Zen Luxury. Creating a Garden that is Lush. Easy. Peaceful.

Zen Luxury.  Creating a Garden that is Lush.  Easy.  Peaceful.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why My Garden is Better Than Your Garden

[I just wanted to know if that totally immature heading would be good marketing for my blog post today! lol]

Reasons why my garden is superior to yours (maybe):

  1. No animals that trample, eat or poop may enter my garden. That's because this garden is a second floor balcony and free from access by deer, moose, cats, big wheels, digging dogs and inquisitive neighbors.

  2. Easy care. I can water the whole garden in 7 minutes or less. I can trim and maintain the plants and flowers in about 10-15 minutes (or until the ice melts in my vodka).

Aww, don't hate me because I pretend to be smug on my tiny little patch of paradise.

How lucky are all of us who posses our own patch of green garden, no matter what size that garden might be?

That actually makes me think of a third advantage, though frankly, we all share in this one. It is MY garden. Mine to enjoy. Each and every one of you fellow gardeners has that very same advantage.

How cool is that?

Blog on!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Adding a Water Fountain to a Small Garden

I may have looked at hundreds of fountains on every conceivable website for fountains, birdbaths, and water features. I searched through every nursery and big-box store in my area. I considered turning a small ceramic "fish-pot" into a water feature (though one of my sisters said, "no, no, no -- just buy a fountain").

The fountains seemed categorized roughly into three markets:

  1. small tabletop (is that even safe to use outdoors? I figure "no") with prices in $50 - $150 range

  2. affordable resin in many shapes & colors, some with immersed lights, many with several levels for cascading water (and how am I going to clean out one of those?) with prices ranging from $70 - $300 and most models priced around $175

  3. expensive, large stone suitable for estates and circular driveways with prices beginning at $800 and moving upward into that zone known as "Custom, Call for Pricing" (the cost of freight would exceed that base price)

My personal review of the above categories resulted in opinions of too quiet, too easily broken and just too damn large and heavy (respectively). This should be a simple thing to find -- a feature to bring the calm, gurgling sounds of running water onto my balcony.

I found a cute ceramic fountain with the best features of all categories. With only 4 pieces, it is easy to clean and took just a few seconds to assemble on my balcony (in the dark no less). It holds about one gallon of water, has an adjustable water pump and makes a lovely sound. It is ceramic (oh, be careful!) which is good feng shui. Best of all, the fountain is only about 20" high. Very cute. I had hesitated thinking that this might be too tiny. My fears were unfounded since this ceramic piece has the "feel" of an artisan with an undulating shell pattern, varying hues of blue, and, to me, an endearing appeal of looking handmade. There is no Made in China sticker on this [not that there's anything wrong with that...]. Goldilocks found just the right size.

I got so excited that I took a flash photo in the dark about 3 seconds after setting up the fountain (see first photo and oh yeah, does that ever look swell next to the purple watering can, eek).

By the next afternoon, I had the fountain settled in very nicely (second photo).

I am amazed how much pleasure this adds to my garden experience. Difficult to describe, yet I'd say it has added another dimension to my enjoyment. Additionally, that subtle water sound is soothing. I would call that a Zen experience for me. After setting this up the first evening, I lit a candle and sat in my garden for, oh, about 4 hours. Just lovely.

Feng shui dictates that the flow of water be directed towards my door and that suits me just fine.

I Like Bee Butts and I Cannot Lie...

Well, yeah, "bee butts".

If I see those, then I know my garden is attracting lots of bumble bees. I have two varieties attending to my garden. One is plump and fuzzy, mostly black with a bit of bright yellow. I started with one and now he visits with one or two other bees. The other variety is a more slender bee with even black and subdued yellow stripes. A "yellow jacket"?

Apparently they prefer different flower nectar.

I am greatly amused to see the Full Immersion approach of the bumble bees when it comes to the torena (see last photo).

July 3 -- Jewel Colors and Lush Plantings on the Balcony

Two things I've learned this season: (1) I'm a bit crazy about those deep, jewel colors in the garden, and (2) I'm getting better with my camera [most of those garden blogs out there set the bar pretty high].

To show how LUSH my balcony garden has become, I took two photos from my patio chair. I still have a few things I wish to "do" to make my small garden feel more complete, but hey -- this is real nice for right now!

Looking left you will be able to perceive the two levels of planters. It's not quite so clear on the view to the right. I get a kick out of looking at the plantings on the balcony to the right. She replaced the yellow plants with red geraniums.

Yes, the elephant ear bulb has come up nicely. I am enjoying the size of those leaves. I swear one frond grew about an inch during my session on the computer.

What's Eating You?


I remember hearing that question a thousand times, "What's eating you?" or maybe even, "What's bugging you?"


I got a bit too much insight on that today. What the heck happened? It got really hazy, hot and humid and I missed looking at my plants for a day? Look what happened...

Luckily the damage seemed confined to the sweet potatoes and the calla lilies. I did the total organic "thing". That is, I yelled and then shook the plant leaves. Beetles fly away pretty quick.

I'm keeping an eye out for a return.

June 23 the Color and Texture of a Garden

As I've stated elsewhere on this blog, I'm not a big fan of Symmetry. Oh sure, it has its place and I have witnessed some stunning landscapes done with pleasing symmetry.

It's just not for me.

In these photos, you can see how I've mixed silver-grey foliage with blues and purple flowers, set against complementary colors from the opposite side of the color wheel to create an impact. I've added dark foliage, variegated foliage and lacy trailing foliage all to add variety.

Though I am a beginner, I hope you can see evidence of some dark foliage and deep jewel tone flowers to offset the lighter pastels of small flowers.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 21 - the Mature Garden

LUSH garden?

Mission accomplished! This first photo is looking left with part of the middle window box and only a portion of the lower hanging basket. This is a SMALL section of my lush zen garden!

I am humbled every morning when I come onto my balcony to take a photo or two. Or maybe a dozen. I am enchanted with each emerging flower! The oriental lilies begin to open and the fragrance is wonderful.

Each flowering plant seems to thrill with its own beauty. Is this the "top" of the garden? Is the peak of its flowering performance? Only time will tell.

So far, it just takes my breath away. Every single day.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 17 - Garden Needs a Haircut

My balcony garden was in need of an adjustment.

I’m not talking about the normal maintenance issues (which I’ll cover on another post), I’m talking about some major adjustments. Just as the chiropractor realigns the spine, or a hairdresser cuts the hair back into proportion, my plants needed an evaluation and some renewal.

What stays? What goes?

The following full photos clearly show a few bare spots where nemesia has died back and the zinnias are failing. I see too much purple on the right side of the balcony and too much orange on the left.I'm losing height as the lovely gerberas are turning down their displays. Along with uneven trailers, I notice some height “issues” where plants did not grow as expected and my window boxes look unbalanced. Unbalanced? I know, I know! Me talking about “balance” in a garden dedicated to lush abandonment seems like a contradiction. Yet, is it a contradiction?

Over the course of the first 6 weeks of this garden’s progress, certain plants grew well while others failed. Nature does its thing, even right here in my own small garden space.

At what point do I, as the gardener, make some major changes?

Could I achieve the balance and perspective that is pleasing to my eye while still allowing lush wildness, a sense of mystery and the ability to acknowledge horticultural surprise, and do this all in a 5’ X 10’ balcony?

In my artist’s eye, I desire the perspective of any container to grow as high, or slightly higher, than the depth of the container. Accordingly, for my 7” deep window box, I desire that the center plants grow about 8 – 12”. I also strive to encourage trailers to drip down about 2/3 of the container height (see also my How To Plant a Container Garden for details about the well-known Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers).

In order to make these major adjustments and removals (heads will roll, I’m telling you now!), I headed back out to my two favorite nurseries in search for replacement nursery stock. In my mind, I am seeing some tall foliage plants and/or tall orange flowering plants (zinnias perhaps?). Ugh, who knew the quality of the plants would be so poor? The nursery “season” for the sale of small plants (3” pots or 6-pack annuals) is obviously OVER. Already? Focus appeared to be on some very lovely, large hanging baskets that do not suit my mood or my environment. I’m bummed as I continue to shop. What I found were lots of impatiens (NO thank you), oodles of coleus (grabbed the biggest, darkest ones I could find) and the standard zinnias, marigolds and ageratums. Sigh. At the second nursery, I see a small inventory of failing calibrachoa -- my now favorite plant. I am, once again, predictably over-purchased. Therefore, I need to be ruthless and really do a Search and Replace here in my own garden.

What plants no longer bring me joy?

Today’s Haircut Plan:

  1. Eliminate what is not performing and replace with known performer

  2. Adjust the height by adding tall specimens into 3 window boxes

  3. Adjust the trailers both outside, and inside, the railings

  4. Adjust some color dominance

  5. Check the pansies and remove any gone full into seeding

Various Gardener Notes:

Are you cracking up because you cannot believe that a small-space gardener would actually have a workplan for the day? Ah, we do create them and our execution is quite short. I spent 2 hours on the balcony doing this remove, readjust and rebalance festival. A portion of that time included my photography, my video on the outside of the window boxes (see next post) and watering my newly disturbed containers. My total work effort for this balcony garden in 2010 is 6-8 hours for the May creation and the mid-June adjustment. Not bad! My futzing, putzing and consistent pinching/pruning time is not included as I view my doting as the meditation of the garden.

For those of you who are avid gardeners, I know you are cringing when you see I have placed coleus right next to gerbera, croton and calla lily. Don’t they have very different sun requirements? Yes! I’m experimenting here. These railing boxes get 3 hours of direct sunshine, otherwise they only receive bright light or filtered sun.

BTW, the calla lilies no longer bloom, though they are happily growing as foliage plants and ya know what? I think they look darn good.

I found no other suitable tall foliage plants and the zinnia stock was not suitable. I purchased dark coleus for height and contrast of color and if the coleus experiment does not work, I’ll go back to adding in some crotons. Crotons are lovely plants with super colors, they just do not grow for me and the leaves they lost have not been replaced. What I love about the common coleus is that every time you whack off the top of that plant, it simply grows double the amount of leaves. That’s a wonderful thing.

Oh if only I could find the way to double my investment portfolio this easily!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Butterfly Arrives June 15

I saw this little guy flitting about the grounds earlier today.

I am gratified to observe that my garden has "passed muster" for a butterfly feeding, if only from two varieties of flowers. This butterfly is a very light yellow with a spot on each wing. After reviewing the regional butterflies at www.discoverlife.org site, it appears this butterfly is one of the Sulfur variety, either the Colias interior or the Colias philodice (aka, the Lively Clouded Sulfur).

Note, of course, that I could be totally wrong about that.

Time to review my Preferred Garden Visitor list for 2010, and see which of my intended visitors have been spotted to date:

1. bumble bee - CHECK
2. ladybug -- CHECK
3. butterfly -- CHECK
4. bird -- CHECK

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 14 Bumbilicious Video

I love the convenience of the Flip Video. It may be time to consider using a hi-def model. The two videos herein are provided for your audio and visual enjoyment.

Friends of the Garden

Just did a bit of snipping and dead-heading on my flowers this morning, when along came one of my garden friends.

Well hello there, it's a very loud bumble bee.

Since I think its benign buzzing sound is worthy of being captured, I grabbed my Flip Video and caught some nice video of this bee performing its rounds through my torenia, bacopa and back into the torenia (I have blue and two varieties of a red/violet).

This is a daily morning ritual for this bee. I note that the bee is lingering more and more, perhaps the insect needs to wait for the torenia to be "mature" enough to provide sufficient pollen? Lots of movement from this guy today. And yes, the video reveals this bee is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille. Buzzed right up to the video and just about bumped into me several times. Yes, that is me backing out of his way.

Hmm, is this where we get the word "bumbling"?

As my video caught the bee moving off to another patch of bacopa, I noticed something NEW right there on my unopened calla. First, a word about that calla. That is a healthy plant with a spath unopened for approximately 2 weeks (sigh). I am just going to state that I have callas for lovely foliage plants this year. It appears that more sun would be needed to provide those gorgeous yellow flowers. OK, back to the bugs...

I am thrilled to spot a new visitor -- a ladybug!

Please enjoy the following short video (click on left arrow to play) which includes a bee, a ladybug and the accompanying sounds of local songbirds.

This is how western Long Island, NY, sounds in the early summer. Delightful.

Next month, it will be full of the droning of air-conditioners and then August's sounds will be dominated by cicadas. Ah, but June belongs to the songbirds as they lay their eggs and care for their brood. The dominant song is, I believe, of the very close-by Cardinal (see my early post on the pair).

Hmm, does that word relate to "brooding" as in a deep and prolonged thought? Is it possible that my garden is driving me to improve my vocabulary? Nah.

Here is a second video highlighting the view of my 2 tier planting system. I'm loving the lushness of all this. Again, songbirds.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Birds and the Bees

Well, alright now. Here we go. Now we are starting to see some interesting blog topics. Birds and bees, huh? Whatever could I be up to with this post? So this morning, there I was, communing with my garden balcony oasis, watching my friendly bee visitors from three types (species? genus?) of bees, when lo and behold! A spider.

I hate spiders. Spiders just creep me out. Ugh! So here comes one really big, shiny, black spider zipping its way along the top of the balcony railing. Moving along its private Spider Highway.

I got my camera ready to catch a snapshot, but you know how sneaky those arachnids can be. Creepy 8-legged miniature beasts that they are. This spider dipped under a railing post and disappeared. That image to the left is not a photo and may appear larger than reality. Yet smaller than my arachnophobia recalls. That balcony spider is probably lying in wait. No doubt biding its time to come out and drop upon me. Causing my person to levitate high into the air on a single expletive (!) This can be dangerous for a woman living on the second floor.

I hate spiders, did I mention that?

Yet this got me to thinking about where this balcony garden started a mere six (6) weeks ago. I had nothing out on my bland 2nd story terrace but 4 chairs, a crooked table, 3 window boxes and some old pottery. I had not sat out on the balcony in years. My garden had not been planted for the past 11 years. It was a desert. Lonely. Lifeless. Once the plants came and the flowers opened, they attracted those bees. I assume bugs begot more bugs. Maybe there is some bug-hotline. Some Insect Web? Hence the spider. Yes, I know I can hear my late father's voice, "spiders are good because they eat other bugs". What bugs? I have seen only a few ants. Gee, maybe Spidey is doing a really good job at maintaining a bug-free environment?

So I thought to myself, "Hmmm, bugs. What eats bugs?" Certainly I would prefer a praying mantis or two out there instead of spiders. Yet, maybe a bird or two coming onto the balcony would be perfect. Birds eat bugs.

I love birds!

Birds sing happy songs. And they eat bugs. Bugs removed from my balcony makes me want to sing. Okay, okay. I have a dreadful, toneless singing voice and perhaps the Universe understands that a happy bird-song is better than... well, me.

As an aside, here is a link to attracting urban birds into an avian oasis that you, or your child, can easily create, courtesy of the fabulous Cornell:


Manifest Your Desires

Okay, I am not making this up. About 5 minutes after this train of thought in which I envision the imminent demise of the aforementioned arachnid, I see this flash of red swoop out and down between our trees on the common grounds. That movement could be nothing less than a showy cardinal.

Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, identifies this as the eastern cardinal, Richmondena cardinalis, of the class Aves, order Passeriformes, and family Fringillidae. I'm amazed that this large bird is a member of the finch family. Finches are typically small birds, yet, that bill on the cardinal certainly bears a strong resemblance to the finches that Darwin studied. Why is it that the nose is always a family trait?

He loops back from a tree and sits upon my crooked table for a moment. Looking regal. What a stunning bird! I attempt to do a stealth walk to grab my camera, but he disappears. Sigh. Another opportunity missed. Gone forever. I will have to write about this on my blog with no photograph. Maybe just a sketch. I assure you that my art work is FAR better than my singing ability, so relax. Just to let you know, that cardinal was nowhere near that spider (aka, Loathsome Invader). I mean, if I'm going to "manifest" my thoughts and desires into a spider-eating-avian-avenger (and a pretty one at that), well then the least this red bird could do is investigate for bugs on the balcony. I continue to hear lots of short, chirpy bird sounds outside. Let's call these sounds "Male and Female Let's Make a Nest" sounds. Sure enough, the female alights on my balcony, under the railing and behind the lily bulbs. Drat. That is not a good photo opportunity. What is she seeking? Gone!

My camera battery is flashing "low" with increasing ferocity. I only have a few more moments. Aha! Here's that elusive female dropping by the edge of my railing once again. She arrives so quietly, I nearly missed her. Sorry for the screen door, remember that I was having a "bugged by bugs" sorta day.

I thought perhaps this avian pair was looking for nesting material, so I tucked some long coco fibers into the trellis for an obvious grab.

Maybe that would attract either bird back onto my balcony again?

Happily that male stopped by one more time. Hello Gorgeous!

Note that my co-op apartment complex DOES spray for bugs. One spraying session has completed this season and will, no doubt, be recurring soon. Luckily for our songbirds, we have an empty field lot nearby that should be full of bugs, and a safe environment here that is empty of predators. There you have it, the Birds and Bees! And it all starts with a Garden. Does not even need to be a Garden Of Eden either. Just a simple place that brings out the best in Bees, Birds, and Humans.

The spiders can live elsewhere, thank you very much.