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: 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


early spring garden walkthrough

This weekend I took a walk through the gardens to see how things look at the beginning of our spring growing season. There’s not a huge amount happening, but there are signs of life returning!

The lilacs are looking good after we did the really big prune last year:

Lilac really doing just fine after hard prune last year

White Lilac rebounding after deep prune last year

I’ll be picking up more fruit trees from the Conservation District later this week, so I need to pick up some more mulch to go around them and get ready to dig some holes. I ordered probably too many trees, but as our goal is to have the yard be completely gardens (except the fenced in area where Coraline runs around, which will just be clover without much else), I’m pretty much fine with having a ton of petite fruit trees throughout.

Lots more pics on Flickr.


review: Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives

Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives

Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives: The easy and treatment-free way to attract and keep healthy bees by Rob and Chelsea McFarland

This approach to beekeeping is based on understanding bees and working with them in as many ways as possible (as opposed to putting the human’s needs/wants first). For a first-time beekeeper, this book recommends three crucial elements: community, education, and equipment. Of these, equipment will be the most expensive in terms of dollars – a basic first year’s worth of equipment will run approximately $500. Lots of detail is provided about the equipment and options available with special attention to why the authors recommend particular choices. All the phases of beekeeping are outlined, from planning all the way through to harvesting honey and maintaining healthy hives. I aspire to keep bees someday and this book is a great place to start.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Shiawassee District Library through the MeLCat ILL system


review: Garden Made

Garden Made

Garden Made: A Year of Seasonal Projects to Beautify Your Garden & Your Life by Stephanie Whitney-Rose

Divided by season, these projects are made using and reusing commonly available items and range from decorated pots and signs to things that are more fully created from start to finish, like seed paper. Stylistically, they fall into either the cottage garden or shabby chic aesthetic. Most of the projects are designed to live in the garden but several winter projects are suited to the indoors, including a variety of terrariums. A list of resources is provided for vendors offering the materials needed for some of the more specific projects.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Marine City Public Library through the awesome MeLCat ILL service


a shrubbery!

We’ve had a burst of really unseasonable weather – but it’s been gorgeous and sunny and just what we need here in the land of overcast winters. (We know winter won’t really be over for a month or most likely more.) This has put me even more in the mood to think about the garden and what I hope to work on this year.

As you might remember from last year, here is a diagram of the yard and some ideas for pathways and such:

Firefly Cottage 2016-03-30

You’ll notice around the edges that I want to put in a hedge. This ideally will eventually surround the entire yard and will be higher in the back for increased privacy, but in the front I only want it to get about 3-4′ high. I want it to be composed of shrubs that naturally grow to about that height but not higher, because I am super not interested in trimming hedges all the time. I also like the look of a natural hedge better than one that has been groomed.

I’ve read in some books about traditional cottage gardens that they often use multiple varieties of plants to create a hedge, so having it all be the same is not necessary required. Another priority for me is to have it be evergreen – I can plant deciduous shrubs elsewhere in the yard. I’d like the hedge to look good in winter (since we have plenty of that) and support birds, which a lot of evergreen shrubs do. Ideally I can also get mostly female plants so they can act as a pollen screen or at least produce less pollen overall.

Here are some options I’m looking at – please comment with any feedback if you’ve got experience or suggestions!

Korean Boxwood
Korean Boxwood (Buxus microphylla koreana)
This one grows 3-4′ tall and wide, making it an ideal shape for a hedge plant. It also attracts bees, which I also like. It doesn’t love full sun, which might be a problem, though this site does say that ‘up north’ it should be okay. I’m also looking at the ‘Wintergreen’ variety of Korean Boxwood.

 Boxwood 'Welleri'
Boxwood ‘Welleri’ (Buxus sempervirens ‘Welleri’)
This one is right in the 3-4′ height sweet spot and spreads 5′. It should theoretically look nice in winter and is supposed to be great at providing a solid screen.

Boxwood 'Green Mountain'
Boxwood ‘Green Mountain’ (Buxus sempervirens ‘Green Mountain’)
This one is a little taller, getting 4-5′ and is supposed to do very well in cold climates.

For taller varieties, I’m looking at:

Boxwood 'Inglis'
Inglis Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Inglis’)
This one grows to 9-10′ high and 8-9′ wide. It’s supposed to be really hardy and attractive.

Juniper 'Wichita Blue'
Juniper ‘Wichita Blue’ (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Wichita’)
I love the color of this one! It gets 10-15′ high and is supposed to provide a really solid windscreen. I’d love to grow this all along the back of our yard to provide a living fence to block our view of our neighbor’s back yard AND to provide a nice backdrop for other plantings.

Have you grown an evergreen hedge? Any recommendations?


snow time like the present

We got our first big snow of the winter yesterday. It feels like it’s late in coming, but it’s not really – it’s just that we had a lot of unseasonably warm weather this autumn so it’s only recently gotten cold.

Firefly Cottage looking super cute #FireflyCottage #mtpleasantmi #pureMichigan

A photo posted by Anne H. (@annethelibrarian) on

K and I both spent some time snowblowering and shoveling and were able to keep on top of it pretty well. It was also quite powdery which makes clearing it easier.

Roses in the snow #FireflyCottage #mtpleasantmi #pureMichigan

A photo posted by Anne H. (@annethelibrarian) on

Our somewhat lopsided xmas tree at #FireflyCottage #mtpleasantmi #pureMichigan

A photo posted by Anne H. (@annethelibrarian) on

It was really pretty, too!

Lilac still has leaves from getting confused during the warm autumn

This lilac got fooled into putting out new leaves during the warm autumn, and it is still hanging on to some of them. It is weird to see such bright green leaves in the snow.

This Lilac only grew a few confusion leaves

This one only put out a few leaves. We cut down the very tall branches of both of these plants in the spring, so they can now be shrubs again instead of gangly tall trees with blooms and leaves only at the very top.

Back of the house

I haven’t posted many pictures of the back of the house, but here is one! You can see the strange window layout the original owners chose on the shed dormer – the bigger one is in the stairway and the small one is in the upstairs bath. It makes sense from the inside but looks weird on the outside.

And lastly, a reminder that we forgot to remove the window screens this fall.

Strata #FireflyCottage #mtpleasantmi #pureMichigan

A photo posted by Anne H. (@annethelibrarian) on



We planted two apple trees last year, and they are both still alive, though one seems to be doing better than the other. It was a REALLY hot summer and I think that they got more heat and less water than they wanted.

Forgive this terribly-lit photo:
This apple tree got scorched? or something, only looking about half okay

This one is the one that is not doing as well. It doesn’t have any fruit and part of it looks like it just got scorched.

This apple tree got scorched? or something, only looking about half okay

Parts of it look okay, though, with green leaves growing on normal-looking (as far as I can tell) wood.

This apple tree got scorched? or something, only looking about half okay

You can see the contrast there. I’m not sure what to do about it – need to do more research. If anyone knows more about this, please share!

Happily, the other one has several teensy little apples, so it’s at least trying!

A couple of wee apples on this tree

It’s definitely a tiny start, but baby steps, right?


saving seeds: Cosmos

It’s the time of year where I can start saving seeds and I am super excited about it. While this is probably a tedious task for a lot of folks, I really enjoy it. It’s especially enjoyable with a plant like Cosmos, which has super easy to gather seeds that separate from the chaff with practically no effort.

My usual procedure is to take a pair of household shears and snip the dried seed head off the stem directly into a large envelope.

Front walk flowers

When I’ve gathered all the seed heads I can find, I gently crush the envelope between my hands so most of the seeds fall off the heads. Then I dump it out onto a piece of paper towel (a piece of plain white paper works well, too) and pick out the seeds.

Saving seeds - Cosmos

I place these into a smaller envelope and let them fully dry out (usually they are super dry by this point, but I like to make sure so that there’s no chance they’ll mold). When I’ve got all the seeds out, I dump the chaff into the compost and wait for more seed heads to dry out on the plant. It’s so easy! I’m hoping to plant cosmos in a few different places in the yard next year – they’re lovely by the front walk but they’re SO HUGE and really just a bit big for that area. You can see here that some of them are as tall as I am!

These cosmos have reached Anne height

This is just a bit overwhelming for a front walk, I think. I’m really hoping that these seeds I’m gathering allow me to create more pollinator-friendly areas next year!

Front walk flowers