5 Winter Pick-Me-Ups for Glum Gardeners

Winter has come late to New Mexico this year, and that’s OK with me. The problem is even when it’s sunny in winter, we have fewer projects we can do so we feel productive and in touch with the soil and plants. So I thought about a few ideas to lighten my winter doldrums and decided to share them.

new mexico snow
It’s time to think about strategies to get through winter before the snow hits.

One: Take a drive or hike, or some combination.

As soon as fall hit and gardening slowed down, we began to visit spots we seldom get to see during the growing season. We drove up nearby mountains and about an hour away to a walk among stunning petroglyphs. My mood improves from endorphins and simply being outside. And we always see a few native plants we’d like to identify, even if they’re at the end of their growing season.

three rivers petroglyph
Petroglyphs, native plants and endless sky all improve the winter gardener’s mood. This was taken at BLM’s Three Rivers Petroglyph Site near Tularosa, N.M.

Two: Grow a winter-blooming indoor plant.

Aside from the pretty holiday mascot, the poinsettia, you can grow a Christmas cactus or amaryllis. I received a beautiful gift of paperwhites (Narcissus) in a clear glass bowl one year. One of these days, I’ll try to force my own. And if you have a warm, sunny window, why not bring in a few of your potted plants? Geraniums can continue flowering in the right conditions, and we brought a shade-loving container with coleus and begonias inside. They might get leggy before the winter’s up, but they make me feel more in touch with summer.

Christmas cactus
Our Christmas cactus started blooming before Thanksgiving, coloring our sunny hallway.

Three. Feed birds and other critters.

Leaving the garden a little messy might seem like a bad idea, and it is tough to watch the demise of your favorite stalks and flowers. But birds continue to feed off the seeds of many plants or seeds spread in fall and early winter winds. Once the seeds fade, birds need a little extra help to get through cold winter nights. We hang suet and a sunflower seed feeder and set out raw peanuts for the jays. I want to keep the birds coming so I have something fun to look at from my window when the sky is gray and the garden mostly brown.

Scrub jay with peanut
Scrub and stellar jays fight for peanuts in our garden.

Four. Start a project, like a bee house or raised bed.

Last winter, we replaced the door on our shed, completely revamped a large garden path, created a dry river bed, and took on lots of other fun projects. In fact, we took on so many that we have to come up with some new ones this year. But vegetable gardens might need new or improved fencing or other design and maintenance. Putting in a new paver path or dry river bed are projects that come to mind. You can build a raised bed or make a bee house or butterfly waterer (puddling pool). Or you can repot some of those succulents and other houseplants you tend to neglect in summer.

Hypertufa succulent container
Tim made this hypertufa container and then filled it with succulents last winter.

Five. Make and give garden-related gifts.

Some winter projects turn into gifts for family, friends or co-workers. I don’t have a perfect crafting style, but I know people appreciate gifts from the heart, time and garden. We’ve made lavender sachets, pressed flower arrangements and outdoor lights. You can even pot up some plants in homemade containers.

pressing cosmos in book
I enjoyed pressing fall flowers last year in old text books. Such a pretty and natural gift from a garden.

And on a snowy, cold and dark winter day, spend a little time by the fire drinking an herbal tea and reading a gardening book, magazine or catalog. You can relax, plan and dream!

Savoring Succulents Without Busting the Budget

New gardeners and homeowners or office dwellers with little time can enjoy live plantings with easy-care succulents and air plants. And who knows? Once bitten with the bug, it’s so easy to move on to flowers, herbs or vegetables.

cacti in thrift store container
Three cacti in a Haeger Pottery container. Tim found the container in a local thrift shop; the plants were about $2 each.

There are so many attractive succulents and cacti to choose among, and their colors vary. Many also flower. But they typically come in tiny plastic containers or expensive arrangements. We’ve spent some of our winter “down time” playing with these low-water lovers. Tim has propagated new plants from cuttings, but they eventually need attractive containers as well.

cacti succulents houseplants
Because you just can’t have enough cacti and succulents… This photo shows a few inexpensive, handmade containers.

We’ve bought some containers and repurposed others. In fact, I might not have enough for patio herbs this spring; I think they’ve been swiped. But we’ve also had a lot of fun making and finding containers. If you have a creative streak, you can have a lot of fun with cacti, succulents and air plants because the plants are so low maintenance.

air plants
I love the look of these tillandsias, or air plants. No soil needed!

Here are a few inexpensive container ideas:

Hypertufa. The trend in making hypertufa pots is popular for a reason. They’re relatively inexpensive to make, and although they can look like stone or concrete, the containers are much lighter. Hypertufa is a mix of Portland cement, sphagnum peat moss and perlite. There are lots of recipes online, and we often save plastic containers or other objects to use as molds.

inexpensive succulent containers
Three hypertufa pots we made, along with a “planter” made from an old fence post.

Thrift stores. It’s much more fun to browse a thrift store when you have an idea or purpose in mind. We purchase inexpensive baskets for hypertufa molds (the baskets can’t really be used again) and containers for air plants or cacti. It’s fun to find rustic or unusual items in particular.

wine glass air plant
I had fun with my thrift store find. I put decorative glass beads around a small plastic cylinder stuffed with sphagnum moss. It took less than 20 minutes.
thrift store containers cacti
This one’s our favorite. We bought what appears to be a candleholder and then found the perfect spiny cactus for its “seat.”

Reuse and repurpose. You can buy empty air plant terrariums fairly inexpensively online, or come up with found objects. I’ve used old coffeemaker pots, small mason jars and other objects from our kitchen or closets. Tim has used an old jelly jar layered with sand and moss to create a tiny succulent planter. And fence posts, drift wood, rocks, shells, pinecones and other natural items found in your yard or on walks can work well as planters or decorative items. Air plants can even be glued to wood or other items; you’ll just have to spritz them with water a few times a week instead of soaking the “roots.”

sedum in old wood
Found objects also add interest outdoors. An old post with barbed wire intact sets off this sedum.
airplant terrarium
These terrariums are inexpensive. We like to add decorative rocks and objects from our yard or garden.

Although some succulents need fairly regular watering, the biggest mistake we’ve seen people make with cacti and succulents is overwatering. That takes only a little practice to get right for each plants. The other helpful tip from Tim is the growing medium.

You might think that cacti in particular grow in sand, especially if you’re ever been to Arizona.  A little sand helps containers drain, but you need some other growing medium to give the plant some nutrients and retain just enough moisture for the roots to seek and find. You can buy commercial cactus mixes, but most include peat moss. Tim believes his plants do better with less moss. He mixes his own medium of about half cactus potting soil, with some vermiculite and sandy soil from areas of our yard. This seems to support the plant while also providing drainage.

pink cactus flower
In this case, the cactus was found on family land in southeastern N.M. Tim kept some of the dirt he found it in for the growing medium. And why not? It was thriving in its natural location.

It can help to drill a drainage hole in any container you make or find, but it’s not always necessary with cacti and succulents, especially if you have a large or deep container and good potting mix. The real satisfaction is in coming up with a unique container or arrangement, matching the cactus to the container or the container to a plant you really like.

blooming cactus houseplant
A close-up of our spiny chair. Tim added a few decorative rocks to complement the planter’s color. We knew it had buds, but the blooms were more than we expected.

For more about cacti and succulents, check out our Pinterest board.

Getting Crafty With Plants

Since there’s not much we can do outside until after the first of the year, weather permitting, I’m playing with plants indoors. And it’s been fun, because we’ve made a few gifts from plants we’ve grown or by combining plants with other found objects. It’s way more fun than shopping and I won’t even get into how I feel about Christmas and commercialism this year.

air plant terrarium
Combining air plants with found garden objects, we made an inexpensive air plant terrarium as a gift.

I hope recipients enjoy the handmade gifts as much as I enjoy making them, because that’s what the holidays should be about. And maybe my attempts at being crafty with plant materials will inspire ideas in others.

Air Plant Arrangements

My daughter expressed the desire for some easy-care plants and showed me examples she really liked while we were catalog browsing over Thanksgiving. Never one to disappoint, I ordered a pack of three air plants from Juicy Kits and had fun making a few terrarium arrangements to give Rebecca and Dave for Christmas. I’m counting on her being way too busy to check my blog before I see her.

All three Juicy Kits air plants were easy to arrange.
All three Juicy Kits air plants were easy to arrange.

We already had a few mini-terrariums left over from another project; they seemed perfect for this one. We lined them with some decorative rock and then added objects we’ve saved or found out in our rock garden, including black rock, a shiny red stone, dried wood and a piece of shed deer antler Tim found in the yard. We added sphagnum moss, and I even colored some with green food coloring.

air plant terrarium in coffee pot
The coffee pot still has writing, but we enjoyed using objects from our place, including a piece of shed deer antler.

We placed one air plant in an old coffee pot. It didn’t look as good as I’d hoped, but I love how the top pops up, and it’s a bit of a private joke because our guests used to go through the tiny coffee pot on their first cup in the morning. If anyone knows how to get the writing off of the side, I would love advice! We tried combinations of a razor blade, Goo Gone and CLR. I ran out of patience, so I hope they get the joke. But we liked the arrangements enough that we decided they only need two and we’ll keep one (sorry, kid). We’ll enclose Juicy Kit’s care instructions in the gift bag.

Lavender Sachets

Since we decided to plant more lavender – the perfect xeric plant – I’ve been trying out ways to use the aromatic herb. This year, women in our family get a lavender sachet filled with dried buds and leaves from our garden. Drying and harvesting the lavender was the easy part of the project, and it was a great use of the stalks I wanted to leave on the plant longer so we could enjoy them in our garden. If you harvest lavender for wands or arrangements, you have to cut it earlier, before the buds fully flower.

Lavender bunches even look gorgeous when hanging to dry in an old shed.
Lavender bunches even look gorgeous when hanging to dry in an old shed.

For sachets or potpourris, you can simply run the flower stalks back and forth between your fingers, catching the buds in a large container. I did most of this outside on a sunny fall day. Then I stored the buds in an airtight container until I could fill the sachet bags.

Dried buds come off easily by simply rolling stalks between your fingers. Have a large container handy to catch them.
Dried buds come off easily by simply rolling stalks between your fingers. Have a large container handy to catch them.

I ordered the muslin bags and stamp set online. It was an easy project to complete, but the muslin didn’t take the fabric ink as well as I’d hoped. Next year, I’ll try a soft cotton. The lavender smells magnificent! I’m having to keep the sachets packaged in zipped bags until gifting them or the scent might mix with some manly beef jerky or white work socks in our gift pile. Can’t have that.

These aren't fancy, but they come from our garden and the heart. Oh, and they smell wonderful!
These aren’t fancy, but they come from our garden and the heart. Oh, and they smell wonderful!

Dogwood Branches

The redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is my favorite winter plant. In fact, it’s arguably more colorful and striking in winter than in summer, at least here. After shedding all leaves, the shrub’s red and grayish-brown branches make an eye-catching statement, especially when the ground is covered in snow. Each spring, I have to shape the shrub and thin it by cutting out the dead, gray wood. I keep most of the trimmings.

The redtwig dogwood is a striking winter plant. And the branches make great arrangements.
The redtwig dogwood is a striking fall and winter plant. And the branches make great arrangements.

At Thanksgiving, I used a few dogwood branches in our table centerpiece, and I’ve added them to a few other projects. My favorite is the small dry arrangement of branches in our home’s entryway that I made our first summer here. So simple, with nothing but a clear vase, decorative rock and dogwood cuttings.

dogwood arrangement
A simple arrangement includes nothing but decorative rock and dogwood branches.
Close-up of dogwood branches.
Close-up of dogwood branches. The mirror reflects the colors (and my mother’s Hummel nativity scene).

My goal this year is to find a few more uses for dogwood branches. Watch out, friends and family!

Easy Thanksgiving Napkin Holder With Fresh Rosemary

I’ll use rosemary, one of my favorite low-water herbs, tomorrow when cooking our Thanksgiving turkey. I also wanted to incorporate it into our table arrangement. Earlier this month, I pinned some napkin holders made with rosemary sprigs. These were shaped into small circles and tied with floral wire, but I’m baking pies today and working a little bit, and they seemed beyond my skill (or patience) level.

Thanksgiving craft project
This was a quick project on a busy day and matched the centerpiece I made last week. The pies are baked, and now all I need is family gathered around the table.

Besides, I wanted to match the easy Thanksgiving centerpiece I made last week using lots of natural items from our yard, and I had pretty French-themed ribbon left over. So I sat down while the pecan pie was baking and made these in just a few minutes using rings we already had on hand, some napkins I bought recently, my leftover centerpiece ribbon and rosemary from our xeric garden.

First, I folded the napkin into a triangle, leaving just enough border on the underside to keep it from overlapping. If you have a large ring and a big table to set, you can fold it up less and make the napkin longer in the ring, adding proportionately longer ribbon and rosemary stalks.

folding napkin
I made a simple triangular fold and rolled the napkin loosely to fit in my ring. But there are plenty of folding techniques shown online for people with skills and patience.

Next, I put the napkin in the ring and then cut my ribbon to a length I liked, angling the cuts.

I had enough ribbon left for plenty of length to go with each napkin.
This ribbon tied the napkins in with my centerpiece and a table runner on our hutch.

Finally, I added the rosemary stalks, also cutting them to a length that works, and playing with the “arrangement” a little to keep it from looking like lined-up soldiers. So easy!

These were simple, but I like how they match the centerpiece and tablecloth and give this Thanksgiving a slightly different feel and color theme. And the rosemary...
These were simple, and I especially like how they give this Thanksgiving a slightly different feel and color theme. And the rosemary…

I’ll put the fresh, unwashed rosemary in an open plastic bag and store it in a door of my refrigerator to keep it fresh until ready to set the table tomorrow. I guess I should go cut some more for the turkey in case it’s dark when I start cooking. Happy Thanksgiving!


Make a Thanksgiving Centerpiece Using Garden Finds

I’m excited about Thanksgiving! Any holiday that celebrates harvesting food from a garden, and includes pie and stuffing, is a great holiday. But mostly, I can’t wait to celebrate with family. This year, I decided to make a simple centerpiece for our table from mostly found objects in our garden and yard.

homemade thanksgiving centerpiece
I love the natural look of the dogwood branches and other items from our yard on the handcrafted plate with etched herbs.

Since the objects would be dried and natural, I wanted to display them in something with the same effect, and have seen lots of photos online using natural boxes. I purchased a platter at a craft show in Albuquerque years ago that we often use for serving, but that works perfect for this year’s centerpiece. It’s a subtle, soft green with herbs etched around the sides. The main color comes from mini-pumpkins.

items used ot make centerpiece
The rose hips in the jar and dogwood branches are from plants in our yard. I love the serving platter, purchased at a local craft show.

I’ll admit that I didn’t grow these cute mini-pumpkins, but I really want to try them next year if we have room in our garden. Since they’re smaller, we might be able to get them to ripen in our shorter season; I really would like to try.

I bought the natural stone and brass-looking candle holders last year from CB2, and my daughter and I found the candles at Cost Plus a few weeks ago. We loved the way they look like tree bark. So I had a theme going here; now I could add some truly natural elements from our garden.

The candle looks like it's covered in tree bark.
The candle looks like it’s covered in tree bark.

I’d been hanging onto branches from our red twig dogwood in the shed for a couple of years now, and needed to use them in another project before Tim makes me throw them out. I love how they add texture and lines to the centerpiece. And as for the plant – it’s gorgeous in winter!

The red berries look like the cranberries or holly berries I’ve seen used in several arrangements online. We can’t grow either of those here, but Tim and I worked hard harvesting rose hips a year ago, and I still had some left after making tea and jelly. The dried hips give a warm red color without looking too much like Christmas – please, I’m not ready for that yet!

Dried rose hips have such a rich, warm color. I tied gold ribbon around the candle holder for a touch of bling.
Dried rose hips have such a rich, warm color. I tied gold ribbon around the candle holder for a touch of bling.

The arrangement needed some leaves, but ours all fell fast and hard, and we don’t have giant maples around here. But our creeping mahonia, or Oregon grape holly, has shiny, colorful leaves all year long. I cut a few bunches to add some life to the arrangement.

Credit my clever husband for the idea of adding leaves from our gorgeous creeping mahonia.
Credit my clever husband for the idea of adding leaves from our gorgeous creeping mahonia.

Finally, I added some ribbon to make it pretty. A little gold dresses up the candle holder and ties it into the gold tablecloth we’ll use for dinner this year. But instead of a big, in-your-face Thanksgiving ribbon, I went with a subtle French theme with a hint of gold, red and the softer green of the plate. It also ties in the new table runner I bought recently. I just wove the ribbon loosely in, around and under the other items.

I just wove the ribbon loosely around the natural objects.
I just wove the ribbon loosely around the natural objects.
I already had some pumpkins on our new runner, which covers the hutch next to the dining table.
I already had some pumpkins on our new runner, which covers the hutch next to the dining table.

It might not be the most gorgeous arrangement out there, but it was really satisfying and inexpensive. The only items I bought just for the centerpiece were the two rolls of ribbon. We had or grew everything else! And that makes it something to be thankful for…

Next up...napkin holders with a natural element. We'll see if it works next week!
Next up…napkin holders with a natural element. We’ll see if it works next week!

5 Ways to Repurpose Old Fence Posts

We love to repurpose old objects, especially for use in the garden. Ten years ago this Christmas, my husband, daughter and I helped gather old fence posts at my in-laws’ ranch on an unseasonably warm day. The ranch in southeastern New Mexico is on land homesteaded by Tim’s ancestors back in the late 1800s; they were among the first families to move to this part of the West to make a home and living.

sign on old fence post
This sign is held up by an old fence post from the ranch and backed by wood from a barn there as well. It’s nice to have some of an old place at a new one.

I don’t think the fence posts we gathered were as old as the original homesteads, but they were certainly weathered, and my father-in-law had been gradually replacing them with metal posts. We drove his truck out to gather up the old posts and stack them to use for firewood and other projects, and he paid us with a truck bed full of posts to bring home.

gathering wooden fence posts
Back in 2005, we gathered old wooden fence posts laid down as metal posts had been put up in their place. We all had a great time that day.

When we moved to our new home several years later, we brought any remaining posts along. They’re that versatile and we’re that sentimental about old posts and barn wood from the ranch. And Tim is really clever about reusing or repurposing them. Here are a few ideas:

Sign Post/Yard Art

Tim’s sister appreciates their family history, along with the fact that our current place is a long way from the old homestead. When she gave Tim a sign as a gift one year that reads, “On this site in 1897 nothing much happened,” we had to feature it in our rock garden. And an old fence post from the ranch was the perfect holder.

mounting sign on barn wood
After marking the holes in the sign, Tim sunk matching ones in a piece of old barn wood.
mounting sign on barn wood
He mounted the wood on the old post right above a knot and then drilled the sign onto the wood.

Tim marked and drilled four holes in a piece of wood from an old barn door he also saved from the ranch to use as the sign’s backer. He bolted the barn wood to the post before drilling screws into the sign and wood to mount the sign and hide the bolt. The top photo in this post (no pun intended) shows the fun spot in our garden where friends see the sign when they visit and the post serves as a favorite perch for birds!

Succulent Planter

Since succulents receive little water and we needed more planters to hold all of our cacti and succulents, this was a perfect use of a particularly interesting piece of fence post. Tim used the chop saw to cut off the piece he wanted and a 2-inch wooden drill bit to sink a hole in the top.

planter made from old fence post
We had seen these planters made out of wooden beams, but really like having one out of an old fence post.

Deer Fencing

Why not repurpose a fence post to make…a fence? We’ve got metal fencing of various heights, widths and states of rust or disrepair around our place to protect young trees from deer. A couple of Western sand cherry bushes at the top of the rock garden were protected with a mish-mash of wire and Tim decided to make something that looked better.

This more attractive alternative to the deer fence we had should protect our sand cherries.

We used old posts for upright and cross pieces. He worked really hard at selecting posts from our pile that would be the right height or length. Aside from digging the holes, the project was simple. We still have to run chicken wire around the entire inside of the posts because deer care little about aesthetics. But the wire really doesn’t show. We’ll create an easy opening on one side with bent wire so we can get to the plants.

barbed wire on fence
You can’t have a fence made of old ranch posts and leave out the barbed wire. Plus, wrapping it around the joints reinforces the screws.

Kindling Dryer

This project took only about 30 minutes and the cost of a couple of cement blocks. Tim saw the idea on Pinterest, only the photo had 2 x 4s as the uprights to hold kindling. Why not use fence posts? He cut them to the length he wanted with a chop saw and placed them into the openings. Most of the kindling in the holder comes from post pieces or from fallen and cut branches around our place.

kindling dryer with old fence posts
I love Tim’s take on a kindling dryer. Free except for a few cement blocks.

Kindling or Fuel

Of course, these posts are plenty dry, and they make great fuel for our wood stoves. They’re easy to split for kindling or slow-burning logs. We don’t mind burning up a few, knowing that we have plenty still on display around the garden for sentimental value.

Old, dried posts are easy to cut and split to use for firewood and kindling.
Old, dried posts are easy to cut and split to use for firewood and kindling.

Xeriscaping Strategy: Proper and Unusual Uses of Landscape Fabrics

It’s officially October and a blazing 92 degrees just after noon here. We’re setting record highs in New Mexico for heat and have gone weeks without measurable rain in my area while a hurricane threatens additional flooding on the East coast. So I thought I would take a few minutes to review the many uses of fabrics to control heat and retain water in the garden for those of us in drought conditions.

landscape fabric shading cacti
Succulents need shade, but direct sun can burn them, so Tim rigged a pretty clever shade cloth for his cactus collection using woven landscape fabric.

Landscape fabrics, also called geotextiles, typically come in rolls and are available online or in home and garden centers. Nonwoven fabrics are made primarily for weed control. Like plastics, they are the least permeable of fabrics, and should offer better weed control. To me, nothing offers complete weed control. And because they let in little to no sun or water, I would avoid using nonwoven fabrics in beds, at least permanent ones, because they prevent water and oxygen from penetrating. I’d reserve them for walkways only.

ripped landscape fabric
No landscape fabric is permanent or impenetrable. This fabric was in our walkway when we moved in, and I can’t count the hours we’ve spent fighting the weeds.

Woven fabrics, typically now made of polypropylene, are breathable, which means that water, oxygen and some of the sun’s rays can penetrate. That also means weeds can work their way through, especially since polypropylene tends to eventually break down from ultraviolet rays. Placing organic mulches on top of the permeable fabric introduces more chance for weeds. Still, if you’re adding mulch or gravel above the fabric, it offers an additional layer of protection against weeds. I would selectively lay down woven fabrics for areas of a bed between plants (leaving a large hole cut in the fabric around any plants in the bed) or for temporary uses. Landscape fabrics also can help control erosion on banks, preventing the washing away of top soil. On the other hand, the fabrics never are permanent and if you have a big garden bed, you’re better off investing in extra layers of mulch, which works just as well for weed control if you go three to four inches deep. Just be sure to choose the right mulch for your plant or you cause water and plant health problems.

landscape fabrics
On the far left is a roll of row cover newly arrived. Top right is a woven fabric, the same used in Tim’s shade cloth. Below it are two black fabrics of varying thicknesses.

Row cover is my favorite landscape fabric. Also made of polypropylene, the white fabric comes in varying thicknesses and typically is used to cover and protect plants from frost, such as for mini hoop houses.  The fabric lets in up to 70 percent of the sun’s UV rays and some moisture, but doesn’t absorb water. Using row covers can also protect plants from heat by shading roots and blocking wind and insects to some extent. Shading roots and foliage obviously saves water by slowing evaporation. It also keeps the plant healthier, as does controlling insect access. I have begun to use row covers more often this year and have just ordered a roll of the fabric to boost my use more next year, helping to protect young seedlings from insects and to keep the ground warm and moist as they get started.

Here are a few uses for landscape fabrics other than laying them on the ground under mulch:

Although plastic probably works best, lay nonwoven landscape fabric down in the fall after cleaning up your vegetable garden to keep weeds from taking over. You might not choke out every weed, but you can cut down substantially on seeds that blow in and on the sun and rain that help germinate weeds already present. You’ll want to lift the fabric and enrich the soil with organic matter, however, a few months before planting.

Make small hoop houses to cover single herbs or crops. Row covers can help extend the season for a plant,  and you also can construct a small, temporary cover over a single plant that’s susceptible to bugs or climate conditions. Or just throw the fabric over a plant in the evening for temporary protection if frost is a concern, but days still produce plenty of warmth.

Thanks to a smart neighbor, I got the idea to leave my basil covered and cut down on grasshopper damage. I made this out of old drip hose and row cover. It’s not pretty, but it works.
basil protected
I also believe the cover cut down on watering. The drip hose runs under the fabric. I’ve harvested several crops from this basil and it’s still thriving in October in zone 6B.

Use permeable fabric to shade a new plant until it’s established. Around here, we often have to construct cages for small trees and other plants to protect them from deer. Tim has added a fabric top to many to keep the direct sun off a young plant or transplant, which also helps slow water loss. He simply uses cable ties to secure the fabric to the metal fencing.

shade cover with conduit
No electrician’s invention would be complete without conduit! Tim shaped the conduit to keep the fabric out and away from the plants.

Finally, since Halloween is just around the corner, you can’t go wrong using leftover black landscape fabric to create a last-minute grim reaper costume. Especially if the weeds are really getting you down….

Low-water Flowers To Cut and Arrange

A bouquet of flowers can make a special occasion much more special! But it’s also just fun to cut flowers from your own garden for table arrangements and a little bit of color and scent inside, especially on a cloudy day.

Flower arrangement with sunflower and other low-water annuals
I am not the best at arranging flowers, but I know what I like. These are all low-water annuals or perennials from our garden.

Many xeric plants produce gorgeous, colorful blooms that you can cut for your vases. You’ll save water and money! Here are a few I enjoy:

Cosmos. This colorful annual comes up each year from seed in whites, pinks and nearly purple. Mature plants are drought tolerant, and might even get leggy if they receive too much water.

Echinacea (coneflower). This versatile flower and medicinal herb now comes in a deep red, but often is a light purple.

Sunflower. Sunflowers are so striking in an arrangement or on their own. Something chomped off the deep red ones we planted, but we got plenty from birds or wind.

Zinnia. Having zinnias in an arrangement gives you more size, shape and color choices. They grow easily from seed. Try to avoid watering them from overhead.

Coreopsis. I love these smaller, delicate flowers in the garden, and could just see their reds, oranges and yellows brightening up an arrangement.

Coreopsis is a versatile and sun-loving flower that grows as an annual or perennial, depending on zone and cultivar.

Gaillardia (blanket flower). Yes, my favorite wild annual – the blanket flower – works well as a cut flower too.

Mexican hat. This is another wildflower annual in New Mexico. The bloom is small, but different.

Native rose. I like to cut a bloom or two for a tiny bud vase.

native rose in bud vase
You don’t have to have high-water, high-maintenance hybrid roses to enjoy a bloom in a bud vase.

Of course, native plants often make good cut flowers and it never hurts to try a native wildflower from your region in an arrangement. If it’s a wildflower, chances are you’ll be seeing it again! Here’s an article I wrote for Your Home Wizards on arranging flowers by threes. And for information on how to care for your cut flowers, here’s a nice fact sheet from the University of Illinois.

Making the Most of Native Roses

Our rock garden has a few native roses. We decided to try harvesting some rose hips this fall to see what we could do with them. The rose hip is the fruit left behind after a rose has faded, and one of these bushes was perfect for harvesting the fruit. We could tell because several critters had already been around the bush doing the same.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good photo of the bush in bloom, and it was a little unruly when we moved in, having not been pruned the previous year while the place was on the market. I gave it a little haircut, but didn’t want to do too much too late in the season. It will get a deeper prune this year!

Here’s a shot of the rose section of the garden. Looking past the weeds, see a new grandiflora a friend gave us (pink blooms) in the foreground and a really prickly native rose to the left. A bushy native rose sits in the middle; it didn’t bloom much, but we think it is pale yellow. Our rose hip plant, which produced pretty pink blooms and tons of fruit, is right of center and back.

Rose hips pack a punch of vitamin C, so we didn’t want them to go to waste. We read up on when to harvest (about a week after the first frost) and waited until a nice day. It ended up taking us a few nice days, a few buckets and a step stool. We never got them all, but as you’ll see later, we have more than we could ever use.

rose hips
A bunch of picked hips, well one tiny bunch, not the entire bunch. From what we read, they should be deep red and just starting to wrinkle or dry a bit. They seemed a little soft and resistant to harvesting the first time we tried, so we waited a week or so and tried again.

First up, jelly. Because it’s sweet, that’s why. We had to pick through and clean off the hips. We found a recipe online and after some trial and error, managed to get enough good liquid out of our boiled hips. They were so pretty and smelled really good while boiling.

boiling rose hips
Pot of boiled rose hips for making jelly. Maybe it was the altitude, but we had to run ours through the fabric again to get enough good syrup for our jelly.

The good news is that the jelly set and we like the taste. We’ve given a few jars away and kept the rest for us. It’s a little tart, but otherwise good. And I love the color. Somehow, I feel less guilty eating buttered toast when I spread the rose hip jelly on it.

rose hip jelly 022
Rose hip jelly. We put up five jars this fall, keeping the extras in the garage (cool) in a small cardboard box (for darkness).

The next attempt was tea. I thought the tea would be a healthy, caffeine-free drink for winter afternoons and evenings. I have not had as much luck with the tea, however. Most recipes say to boil berries for 15 minutes and then crush, steep and strain the contents. Or, you can crush the berries in a food processor and steep them in a tea sock (making sure not to let seeds or hairs from the hips through). But I’ve found that even after steeping for 10 minutes, the tea has little flavor. And after too much time, tea is no longer hot! I’m trying to figure out if I’m doing it wrong (so likely…) or if some of the berries were old, hanging out on the bush since last year.

Drying the hips was easy here, where humidity is…what’s humidity? We laid the first batch on an old window screen over a box, but then just spread them out in an old cardboard box. I keep my processed barriers in a small sealed container and some clean berries in a plastic bag.

I’ll keep experimenting with the tea, maybe adding more crushed berries next time. We’ve got plenty left to use, so many in fact, that when I needed a quick arrangement around the holidays…why not? I threw some of the rose hips into a hurricane vase with some decorative rocks, and it’s still out on a small table in our sun room.

Rose hip art, at least in the eye of this beholder. Rose hips make a great natural craft item when not providing vitamin C in the form of jelly, tea or syrup.
Rose hip art, at least in the eye of this beholder. Rose hips make a great natural craft item when not providing vitamin C in the form of jelly, tea or syrup.

With some good late winter pruning, I hope to improve the yield on both native roses and we’ll see how we do with next year’s crop. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the flowers, which appear with no  supplemental watering.