-looking new Scabiosa Flutter Series (Darwin Perennials) boasts larger blooms, deeper colors, and a superior compact habit. This one is Scabiosa Flutter Deep Blue.
Double Zahara Series Zinnias (PanAmerican Seed) produce fully double flowers and a tidier habit in some really interesting colors, like this new Double Zahara Salmon Rose Zinnia.
Considered a designer collection of grandiflora petunias, the Petunia Sophistica series (PanAmerican Seeds) are a little out of the ordinary with large blooms in special one-of-a-kind colors and patterns. This is Sophistica Lime Bicolor Petunia.
I’ll leave you with a shot I grabbed of a hummingbird feeding on a leucospermum. So nice to spend time with friends Katie Rotella (Ball Horticultural), Jerry Gorshels (PanAmerican Seed), Karl Batschke (Darwin Perennials), and Anna Ball herself, the third-generation leader of Ball Horticultural Company.
Nature-themed books (along with positive outdoor experiences) can initiate a child’s life-long appreciation of nature. Whether employing alluring illustrations or placing wildlife in humorous situations, books can take the outdoors from the mundane into the magical.
Here a few of the titles, some old, some new, that appealed to my three elementary-school aged sons and helped them gain a new consciousness of what lies outside.
I Am a Bunny
By Ole Rissom, illustrated by Richard Scarry
(Random House, 1963)
All three of my boys dearly loved this book when they were toddlers and still regard it with tenderness. The story follows a small brown rabbit in red overalls as he experiences a year in nature. He picks daffodils in spring, reclines in the summer sun to watch the birds, and curls up in his hole in the tree while snow cascades outside. The book sets a charming rhythm to the seasons and the illustrations by Richard Scarry make this book timeless. My sons always lingered on the back of the book, where the bunny is depicted laying in green grass and gazing at a cricket while a variety of other insects gaze down on the bunny.
Children of the Forest
By Elsa Beskow
(Floris Books, 2001)
Though first published in Sweden in 1910, Children of the Forest seems very contemporary (especially considering the popularity of fairy gardens). The sweetly illustrated forest floor hosts a tiny family who live under the curling roots of an old pine tree. The father sports a pinecone cap and mother and children wear white-speckled red caps (so they can pretend to be mushrooms if in danger). This story follows the family through the seasons, richly illustrated with flowers and mosses and ferns. Drama occurs as the children taunt ants (and get stung) and the father battles a snake – the boys loved that scene. But mostly the family as they interact peacefully with the squirrels, bats, frogs, and owls who share their world.
By Paige Braddock
(Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015)
Cecil the toad spends his days with his amphibian friends (and a reincarnating fly) at the pond until he discovers a freeway construction project aimed right at their homes. The creatures band together to try and thwart the project and save their pond in hilariously doomed attempts. My kids laughed out loud when the toad released his stinky self-defense mechanism and when the hawk swooped and dropped pebbles on the bulldozer. All three boys were thoroughly entertained by this comic book-style comedy of endangered wildlife who ultimately win.
Flowers Are Calling
By Rita Gray, Illustrated by Kenard Pak
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)
Gorgeous watercolors depict the symbiotic relationship between flower design and the insects, birds, and bats that collect pollen. It invites appreciation for how plants lure their pollinators with a gentle rhyming text that gave my boys the “Aha!” moment, opening their minds to understanding why flowers look the way they do to attract certain insects and birds. The blooms on the cardon cactus, which are pollinated by nectar bats, particularly intrigued my boys, as did the moonflowers that “called” to the sphinx moths at night.