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

MVP: Alyssum

My MVP for this year’s garden is 100% the Sweet Alyssum I sowed from last year’s dollar store clearance seeds.

Garage as viewed from upstairs #FireflyCottage #garden

As you can see, it’s filled in a large amount of space around the garage, keeping weeds out for the most part and looking lovely at the same time. And the area on the left, where there isn’t any Alyssum? That’s because I didn’t get that area cleared out until later and didn’t seed any there. And on the right side of the garage it SUPER filled in around the hostas.

Garage surrounding garden

It’s perfect and I really hope to either save some seeds or that it will self-sow and come back next year. I love that it required pretty much zero work from me – I just scattered seeds and then kept it watered, mostly, and it thrived! I’ve struck out so far with finding end of season seeds on clearance this year, but I’m still keeping my eye out. If you see any, let me know what store!


Things are going pretty well in the Firefly Cottage gardens overall. The flowers and ornamentals I sowed and planted are really doing quite well – I’m so happy that so many of the Dollar Store clearance bin seeds from last year germinated.

I haven’t grown Zinnias before and I love them! Pollinators seem to love them, too, and I’m hoping to be able to save seeds for next year.
Gardens at Firefly Cottage
So many of them remind me of ladies’ hats from yore.

The Cosmos have also been growing really exuberantly – some of these are almost as tall as I am!
Gardens at Firefly Cottage

This is Celosia, which I haven’t grown before:
Gardens at Firefly Cottage
I actually think I weeded some of this when it was young because it looked weedy and I couldn’t identify it! D’oh! At this stage, you can so tell it’s related to Amaranth, can’t you?

I also planted a bunch of seeds around the house and the Petunias have been really going to town:
Gardens at Firefly Cottage
I am usually not a huge fan of these annuals – I like perennials since they just keep on going and require so much less from me – BUT I am seeing so many pollinators that I think I may change my attitude.

In the raised bed, I have had a powdery mildew issue. I have been almost entirely ignoring this garden except to pick the occasional cucumber, though, so I guess I can’t complain.
Gardens at Firefly Cottage

I do have two sizeable pumpkins growing, though, so maybe the powdery mildew isn’t such a big deal?
Raised bed garden
I wonder if they’ll turn out okay!

I sowed marigold seeds all around the perimeter of this bed and some of them are huge!
Gardens at Firefly Cottage
This one is easily over four feet tall! Most of the rest are somewhere between one and two feet tall.

Lastly for now, I also threw down some dill seeds on the north side of the garage and there are a few sprouts:
I just love the smell of dill, don’t you?

garage garden progress

This weekend we finally got a little bit of a break from the heat and humidity so I was able to get out and transplant some more clearance perennials and hand-me-downs from my folks.

Garage-surrounding garden

I started by clearing out the last section of this area next to the garage, which was full of crab grass and other weeds (speaking of, the Lamb’s Quarters has been ridiculous this year! It must love the heat). I yanked those out and put in some Coreopsis, Speedwell, Guara, Pachysandra, Lamium, and Vinca. I’m really just trying to get the area covered right now so that it will help keep weeds out. The gnats were THE WORST so I only stayed out as long as I needed to. There’s still some Wisteria popping up in this area but I didn’t take the time to do a good removal job – I just yanked what I could get. Maybe when it’s less horrible outside I can do a better job – I’m sure I will when, eventually, I am moving plants around.

The area this section continues into is looking pretty decent, actually:

Garage-surrounding garden

Aside from the big sprawl of crab grass I need to yank out of the Alyssum, this area is looking pretty okay:

Garage-surrounding garden

And the Alyssum and Hostas on the other side of the garage are looking pretty darn good considering I seeded and transplanted them all this season:

Garage-surrounding garden

Some Candytuft flowers are beginning to poke through the Alyssum in this area:

Dollar store Candytuft seeds coming through

And the Dill I seeded nearer the side of the garage is sprouting! Not sure I’ll get much usable this year, but next year hopefully it will come back:

Dill sprouting

Other areas of the yard are coming along, though due to heat and weeds things are definitely not looking as good as I wish they were. Please try to ignore the horrible crabgrass sprawling everywhere around everything!

The Moonflowers are starting to grow up my improvised triangular trellis:

Moonflower starting to climb

The Morning Glories and Zinnias around the birdbath are coming up:

Bird bath with morning glories and zinnias

I know that Morning Glories will want to be taller than this, but frankly I’m fine with just the foliage at this point.

The shrub rose out front has been reblooming again!

Shrub rose reblooming

I just love how unstoppable this thing is.

Despite being set upon by Japanese Beetles, the Zinnias along the front walkway are blooming pretty nicely!

Front walkway with zinnias and others

At least on the east side of the walkway. The west side must not have gotten as many seeds:

Front walkway with zinnias and others

I am so looking forward to cooler temperatures as we get into fall. I would love to spend a lot more time out in the garden than I’ve been able to – I just can’t take the heat!

smartlyheated.com helped me a lot!