Archive for low maintenance gardening

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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Low Maintenance Garden Part 1: Tools

Posted in How to, my garden, sustainable living with tags , , , , , , , , on November 18, 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.

Note Card Images note card images

Before I get to the post, I want to let all my readers know that I have set up a shop on Etsy, a website featuring vintage and handmade goods, called CarolynsShadeGardens so you can use your credit card to purchase my photo note cards.  Click here to visit the shop and see the note cards available.   You can also click on the permanent link I have placed on the right sidebar of this website.

The cards come individually or in sets and are perfect for birthday greetings, expressions of sympathy, thank you notes, and for communicating with friends the old-fashioned way. The card sets make great gifts for the holidays especially useful for hostess presents, last minute gifts, and for the friend who has everything.

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DSCN2937Michael demonstrates edging using an edger with a long handle.

Nursery customers always comment on the amount of work it must take to maintain our display gardens and marvel at how Michael and I do it with no additional help.  At this point in our lives, we are wondering that ourselves, but that’s another story.  However, part of the answer is that over our 30 years of gardening here we have developed many techniques to keep maintenance to a minimum while using sustainable, organic methods. 

In spring 2012, we developed a series of seminars to teach these techniques to our customers.  For readers who can’t attend, I thought I would show you what goes on during Michael’s Low Maintenance Garden Seminars.

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DSCN2929Michael shows off his all round favorite tool, a digging tool from Gempler’s discussed below.

Each seminar begins with a review of essential tools and their maintenance.  When Michael visits customers’ gardens in his capacity as garden coach, he often finds that they are making do with inadequate garden tools.  Having the right tool allows gardeners to perform maintenance jobs easily and efficiently.  Michael and I both have our favorites, and he demonstrates them during his seminar and tells attendees where to purchase them.

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DSCN3405Michael’s favorite tool, a Gempler’s Professional 12″ Digging Tool.  It is similar to a Japanese farmer’s knife, but it has a hand guard for protection, which is essential for the safe use of this type of tool.  He uses it for weeding, planting, cutting, and many other jobs.  I prefer a skinny-headed trowel for weeding and a rabbiting spade for planting.

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Originally, I was going to cover everything in one post, but as I started to write I found a lot to say about tools.  I was inspired to take individual photos of some of the important tools because Michael and I feel so strongly that they are the best.  The actual garden maintenance part of the seminars will be covered in Part 2.

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DSCN3402Michael and I both would not be without Felco No. 2 Pruners.  My father bought me this pair over 30 years ago when he found me using some Kmart knock offs.  With infrequent sharpenings, they work as well as they did when I got them.

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DSCN2922Michael demonstrates the use of our Dramm watering wand.  We have one of these wands on the end of each hose on our property and find it indispensable for all watering tasks.  I met the Dramm representative at a conference recently and told her that we promoted the wands at our seminars.  She nicely sent six wands to raffle off at our fall seminars this year, and six happy attendees went home with a new tool.  We hope to continue this with Dramm and other manufacturers at future seminars.  The hose to which the wand is attached is made by Flexogen and is the only kind we use—heavy duty and kink resistant.

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DSCN3400For branches too thick for pruners, we use this folding hand saw also made by Felco.  It fits in your back pocket but handles very large branches while being easy to maneuver in tight spaces.

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DSCN2931Tool maintenance, especially keeping tools clean and sharp, is very important.  Here Michael cleans and sharpens the pointed blade of our long-handled shovel, which is the shovel we both use for digging and shoveling.  The long handle is essential for the leverage you need to get the job done easily no matter what size you are and without bending over.

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DSCN3401   These Corona ComfortGel Floral Snips are the tool I always have with me in the garden.  They are small enough to cut herbaceous leaves but rugged enough to handle woody stalks and small branches.  The gel handles are comfortable, and the blades spring open and closed smoothly.

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DSCN3403Michael and I both think it is very important to protect your knees when you are kneeling down weeding or planting.  We both wear strap on kneepads.  I prefer the soft kind made by Kneelons pictured above while Michael likes the hard shell type sold for doing tile work.

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Other tools we recommend: I dig all the perennials I grow and sell with a rabbiting spade, which is just the right size to slip easily between other plants that I do not want to disturb.  Long-handled loppers are useful for leverage when pruning bigger branches.  We also consider a heavy duty, very sharp, folding serrated knife essential for dividing plants.  I never head out into the garden to weed without my large or small Bosmere weeding bag (they call it a tip bag).  These bags are very light but durable and their sides don’t sag.

We could recommend many other tools—this won’t surprise you if you have been here and seen our garage—but these are the most important tools that help make our garden low maintenance.

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.

Your Most Precious Garden Resource

Posted in Fall, Fall Color, green gardening, How to, organic gardening, sustainable living with tags , , , , on October 25, 2012 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.

Yes, the sky is really this blue and the trees are really this red during fall in the northeastern US.

Fall in Pennsylvania (mid-Atlantic US) is a big picture time of year.  For a good two months, everywhere you go there are gorgeous vistas like the one above as the leaves change color before dropping.  The show is long-lasting because the leaves turn at different times, starting in my garden with the American hornbeam’s golden yellow hue, progressing through the bright red tones of maples and native dogwoods, and ending with the burgundy and orange of hydrangeas and viburnums.


The soil is deep and very fertile in my area, allowing trees to grow to gigantic size.  And after the color show, the leaves fall and create what I consider my most precious garden resource.  Those leaves are what nature supplies for free to protect and improve the soil year after year.  That is why it is so disturbing to see many area residents collecting their leaves and putting them by the side of the road to be removed by their municipality.


Here at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens we use every leaf that falls to improve our soil either by leaving them in the beds or by grinding them and using them as mulch.  A detailed description of our methods can be found in Shade Gardening in Fall: Fall Clean-up.  In addition, up to 18″ of leaves can be ground up and left on the lawn with beneficial results as described in Shade Gardening in Fall: Leaves on the Lawn.  There is a video by the Scott Lawn Care Company in the second post to show to your doubting spouse.

In early October, about 35 Carolyn’s Shade Gardens customers attended two Low Maintenance Gardening Seminars given by my husband Michael during which he demonstrated how to grind leaves for mulch.  For the benefit of my far flung readers  and in the hope of converting more gardeners to this practice, I thought I would show you step-by-step photographs of the process.  Michael is the reluctant star of the do-it-yourself guide below.

Step One:  Gather the leaves from an area where they can’t be left to decompose on their own.  Michael is removing leaves from the pine needle paths on our back hill using a tarp.  All leaves in the beds will remain in place as mulch and eventually compost.

Step Two:  Take the leaves to a level area like your lawn or driveway.  Our driveway is closest to the back hill so Michael took the leaves there for grinding.

As you can see in the photo, we use a standard lawnmower to grind our leaves.  We recommend wearing steel-toed footwear, ear protection (see photo below), and, if appropriate, eye protection when using a lawnmower.


Step Three:  Grind the leaves to the required consistency.  Michael usually goes over them twice, but you can make them as fine or as coarse as you want.


A large amount of leaves becomes a manageable pile after grinding.


Step Four:  Gather your free mulch into a container for easy transportation and application.  Michael is using a township recycling barrel.



Step Five:  Spread the mulch in your garden.  Here Michael uses it around the base of newly planted viburnums.

I hope I have made this process look as easy as it really is.  Once you try it and see the beneficial results for your soil, you too will be a convert.

Carolyn

 

Nursery Happenings:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is done for the fall.  Thanks for a great year.  See you in spring 2013.

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.

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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