Monday, December 26, 2016

Illuminating Christmas

Happy holidays everyone! The two younger boys and I have been having fun playing in the white stuff. 

Despite what the seasonal calendar says, winter arrived a little over 2 weeks ago with a snow storm that hit its peak right at the 5 pm rush hour. We live in a deep river valley with a rollercoaster-ride-of-a-hill on one side and a steep slope that would be perfect for sledding on the other. Cars don't fair well on either of the two hills when there is a storm. Our street was a parking lot for hours. No one could get out of the valley.

Other than shovelling, my spare time in the weeks leading up to Christmas was filled with wrapping gifts, baking and decorating for the holidays.  I thought I would share a couple of the wreaths I made this year. Both make use of strings of little fairy (LED) lights. 

The start of the first decorating project was a plain evergreen wreath from the grocery store. 

To illuminate it, I used two strings of lights from the dollar store. Here's how I put it together:  

Step 1: 
I turned the wreath over to the wire frame at the back. Then I passed the first string of lights through an opening in the greenery to the front of the wreath. I left the string of lights hang loosely at the front of the wreath for now. Then I turned the wreath back over and attached the first battery pack to the wire frame with some green florist's wire. 

Step 2: Now we are going to attach the second string of lights in the same manner. It is critical to balance out the back of any wreath so it will sit flat to your door.  With a fresh piece of wire,  I attached the second battery pack on the opposite side of the wreath. 

Step 3: I turned the wreath over to the front and roughly placed my strings of lights in amongst the foliage. I ran the first string of lights clockwise around the wreath and the second string of lights counter-clockwise. 

Once I was happy with the placement of my lights, I used some florists wire to hold them in place. To do this, I used loops of wire that I twisted closed on the back of the wreath.

Step 4: If your wreath was as basic as mine, you may want to augment it with more greenery, berries, pinecones and a bow. That's just what I did next.

Here's the first finished wreath. You can't see the glow of the lights really well in the daytime, but at night the they shine nicely.

One important thing to note: These cheap LED light strings are for indoor use only. I have a covered porch and a screen door with a glass front, so I was able to get away with using indoor lights. If your door is exposed, this type of light string may or may not short out in wet weather.

For the wreath I made for the back door, I used three strings of lights. There are two LED sets ($2.50 each from Walmart) and a string of larger stars ($5 from the Real Canadian Superstore).

This time the 3 battery packs were placed in thirds by dividing the wreath circumference into three equal parts. Again, it is critical to balance out the back of the wreath so it will sit flush to the door.

Step 1: The first step is to attach the two strings of mini-lights. (The third string of lights will go on later after the greenery is attached. If you try this, make sure you space the battery packs so you leave room for the third battery pack that you will add later).

To work my lights through the maze of grapevines, I used a pencil and poked it into the the vines to create a gap. Then I worked each of the lights up through those gaps. Once the pencil is removed, the gaps disappear.

Step 2: Next add your greenery to the front of the wreath, some berries and a bow. (Tuck the greenery right into the vines. Loops of florist's wire can then be added to hold it securely in place.)

Step 3: Turn your wreath over to the back and attach the third battery pack for the larger string of lights with two loops of wire. Flip the wreath back to the front and roughly place the lights using the greenery to conceal the wire for the lights. Using more loops of florist's wire secure this final string of lights to the wreath.

If you are having trouble disguising some of the wires, add a few more pieces of greener to conceal them.

I am especially happy with the way this one turned out. 

Again, these light strings are for indoor use only. The back door has screen door with a glass front, so I was able to get away with using indoor lights. If your door is exposed, these type of lights might short out in wet weather. 

Outdoor strings have larger, more weatherproof battery packs, but it's hard to work with the larger sized packs. As an experiment I made a wreath for the back gate using strings of indoor LED lights. It held up remarkably well and shone every evening through the holiday season.

Have fun decorating for the holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gardening Books for the Cold Days Ahead (Plus 2 Giveaways!)

The holidays are just a couple of days away, and I don't know about you, but I am more than ready for a break! I can think of nothing better to do than to curl with with a hot mug of coffee, a few sinfully good holiday cookies and a great gardening book.

In case you are hoping to do the same in the days to come, here are a few terrific gardening books that are bound to inspire:

Books about Specific Types of Gardens:

The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden 
by Johanna Silver
The subject of this book is Ruth Bancroft, a dry gardening pioneer, and the acclaimed public garden she created in Walnut Creek, California. In this book you'll discover the interesting history behind her garden, as well as the design principals that helped to create it. There are even helpful profiles of the plants that make this garden so unique. As you can tell from the cover, this is a visually stunning book filled with amazing photography.

Rock Gardening: Reimagining a Classic Style
by Joseph Tychonievich
In recent months, I have heard lots of talk that rock gardens are back in fashion, but with a bit of a modern twist. This makes Joseph Tychonievich's new book very timely. To get you inspired, the book showcases a variety of rock gardens from around the world. Once your interest is piqued, there are plant profiles of 50 of the best rock garden plants, and practical ideas for creating and maintaining your own rock garden.

Books for the more Philosophical Gardener:

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes
by Thomas Rainer & Claudia West
This is another book with a tremendous amount of buzz. It aims to reinvent the way we think about urban spaces by designing landscapes that look and function more like they do in the wild. While the book suggests a new way of thinking, it is also offers practical ideas on creating plantings that are as vibrant as those found in naturally occurring plant communities.

Garden Revolution: How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change
by Larry Weaner & Thomas Christopher
This next book is not for everyone, but for the gardener who is looking for a better, smarter way to garden. Larry Weaner, who is a leader in the world of ecological landscape design, shows readers that choosing the right plants for a site can eliminate the need for weeding, irrigating and other time-consuming practices. 

Interesting Reads:

Biodynamic Gardening
by Dorling Dk
Does growing strong, healthy plants using the help of the moon and natural cycles sound a bit out there to you? Then this is the book that might change your mind! Biodynamic Gardening is a very useful and readable guide on using biodynamic techniques in a home garden. This book offers lots of practical advice and fully illustrated step-by-step instructions.

Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden
by Noel Kingsbury 
This is a gorgeous book filled with botanical illustrations, watercolours and paintings, as well as contemporary photographs of plant species. Garden Flora delves into the heritage of plants and the journey they have made to our modern gardens with fascinating tales of plant hunters, breeders and gardeners throughout history.

A Book that is Inspirational:

Image on the right taken from The Art of Gardening © Copyright 2015 by the Chanticleer Foundation. All rights reserved. 
Published by Timber Press, Portland OR. Used by permission of the publisher.
The Art of Gardening 
by R William Thomas and the Chanticleer Gardeners
Not a new publication, but rather one from last year, this is a book that still deserves a mention. It's filled with terrific photography, and expert advice from the team of gardeners that manage one of the most influential public gardens in the U.S.A.. This book will happily see you through the bleak winter months ahead.

Books Filled with Ideas:

Raised Bed Revolution
by Tara Nolan
I did a full review of Tara's book earlier this year which you can read here. I thought I should mention it again because it has such a great array of projects (not all of them traditional raised beds). 

by Michelle Slatalla
From the hugely popular gardening blog called Gardenista springs a book of the same name. This thick, weighty book features 12 stylish gardens, trendy design ideas, planting guides for a variety of gardening zones and color palettes, and a range of DIY projects.

Herbs & Useful Plants:

Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine 
by Tammi Hartung
The plants in your backyard have amazing stories to tell and fascinating uses you probably don't know about. In her new book, Tammi Hartung reveals the untold stories of 43 Native American plants and celebrates their modern versatility.

Healing Herbal Teas 
by Sarah Farr
Want to make your own herbal teas but have no idea where to begin? Master herbalist Sarah Farr offers 101 original herbal tea recipes that not only have health advantages, they taste great. In the book's pages you'll find recipes for blending and brewing teas that will reduce inflammation, ease digestion, boost your immune system and even help with seasonal allergies. 

The Giveaways:

Photos by Caitlin Atkinson from the book Plant Craft published by Timber Press. Used with permission of the publisher.

Plant Craft: 30 Projects that add Natural Style to your Home
by Caitlin Atkinson
What is a housebound gardener to do in the depths of winter? Get crafty of course! Plant Craft offers step-by-step instructions for 30 projects inspired by the natural world. 
Above you can see two of the projects from Caitlin Atkinson's new book. One the left is her "Staghorn Fern Shadowbox" and on the right is the "Rock and Sand Landscape".

Thomas Allen & Sons has kindly given me a copy of the Plant Craft to give away. Because I will have to send this book through the mail, I will have to limit entry in the draw to readers in Canada and the USA. 

Please leave a comment below if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open for the until January 1stIf you are not a blogger, you can enter to win by leaving a comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page. You are also welcome to enter by sending me an email (

Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden, with 100 recipes 
by Signe Langford

I am thrilled to have a second book, and my first gardening/cookbook, to giveaway. And what a delight this book is! 

It's ironic that one of the biggest trends in modern gardening is reviving time-honoured traditions like beekeeping and keeping a small flock of hens. We want healthy, organic food even if we have to produce it ourselves. There is also something so deeply satisfying about living in a way that is more self-sufficient.

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

I think Signe Langford states what her book is about much better than I could ever hope to do when she writes, "My goal with this collection of anecdotes, advice, recipes and reminiscences is to entertain, inspire, inform and, with luck, lead you down the garden path...all the way to the coop and back into the kitchen with a new or renewed passion for growing, raising and cooking your own amazing food."

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Over on the food part of the blog, there is more about the book, along with a Sweet Lingonberry Jam Omelette Recipe (seen above) that Signe and her publisher Douglas & McIntyre have nicely permitted me to share. This fluffy omelette would make for a great holiday breakfast, don't you think?

Bookmark this post with a Pin.

Please note: I am going to do 2 separate drawsTo enter the draw for "Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs" click here. 

I will announce the two book winners in the new year. Best of luck everyone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Poinsettia Re-Imagined

Poinsettias have come along way from their humble origins in the tropical forests of Mexico. What was once a tall, weedy looking plant has become a flower that is synonymous with the holiday season. 

Myself, I have never been a particular fan of the classic red poinsettia, but I doubt my views are widely shared. With sales of over $250* million, Poinsettias are one of the best-selling potted plants in the U.S. and Canada. And amazingly enough, most of these sales are generated in the short, six-week period that leads up to the Christmas holidays.

Here's another interesting statistic: it is estimated that 80% of Poinsettia purchases are made by women. 

Is it any wonder then that many of the newer introductions have colors that are meant to appeal particularly to women: soft rose, bubble-gum-pink, purple, white, yellow and a mix of colors. To go along with the new colors are pretty sounding names like "Love U Pink" and "Winter Rose Pink". There is even a series named "Princettia".

Caring for a Poinsettia

Somewhat ironically, this Christmas favourite is a tropical plant. Any Poinsettia you purchase in the coming weeks was most likely grown in a greenhouse where the temperature ranged between 60-70 degrees F. That means caring for a Poinsettia in the average home can be challenging. Getting it to re-flower can be even more so! 

To keep your Poinsettia healthy after the holidays, you need a warm, sunny window that mimics the warm greenhouse where it was grown. Make sure your Poinsettia doesn't touch the window pane. Cold glass will do it no favours! Another thing to avoid is placing your plant in a spot where there is the likelihood of a cold draft.

Check the soil in the pot frequently to make sure it is not bone dry. When you do water your Poinsettia, make sure the soil is evenly wet. Add a water-soluble fertilizer to your watering can once or twice a month.

A sign that you aren't watering your Poinsettia often enough is leaf drop. A combination of yellow leaves and leaf drop is a sign you are watering too often.

Getting a Poinsettia to Re-bloom

Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. The colorful blooms that we associate with a Poinsettia are not actually flowers, they are "bracts" which are a modified type of leaf.

In February, you may notice that the flowers on the plant you purchased in December have begun to fade and new side shoots have begun to appear. Cut back the flowering stems to about 6" leaving one of the two leaves in each stem. Sadly, this may make your plant look a bit homely for a while. New growth should appear mid-spring. Re-pot your Poinsettia as necessary.

If desired, a Poinsettia can move outside once all danger of frost has passed and temperatures have warmed. Choose a location in the garden that has light shade. Keep an eye on the soil in the plant's pot to make sure it does not dry out completely.

Mid-summer pinch the plant back a couple of inches to avoid leggy growth. Well before fall frost strikes, bring your Poinsettia indoors. Again, place it in a sunny window and fertilize it every other week. 

Days with shortened sunlight hours are necessary to get a Poinsettia to re-bloom. At the end of September, move your Poinsettia to a warm spot that is in total darkness from 5pm to 8 am each day. When the colorful bracts appear sometime in November, move the plant back to a sunny window. 

The plant that you see here is one of the new introductions Poinsettia, Euphorbia Pulcherrima 'Jingle Bell Rock'. The splashes of red on cream give it a dramatic look.

Have you had success with keeping a poinsettia happy and healthy? I know of one woman in California who has childhood memories of 10 ft plants growing in their front yard. Several gardeners have told me that their plant faithfully re-bloom...but only in summer.  

Lots of people find them to be great houseplants. How about you?

Bookmark this post with a PIN.

More Information and Links: Statistics in this post are drawn from this article by the University of Illinois Extension. There is also information on the history and care of Poinsettia to be found by clicking the link.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Grapevine & Ivy Topiary

What does this gardener do when the weather turns cold and grey? She taps into her artistic side and gets crafty! One of my recent projects is a grapevine topiary.

Here is how I made it.

Materials & tools you need to make a grapevine topiary:

• A grapevine sphere (I found mine at Michaels) 
• Bundle of grapevine twigs (sold in a bundle also at Michaels)
• 24 gauge copper colored wire (look for colored wires in the jewelry section at the craft store)
• wire cutters
• Pruners or scissors to cut the grapevine (not shown)
• Wire coat hanger or wire of a similar gauge (not shown)
• A 6" pot of your choice (I found my pot at Walmart)
• A 4" pot or green or variegated ivy (if you can, choose an ivy that already has long tendrils)

Step 1: In step one, you are going to create the wire framework that will be hidden inside the trunk of your topiary. Take an old wire coat hanger, score it with your wire cutters, and then cut it. Straighten the wire and cut the full length in half.

Step 2: Wrap one end of the two pieces of coat hanger wire with the copper 24 gauge wire to hold them together.

Step 3: Select a number of straight pieces from the bundle of grapevine twigs.

Cut eight to ten grapevine twigs to be the desired length of your topiary's trunk. For the outdoor topiary I made, I cut 12" lengths (the outdoor version is shown at the end of the post). For the indoor topiary, I cut 6" lengths of grapevine.

Step 4: Place your coat hanger wire in the centre of the twigs you just cut. Try to hide it as much as possible with the twigs. Wrap the top of the bundle with some of the 24 gauge wire. (Note: we got a little carried away here with our wrapping. Circling the bunch 6-8 times will do!)

Next wrap the bottom of the twigs in exactly the same way. Here's what you end up with:

As well as adding strength to the trunk of your topiary, the wire supports the topiary structure underground. Twigs on their own would only rot in the damp soil of your plant pot. 

Now to attach the topiary's sphere!

Step 5: Locate the metal framework inside the grapevine sphere. Now look even closer until you find the join where the three parts of the metal frame meet.

Take a length of 24 gauge wire and insert it into the sphere, around that join in the framework, and then back out of the sphere.

Step 6: Feed one of the ends of the wire through the trunk and out the other side. Feed the other end of the wire through the trunk in the opposite direction and out the other side. Pull the ends of the wire tight until the ball is joined to the trunk. Alternating with one end of the wire and then the other, pass each of the ends of the wire back up through the sphere and then down and around the trunk. 

For one final bit of security, we ran one more loop of wire from the top of the sphere to the bottom of the sphere and then wrapped the loose ends around the trunk of the topiary (see red arrows above).

Step 7: Pot up your ivy and then insert the finished grapevine topiary. 

Take one of the long ivy tendrils, and moving upward, twist it around the trunk of the topiary. When you get up to the sphere, weave the end of the ivy in among the grapevines. Don't cut the ivy off when you get to the end! Leave the ivy tendril and allow it to grow further. As the new leaves appear along the length of the stem, continue weaving them into the sphere.

To make the shape of the topiary cleaner, go back and pinch off any ivy leaves that obscure the trunk.

Ongoing Care: I have had numerous ivy topiaries over the years, so I feel confident in predicting that it may take 4-6 months before a topiary will fill in and look as full as the one you see here. 

As far as ongoing care, keep working any new growth at the base of the topiary upward. Weaving the fresh foliage into your frame or trim any excess to maintain a neat, rounded shape. To keep my ivy healthy, I use a water soluble fertilizer every other watering.  

The only problem I have had with my topiaries is spider mites. Ivy seems particularly susceptible to spider mites. If you see faded leaves and fine webbing, treat the plant with repeated applications of insecticidal soap.

We are well into the holidays, so you may want to give your topiary a seasonal look. With the change of container, this grapevine topiary has a whole new look:

Love the idea of creating an ivy topiary, but don't want to have to craft your own frame? No problem!

You should be able to find ready-made topiary frames online.  By way of example, I found a few options at the Gardener's Supply Company. On the left are their Cone Topiary Frames and on the right are their Twist Topiary Frames.

One final twist on my grapevine sphere. This year there seems to be lots of terrific, inexpensive LED lighting options available. In the past, Christmas lights always meant ugly wires in the daytime and long extension cords. 

Now, with these new LED options, the lights are on a fine filament that virtually disappears into the greenery of an arrangement. With the battery packs, there are no long electric cords. 

I found this set of 60 lights at The Real Canadian Superstore. The copper-colored string of lights seemed like it would be perfect to wrap around one of my grapevine spheres. In the daytime, the copper filament all but disappears. At night, the tiny LED lights add a sparkle to my holiday urn.

Have a great weekend!

P.S. The announcement of the book draw winner is coming up next!