Follow by Email

Meadow Muffin Gardens logo

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Holiday Quick Breads, Entertaining, Gifts

Home baked goods are always welcome on any party table or in a gift basket. Recipients of such thoughtful offerings just know a little touch of love is sprinkled into every batch.

Pumpkins, apples, dates, nuts and cranberries are tradition in holiday festivities and what better and easier way to use them than for quick breads. Below are the recipes for an apple bread, a pumpkin cranberry bread, a date/nut bread and a cranberry orange bread. Quick breads freeze well so you can get some holiday baking done early.


3 cups chopped apples
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts or 1 cup rolled oats
2 tsp vanilla

You'll need two bowls
Peel and chop the apples
Combine the apples and sugar
Let sit for 30 minutes
Add the oil and eggs
Beat well
Combine the flour, baking soda and salt
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients
Stir in the nuts (or oats) and vanilla
Dip into 2 greased loaf pans
Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes
Cool before removing from pans


3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
4 cups flour
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
2 cups pumpkin
4 eggs
2 cups dried cranberries

You'll need a large bowl
Combine the dry ingredients and sift well to blend
Add the oil, water, pumpkin and eggs and mix thoroughly
Fold in the dried cranberries
Pour into 2 greased loaf pans
Bake at 325 degrees for 60 - 70 minutes
Cool before removing from pans


2 cups chopped dates
2 cups boiling water
2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts

You'll need three bowls
Pour boiling water over dates and baking soda
Set aside
Beat eggs and sugar
Blend in the oil and vanilla
Combine the flour and baking powder
Add dry ingredients alternately with the date mixture to the batter
Fold in the nuts
Pour into 2 greased loaf pans
Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes
Cool before removing from pans


2 cups sugar
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking soda
2 tbsp grated orange rind
2 beaten eggs
4 tbsp melted butter
1 cup orange juice
4 tbsp hot water
1 1/2 cup chopped nuts or raisins
2 cups cut up cranberries

You'll need one large bowl
Combine the dry ingredients
Make a hole in the center and add the eggs and wet ingredients
Blend well
Fold in the nuts (or raisins) and the cranberries
Pour into two greased loaf pans
Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes
Cool before removing from pans

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


This little cookie nugget is the perfect grab and go morning meal for those who say they just don't have time for breakfast. Loaded with hearty ingredients that will hold you over without the empty calories of typical baked goods.

The prep time on the recipe said 10 minutes, but it took me 15 minutes just to gather together all the ingredients! With 14 ingredients your counter will be crowded but what a win win for a cookie. There is oat flour rather than wheat. There is only a fraction of the usual sugar called for and the type used is brown sugar rather than white. There is no added fat such as unhealthy shortening. The fat comes from peanut butter and needed moisture comes from pumpkin. Rolled oats help hold it all together and additional taste and sweetness come from dried cranberries and coconut.

Basically, this sounds like a granola shaped into a more portable form. Not sweet at all, it is still tasty and delicious, great with milk or coffee. Perfect for morning but also wonderful for the lunchbox or after school snack

These cookies are chewy rather than crispy. They freeze well and are good warmed up, still half frozen or room temperature from the cookie jar.

By Sarah@The Gold Lining Girl

1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup oat flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt

In a large bowl, whisk together the above dry ingredients

1 1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1/4 cup melted peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

In another bowl, whisk together the above wet ingredients
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Fold in the nuts, coconut and cranberries

Drop by spoonfuls onto either parchment lined or greased baking sheets
Bake at 350 degrees
10 minutes for small cookies or 12 - 14 minutes for large cookies
Cookies are ready when lightly browned
Remove to wire racks to cool
Store in a cool, airtight container

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower...A Butterfly Garden Must Have

Just as the yellows of sunflower season begin to fade, late summer unfolds the bold orange of Tithonia or Mexican Sunflower (rotundifolia). Beautiful and plentiful orange 3" wide daisy-like flowers on long stems, this plant makes for a spectacular backdrop in the garden or beautiful against a barn or fence.


A butterfly gardeners dream, Mexican Sunflowers attract several types of butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and later, seed loving birds. To further encourage butterflies to your garden, plant not only sunflowers for nectar, but Butterfly Weed or Common Milkweed for the caterpillars. Since the bloom time is late summer, the timing is perfect for traveling monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico for the winter.


Native to Mexico and Central America, Tithonia is a late season annual that will gladly thrive in a home garden as long as it gets enough sun, not too rich soil and not what they call wet feet. Not exactly drought tolerant, Tithonia is more of a water meter. During hot spells they can wilt a bit if not getting enough water. If given too much fertilizer (nitrogen) you'll get a lot of foliage growth and height but a lack of flowers. Since they can reach 6 - 8 feet tall, strong winds can topple them over, but unless the roots are actually pulled out of the ground, often they'll bend a bit to continue reaching upwards towards the sun. Some people pinch them back while young to encourage a more bushy look rather than height to lessen the risk of broken branches or falling over in a storm. Though not required, deadheading will prolong the blooming time and avoid their looking straggly by late season. In general, these flowers are survivors.

You can buy already started plants from the nursery in the spring, but these flowers are easy to start from seed. Two things to remember are to not plant too early and not to plant too deep. Here in zone 6 I wait till June to plant these heat loving sunflowers. They need light to germinate so barely cover with soil. These sunflowers are multi-branched so they need room to do their best. Thin out the plants to be about 36 - 48 inches apart. By October the flowers will start going to seed which are relished by the birds. Also, the dropped seed will happily return to reseed in the spring.

Tithonia is named for Tithonus, a Trojan prince who, in Greek Mythology, was the love of Eos, the goddess of the dawn.

By mid-October these beauties are a good 6 feet but soon to go to seed

Below is the tale of where Tithonia got its name:

Eos and Tithonus (A Greek Myth)
by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

Long ago the goddess Eos fell in love with Ares, the god of war, and like so many others, he could not resist the beauty of this goddess of the dawn. Rosy-fingered Eos dressed in long robes of saffron, and sitting upon her throne she glimmered and cast a look upon Ares he could not resist.
Alas, Aphrodite heard news of Ares' love, and bursting with jealousy, she cast a curse upon Eos: The goddess of the dawn would never stop falling in love.

And so it was that time after time, Eos fell in love with mortal men. This was a sad fate for a goddess, for mortal men do not live forever as goddesses do. But of all the tales of heartbreak, there was no sadder story than the tale of Tithonus.

Tithonus was a proud young man, a prince of Troy, handsome and brave, and the moment Eos saw him, she fell deeply in love. That was her way, but this time she decided she must carry him away with her, and so she brought him to her palace, away from his homeland.

Naturally Tithonus loved Eos. Who could resist the love of such a beautiful goddess? Just as she does today, in those years long ago, Eos woke the world each morning with curling rings of light, and every morning she mystically brought the world out of darkness. Whenever Tithonus looked at her, he felt a glow, the way so many people feel at dawn -- as buoyant as an April morning on those days when the first buds begin to bloom.

Tithonus and Eos lived together happily, and they had two sons, Memnon and Emathion, who also became famous among men and gods. All seemed well, but as time passed, Eos remembered something she had forgotten: Mortals do not live forever.

Eos began to mourn the future. How would she survive without her love? She could not imagine such a life, and so she asked the greatest god of all, Zeus, to grant Tithonus immortality.
"Please," Eos pleaded, "let my beloved Tithonus live forever." Her eyes filled with tears, her skin flushed, and even Zeus was moved, and so he granted her request.
Now Tithonus was immortal.

Never was there a happier man. Loved by a beautiful goddess, he was a proud father and ruler of a bountiful land, and Eos too was joyful, but they hadn't realized one thing.
Tithonus would live forever, but even Zeus did not have the power to make him a god. And so, as time passed, Tithonus, like all mortals, began to age. First Eos noticed the wrinkles upon his brow, and as the years passed, his muscles began to grow weak, his arms and legs grew slender, his hair grew gray and thin. Even the light of his beloved Eos no longer gave him the strength it once had.
When Eos understood Tithonus's fate, the sight of him filled her with such sadness that she could not bear to look at him. So she left him alone and traveled, falling in love with others.

Eos fell in love with other mortal men and other gods, and when she returned to Tithonus she would see her once-handsome beloved withering away. Day after day, he grew older. Like a shadow he roamed silent palaces of the gods of the east, thinking of long-ago days, remembering Eos' wish for his immortality, and ashamed of his desire for it.

How arrogant he had been. He hadn't thought of the future. In his youth he had never even imagined waste, and now here he was wasting away. Even love and beauty and power could not save him. Soon he wanted to be like other mortal men. He wished for the return of the natural order of life.

Some mornings when a soft breeze parted the clouds, he looked down at the dark world where he had once lived, and again he looked at Eos. Seeing her mysterious glimmering face and her exquisite light, he remembered the way she had once loved him. He watched with longing as the gloomy darkness below parted, and the rosy light of his beloved Eos warmed the world. This made him still sadder, for her warmth and glow were now lost to him, and he began to sing, "Give me back my mortality." But even the gods could not grant this request.

And now the rosy shadows of Eos bathed him in coldness as he looked down at his wrinkled feet, and cried out to Eos: "Every morning you renew your beauty, but I am a fool, a fool who desired to be different from his fellow men, and now I cry to you, forever. I will never stop singing this song. I sit here remembering what I cannot be."

Eos could bear this no longer, and so she used her powers to transform this shell of a man into a cicada. She watched as he emerged from the ground, his body pale but fresh as he shed his old skin, wings spreading where once there were arms, and that voice, singing on, and on, and on.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tobacco Flower, Heirloom Nicotiana Alata, Jasmine in the Air

By the end of the summer season when many of our annuals are petering out, the stately tobacco flower will be just coming into its own! A majestic plant named for the 16th century French diplomat Jean Nicot, he once believed it was a cure-all for just about everything. While historically the leaves were used as a relaxant, it is now known to be highly addictive so fell out of favor medicinally. However, it does make for a great pesticide. Soak the dried leaves to make like a tea and then put in a foliage sprayer to apply to your garden plants.

Gardeners looking for the large, old-fashioned heirloom Tobacco Flowers won't find what they're looking for at a nursery. These tall, Jasmine smelling, night blooming beauties need to be grown from seed which can be found through seed banks or catalogs. "Only the Lonely" and  "Perfume White" are good varieties. The seeds may reseed themselves on their own or you can save those seeds and replant in the spring (wait till about 2 weeks after the last frost date for your area).

Technically a perennial, Nicotiana alata, is grown as an annual in areas with a colder winter. Flowering tobacco belongs to the nightshade or solanaceae family. Since it is in the same family as potatoes and eggplant, don't plant near each other or there is a greater chance for the pests, hornworms and flea beetles, to have a feast. Should you have a problem with flea beetles, (pin holes in the foliage) try floating row covers while the plants are young and/or diatomaceous earth. If you have plants that seem to just loose their foliage, it is probably the tobacco hornworm. Large healthy plants won't actually die from these green caterpillars, so if you want the hummingbird moths to later visit your night blooming flowers, you cannot kill all the caterpillars. But if you must kill them, hand pick them off or apply bacillus thuringiensis.

Tobacco Flower at its full size
Tobacco Flower five petaled tubular flowers
Nicotiana seeds germinate quickly in warm soil and being so small, just barely cover when planting. Choose an area with full sun and rich soil. The tall type of tobacco flower grows a good 5 feet tall and don't bloom till late in the season. The garden pack varieties are small, compact and are bred to flower even while still in the nursery packs. What they have in color, they lack in fragrance. If you want the sweet scent of jasmine, you need to plant the heirloom type, Nicotiana alata. The leaves are large as you'd expect from the tobacco plant. Fuzzy and sticky, the flowers look like long trumpets with a flare on the ends which are actually five petals.

Though nicotiana likes full sun for best growth, the flowers tend to droop in the heat and wait to perk up in the cool of the evenings. Some shade is tolerated in areas with really hot summers.
Plant in an area where you can enjoy them at night. Spending time outdoors on summer evenings is wonderful with the intoxicating scent of jasmine in the air.

The flowers are a great attraction to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds during the day and moths during the evening.

Two good sources for getting your seed are Select Seeds and Renee's Garden

Once the flowers fade and go to seed, it is easy to save the seed. Below is a video showing how to gather and save tobacco flower seeds.

Tobacco Flowers going to seed

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Jewelweed...Can Native Species Be Labeled An Invasive Plant?

 Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is actually a wild native Impatiens to North America.  Also called Touch-Me-Not or Orange Balsam, this wildflower is a fun plant and often one of the first people learning to identify wildflowers can easily recognize. The flowers are a speckled orange and look like little trumpets. Personally, I think they resemble little shrimp. Preferring damp to wet soil, Jewelweed can grow to 4 - 5 feet tall and even before flowering in late summer, it isn't difficult to identify by its stalks, stems and leaves. The stalks are a lovely light green shade and after a rain, the droplets seems to lay on the surface. 

Should you find this plant after exposure to poison ivy or stinging nettles, break off the stems and crush them in your hands. You'll see that the stems are hollow and contain the itch relieving juice inside. Apply like a poultice to the areas of exposure for relief.

Children love to play with those little trumpets but actually they have a second kind of flower not usually noticed. There are tiny flowers without any petals that don't open but form the seeds. At the end of the summer season when they are ripe, the slightest disturbance sends the seed flying, very amusing for any age group. 

There are many articles out there calling this plant an invasive. Technically they aren't an invasive species in North America, but can be invasive, if that makes sense. They are native to North America, especially in the Northeast, but spread with such enthusiasm that many people consider them a pest. If they like their location they will spread and happily take over the space of other plants. What is nice to control this is to simply pull them out. They have shallow roots and gardeners just have to pull them where they aren't wanted, no gloves needed to get a grip as is the case with many plants considered weeds. 

Hopefully people encourage a natural habitat spot in their landscaping because these flowers are adored by bees, butterflies and birds. Insects need the nectar and the birds love the seeds. 

Exposure to poison ivy or stinging nettles is never planned so it is a good idea to have a remedy on hand. You don't want to push off applying something to appease the itch or you'll end up with oozing blisters and the tendency to spread. Jewelweed infused in apple cider vinegar is a perfect home remedy that works. Lavender essential oil is added for its healing properties to help with inflammation and harm done from scratching.

Once you learn what a wild plant is called and its beneficial uses, oftentimes attitudes change and it isn't just a weed. By September Jewelweed is in full bloom and brightens up roadsides, hedgerows and wet areas.

The natural world is a fascinating place and it is wonderful if children are introduced at a young age and learn to appreciate and take notice of it all.

Here is a good article all about "leaves of three, let it be" 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Passion for Patchouli


A first introduction to Patchouli (Pogostemon Cablin or Pogostemon Patchouli) is often met with a description of it having a definite earthy scent to it. So just what does that mean, that it smells like dirt? No, it smells like nature and that is a wonderful thing. Some describe it as musty and too strong and others think of it as exotic and perfect in that it's lingering scent reaches deep into the emotions.

Patchouli has been used in incense and fragrance oils for centuries. It brings a sense of the sacredness of life and the need to care for our earth and everything in it. It helps us realize that to just "be" and do nothing at times is a good thing, that contemplating has a purpose and helps one get focused for action.

It is simply not true that the main reason the "hippies" of the 1960's and 1970's loved patchouli was that it covered up the scent of marijuana. Patchouli symbolized the love of nature and the escape from what was called the "establishment". The younger generation developed different ideas and ideals which were often met with labeling and indifference from the older age groups.

The essential oil of Patchouli is extracted by steam distillation of the leaves. All the benefits and uses for this plant are amazing. It is an antiseptic, aphrodisiac, astringent, deodorant, fungicide, insecticide, sedative, antidepressant, diuretic and boosts healing and the metabolism by stimulating the generation of new cells.

Patchouli has long been used to protect clothes and fabrics from insect damage.

The essential oil protects wounds from developing infection.

By inhibiting fungal growth, patchouli can help with problems such as Athlete's Foot.

Containing patchoulene, patchouli soothes inflammation, therefore can help externally with skin conditions as well as internally with the pain from arthritis.

By stimulating the release of pleasure hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, patchouli helps with feelings of sadness, anxiety and simply feeling better.

By stimulating hormones, estrogen and testosterone, patchouli can boost indifference and lack of interest in the sex drive.

By contracting blood vessels, patchouli stimulates contractions in muscles, nerves and skin. This helps with the symptoms of aging we see in the skin. Wonderful for use in face and body creams and lotions.

The strong, musky aroma of patchouli helps eliminate or mask body odor and it's lingering scent helps the protection last.

By soothing inflammation and calming to the nerves, patchouli helps relax the body in order to get a good night's sleep.

For more information on any of the below items, just click on the listing underneath the picture.

Body Spray

Body Butter

Body Lotion

Solid Perfume

Bath Oil
Bath Salts

Body Powder

Gift Basket

Monday, June 12, 2017

Summer Nights and No Fireflies...What's Happening to Them?

Summer is a time for picnics and outdoor parties that often extend into the evening hours. Watching the children running around having a ball with glow sticks got me sadly contemplating on what was missing in this picture. Years ago there were no glow sticks to entertain children after dark. Kids were enchanted with the stars and the magical mystery of fireflies. Some people call them june bugs, others simply call them lightning bugs. What is happening to them?

Just as with the bees, the answer lies with habitat loss, and pesticide use, but there is another factor and it is called light pollution.

These insects aren't flies, they are actually beetles, and that glow comes from a chemical reaction. 
Both male and female fireflies use their flashing lights to communicate. Their language of light is used to attract mates, ward off predators and defend their territory. Too much light caused by streetlights, car lights and suburbia in general, interrupts the sync of firefly flash patterns. Difficulty for fireflies to signal each other results in fewer larvae being born with every passing season.

Open fields and forests, waterways and bogs, are all disappearing as development makes its slow crawl across what was once uninterrupted habitats. Most species of fireflies thrive as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter at the margins of ponds and streams. As they go through their life cycle, most stay around where they were born. The environment of choice is warm with areas of wet spots.

The female lays about 500 eggs in sheltered areas that contain damp soil. After about a month the tiny larva hatch and begin feeding as they get ready for the next stage when they become pupae. The larval period can last from one to three years. During this stage the fireflies look like small worms and crawl along the ground. They are carnivorous and eat worms, snails and slugs by injecting a digestive enzyme and then sucking out the liquid. When big enough, the larvae digs into the ground and goes through the pupae stage. It forms a hard exterior shell that is what we are familiar with when we see them. This stage of metamorphosis takes them to the adult firefly which emerges in early summer. Once adults, the fireflies only live another few weeks. They may or not even eat during this short span. The purpose is to find mates and reproduce. So if light pollution creates enough of a problem to interfere with this process, these adults won't have the time to mate and lay their eggs before their life span ends.

This little video shows the life cycle of the firefly:

There are ways we can make a difference for these little guys. Make your own difference where you live. Avoid the use of herbicides and pesticides. Don't feel every part of your landscape has to be under control. Let spots naturalize to provide the habitats needed for all the stages of life. Learn what invasive species are a problem in your area and remove them to encourage the natives to thrive. Unless you have good reason for outdoor lighting to shine throughout the night, turn it off.

Children don't miss what they've never seen. Fireflies bring a sense of magic to our world and it would be a real loss to lose them.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Man's World of Body Care

Men and women often feel they need their own personal, body care products and the paths of those products shall not cross. Actually that is a marketing ploy and clutters up your cabinets. Many personal and hygiene items can easily be shared by both men and women and you don't need a separate type item for every little purpose.

The attempts to get away from the hype of slick advertisements trying to have you believe you need this and this and this can be a challenge. In today's day and age men are taking better care of themselves and more conscious of what they put onto and into their bodies. Awareness is the first step to educating ourselves on just what is in our hygiene and body care products. Read labels, do your research on just what are those ingredients you cannot pronounce,  be aware of potential harm from synthetics and chemical ingredients, be aware of the use of animal testing, and finally, understand just what that term "natural" is saying or isn't saying.

It may be very surprising to learn just how vague the labeling laws are in the perfume and cosmetics industry. Unlike the food industry, there are no legal standards for organic or natural personal care products sold in the United States.

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to you and your family's health. The skin is our body's largest organ, and anything we apply to ourselves enters through the layers of skin into the bloodstream. Yes, the old saying about "anything in moderation" is true with most things, but...The cosmetic industry claims the amount of these ingredients are not high enough to pose a threat, but the problem lies in the fact that we use these products day in and day out.  Our kidneys and liver do their best to eliminate toxins but what about those that over time have been stored within the fatty tissues of the skin. The long term effects are a concern. The body reacts by way of allergic and inflammatory reactions, the havoc played on the the endocrine system is not always fully understood and the source of the problems are often hard to pinpoint.

There are several items within the Meadow Muffin Gardens shop that are geared for men, but there are also many items such as these below that can easily be swapped for more than one method of use and by both men, women and even the kids.

A body wash certainly isn't limited to the shower. Containing Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap, Aloe Vera Gel, Jojoba oil and various essential oils, this blend can easily be used as a face wash, a shampoo and even a shaving gel. Put into a foaming pump bottle, application is less wasteful without losing some between your fingers and down the drain.
Body Wash, Shaving Cream

A conditioning hair oil isn't just for women! Men can have dry, brittle hair as well, whether they wear their hair long or short. This Jojoba oil blend does make an excellent dry hair treatment, but it's use certainly doesn't have to stop there. Hair isn't limited to our heads alone!
Bearded men need to take care of their facial hair and the delicate skin beneath. Jojoba oil is unique in that it is very similar to the sebum of our own skin, therefore it makes a great hair and skin conditioner.
Hair Oil, Beard Oil
Men may or may not use an after shave balm to moisturize the skin and help with razor irritation. This Shea butter and Coconut oil blend is listed as a body butter, but it can be used for so much more. Whipped to a fluff consistency, this moisturizer can be used anywhere you need it, be on the face, hair or even on that balding head. Some use such a blend as a shaving cream, but if you do so, realize that you are washing fats down the drain. I don't know how good doing that on a regular basis is for the drain pipes.

Face, Body Moisturizer, After Shave Balm

Concerns over the safety of sun screens has people looking into alternatives. The choice we have is between "chemical" sunscreens which contain questionable, potentially hormone disrupting ingredients, and "mineral" sunscreens which contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. This lotion is listed as a sun block, not a sun screen. It hasn't been evaluated by the FDA, therefore there hasn't been testing done to establish an actual SPF factor. However, the ingredients used all contain their own natural properties to help block the harmful rays of the sun.

Balding men or those who choose to shave their heads need to protect their scalps from sun damage. The purpose of our hair is to protect the scalp and without hair, the skin can easily burn. This sunblock is good for anywhere on the body but using a bit on the scalp before heading out without a baseball cap is a wise idea.

Sunblock Lotion, Bald Head Care

Personal care items make great gift ideas for Father's Day, Holidays and Birthdays. You can easily custom create your own gift basket or make substitutions for one or more items already part of a listing such as those shown below.

Basket idea for those who love the outdoors, gardening, sports, hunting, fishing

Basket idea for the needs of men

Come visit!
Meadow Muffin Gardens
Etsy shop

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Air Plant Success...Even With Cats

Love the idea of plants around the home or office but don't want to deal with taking proper care of them or tired of trying to keep your cat from chewing on the leaves or making a mess of the soil?
Welcome the ease of air plants, low maintenance plants that grow without soil! 

They get all of the water and nutrients they need through their leaves. Each leaf is covered in smooth or sometimes hairy scales known as trichomes which have the special ability to absorb water and nutrients. What roots they do have are used only for anchoring themselves to rocks, trees or other means of a support.

Known as tillandsia, these plants are a type of bromeliad and come from areas of the southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America. In their native setting, they thrive in areas receiving bright, but filtered sunlight, warmer temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and good circulation.

Sounds easy enough, so what are we doing wrong that they end up dying anyway?

Ok, so we try again with a new order of plants.

They arrive and we follow the directions, yet again, pondering what we did wrong the last time: Unpack them and submerge them in a warm water bath for about 30 minutes. Shake a bit to remove excess water and let dry for about 4 hours. Plan to put them in an east, south or west facing window, somewhere with bright but filtered sunlight. A bathroom is nice since the plants can take advantage of the humidity generated from our showers. A screened in porch during the warmer months would be great. Somewhere where they'll get enough light but not at risk of too much direct sun baking and drying them out which is stressful if not kept hydrated.

While air plants can survive periods of drought and are forgiving, they won't thrive if moisture isn't adequate. There are many crafty ideas that have air plants glued to boards or stuck in bottles and the directions just say to mist them once in a while with a spray bottle. That is fine for the regular 2 - 3 times a week watering but ideally they should be soaked every 2 - 3 weeks for a half hour or at least run water over them thoroughly. Plants in bloom should be just rinsed rather than soaked. This means the plants need to be taken off of or out of whatever means we have them displayed. 

Recognize signs that your plants need water. If they are looking shriveled or getting dry tips or brown outer leaves, they need to be hydrated. Before tossing a seemingly dried up plant, try soaking in warm water for a few hours and observe if it plumps up and regains some green.

Too much of a good thing is lethal as well. Once a plant shows signs of rot it can literally fall apart and is often too late. Also, be sure to water during the daytime rather than in the evening. The plants need circulation and light in order to dry adequately. 

Even though there are plenty of Pinterest photos of really neat ideas for air plants, I've learned through loss that they really don't do well on the wall or as part of home or office decor unless they are actually at or near a window. They can do well with indoor lighting, but it has to be full-spectrum fluorescent lighting, not incandescent bulbs. The plants should be no more than 3 feet from the light source and receive about 12 hours of light a day. 

Finally, the death of many an air plant comes when discovered by a cat.
These light, little things are no match for the delightful play of being tossed around by bored house cats. So, after I had the perfect cute little containers in which to display my new baby plants, I found them missing, only to later reappear shriveled and disheveled when I vacuumed. Ok, let's try again but put them inside bottles where I thought they wouldn't even be noticed much less reachable...wrong. Little paws are good at fishing them out anyway. Well now I hope I have a solution.

I put them onto a wreath that I hung on the inside of a glass door. They're facing indoors so the wreath itself protects them from direct exposure to the sun, yet they get plenty of light all day long. I wanted to be able to take them down for their watering so didn't want to actually attach them to the wreath. And best of all, the cats cannot reach them!

I started with one of those wire wreath frames. Wrapped around that frame is burlap that you can get on a roll. The burlap is wrapped around the metal frame (a straw wreath would work great too), overlapping the edges as it goes around and around. Wrap tightly to avoid bulges and use a safety pin to secure the end when done, and then hot glue down the edge of the burlap roll. You can use your own creativity in sprucing up your wreath, but I just happened to have one of those artificial berry garlands that are used to drape mantels and doorways. This one was about four feet long. I tucked the wire on one end under the gaps from wrapping the burlap and then wound the garland around and around the wreath and tucked the other end under the burlap as well. Add a loop of fabric or ribbon around one of the vines for hanging.

In the past I had made fairy gardens for my kids and saved those tiny little plastic pots from the fairy plants. I hot glued them here and there around the wreath, pressing them firmly onto the burlap. Then viola, they made perfect little homes to just sit my little air plants! Now when its time to water them, I just remove them, plop them in the sink and then either spray them thoroughly or let them soak for 20 minutes. Let them drip off a bit and put them safely back into their little pots!

So time will tell!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Annual Flowers for Container Gardening

By the time spring rolls around, many of us are more than ready to jump full swing into the planting season. Just don't be overly anxious and not pay attention to the end frost dates for your zone. Though we have some beautifully warm days, it is the nighttime temperatures you have to worry about. Plants that get nipped by frost may be killed outright or be stunted. If you do want to get a jump start on your plants, at least pay attention to frost warnings and cover your plants at night with a sheet to protect them.

Here in zone 6 the general rule for gardening is to wait till April 15th and for those tender annuals to wait till around Mother's Day.

Yard sales, flea markets and estate sales start up again with warmer weather and offer the perfect opportunities to take advantage of searching out inexpensive "finds" for your planting containers.
You can get creative with the arrangement utilizing various containers for your plants. Keep an eye out at farm sales or flea markets for old galvanized pots and wash tubs. I save those flexible black nursery pots that young trees come in to use inside the larger tubs. You can just fill the tub itself with potting soil and plant directly in them but realize how heavy those tubs will be to move around. Also, come the end of the season it is so much easier to just lift the smaller pots out then to try to empty the tub to store for the winter. To leave the dirt in the tub encourages the bottom to rust and eventually break through. As the plants grow and fill in the plastic pots will be hidden from view.

Though tempting to just go to the nursery and buy a little of everything, it is best to have a plan. Below are photos and a little info about several great annuals for container gardening. When you research your container or window box plantings, keep in mind three things: thrillers, fillers, and spillers.

First shown here is the African Daisy, a tough plant that can tolerate drought and poor soil. It has a profusion of brightly colored flowers all season.  Pinching early in the season encourages a bushy plant and deadheading as the season progresses encourages new growth. Full sun to partial shade. Grows to about 1 foot.
     Osteospermum or African Daisy

Ageratum or Floss Flower does well in sun to partial shade. They don't like to dry out so water regularly. Very pretty in mass plantings, these bushy flowers get anywhere from 6 to 24 inches tall, depending on their type. Pinching them back will encourage branching out and remove the spent flowers to keep them producing new flowers.

            Ageratum or Floss Flower

Lantana can tolerate neglect. If put right into the ground this butterfly, bird and hummingbird attraction will grow into shrub like proportions. In a pot you'll have to pinch and prune to keep it shapely. Preferring slightly acidic soil, pine needles added to the pot will help.


Heliotrope not only smells wonderful, but is loved by hummingbirds and beneficial insects. Deer leave it alone. Prefers sun to partial shade. Will follow the sun like does the sunflower. Heat brings out the fragrance so put where it'll get the hot afternoon sun. Pinch in the spring and deadhead as the season goes along. Gets 1 - 2 ft high and wide. Heliotropes can be brought indoors over the winter.

              Heliotrope or Cherry Pie plant

Nicotiana, or Tobacco flower, are wonderful night bloomers to attract Sphinx moths. Shown here is the smaller type not known for its scent. If you want the type with the large white tubal flowers that emit a wonderful sweet fragrance in the evening, plant N. sylvestris directly in the soil, as these are much bigger plants. Tubular flowers attract hummingbirds. Prefers sun to shade and well drained soil. If ingested the plant is toxic. Reseeds easily.

           Nicotiana or Tobacco flower

Salvia blooms it spiky flowers all season, attracts butterflies and pollinators, and the deer leave it alone. Grows 1 - 2 feet tall and likes sun to partial shade. If plant looks tired by midsummer prune it back by a third.

            Salvia or Sage for some types

Nemesia prefers a cooler climate, so once the heat of summer kicks in, blooming will decrease. Chop them back by one-third and they will bounce back. Available in a wide array of colors, they are one of the fillers. Keep it well watered and cut back to keep the blooms coming.


Actually a tender perennial, Lobelia looks beautiful for a while then will peter out by midsummer. You can cut it back by half and it will rebound, or you can just let the neighboring plants fill in the gaps as they grow. Lobelia prefers more shade if grown in very hot and sunny climates such as the South. Color shades range from blue to purple to pink and white. Pictured here it is blue.


New Guinea Impatiens have beautiful foilage and flowers. They love the sun, unlike the impatiens we select for shady areas. Low maintenance flowers that reach about a foot tall and wide. Great for containers.

               New Guinea Impatiens

Calibrachea, trailing 1 inch petunias that bloom profusely until they slowly peter out by late summer. They come in a choice of colors ranging from yellow, peach, pink and purple. Keep them well watered. Like the ever popular annual petunias of which we are so familiar, these beautiful flowers prefer full sun and offer a fabulous array of color.


Bidens is a trailing yellow flowered plant that is both heat and drought resistant. Looks great with many container plantings. Loves the sun. Deadheading will encourage continuous bloom. In mild climates Bidens easily reseeds itself.

Diamond Frost Euphorbia is a light airy plant with little white flowers great to use to fill in the gaps. Tiny, delicate leaves and flowers adorn this 12 to 18 in. plant which looks a bit like Baby's Breath.


Trailing Verbena, a trailing perennial often planted as an annual can grow to 12 inches tall and 2 feet wide. The leaves are medium to dark green, ovate in shape with coarse toothed margins and grow to one inch long and half as wide. Beautiful plant as it spills over the edges of its pot, basket or over rocks. Colors options are in the red, pink and purple range.

Trailing Verbena

Bacopa is one of the spillers. It is low growing, reaching no more than 6 - 12 inches. Great for trailing over baskets or rock walls and filling in gaps under larger plants. Likes sun to partial shade.


Sweet Potato Vine is grown for its trailing green or magenta foilage, both of which blend beautifully with other plants for container planting. Does well in sun or some shade. These ornamental types will not produce actual sweet potatoes.

                         Sweet Potato Vine

Thumbergia or Black-Eyed Susan Vine is such a colorful and well-behaved trailing vine. The yellow to orange flowers with their dark brown tubular centers are interesting to look at. This plant is great when a vine is desired but not one that is overly aggressive. Does best in full sun.

Thumbergia or Black - Eyed Susan Vine

Last we have the accent plants, such as Fountain Grass, Bloodgrass or Dracaena Spikes. Planting either of these in the center of a pot can really add the height and focal point to the arrangement.
Utilizing height, filling in the gaps, and the spilling effect brings it all together.


                           Dracaena Spike

Sweet Potato Vine
Fountain Grass
Dracaena spikes
New Guinea Impatiens