Category Archives: Winter Garden

Try A Terrarium For A Simple Winter Garden

It’s mid-January and life has returned to normal. The celebrations have been completed and now we get to return some time to the activities that provide motivation and enjoyment to our everyday life.  For those of us that love gardening, but live in cold climates where winter makes a solid statement, it is a great time to try a terrarium. Even The Washington Post said so this week!

Let it be known upfront that I AM a plant person, but I AM NOT a craft person. Therefore, I have resolved to keep my distance from certain garden projects that seem too “crafty,” albeit requiring a lot of fine detail work.  However, my resolve crumbled. Maybe it’s the gloomy winter skies or just the ubiquity of beautiful terrariums everywhere I go (physically and electronically), but I could no longer resist trying one of these miniature living worlds.

Surprisingly, I found these indoor gardens quite easy to construct!  So, if you too feel the need to create something with plants that emphasizes simple, natural beauty, try a terrarium. Here are the basic steps and tools needed to create something lovely!

DSC_0234First things first, select a container.  Terrarium containers must be glass or another clear material so plants inside can absorb light.  This could be anything from a mason jar, to a vase, to a cloche and shallow tray. For first timers, it is best to select a vessel with a large enough opening for easy placement of soil and plants. (Don’t start out with a perfume bottle as your first container!)

It is also important to think about where your terrarium will be placed.  If you build an ‘open’ terrarium, they can usually take some direct sunlight.  However, terrariums that are enclosed (have a glass cover over the top) should not receive any direct sunlight as the temperature inside can quickly rise and “cook” the plants. Place closed terrariums in an area that receives only indirect sunlight.

Photo courtesy of The Silly Pearl -

Photo courtesy of The Silly Pearl

Choose some plants and adornments. Lots of plants are adaptable to terrarium life and some popular choices that are readily available are succulents, cacti, air plants, ferns, small houseplants and mosses. It is important to consider the size of your vessel when selecting plants. Unless you have a really large container, you’ll be looking for plants in 2- to 4- inch pots. If you choose a specimen with a 4” rootball, you will need at least 4” of soil in your terrarium. After selecting plants, think about other embellishments you might want to add.  Shells, stones, and sea glass are some of my favorites but there are many possibilities. The perfect doodad(s) for your terrarium may be sitting in a drawer somewhere!

Photo courtesy of Analog Me

Photo courtesy of Analog Me

Create a foundation for healthy plant life. Since a terrarium doesn’t have drainage holes, you must create a drainage system to keep plants’ roots healthy. Place a layer of clean gravel on the bottom of your vessel. (Any small, clean stones will work.) The thickness of this layer depends on the size of your container but typically between one and four inches is best.  Smaller containers use thinner layers, and vice versa.



Photo courtesy of

The second level of the foundation is horticultural charcoal. The main benefit of adding charcoal is that it absorbs toxins (or chemicals) in the soil, water, and air that can build up in the terrarium and create damage. Charcoal also absorbs unpleasant odors that are a common problem for closed terrariums.

The final layer of the foundation is soil. The type of soil to use depends on the plants of choice.  If going with succulents/cacti, use a mix that is specially designed for these plants and is fast draining. If designing with ferns, houseplants, moss, etc… go with a high quality potting soil. (Avoid soils with moisture retaining agents.)

DSC_0068Place the plants and create the scene.  Add the amount of soil your plants require to the container.  A funnel or small pitcher can be helpful during this step because it allows better control of where the soil is placed and keeps it from splattering up the sides of the container.  Next, create a “hole”  wherever you want to place a rootball of a plant.  Once the plant is set in place, smooth soil around roots keeping the soil level just slightly lower than originally planted, if you plan to add decorative stones or sand on top.  If space is tight, use a plastic or wooden spoon to reach into the container and smooth the soil in place.

A good strategy is to place the largest plants first, then add smaller ones with adornments situated last.  When fixing embellishments, use chopsticks, an old toothbrush or tweezers to move items in place.  Alternatively, you can approach this last step with a bit of a laissez-faire style.  Let things fall out of your hands and land where they may as this can result in a more naturalist design.  And if you don’t like it, you can always tweak it.


DSC_0106There are lots of good sources for terrarium design.  I liked some of the ideas in “Terrarium Craft” by Amy Bryant Aiello and Kate Bryant.


Tips for Best Results:

  • Terrarium containers should be throughly cleaned before use.
  • Choose plants that can cohabitate together.  They must have the same soil, moisture and light needs.
  • Take care of any necessary pruning or grooming (washing/dusting/removing shriveled leaves) before placing in terrarium.
  • Inspect all plants for signs of insects or disease before placing.  Don’t use unhealthy plants.

Tool Basics:

  • Small pitcher or funnel to place soil
  • Plastic or wooden spoon to smooth soil around plant in tight spaces
  • Sponge paint brush to wipe excess soil or sand particles from side of container
  • Small paintbrush to cleanup any excess soil on plants after design is finished
  • Baster for watering plants after planted


Gardener ‘Shape Up’ – It’s Not A Challenge, It’s About Being Mindful

It’s January and yes it’s the time of year that many of us are revitalizing our commitment to living healthy.  Although do you ever feel January seems to run counter intuitive to this goal?  It’s colder, darker and gloomier than most other times of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere anyway) so it’s tougher to maintain that positive energy and keep yourself on track ‘livin’ the good life’ with fresh food, exercise and gusto.

Being mindful. So as I was reading about 2014 gardening trends (Garden Media Group report) and discovering ‘gardening for mindfulness’ is top of mind this year, it occurred to me that it might be nice to come together in these darker days and do more than look at seed catalogs. (Because you know, I always have a cup of hot tea when looking at seed catalogs and with that –  some cookies – 2,3,4 and it goes from there and then, you know, I’m off the track!)

How about for the next 30 days, let’s us gardeners “plan” for the 2014 growing season by getting in better shape and being mindful of our health.  In 30 days, it will be mid-February and the skies will be lighter longer and many of us will see the beginnings of new life in the garden (or at least in pots).  Thirty days is also enough time to kick bad habits and get on solid footing with good habits.

The details are simple.  Let’s commit 20 minutes of EVERY DAY to some sort of exercise (whatever you choose) where you are mindful about why you are doing it and grateful to be able to do it.  Think about how it will make you stronger, happier and more well-rounded.  (Er, maybe not the best choice of words, how about more dynamic!)  If you already exercise frequently, maybe make the commitment to do something every day or add 20 minutes more of a new activity such as stretching, meditating, simple calisthenics’ or outdoor walks.

Lastly, take another 10 minutes of your day and plan what you will eat the next day.  Make a shopping list, check food stores and plan for a bit of time to prepare it.

That’s it!  Just 30 minutes each day spent on being mindful about our health.

Who’s in?


Not sure you can find the time?  Thirty minutes can be found in most anyone’s day, after all, we will all find 30 minutes a day to spend in our garden as soon as Spring hits.  Let’s get ourselves ready… with stronger backs, legs, forearms, increased flexibility, etc…  it will make a difference with what projects we decide to take on this season.  Feeling strong generates a ‘can do’ attitude and with that comes new creativity and accomplishment.  Even if your goals are to downsize or edit your garden this year, it still takes a strong individual to take out the overgrown clumps of perennials, the looming shrubs, old vines, etc…


O.K., if you’re ‘in like Flynn’, join me here during the next 30 days for inspirations focused on edible gardening, exercise, healthy eating and mental well-being. And please, feel welcome to share your activities focused on being mindful about health and gardening.

Borrowing some words from fellow garden blogger, David Christiani, ( “It’s A Dry Heat.” )…  Let’s ‘Shape Up’ so we can re-shape ‘Out of Shape’ spaces come Spring!


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A LOVE(ly) Day Filled With Tulips

DSC_0043So last week was filled with red hearts, dark chocolates and Cupid’s mischievous arrow flying about…and Mother Nature was somehow struck along the way, for she showed some sweet love to us here in the Boise valley and the thermometer topped out in the mid-50s for several days in a row!

Of course, this change in weather made my gardening DNA leap out of dormancy and I was outside poking around thinking about what could be done in the garden.

It didn’t take long for me to find something to do, for as I was out searching the garage for tools and checking on tender perennials that are overwintering, I discovered a bunch of tulip bulbs that never got in the ground!

Forget about getting a head start on Spring, I still have Fall gardening to catch up on!

Tul1Many of the tulips were attempting to put out their first sprouts and there were no signs of mold or rot on them. Since they had definitely gone through enough of a “chilling period” being in my garage the last 3 months, I drug out several pots, purchased some potting soil and “potted up” to my heart’s content on my Valentines’ day.

Tul2After planting, I watered them in and set the pots in a slightly protected southern area and fingers crossed – they’ll forgive my tardiness and show me some love this Spring with bountiful blooms glistening violet and white.

Tulip 'Purple Prince'

Tulip ‘Purple Prince’

Tulip 'Hakuun'

Tulip ‘Hakuun’

I’ve not tried tulips to this extent before so I’m unsure of what to expect. However, I discovered I’m not the only one doing this experiment. Last week at Master Gardener class, the instructor asked if anyone attempted any planting during the nice weather.

I embarrassingly shared I planted tulips and to my surprise many others chimed in saying they did the same thing!

I was not alone in my discovery of bulbs that should have been sunk in the ground last fall OR my heartfelt desire to plant something during Mother Nature’s sweet surprise of unseasonable weather.

How about you? Do you experience a strong desire to plant or “garden” during a few days of winter that are above normal temps? Have you ever tried planting tulips very late in pots or otherwise? If so, was it successful?

Fiji: A Feast For Winter Eyes

For those of you with a case of winter blahs… that are tired of looking at a white horizon with nothing but gray and brown shapes scattered about and dismayed each day wondering if the sun will break through the hazy fog, here’s a bit of the Fiji islands to feast your eyes upon!  (I promise the next 2 minutes will be much more fun than watching snow melt and then freeze again!)


A shot from the seaplane of the amazing reef system around the islands

It is no secret, I’m not a fan of mighty cold. So luckily this January, which was the coldest in about 20 years in the Boise valley, I was able to escape part of winter’s freeze and enjoy the warmth of the Southern Hemisphere.

The Fiji islands warmed my body, heart and soul with its beautiful waters, embracing people and village living. It is well worth the long trip to this remote part of the world to experience the beauty and culture.


The one small village (approx 400 people) of Yageta.


A goodbye shot with some of our favorite hosts

Click below to take a little ‘mental vacation’ today and get some gorgeous color inspirations for your garden or home compliments of Mother Nature via the Fiji Islands.

Just in case anyone is curious, most of the photos were taken on or near Yageta, one of the islands in the Yasawa Group of Fiji.  Vinaka! ~ Thank you! 

My February Edible Garden

February is here and I’m getting excited as my seeds arrive, the 2012 growing season is about to begin.  Fresh ‘green goods’ from my garden no longer seem like a pipe dream as I look out onto the bland back yard. I’m imagining how wonderful they will look and taste in just a another couple of months.  But something strikes through this imaginative state and I think about my edible garden from last year that is in the freezer?  With a new growing season on the horizon have I forgotten about some fresh, admittedly frozen, ‘goodness’ from last year’s garden?

I spent valuable time in-doors last season carefully preparing and freezing various items.  I can’t let myself  forget about them even though I’m currently focused on going to grocers that offer high-quality fruits and vegetables so that we can continue eating fresh during the winter.

However, the whole purpose of preserving the harvest is to enjoy it once production has stopped, so last week I decided to break my current routine.  I looked in the freezer before I went to the grocer.  I made food from my February edible garden!

To start, blueberries.  Remember the 50 lbs of blueberries I picked in the Pacific Northwest last summer? Little bags of frozen berries were stuffed everywhere in our freezer.  You may be surprised to hear that only 4 bags are left!  No, I have not gone wild adding a bit of blueberry to every dish no matter what it is.

Instead, my daughters (also sometimes referred to as ‘garden mates’ ) have developed a wonderful habit of eating a bowlful of frozen blueberries each night before they go to bed.  It is so routine for them that they don’t even ask about dessert anymore, they just know they’ll get blueberries if they eat a good dinner.  Now this is not to say that if I offer something different they wouldn’t snatch it up in a heartbeat with their little sweet-tooths. But they are completely content having a snack of blueberries as their dessert.  

How did this happen?  I don’t actually know…maybe it’s one of the positives that can happen from taking your children u-picking and forging a real connection about where their food comes from along with its beauty and taste…

Back to my February edibleswith only a moderate amount of blueberries left I decided to try one new recipe that would be healthy in nature and offer my family something beyond “blueberries straight-up!” :)  I chose ‘Best Blueberry Muffins’ from Eighty-Twenty, a food blog that I like.  These were easy to make and quite a good little ‘starter’ in the mornings as they include rolled oats, yogurt, blueberries, etc… with just a modest amount of sugar.  Here’s the recipe if you want to try it.

Through the process of looking around in the freezer I found some packages of my homemade spaghetti sauce. You may be thinking, “o.k., some tomatoes from the garden”…but there are onions, carrots and lots of herbs in it as well.  So really, lots of fresh produce straight from the garden, with a stop in the freezer, to the table.

Spaghetti is always easy but having the homemade sauce with deliciousness from the garden and a different flavor than store-bought sauces makes it seem special.

And my third choice for the week was a sour-cherry pistachio crisp.  Again, while searching the freezer I found several containers of wonderful sour-cherries that I picked from my mom and grandma’s trees.  I looked for some recipes with a healthy bent and came up with this one from Martha Stewart.  I was intrigued with combining these intricately flavored cherries with pistachios, a favorite nut around our house.  Interested?

The crisp was a hit with my family !  Lots of cherry flavor combined with an earthy-nuttiness, just enough sweet and easy to make!

So I made a dent in my February edible garden and still have some ‘garden goodness’ to pull out.  How about you?  Do you spend time preserving your harvest and then find yourself forgetting to eat it during the winter months?

If so, hopefully this will be a reminder to go to your freezer or pantry to find your February edible garden!

First Snow Inspires A Winter Haiku

First winter snow falls
 Dry trees breathe deeply with smile
 A joyous trip to Seattle is my tea

A little winter Haiku for me today after awaking to the first snowfall in the Boise area.  And yes, the trees and other plants in the garden are happy today because it has been such a dry winter.

When temps are below freezing every night and the air is very dry with little moisture anywhere, it is really tough on tree/plant health.  So much so, that just last week one of the local nurseries, Franz Witte, put out a notice letting customers know they should start winter watering all evergreens and deciduous plants that were recently planted (1-2 years).

Thankfully Mother Nature has taken care of this before I had to go out and find a hose and sprinkler, get a faucet turned on, water and then drain the hose before the temps fell back to freezing. Whew, thanks again Mother N!

Maybe you are wondering about the last line of my is in reference to my upcoming getaway to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle during February.  I’m so excited to go to this show again!  The display gardens and seminars are fantastic and there is a plethora of new ideas and information to absorb.

This show is a great place to spend time with gardening friends, learn from the pros and buy some fantastic plants!  The only downside is that this weekend full of Spring makes it hard to come back to Zone 6 and eight more weeks of winter weather!

If interested in attending check out the website where you will find descriptions of display gardens, a seminar schedule, travel packages and more.

Drop me a line if you decide to attend, maybe we’ll run onto each when rushing for a new, ‘must-have’ garden delight!