Get The Most Out of Your Garden Center

Some beginner tips to make planning your garden simple and successful.

“Can I plant this in my yard?”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard that question. And the simple answer is YES. Yes, of course you can plant that in your yard. You – yes, you, reading this right now – can go to a garden center, pick out the most amazing plants, take them home, and plant them in your yard. If you’re lucky, they won’t all die. And if that’s all you want out of spring gardening, read no further. However, if you want to make sure to get plants that will thrive, read on! We’ll go over what you need to know to plan a successful garden this spring.

When you visit a garden center, the staff will be much better able to help you if you know your yard or planting area. The main things to focus on are sun exposure and soil.

Sun Exposure
What kind of light does your planting area get? This can be harder to answer than it sounds, as not all sunlight is considered equal. Look at your yard at different times of day – when does it get the most light? Is your planting zone subjected to direct sun the entire day? Or is it shaded by 10am? Morning sun is considered the weaker of the two, while afternoon sun is the heavy hitter. Plants tend to be divided into three categories: full sun, partial shade, and shade. Full sun plants tend to want at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, especially afternoon sun. Shade plants, on the other hand, tend to burn and wither easily; they like a little morning sun, but generally no direct sunlight in the afternoon until late. Partial shade plants are a little hardier, but don’t usually like being in sun all day long – there are a wide range of preferences within the “partial shade” group. This is where knowing your yard comes in handy – if you can tell the garden center staff what kind of light you get, they’ll be much better able to recommend plants that will do well for you.

Soil
Some plants can live anywhere, even in concrete! Others need a very specific environment to do well. Time to get to know your dirt! Here are some things to consider:

How rich is your soil? Is your yard bursting with healthy black mineralized and composted dirt? If so, you are one of the lucky ones and the rest of us hate you. More likely, your soil maybe needs a little help. The best way to know what your yard needs is to take a soil sample and have it analyzed. But if you live in the real world and don’t have time for that, there are lots of wonderful soil amendments you can get to make sure your plants receive the nutrients they need.

Drainage is the other main thing to consider when looking at soil. Does your yard drain quickly, leaving the soil dry most of the time? Does the soil tend to erode or wash downhill? Are there areas that get more less rain than others? Maybe it doesn’t drain well at all, and water tends to sit and pool. Or the back strip of your garden sits under the overhang of the house and stays dry, while the front is very wet. Your yard could be anywhere on the spectrum, and having a basic idea about where your moisture level is will really help you out come plant shopping time.

There are also options out there to help you grow the plants you love, even if you don’t have the best space for them. Shade cloth, watering systems, and even mobile containers can help you work around lighting and soil challenges. Ask your garden center staff to point you in the right direction!

Pictures
Lastly, and maybe most importantly – take pictures! Nobody needs (or really wants) to see 500 pictures of your yard, but a few pictures of the space can really be helpful, especially if you’re starting from scratch. It’s a very convenient reference point for both you and the staff to look at when discussing plant heights and widths, and even color. Will this purple flower clash with the brick out front? Pull up the pictures and double check.

(Pictures are also helpful if you’re going for a specific “look”. See a plant or garden picture you want to duplicate? Bring that too! It’s far easier to say “something that looks like this picture” than it is to spend half an hour trying to describe a plant you saw on your mom’s neighbor’s garden that one time.)

Stepping into a garden center or nursery at the height of plant season can be dizzying. Use this winter time to plan and get inspired, so that you have an idea of what you want when spring arrives. And spend some time getting to know your yard and garden environment; you’ll feel more comfortable choosing your plants. Lastly, take advantage of your local garden center! By using the resources and staff knowledge, you’ll be better able to have a happy, healthy garden.

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Montessori Baby Steps

Hello! It’s been a while. I don’t know how long, because I forgot to look and now I’m typing, and very lazy. 

It’s national novel writing month! I love that it’s become a social media movement via #NaNoWriMo. I found this very inspiring. Now clearly, I will not be writing a novel this month. Depending on when the little one wakes up today, I may not even write this blog post. But I’m going to try. I think I’ll adapt NaNoWriMo and make it a much smaller and manageable goal for myself; write more this month. It’s simple, and vague enough that no matter what I do, I can congratulate myself on a job well done. Exactly the kind of challenge I like. 

I’ve been doing a lot of research on the Montessori method lately. There’s a lot I like about it, except for that part where I actually have to do the work to implement it in my own life. But with a busy 15 month old who is learning skills seemingly by the second, I can’t really wait any longer. So, much like my writing projects, I’m going to start with small, attainable goals. Goals I can achieve during naptime, as long as I can stop shoving chocolate in my face long enough to get them done. 

Today I made a really simple switch. I changed how we display the toys, from “aesthetically pleasing” to “work”. Essentially the concept is that the things that are out and available for the child to play with are referred to as their “work”. And there’s a certain way to present them. Normally, when we tidy at the end of the night or during naps (or every three days, whatever) I would put everything back together and in it’s place. But the Montessori method is more about deconstructing the materials, to make it more inviting for the child to come and work on. So here are the switches I made today:

First was the farm. Normally I put all of the animals in different cubbies, replace the ladder, etc. It looks nice and (to me) inviting. But those who Montessori would say that the “work” of this toy has already been done. There is no incentive to practice putting the animals in the barn, if they’re starting out inside. 

Here is the new setup. The animals are next to the barn in a basket, so that when Ollie approaches the farm, he sees that there is “work” to be done and it is ready for him to place the animals as he sees fit. I can tell you that this one really worked, because he woke up halfway through this post and it’s been hours, so he had a chance to play with everything. He went right over and started arranging the animals in the barn. 

Next was his puzzle. I really like this deconstructed idea for puzzles. It didn’t really engage him, but only because he hasn’t grasped puzzles yet at all, so I’m going to keep presenting them undone for him. And also not let “puzzle-doing” become my new benchmark of good motherhood. (isn’t it funny how the minute something is beyond a child, we immediately think “he could probably do this if I was a better, more engaged mother”. LIES.)


Last was the shape sorter. He’s halfway there on this one – not yet putting the shapes in the sides, but he loves putting them in the top hole and pulling them out again. This was another success, he seemed to like that the shapes were out and ready. (ie he didn’t have to go hunting for the favorite purple ones) 

I am going to try to incorporate more of the Montessori type setups in his play space. But because I’m tired and prioritize food, it will be in little baby steps. Which is good, because there are too many blogs out there on kid projects that look like it took several people several days to do. And the caption is always something like “while my precious angel Lulubelle was napping, I totally repainted her playroom and turned it into a forest! She played quietly and happily in there for 6 weeks straight and then ate all her dinner without complaining”. 

Those blogs can go home. They make me feel bad while I sit on the couch eating chips, and I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. And neither do you. 

I’m Buying My 7 Month Old An Abacus, and Other Things I Have A Hard Time Explaining

It’s been a while. A long, seemingly endless while. And at the same time, it’s only been 7 months since baby arrived and I fell off the map. I don’t know how such a short amount of time can also be so long, but time is different with a kid. 

Parenting is also way different than I thought it would be. We brought home a baby who (maybe foolishly, but hey, we’ve never done this before) we kind of expected to act like all the books told us babies acted. Sleeping all the time, eating, pooping, and being little bundles of cuteness. 

He did eat, and poop, and he was most certainly cute. And he did sleep, but not like other babies his age. I distinctly remember looking at other babies around my little one’s age and thinking “they’re so asleep! So calm! Just sitting quietly! And they just DO this?” I was jealous, and confused, and totally overwhelmed. 

Because while he did sleep, it was only a fraction of what babies his age are “supposed” to sleep. He was colicky, so at about 3pm or so every day the dread would set in, knowing that within an hour or so the screaming would start. He was described by everyone who saw him as either “so alert” or “so intense”. And it was incredibly draining. 

At under one week old while laying belly down on my chest, he picked his head up to look me right in the face. 

At five weeks, he could stand on his legs while braced against us. 

At three months, I showed him a mirror. He looked at it, looked at me, and looked around the back of the mirror to see how it worked. 

And every moment in between he was looking, observing, and taking in so much of the world that he would often get overwhelmed. He was not a self soother, and needed incredible amounts of help to get tiny amounts of sleep. 

He still doesn’t self soothe. He still doesn’t play independently very well. And so many people have offered advice, sympathy, and sometimes even derision. And I can see their point – it can seem like we’re catering to him. But we tried cry it out, and dear baby can easily go two hours. Usually he chokes before then, so it’s not a viable option. Letting go of our expectations and working with his mildly high needs personality has been a learning curve for all of us, but slowly the sleep is improving. 

However, along with the difficulties came tons of fun, and surprises, and love. Our sweet guy loves to give kisses and to laugh. He has just about the most joyous personality I have ever met. He’s smart as a whip and already saying his first words. He sees and understands so much – I recently was able to show him some snowdrops, and he not only noticed them, but very gently reached out one finger to explore the petals. He loves toys with fine moving parts and things for him to figure out. So I’m going to get him an abacus, because I know he’ll slide the beads around endlessly. When we read books, he turns all the pages for me. 

So while the past seven months haven’t been what I expected, they have grown me and taught me so much. I’ll be up with him at least three times tonight….but it’s always, always worth it. 

Dear Baby

Dear Baby,

I meant to write this before you arrived, but time got away from me and you were early. Now you are here, which means that I will probably be writing this to you over the course of several days. I can hear you now, in your room, making those little noises that mean soon you will want to be awake.

I remember when we found out about you. I was so afraid – not of you, but of the world you would be arriving in. There is so much to be afraid of today, so much hurt and sadness and fear; I knew you would not make it through life without being touched by it. And you would be exposed to all of those things because of me. There comes a time for every parent when they can no longer protect their children. And I knew, the moment I saw the positive pregnancy test (or tests….) that my clock was counting down to that moment. It would only be a matter of time before I couldn’t keep the world out any more. I felt so guilty for creating someone who got no choice about their existence, no choice about the world they would be living in.

But fear is no match for love, and something I want you to know is that love always wins. I don’t want you to ever think that you weren’t wanted, or that we were unhappy to be pregnant. The love I felt in that same moment, looking at those pregnancy tests, is unlike anything I had known before. It far surpassed any fear or reservations that this new pregnant mama was feeling. I knew I would do whatever I could to care for you, protect you, and love you to the best of my ability.

There will be things in your story that I can’t protect you from. But what I can do is make sure that fear, anger, or sadness never win over hope, love, and faith. God gave you to us, and I know that no matter who you grow up to be or what you decide to do with your life, He is in control. We have been entrusted with you to raise you, and teach you, and love you. That is why no matter how scary it is to be responsible for a little tiny person, I am so unbelievably happy that you are here.

I’m excited to watch you discover the world. I want to show you all the things that make life special and magical. We’re going to go on adventures, and play, and read, and cultivate imagination. I want to teach you to be kind, brave, and loving. I want you to live every day knowing that you are loved, and cared for, and safe. They say that parents give their children roots and wings – my hope for you is that your roots are strong and deep, and your wings are limitless.

Dear Baby, I love you so very much.

Sea Creature Rescue

Last month at the library we focused on oceans. We read books about the ocean, learned about ocean animals, and even held a real shark jaw. I have always loved the ocean, and it was so much fun getting to share that with the kids. We also did some fun ocean themed crafts that are PERFECT for summertime! I’ve been wanting to put more of our library antics on here, and with temperatures rising this seemed like the perfect craft to start with.

I first saw this idea here, so I can’t claim to have made it up. I did modify it slightly, since I work with larger groups of kids and we do our crafts indoors. The premise is to freeze plastic sea animals in ice, then have the kids free them. I paired this with a storytime on why it’s important to care about the ocean.

 

For this craft, I used:

  •           2 cupcake pans
  •           A big bag of sea creatures from Oriental Trading
  •           Plastic Spoons
  •           Salt
  •           Tubes of hot (not scalding) water
  •           Small plastic tubs to hold the ice

 

First, I put 3 sea creatures in each cupcake cup, filled the cups with water, and froze them. Since these are small, as opposed to a big bowl that needs to be done in layers, they freeze really quickly. I used one metal pan and one silicone – they silicone let go of the ice easier, but I recommend putting it on a tray to carry it around. Trying to pick it up full of water doesn’t work. Not that I tried.

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Just before our storytime, I filled squirt bottles and tubes full of hot water. I also had bowls of salt and spoons on the table ready to go.

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Once the kids were all seated, I explained what we were going to do and gave each kid a cup of ice. (I work mostly with PreK – anytime there’s a spoon on the table, it’s best to explain in advance that we’re NOT eating anything, even if it does ruin the surprise). They were excited, but they REALLY got into it once they got their ice cup and could see the animals inside.

 

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Doing it this way allowed for each kid to fully participate – I had about 6 kids for the night program, and around 15 or so the following morning. Had we done one big bowl, I think the shyer kids may have missed out on some of the fun. Doing it this way also cut down on the mess, as most of what was spilled was just water. However, doing it this way does require MANY refillings of the hot water containers, so have more hot water available. It also helped to empty out the cold melted water every so often.

As they began to free the creatures, we talked about each animal. They were SO EXCITED when they finally got them out!

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The kids couldn’t wait to show everyone the animals that they had freed – it was especially cool to see them talking to each other about all the different types. We also found a few that we hadn’t talked about in storytimes and identified them.

I loved doing this craft, and I really liked how versatile it was. You could do something small (like we did) in your kitchen, or go all the way up to a kiddie pool outside when it’s hot. And you can use practically any size container(s) depending on the number of kids or where you’re doing the activity. Other tools could also be incorporated to encourage fine motor skills. Even the very young ones (down to 1 year) got really focused!

So there it is! Hopefully I can catch up soon on posting some of the other cool things we’ve done – especially in time for summer vacation!

Your Dog Is The Best

I know it. You know it. We all know it. Your dog is the friendliest, happiest animal on earth. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.

But here’s the thing. Mine isn’t. And he will bite your dog. Probably on the face.

This comes up a lot for us this time of year, and I think it’s worth mentioning. We have lots of friendly dogs bounding up to us in parks, on walks, at the beach, etc. And we have lots of well meaning owners reassuringly shouting “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” Which I appreciate, but it doesn’t change the fact that my dog bites. And that’s why he’s on a leash. Right next to me. Or, if your dog seems particularly invasive, why I’ve already picked mine up.

It always seems to take people by surprise when I explain the situation, so I wanted to write a post about it. Not in a self-righteous PSA way, but because I think it could hopefully avoid this situation for other people. Because while your dog is friendly and happy and just wants to play, what about when they get attacked? Many owners have never even thought about that possibility, and have no idea how their dog will react in that situation. If your dog decides to defend themselves, my 16 lb dog is on a leash and can’t get away, and we have a fight on our hands.

This also holds true for animals that have other issues. They may be recovering from surgery, battling an illness, or have other behavioral issues that would be aggravated by a strange dog bounding up to them.

So, if you have a super friendly dog, great! But as we go into summer, please remember that not every dog is as wonderful as yours. Some of them are mean, aggressive, bad-mannered Shih Tzus who will not let size deter them from biting a Mastiff right on the face. (Yep. That happened.) This is ESPECIALLY crucial in parks/beaches/locations that have leash laws. I get that your dog is friendly and wants to run. I really do. Not much is more fun to watch than a happy dog running through the waves. But keep in mind that people like me, whose dogs are not that way, choose to vacation and visit places with leash laws with the understanding that ALL dogs will be leashed. That way, we know that we can keep your dog (as well as ours) safe and happy.

One neat way to advertise a dog that needs some space (as well as recognize one) is with a yellow ribbon. There is a grassroots movement called the Yellow Dog Project that encourages owners with space-needing dogs to attach a yellow ribbon to the leash.

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But, in general, we should treat other dogs the way we tell children to treat them. Never let your dog run up to a strange dog (or person, for that matter) without knowing the situation. Hopefully, this will help everyone enjoy the great outdoors this summer with no bites to the face.

An Elephant Baby Shower

Hi!

Recently I had an absolute blast helping to throw an elephant themed baby shower for a dear friend, and I actually remembered to take a few pictures! Natural elements and plants emphasized the color scheme of sage green, chocolate brown, and “savannah-grass tan”.

Sweet baby’s nursery will be jungle themed, and so we wanted to complement that style of decor without re-doing a full ‘jungle’ shower, which mama-to-be had already attended. We went for a minimalistic and very natural look, and were so pleased with the results. Naturally, the invitations were first. A good invitation conveys both the theme (if applicable) and tone of the event, without being overly explanatory or juvenile.

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We were very excited about how they turned out; they were made using stamps, ink, and cards that we picked up at a craft store. I love stamping, and it’s a really useful solution when you can’t find a pre-made invitation that fits your event.

Next were some of the decorations. Fortunately for us, the space we were hosting the shower in was just the right size for a few well-placed decorations to pull it all together. The rest of the ambiance would be set with a few large plants that I borrowed from work, and quite a few houseplants that we had already. During our craft store run, I had found a few sheets of scrapbook paper to make banners out of. I snapped the below pictures before I had tied them together, but you can see the layout for a shorter and longer one. I used natural garden twine to tie them, and it worked really well. I left an extra quarter inch on the top of each triangle to fold over the twine. This method is best used for banners going against something solid, since they were one sided.

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I don’t know what I would do without Scooby’s help. Absolutely invaluable.

I had also picked up a plain wooden “B” at the store – in the middle picture above, you can see it partway completed. Here is the final version:

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This is probably the DIY that I was happiest with – I did NOT think it would turn out this well. I started with a few base coats of green, then I did each animal print section one at a time. I didn’t use a stencil, bit I definitely looked up animal print pictures to make sure I got it right!

Then came the plants. A ‘carful’, to be exact. IMG_20150815_124619883 ^ This is what a carful of plants looks like. ^

On the day of the shower, we put most of the focus into the table display in the kitchen (once the guests arrived, the living room was more than sufficient with the banners, plants, and gifts). It was a really great day, and I’m so looking forward to meeting baby B next month! My picture taking was cut short so that we could get all the last minute arranging done, but here are a few examples to give you an idea. It was the first time I had ever been involved in something like this but I have a few more coming up so hopefully I can keep learning!

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The gap on the table was for a dish that wasn’t ready when I was taking the pictures. Guests arrived early, so no close ups of cupcakes 😦