review: Wildlife in Your Garden

Wildlife in the Garden

I am super interested in attracting wildlife to our gardens. My milkweed patch is bigger than it was last year, which makes me super happy, and I’m definitely seeing a lot of pollinators and so far I’ve seen a monarch on two occasions! I feel like I have a lot of room to make our gardens even more welcoming, though, especially for non-bug wildlife. This book starts with three steps to create a wildlife-welcoming garden:
1. stop using pesticides
2. replace nonnative lawn with native plants
3. watch and enjoy

I’m all over all three of these! We already don’t use any pesticides and are working to replace the lawn with clover (and eventually more of it will be garden beds rather than clover, but it’s a process). Various types of insects are detailed here with a focus on the work they do in the garden. Fireflies, (AKA Lightning Bugs – which are beetles, so Lightning Bugs might actually be a less inaccurate name, but we’re still calling our house Firefly Cottage) for instance, are not only neat but are predators of soft-bodied larvae like slugs, snails, and worms. Not that we don’t want ANY of those in the garden, but they need to be kept in check. And I’d prefer to keep slugs to a minimum, which herps (short for herpetofauna: frogs and toads, speaking of which, did you know that toads are a type of frog? I didn’t!) can help with as well, as outlined here. I’d love to have a pond or something for amphibians to live in, but I really haven’t figured out a good way/place to do that yet. Maybe down the road! Birds are also big in this book and are another area I’d like to address more in our gardens. My future shrub hedge will provide a good place for some birds to nest but I wouldn’t mind providing some bird houses and/or nesting boxes as well. There’s even more information here about making habitats for bats, squirrels (we have no shortage of those!), and other creatures. This is a book I’ll for sure come back to as our gardens continue to develop.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Jackson District Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


ladybug release at Firefly Cottage

We released some beneficial insects in the garden, especially on a few of the apple trees, which seem to be host to some aphids (not a huge infestation yet, thank goodness, but figured we’d nip it in the bud, haha). Here are the ladybugs, which were super active and jumped right to work:

I also put out some lacewing fly eggs, which come packed in sawdust and you place on the tree in little hanging bags so they can emerge on their own when they’re ready.

Lacewing fly eggs in sawdust


garden update

We survived the flood last weekend pretty well and have no damage to report – we’re lucky! Many others in our town have flooded basements and yards and the local park system got completely flooded, as did several buildings at the University. I was slightly worried that we’d have damage in the gardens, but we fared quite well. A few things are droopier than they were before, but I’ve used some small wrought iron garden fencing bits that were left by the previous owner to prop them up, which is working fine. Here’s a quick update (filmed and edited on my iPod – pretty decent for the first try at that!):


review: Heirloom Country Gardens

Heirloom Country Gardens

Heirloom Country Gardens: Timeless Treasures for Today’s Gardens by Sarah Wolfgang Heffner

I was excited to snag this book for my garden collection. Heirloom plants? I’m in! Country gardens? I’m in! Cute cover with hand-drawn illustrations of pea pods? I’m super in. There’s a ton of great info here, as well as plenty of inspiration in the form of photos of other people’s gardens. I love to be able to see various plants growing in combination, especially in settings where they’ve had time to get established. Also included are lovely watercolor plans for various garden designs, each accompanied by a chart listing the plants along with the quantity needed to create the illustrated plan and notes for spacing and on particular aspects of each plant (“may go dormant by midsummer,” “often self-sows.”) The second section details vegetables, providing origin, classifications, growing info, how to save seed, and a handful of heirloom selections. Subsequent chapters focus on heirloom flowers, herbs, and fruits, including special features, history, and growing info for each. The final chapters provide more general information about creating and maintaining healthy, happy gardens, as well as some projects and recipes that will be at home in an heirloom garden or use the fruits of your garden labor.

full disclosure: I bought this book for a quarter at a rummage sale


review: Rock Gardening

Rock Gardening

Rock Gardening: Reimagining a classic style – gardens – techniques – plants by Joseph Tychonievich

Reducing water use is an increasingly popular topic as relates to gardening and landscaping. Though this author lives in Michigan, he traveled to a variety of locations in the United State and United Kingdom to explore rock gardens in a variety of climates. Many of these featured gardens are quite large and contain both rock and traditional gardens, but the focus here is on the former. Color photographs highlight both wide shots and close-ups of particular plantings. The second section focuses on techniques including constructing rock gardens in various styles, preparing and maintaining the soil, choosing containers, knowing your climate, and obtaining and propagating plants. The third and final portion of the book is a list of types and genii that are generally suited to rock gardens, such as cacti, campanulas, dianthus, sempervivums, and more. Several pages of description and color photographs are provided for each.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Genesee District Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


Firefly Cottage garden update

Whew! Time has gotten away from me a bit in terms of updating! I’ve been busy in the gardens, though, and we’re seeing new things blooming.

Firefly Cottage Panorama

Check out this panorama K. took! Pretty cool! Note that we live on a corner, so the two sidewalks on either side are actually perpendicular to one another. You can see that we’ve not had much rain lately by the state of the lawn – the parts where it gets green is where we have clover growing instead of grass. Someday the rest of the grass will be gone. You can also see that we have a lot of wee trees that are about 2′ tall – these are the fruit trees which I’ve pruned per Grow a Little Fruit Tree (and other sources). They’ll take some time to get larger but they should become lovely, manageable fruit trees that don’t take over a huge amount of space each. You can also see, to the right of the center walkway, the remains of the Burning Bush. I’ve been talking about getting rid of it and we finally did it. The city was doing a one-time-only brush chipping, so we took the branches off so they could get chipped with the lowest branches of the big conifer and the other branches we’ve gathered over the winter. After this photo was taken, we pulled out the root ball (thank goodness for the reciprocating saw! There were a couple of sizable roots that required it), which the chipping program would not take, and which is now drying out next to the garage until we figure out how to get rid of it.

Firefly Cottage views from upstairs #FireflyCottage

There’s the view from upstairs, where you can see the dirt circle where the Burning Bush was. You can also see that I finally started my dream of a hedge! There are three shrubs on each side of the front walkway: two on each side are Boxwood ‘Green Velvet’ and between those, Juniper ‘Grey Owl.’ I stopped out at Green Scene on Memorial Day weekend and got these along with a pretty-much perfect customer service experience. They don’t look like much at the moment, but we planted them spaced out to accommodate the size they will eventually be and they’ll take awhile to reach that size. Also barely visible in that photo are a bunch of seedlings growing on either side of the walkway. I scattered a bunch of seeds out there and they’re growing, but slowly. This year I sowed a bunch of things that should be shorter than last year’s monster Cosmos and Zinnias.

Firefly Cottage views from upstairs #FireflyCottage

Here’s some evidence of that lovely green clover! This was taken the same day as the photo above – you can really tell the difference in color between the clover compared with the grass.

Firefly Cottage gardens #FireflyCottage

You can see more clover on the far side of the walkways here – lots of blossoms mean we’re keeping the pollinators happy. The area surrounding the garage is also looking fairly decent.

Garage-surrounding garden

The Salvia ‘Lyrical Blues’ is looking gorgeous, and the Yarrow is about ready to bloom any day.


The Penstemon up against the garage is blooming and looks awesome.

This Spirea is trying to take over

This Spirea is out of control! I meant to move it before it bloomed this year but missed the window. It will have to be split pretty soon, though. Anyone want some?

House - surrounding garden

In the front, we have Blanket Flower, Nigella, Sweet William, and now the shrub rose is starting to bloom. There are some things in there that I’m pretty sure are weeds but I haven’t decided for sure yet.

Raised bed sprouts

The raised bed is also sprouting! I am doing a semi-decent job of remembering to turn the sprinkler on it, so here’s hoping that continues. I need to thin these, too. So things are going well so far! I’m hoping that we get the predicted rain this week.


review: Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks

Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks

Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks by Tim Richardson

This book contains sketches, landscape plans, and photos of 3D models of 37 gardens all over the world. A brief overview provides background about the garden and its planning process. The plans and sketches use a variety of media and are presented in relatively large format (the book is oversize) – it feels like an art book combined with a high-end designer’s sketchbook. It is gorgeous to look through and the only thing I wish it had included were photos of the completed gardens to compare with the designs. One bonus: this book is essentially a list of gardens that one might want to visit.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the James White Library at Andrews University through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: Growing Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit

Growing Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit

Growing Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit: A step-by-step guide to kitchen and allotment gardening with 1400 photographs by Richard Bird & Jessica Houdret

This hefty (over 500 pages) guide to growing your own food goes from the history of food gardens all the way through everything a gardener needs to know. It is filled with full-color photos on glossy paper, providing inspiration along with information. Though the design sections are not super lengthy, they provide creative ideas for different ways to set up your gardens, illustrated with photos and hand-drawn diagrams. Directories of vegetables, fruit, and herbs are also provided and include a wide variety of plants (the herb directory especially takes a broad definition of the term and includes a lot more than just the typical kitchen garden herbs).

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Herrick District Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest

The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest

The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by Michael VanderBrug

This book strives to be a start-to-finish guide to growing veggies in the Midwest (defined pretty broadly here as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). It has basic gardening instruction, planning information, a schedule of what to do January-December, a list of recommended plants, and tables of conversions, hardiness zones, and planting schedules. Printed on matte paper and with line drawing illustrations, this book has a homespun feel that will appeal to many gardeners.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Ann Arbor District Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: Gardening with Less Water

Gardening with Less Water

Gardening with Less Water: Low-tech, low-cost techniques * use up to 90% less water in your garden by David A. Bainbridge

We do not live in an area of the country that is frequently in a drought (YET), but I still try to use less water whenever possible. Especially with opportunist capitalist fatcats Nestle trying to take even more of our water (and sell it for a profit, naturally) here in mid-Michigan, it seems prudent to look for ways to reduce our water needs. It also makes sense from a lazy person’s perspective – the fewer times I need to haul the hose and sprinkler around the yard, the better. Ideally I’d like to only need to water when I’ve just transplanted or seeded, so everything can be self-sufficient the rest of the time. This book provides techniques and tips for minimizing water use by making sure that the plants get the water they need just as it is needed and with little to no loss due to evaporation or runoff. The super-efficient irrigation techniques detailed here include buried clay pots, porous capsules, deep pipes, wicks, porous house, buried clay pipe, and tree shelters. There are also a number of other techniques and actions described, as well as instructions for developing your own water-wise plan.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the West Bloomfield Township Public Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system