The Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin (those are primroses in the picture)

It is another one of those weeks here where any hope of getting a project finished or staying on schedule has disappeared. We have 1 case of pink eye and 1 case of 3 1 /2 year old surly, stubborn, clingy girl. One of the few actual accomplishments for the weekend (besides attending 3 kid related get togethers) was making it over to Terrain at Styers on Sunday morning to see Tovah Martin. Her new book, The Unexpected Houseplant is out and she was having a book signing and demonstration. Maisie and I watched Tovah work her magic on a couple of indoor planters. Tovah is probably best known for her terrarium design but I first discovered her on her blog Plantswise. Tovah was lovely and very inspiring. I am halfway through the book now and am feeling pretty inspired!

Indoor Planter for a Sunny Location

I have to say that although I love gardening outside, my indoor plants do NOT thrive. I have somewhat of a black thumb indoors. I am hoping to change that, and I think this new book might be the start of good things to come! Tovah advocates for planting what you love! I am totally guilty of having mediocre indoor plants in random pots and then totally neglecting them. She shows you how to step out of that rut and plant exciting beautiful plants inside.  Now I just need to get started!

For inspiration, I thought I would show you a couple of beautiful  planter that she made up while I was there. These were designed for a woman who has a sunny bay window. The one above is a pineapple plant (which I do love) paired with red and orange flowers (that I totally forgot to get the name of) and a miniature bromeliad (one that doesn’t flower but looks so beautiful regardless). I also learned that the pineapple and the air plants are also members of the bromeliacae family.

Another Planter for a Sunny Window

The second planter (designed to go with the one above) was mostly filled with succulents and more of the miniature bromeliads. I am totally in favor of succulents, since by their nature don’t require much care. I have a few now, but they all live in individual pots.  On the subject of succulent planters I saw that Emily Clark just posted about a beautiful centerpiece that she put together yesterday made out of driftwood and succulents.

Mix of Planters

I also really liked these shade friendly planters in the foreground above. Unfortunately most of my windows are too bright for these. Although I am totally in love with the lower plant in the foreground, which is ‘Frosty Fern’ (Selaginella kraussiana ‘Variegata’) which is a kind of moss. Tovah recommends putting mosses as understory plants, which is some cases can work in sunnier locations when you have broader plants sitting above.

Another useful recommendation that I asked about and is described in the book is using cat friendly plants like grass. I haven’t had any luck with growing the kitty grass that they sell at the pet store, but I am really intrigued to try something like a blue fescue. I might even grab one of my smaller perennial grasses from outside and try it indoors for the winter. I like the idea of giving the kitties something to munch on that will be good for their tummies, and then they will hopefully be less likely to eat the plants that aren’t so good for them.

My Little Helper

Finally my little helper smiled for me with the plants. Now if she only was this well behave all of the time! Now if I can just get her to help with the watering!


Blue Pumpkin with Blackbirds

Life has been quite busy around here. Any hope of getting house projects finished has disappeared (at least for the next little bit). Halloween has been the big topic of conversation at our house. The kids are very excited and we have finally managed to sort out the costume situation and partially decorate the front porch.  I picked up these blackbirds at the $1 store and I really like them especially since they have wire at the bottom for attaching. I still have hopes of making scary silhouettes for the front windows. We don’t get very many kids at our house, but I would like to entice at least a couple more to stop by.

Beautiful Fall Display at Terrain

One of the few up sides of frequenting a construction site south of here is that it is only a couple of miles from Terrain. I managed to squeeze in a few minutes and a pumpkin latte earlier this week. Their displays are always stunning. Above they have mixed a water feature with colorful annuals (kale, celosia and coleus) with a perennial low grass in the front and large branches in the back. I managed to pick up a couple of grasses on sale. I will probably be planting these in my raised bed for now and replant in their final location in the spring.

In other news, Mr. S. has been SUPER busy at work getting a bunch of things ready for the Constitution Center’s new exhibit  American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. I am hoping to be able to show you a couple of things next week. In the meantime the opening party is tonight, so I will be stepping out this evening.

We are suppose to be dressed in 1920′s attire, which is a bit of a departure for me. I spent a long time looking online for the right dress, since I couldn’t bring myself to get a flapper dress. After much debate and some returns I bought a new dress that I would call “vintage inspired”. I think it is pretty cute (although given the chance I would probably buy most of my clothes from Boden).  I still have to think about the accessories. Mr. S. (who is a far better dresser than I am) just picked out some handsome looking clothes from his closet last night.  Wish me luck!


Purple Aster with Amsonia

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend! We had a nice warm day on Sunday, probably one of the last for the season. Unfortunately it is nearing the end of the gardening season here. There isn’t a lot in bloom at the moment and I have run out of steam in the garden.  The garden is looking a little weathered and there is a lot of weeding to do but I thought I would show you the last couple of bright spots in the yard.  I am still in love with the Amsonia in my yard and am always looking for new spots to put it in. It starts out slow in the spring with some blue flowers but it is a show stopper this time of year in a lovely lime green that will fade to yellow as the leaves change. The asters are also in bloom. I have a short purple (exact variety unknown). I keep thinking that I should plant some tall varieties for the back of the bed.

Common Toad Lilies

The toad lilies are looking great (except for the few that got chomped down by the bunnies). The mounds of these plants are really good about expanding. I divided the ones that I bought a couple of years ago before I put them in the garden and now they are huge again. Next year I will probably divide a few of these to spread them out further.

Common Toad Lily Flower

They look so much like orchids, how can you go wrong?

The Shade Garden with one of our pumpkin friends

And of course the garden wouldn’t be complete without some pumpkins. In our case Maisie picked out some pumpkin decorations which decorate the shade garden that we pass on our way to the garage every day.

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Beautiful Mix of Fall Colored Perennials & Shrubs including Coral Bells in 2 Colors and Barberry

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend. Saturday was splendid here and we took the opportunity to head over to Tyler Arboretum to enjoy the fall weather and let the kids run around in the woods (and up into some treehouses). I have to say that Tyler is pretty great. Over the last few years they have added a lot of kid friendly treehouses and experiences, that are the right mix of nature paired with activities to keep the kids occupied. So if you are in the Philly area I highly recommend a visit.

I thought I would share a few of the interesting plants and creations that we saw on our visit.

Berm with tube for the kids to climb through.

Maisie loved this tube with a berm on top. I was impressed that the plants could survive on top, including a beautiful Oak Leaf Hydrangea and some purple beautyberry (which make excellent cuttings also). Depending on the topography of your yard this would be pretty easy to replicate.

Gnome Bridge: I love the use of twigs for guardrails

Palette Shed

I really liked this shed that used a palette vertically on one side and filled it with annuals. The vintage terracotta roof tiles are also a nice touch.  I think this would be an interesting idea for someone to liven up a boring shed.

Bamboo Teepee with Rock Seats

I really liked this extra large bamboo teepee, complete with large rock seats. I have a stockpile of bamboo, so I am excited to try replicating this somewhere (Zdenka I am thinking of your house).

Beautiful 7′ tall light purple asters

Very Interesting Mystery Plant: Can someone tell me what this is? Asclepias physocarpa? (Thanks Stacey!) The seed pods are amazing.

Beautiful Mix of Annuals still holding strong


Sam seeing the slide installed for the first time

Well it has been a long time coming, but we finally have a slide set up off of our deck! I first thought about adding this a couple of years ago, since we don’t have space in the yard for a full swing set. This spring I put a plan together and figured out where to put the sandbox and swing. The only component left was the slide. Then I looked and looked on Craigslist, with no luck. Then summer hit and the last thing on my mind was working out in the yard. Well at the end of the summer I got lucky and someone about a block away put a slide out for the garbage. I drove past it and got very excited. We were on our way to a kids birthday party and couldn’t stop. I thought sure it would be gone by the time we got back, but fortunately it was still sitting there. I walked over and found that it was in incredibly good shape and looked to be about the right height! Then I proceeded to run down the block with it like a silly kid.

Sam testing out the new slide

It has been sitting in its new home for the past month waiting for me to get around to cutting the handrail and bolt it in. This weekend I got tired of the kids asking if it was “nailed in yet” and decided to get it functioning while they watched a movie.

Drilling for the new Carriage Bolts to hold the slide on the deck

The first step after determining the rough location was to determine how I was going to attach the slide. The slide had 2 holes at the top. I decided to reuse these and bolt through the deck. Our decking is 1 1/2″ thick pressure treated wood. This gave us a nice strong material to bolt through. I drilled a small pilot hole at each location to make sure it was a clear shot. I ended up having to shift it over about 1/4″ to miss the joist underneath.

Guardrail after removing the spindles and lower horizontal member.

Next I removed the portion of the guardrail that was in the way. I unscrewed the vertical spindles. Then I took one of them and doubled up the spindles on the freestanding side. Then I used a sawsall to cut the bottom member.

Then I drilled the final larger holes and bolted them in with carriage bolts (the kind that are round and smooth on top). I also used a large washer underneath (to increase the bearing on the wood) and then a locking washer (to keep it nice and tight) and finally a hex nut. I used a 3/8″ carriage bolt. It looked nice and sturdy and I new that the top would cover the slide holes.  I spent about $3 for the bolts, washers and nuts. Pretty good deal!

Finally I had Mr. S. stand on top of the slide to make sure it was nice and tight and I used a wrench underneath to do the final tightening.

Our deck is a little over 5′ off of the ground (a lot of play slides are designed for 5′). So after the top was installed I did a little regrading at the bottom. I also made sure that the bottom of the slide was firmly in the dirt (by about an inch) so that it wouldn’t move.

The slide is definitely a little steeper than it would be on a playset, which makes it extra fast. The kids LOVE it. I think if I had smaller kids I would have added some additional dirt to the bottom.

Here is my rendering from this spring:

Rendering of play area from this spring.

And here is our play area now:

Sam making good use of the “new” slide.

I am pleased to be able to give them areas to play outside without sacrificing a large portion of the yard to swing set. What do you think?


Urn filled with perennials: Feather Grass, October Daphne Sedum and Hen and Chicks

It feels like Fall today! We had some major storms come through yesterday and suddenly the air is crisp and the sky is blue. All the rain means that he garden is looking leggy, floppy and overgrown. Fortunately there are a few plants still in bloom.

Autumn Joy Sedum mixed with pulmonaria ‘majeste’ , toad lilies (still to bloom), and hosta

My Autumn Joy Sedum (stonecrop) and another unknown pink variety are in their second week of full blooms. I have to say that I never use to like the stonecrops, I just didn’t find them very exciting. But now, I use them as a “fill” plant in full sun to part shade (they tend to be more floppy in shady spots but still bloom quite well). They are quite bullet proof and easy to propagate.

Stonecrop (sedum) of unknown variety

To propagate all you need to do is pinch off a small section (about 4-6″) and stick it in the ground (or in water first if you like). With damp soil they take quite well. At the same time they don’t self seed all over the yard like some other perennials I know. Speaking of which, my Ironweed in all of its legginess is in full bloom. It has  not been well behaved lately and I have had to pull out quite a few volunteer plants (not the end of the world or anything but still annoying).

Ironweed Flowers

I planted the Ironweed to help provide privacy between us and a certain neighbor (which it does quite well). It grows to at least 8′ here.

Ironweed growing in between our fence and our neighbors

It has even self seeded in between our fences, which is pretty nice because they act as supports, so they don’t tumble over.

Black & Yellow Garden Spider

We have also had TONS of spiders this year.  This one is a HUGE black and yellow garden spider, which fortunately is totally harmless. I really like its zig-zag web pattern. He did give me a little scare and required some googling to confirm that he was harmless. Phew!

Now to see if I can actually carve out some time to weed!

P.S. The pawpaws are browning on my counter. I am also working on perfecting my pawpaw ice cream recipe and hope to share soon. I know there are a couple of people that I owe seeds. These will be coming soon! Let me know if you are interested, I’ve got a pretty big pile going.

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Big Leaf Magnolia (Magnolia Ashei) with Amazing Red Seed Pod

I am overdue in updating you on the garden. It has been such a hot, wet and buggy summer, that we haven’t spent much time in the yard. The frequent rain has meant that the garden is a weedy mosquito infested mess! I need to pull out a bunch of bamboo, weed like crazy and cut back a lot of overgrown shrubs and trees. In the meantime, there hasn’t been very much blooming. All of my mid-summer blooms started and finished early, leaving my garden feeling a little sad. Fortunately there are a couple of brights spots.

I am in awe of my big leaf magnolia. It normally gets seed pods, but nothing like this year. The seeds are this amazing hot pinky red! I am not sure if it is the weather or maybe the age of the tree.

Native Honeysuckle

My native honeysuckle has gone on blooming forever (since April)! It is also currently overtaking our back steps (making it a bit difficult to get through with a big bag of groceries), but I have been reluctant to cut it since the hummingbirds have been here almost every day and the bees are so happy. I was worried when it started blooming so early that it would be finished early and not provide a good source of nectar for the hummingbirds. Fortunately I was wrong.

Swamp Sunflowers, Ironweed & Joe Pye Weed: Late Summer/Early Fall Tall Native Perennials

Also several of my large native perennials are in bloom including the wamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), ironweed (Vernonia altissima) and joe pye weed (Eutrochium). These are all tall lanky plants. I haven’t done any staking but the ironweed and swamp sunflowers could definitely use it. They are each at least 7′ tall right now.

Paw Paw Fruit, almost ready for harvest!

The other exciting thing in the garden right now is the Paw Paw Tree. We are getting close to harvest! I actually pulled a soft one off the tree today. I don’t think it is quite ripe yet, but it is getting close. The fruits are actually weighing down the tree right now. I think all of the rain has really increased their size.

What is blooming in your yard right now?


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Our New Pet Goat

Mr. S. has always wanted a pet goat. Fortunately we have come to an agreement, and it involves a life size blue metal goat. We first spotted her in Lambertsville, NJ a couple of weeks ago and have been thinking about him ever since. We were back up that way yesterday and decided to bring her home. I’m in love! She does not have a name yet, we are waiting for the kids to decide on one. We picked her up at the People’s Store (which is mostly an Antique Store). She is from Mexico and the only downside is that she is quite pointy, and we will have to make a concerted effort to make sure that no children try to ride her. I am also going to look into getting some stakes for her feet (to keep her from falling over and to also keep her a little bit off the ground).

Goat munching on my Hellebores

I was originally thinking that she would go in the side garden but I think her current spot is nice, so we can see her from the kitchen window.

Goat and the Garage

What do you think? Are we crazy?


Sam with Silphium perfoliatum (Cup Plant) &   Helianthus angustifolius (swamp sunflower) behind. Both are giant native flowers that bloom in mid-late summer. Both self-seed but are impressive this time of year.

Yesterday morning I managed to get myself outside to take a few pictures of the garden with my helper. It has been so hot until this weekend, that I have just been running back and forth between the driveway and the house and spending as little time as possible outside. I hope you enjoy seeing some perennials that thrive in the heat! As you would expect it is a lot of the native flowers that are doing especially well, including the black-eyed susans, joe pye weed and hardy hibiscus.

On a personal note, I will be taking a break from the blog for a little bit. Life is been crazy (in both good and bad ways) so I have decided that I need to take a couple of things off of my plate for the time being, including writing in every day. So for the next couple of weeks you will be seeing less from me. Please still feel free to email me or send a comment. I love to hear from everyone! I hope to come back inspired and full of new ideas.

Black-Eyed Susans

Joe Pye Weed

Hardy Hibiscus

Sam’s Hand with the Giant Hardy Hibiscus (Disco Ball)

Standard Garden Phlox


Cherry Tomatoes

One surprise in the last week is that the crocosmia that I planted last year as bulbs have popped up in a couple of places. I have tried bulbs twice now and live plants once. I had finally given up thinking it wasn’t the right plant for my garden. It is not native but it is suppose to be an easy to grow bulb and thrives in hot sun and dry soil (the bulb can rot in wet soil). I planted this over a year ago (you typically plant them in the spring and they should bloom in the summer). I think I planted about 12 bulbs and have three blooming. It is nice to have this little garden present especially in this heat.

Shade Garden still looking pretty good without watering (and my new clock that I got for my birthday)!

My shade garden is also doing quite well given the weather. I think it helps that most of the plants are pretty established and it doesn’t get the crazy hot afternoon sun. Although all of the flowers on my hostas burned out in a couple of days.

What is blooming in your garden?

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Completed DIY Sandbox w/ benches and Lid (and beach umbrella)

Today is my long overdue instructions on building our new sandbox! It seems like as soon as we had it finished the weather was too hot to use it. And now the mosquitoes are in rare form making it uncomfortable to be outside. Fortunately, I convinced Maisie that a little time out there this morning would be nice.

I wrote about the first part of the installation a while ago. I thought I would show Part 1 again so that everything was in one place.


Sandbox Design from Ana White’s website

We decided to go with the plans from Ana White’s website based on this design. Of course I had to tweak it a bit (when have I ever gone the easy way). The design is for a 4′x4′ model. We decided to go with a 5′x4′ design so that the kids would have a little bit more space for playing and to fill out the space. We also decided to use 2x10s for the sides. The design calls for 1x8s but since we wanted it deeper and we were widening it, I decided to increase the depth (plus a 1×10 and 2×10 are pretty much the same price). The nice thing about the plans is that they are designed to use standard length lumber, so all I needed to do was adjust a few pieces from 8′ lengths to 10′ lengths to make it work. I also added an extra piece to the back of the bench on each side to accommodate the extra foot (so there are 3 boards instead of two).

Site Leveled & Ready for Installation

Step 1: Locate the Sandbox and Prepare the Site

First on the list was moving the big piece of slate over to accommodate the sandbox. For this I used a spade and all of my arm strength to push it over the 5′. It was a pain and took me an embarrassing amount of time, but I managed to do it myself. Of course it wasn’t level! So it took last weekend with the help of Mr. S. holding it up to actually level it out. Then we leveled out the ground under the sandbox, moved/cut back a few plants and we were set. We also added the landscape/weed blocker fabric to the bottom, to help keep the sand separated from the dirt.

Wood Cut & Landscape Fabric Added

Step 2: Pick Up the Wood & Cut to Length

I went over to Home Depot and picked up the pine boards (I didn’t want to use pressure treated in an area with kids). I had the guy at HD cut the 2×10 boards for me, since my saw only cuts up to a 2×8 in one pass. Of course I hadn’t double checked my measurements so I still ended up having to cut the shorter pieces again at home. All told I spent about $96 for the wood, screws, glue and hinges. I spent about an hour measuring and cutting all of the wood.

 Step 3: Finish the Wood

This is by far the longest step. We are staining our wood green to match our garage and shed. We had some already, which was nice. The downside is that it is oil and takes a while to dry. Since almost all the wood will be visible depending on whether it is open or closed we need to finish all of the sides. I am using a small roller with the stain. I am still NOT finished with this. It needs 2 coats and so far only the bottom has 2 full coats. Everything else only has one coat right now. Unfortunately the weather has not been cooperating with us. I am hoping to have all of the staining done by the weekend so I can get this finished!

The kids taking a break from the water table to test out the sandbox

Step 4: Installing the Base/Sides:

Mr. S. stained the base 2x10s first, so those were ready to go in (we are leaving the side that will be exposed to the sand unfinished because I am concerned with it wearing off with the sand against it). We used nice long 3″ screws (3 per corner). I use almost exclusively screws with star bits. Home Depot now sells them (I use to have to hunt them down) in the deck screw area. I LOVE these! No slipping or stripped screws. Plus they are meant for exterior use, so they will hold up well. The Home Depot ones are tanish yellow in color and blend in pretty well with the wood.

The kids using the sandbox for the first time

Step 5: Putting in the Sand

I bought six 50 lbs bags of play sand to get started (I think we will need another 6 or so to fill the 18 sf). I looked for play sand that had been “prewashed” to minimize any contaminants.

Half Finished Top/Bench

Step 6: Making the Lid

This is the most intimidating part of the project, but really isn’t that hard. We used 14 boards all together for this (+4 armrests & 4 back supports)

-2 1x4s on each side as the base for the seat (see left side of picture above). These are permanently screwed to the frame

-2 1x4s on each side for the seat (this part flips over and has the armrests on the inside)

-3 on each side for the back of the bench (2 1x4s and 1 1×6). On Ana White’s instructions they only use 2 1x4s but since we are a 1′ wider I need to add a 1×6 to each back.

A. The first thing you want to do is layout all of the boards to double check the spacing. We were in between 1/4″ and 1/2″ in between the boards. If you have a piece of scrap wood or cardboard and the right thickness this will help keep the joints even. I ended up using a piece of scrap Styrofoam that i had on hand from some packaging.

B. Screw in the permanently attached pieces on each side.

C. Screw the arm rests on to the seats (making sure that the spacing matches the pieces that you installed previously

D. Screw the back supports on to the back pieces.

E. Test fit the pieces to make sure everything is going to fit properly.

Back and seat being attached together with hinges

F. I found it was easiest to attach the back and seat together first. This allows you to install these in a flat position instead of at an angle (since these hinges are on the inside when the sandbox is closed). I used 3″ strap hinges that are galvanized.

Sandbox in closed position

G. Attach the seat and back to the box with hinges while everything is flat.

H. Attach handles if you are using them (we chose not to since it is pretty easy to lift the way it is).

Maisie in the sandbox

Step 7: Test out the new sandbox!

Maisie busy with some new sand toys

I hope everyone has a great weekend! We have a summer cold going through the house and are hoping a quiet weekend will give everyone the rest that they need.