Archive for composting

Low Maintenance Garden Part 2: Techniques

Posted in How to, my garden, sustainable living with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2013 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

.Magnolia kobus 'Wada's Memory'‘Wada’s Memory’ magnolia provides plenty of leaves for Michael’s leaf grinding efforts plus some gorgeous fall color.

My husband Michael and I have spent 30 years perfecting our gardening techniques at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, and we are always happy to pass on what we have learned to our nursery customers.  In spring 2012, Michael developed a series of seminars to demonstrate our methods to our customers right here at the nursery.  This post is Part 2 of a two part series explaining what goes on at Michael’s seminars.  Part 1 detailed the tools that we recommend to make garden maintenance easy.  You can read it by clicking here.

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DSCN3368Michael with a typical pile of leaves ready for grinding into mulch.

We believe that the most valuable asset on our property is the leaves that fall from our trees.  Leaves are what nature provides for free to protect and improve your soil.  Removing and disposing of your leaves outside your own property is the worst thing that you can do to your garden.  During his seminar, Michael demonstrates how we handle the massive quantity of leaves that fall from our 35 plus large deciduous trees.  Basically we leave them in place to decompose on their own, grind them on the lawn to help it grow, and grind them into mulch for our garden beds.

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DSCN2935Michael demonstrates leaf grinding to seminar attendees.

For a step-by-step guide to grinding your leaves to use for mulch, please read my post Your Most Precious Garden Resource by clicking here.  For a video by Scotts Lawn Care showing how to grind leaves on your lawn, click here.  A recent Michigan State University study has shown that grinding up to 18″ of leaves on your lawn and leaving them there is beneficial to your lawn.  For more information on how we handle leaves in our beds in the fall, click here.

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DSCN2936Michael demonstrates how he uses the ground leaves for mulch in our gardens.

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Our other secret weapon is compost, which we make ourselves and also get from the township.  No bed is created and no plant is planted without adding a large amount of this “black gold”.  Michael shows seminar attendees what good compost should look like and demonstrates how we go about composting.  For more information on how we use compost in our garden, read my post Powered by Compost by clicking here.

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DSCN2933During the tool session at the beginning of the seminar, Michael talks about what an important tool compost is.

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DSCN2943Every seminar includes a trip to our compost area and a demonstration of composting techniques.

Many other important gardening jobs are explained in detail with live demonstrations…..

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DSCN7137Planting a perennial using a shovel or an auger attachment to a drill.

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DSCN7138Edging beds to keep out weeds and present a manicured look.

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DSCN2939 Planting a shrub, here Michael shows how it is important to loosen the roots on the outside of the rootball.

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DSCN7141Every session ends with a question and answer period during which attendees can ask about any gardening task that interests them.

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These are just some of the topics covered in a typical seminar.  Other subjects include deer management, invasive plant removal, winter interest, container planting, and many more.

Carolyn

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Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net. Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Nursery Happenings: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is closed for the winter.  Please visit my Etsy Shop to purchase photo note cards suitable for all occasions by clicking here.  Look for the 2014 Snowdrop Catalogue in early January.

Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook Page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

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Supporting Sustainable Living: Part Two

Posted in green gardening, organic gardening, sustainable living with tags , , , , on June 21, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

My efforts to establish native Indian pink, Spigelia marilandica, have really paid off.  Nevertheless, I covet this six-year-old stand at Chanticleer.

In my articles My Thanksgiving Oak Forest and Supporting Sustainable Living: Part One, I explained that sustainable living is very important to me, and I have supported it through planting and promoting native plants like the Indian pink pictured above, gardening organically, not watering, replenishing the soil, composting, eliminating lawn, and initiating and running an invasive plant removal program, among other activities.  I also explained that I am uniquely placed to have a wider impact through my interactions with gardeners at my nursery.

The check in table at the Conservancy event.  These young women came specifically to talk with the Lyme disease expert.

In my article Powered By Compost, I described a composting event to be held at my nursery sponsored by the Radnor Conservancy (dedicated to the preservation of open space) to raise township residents’ awareness of the magical powers of compost.  Reader response to this article was very high so I thought everyone might like to find out how the event went.  I also wanted to highlight my latest venture into sustainability–honeybees.

In Radnor Township where I live, we are blessed with the best free municipal compost in the whole area, if not the whole state of Pennsylvania.  The first station at the Conservancy event showed how to transport township compost to your home without renting a truck or messing up your car.  I thought their solution was very clever:

Event organizers demonstrate loading compost into a minivan.

The vehicle is protected from the compost by a blue tarp (how could we function without those?) attached to the side of the van with large orange wood clamps.

There was a lot of interest in the Conservancy’s method of transporting compost.

Two Master Gardeners from the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service were busy all day explaining composting using an outdoor bin and indoor composting with red worms.  They brought sample bins for attendees to explore:

Penn State Master Gardeners under the carport of our carriage house explaining bin composting.

My husband Michael was stationed in the manure pit profiled in Powered By CompostHe explained our laissez faire method of producing compost by piling up kitchen waste, leaves, and garden refuse in the pit and turning it about three times a year.  Participants were very interested:

Michael explains that composting does not have to be complicated to another set of interested attendees.

Michael has had Lyme disease seven times with serious long term implications for his health so the prevention information provided by Doug Fearn, president of the Lyme Disease Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, was especially near and dear to my heart.  This is an unpublicized epidemic in the U.S. and should be taken very seriously:

Doug Fearn explaining various Lyme disease prevention techniques.

As promised, delicious refreshments of homemade brownies and chocolate chip cookies accompanied by mint iced tea were provided on my deck:

A fun and informative afternoon was had by all!

Trey Flemming from Two Gander Farm and the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market places the first hive at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

The other “sustainable” event at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens lately was the arrival of the first hive of honeybees.  I have been trying unsuccessfully for quite a while to convince Michael that beekeeping was in his future.  Knowing when to pick up my marbles and go home, I switched my efforts to finding a local beekeeper who might want to place hives at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.  This spring I sold plants at my town’s growers’ farmer’s market, the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market, and met Trey Flemming, a beekeeper and farmer from Two Gander Farm in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania.

Trey demonstrates the docility of his bees.

I purchased some delicious honey that Trey produces from an invasive nonnative plant that I constantly battle, Japanese knotweed.  Having a quarter acre of this noxious invader, I thought Trey might be interested in placing some hives here, and he was.  This week the first of three hives arrived.  Trey will market this honey at the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market as local Bryn Mawr honey, and I will receive five pounds of honey and the gratification of supporting a local farmer: a win, win situation if there ever was one!

The bees crawl in and out of the hive and over Trey’s hand with their future nectar source, Japanese knotweed, in the foreground.

I am so thrilled to be given the opportunity to support the Radnor Conservancy, composting, and a local farmer.  It just takes the accumulation of small efforts by each of us to contribute to sustainable living in a big way.

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my website’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: The nursery is closed until it cools off in the fall around the middle of September.  If you are on my customer email list, look for an email.  If not, sign up by sending an email to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net with your name and phone number.

Powered by Compost

Posted in green gardening, How to, organic gardening, Shade Gardening with tags , on June 5, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Some of my gardens powered by compost.

Compost is king in my garden.  It is the only thing I use: no other soil amendments and no fertilizers.  All the beautiful plants and lush growth are powered by compost.  I am frequently asked where I get my compost and how I use it.  This post will answer those questions and highlight an exciting compost-centered event taking place in my gardens this Sunday.

The soil at the top is from my back slope ruined by erosion caused by misguided lawn attempts and chemicals.  The soil at the bottom is from the undisturbed woods less than 10′ away.

The pre-existing soil at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is (was) terrible (see top photo above).  I am on the side of a hill where the previous owners had tried to grow grass for years.  The soil was hard and depleted by the use of lawn chemicals and by erosion.  Terraces were constructed down one side of the house and filled with rocky infertile soil.  Construction rubble from additions to the house in the 1950s and 1960s was dumped in what is now my woodland garden.  The soil in the beds on the back side of the house was compacted by their former use as a carriage path.  Finally, the whole property was used as a dump (pre-trash collection) by the estate of which it was formerly a part so the beds are full of glass, old slate from roof replacements, refuse from coal burning furnaces, and miscellaneous trash.  Digging can be quite an adventure!

This is a photo from 1995 showing the debris that came out of one relatively small planting hole at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

Given the deplorable condition of the existing soil, compost is essential.  It reaches my plants in four different ways.  First, whenever I create a new bed in my gardens, I spread 4 to 6 inches of compost on top of the soil and dig it into the bed, removing all the rocks and debris.  I use the rocks to line the paths in my woodland garden.  One visitor asked me where I got my rocks, and, finding out they came from the beds, told me how lucky I was.  I feel about as lucky as the early farmers in New England must have felt when they built all those rock walls around their fields.

The rocks lining the paths in the woodland garden.

Second, even though the beds are prepared with compost, I add compost to the hole every time I plant a plant.  I mix the existing soil half and half with compost.  Third, as explained in Fall Clean-up, I grind all the leaves in the fall and use them to mulch my beds.  This mulch breaks down over the course of the year to make a thick compost layer on top of the existing soil.  Leaves that fall on the lawn are ground up in place and left there to fertilize the grass as described in Leaves on the Lawn. Finally, I don’t clean the leaves out of most of my beds: they are left there to act as mulch and form more compost.

The current state of the depleted back slope.

I use a lot of compost because I also need it to pot all the plants that I grow to sell at my nursery.  Where does it all come from?  We produce a lot of it ourselves in a simple, easy, and nontechnical way.  I get frustrated with the articles written about composting because they make it sound like you need to follow complex procedures and buy expensive equipment to produce compost.  All those procedures and equipment merely speed the process up (and possibly make it neater), but all you need to produce compost is a pile.  It helps if you turn it occasionally, but even that is not necessary if you are willing to wait for it to break down naturally.

The path to our compost pit.

Our “garage” is really the carriage house and the stable for the estate that used to be here.   There is even a metal grain bin on the second floor with chutes and levers to bring the grain to the first floor.  The horses that pulled the carriages produced manure (no surprise there), which was deposited in a manure pit behind the stable.  Back then, they built everything to last so the manure pit is a 12 foot square enclosure surrounded on four sides by 7 foot tall stone walls.

The left side of the compost pit where we are currently throwing kitchen and garden refuse.

We throw all our garden and kitchen refuse into this pit, including leaves, sod, noninvasive weeds, ashes, small sticks, etc.  There is no organized layering process–whenever there’s something to go in, it’s thrown on top of the pile, hopefully, but not always, on the side of the pile currently being built up.  The other side contains the compost being used.  My husband turns the pile thoroughly about three times a year, and that’s it: no complicated procedures or equipment required!

Top view of the manure pit we use for producing compost.  It is “decorated” with self-sown fern-leafed and yellow corydalis and a large climbing hydrangea.

However, despite the size of this operation, it does not produce nearly enough compost for Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.  We are very fortunate that our township produces excellent compost from the leaves that residents put by the side of the road in the fall to be removed.  Personally, I think removing the leaves from your property is crazy, but for selfish reasons I am glad people do it.  We get truckloads of the township’s beautiful compost to supplement our own.

One of the newest beds powered by compost.

As I explained in Supporting Sustainable Living, I am uniquely placed to encourage sustainable gardening practices as I promote and sell native plants at my nursery,  answer my customers’ requests for advice, and give tours of my gardens to horticultural groups.  Sustainable living is very important to me as I described in My Thanksgiving Oak Forest.  So when the Radnor Conservancy, dedicated to promoting open space in my township,  asked me to speak, I thought why not go farther and offer my gardens as a venue for a fund raising and educational event.

Rose and peony beds

The creative people at the Conservancy came up with the theme “Dirt … lots of it!”, an afternoon devoted to educating people about compost on Sunday, June 12, from 3 to 5 pm at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.  Here is the flyer:

If you come, and I hope you will, you will find various “stations” throughout my gardens staffed by knowledgeable Master Gardeners able to answer any question you have about composting.  They will demonstrate outdoor composting, indoor composting with worms, composting equipment and tools, grinding leaves for mulch, and how to transport township compost easily and cleanly to your home.  You will be able to order discount compost bins, and information on lyme disease and its prevention will be provided.

Main perennial border

As you find out everything you ever wanted to know about composting, you can stroll through my beautiful gardens and shop for plants in my nursery area.  And best of all, delicious refreshments will be provided.  As directed in the flyer above,  if possible, please register  in advance for the event with the Conservancy by calling them at 610-688-8202 or emailing them at radnor.conservancy@comcast.net.  You can also show up without registering.  The event is open to everyone, not just Radnor Township residents.  I hope to see you there.

Carolyn

Just a note to say thanks to John at Macgardens and his wife Beth who visited Carolyn’s Shade Gardens during my open house on Saturday.  Meeting fellow garden bloggers is so fun because they immediately feel like old friends.  If any other garden bloggers are in the area, please stop by.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: I will have my traditional closing weekend open hours this Saturday, June 11, from 9 am to 3 pm and Sunday, June 12, from 10 am to noon.  You don’t need to make an appointment, and you can park in the driveway.  You can also shop for plants during the Radnor Conservancy  event on Sunday, June 12, from 3 to 5 pm.  But remember you can make an appointment to shop 24/7 by sending me an email at carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  There is  still a great selection of hostas, ferns, astilbes, hardy geraniums, and summer and fall blooming shade plants available.

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