Cleaning the beds

Hello all! I hope your Mother’s Day was wonderful!! It’s always a bittersweet day for us – it’s tough to see photo after photo of mom’s and daughters all day when the relationship with your own mother is strained. And my husband lost his mother years ago – so it carries some sadness for both of us. But we did see my stepmother and my husband and boy made my day SO wonderful. I count my blessings every day. :)

And I get a what WHAT for the weather this weekend? It was SO AWESOME! I mean seriously, Saturday was divine. Our flower beds in the back were needing some major attention so I took advantage of it and spent six hours straight working outside.

Here’s the thing – I love gardening and working in in the yard but it’s not for everyone. My BFF would rather poke a stick in her eye than plant and putter around in the yard. For real. When we added all these beds years ago I knew it would be a lot of work…and it is. But it’s work that I love to do. At least when it’s 75 degrees out and not 95 degrees…

It seems every fall we’re surprised with the fact that all the leaves fall off the trees. :) We don’t do a great job of keeping up with them and often leave the mess till the next spring. This year was no different. In our defense, winter kind of came on like a beast last year so we didn’t have much of a chance to get it done.

So I was dealing with leaves EVER.Y.WHERE in the back. And lots of pruning to do as well. I shared what I’ve learned about growing hydrangeas here – I read somewhere to wait till May to prune them (the type that blooms on new growth) so that’s what I do. Here’s how they looked before pruning: 

pruning hydrangea

That plant in the bottom of the photo is a peony – more on that in a bit. The hydrangea are the three in the background – it’s hard to see that there’s actual growth there because of the dead wood and the leaves covering them.

I trim down that old wood and can’t believe what a difference it makes -- they grow like mad. You’ll notice the peony also has some dead stuff underneath and I cleared that out. You’re supposed to cut them down in the fall but I never do. :) I just wait till spring to clean them up. I read that peonies actually do better after a cold winter because it helps their bud formation. I believe it – this one is busting with blooms and my two others around the back are booming as well. Those two have never bloomed in all the years they’ve been planted and they are finally covered with them. This is THE most gorgeous spring flower – absolutely stunning. (If you follow me on Instagram you’ll see them a lot over the next few weeks.)

So check out the “after” – I took the photo above last weekend. See how much they’ve all grown?:

pruning hydrangea

Can’t wait for cut peonies in the house!

So someone…I will not say who (sister) told me you don’t have to prune knock out roses. Uhh. I think she was wrong:

pruning knock out roses

OK, in her defense, I’ve grown knockouts for years now and never had to prune any dead wood or anything. We had a mild winter year before last and they just bloomed so fast I didn’t even notice that I had to I guess.

This year is different. That rosebush was nothing but dead wood, so I cut it all back, and it’s already busting out two days later:

pruning knock out roses

This is one of my favorite times of the year – every day I walk around the beds just to see the progress on everything. Seeing how fast plants grow this time of year is fascinating to me.

I planted this big hydrangea last spring I think? Maybe a couple years ago. And the climbing hydrangea behind it as well:

growing hydrangea

The climbing hydrangea has never bloomed. I was told it would take a couple years – anyone know about that? This will be the third summer so I’m crossing my fingers for some flowers! I’d like to plant some Boston ivy back there too but I’m wondering if it will choke out the climbing hydrangea?

The dead wood isn’t great for the plants and the leaves don’t help either. I dug tons of them out of the middle of the hydrangea – they hinder their growth for sure. I swear the hydrangea has grown by two inches in the past three days:

climbing hydrangea

Sometimes I plant things and don’t do good research. I mean, I always check on the sunlight they need, things like that. But I had no idea I’d need to trim my butterfly bushes back in early spring, and they are barely coming up because of all that dead wood:

pruning butterfly bush

Now I know. :) And really…it feels like winter just ended two weeks ago, so there hasn’t been a great time to get out to do all this till now.

I’m hoping they grow fast – when I planted them last year they were about three feet tall:

pruning butterfly bush

It’s a learning process for sure! I have big plans for that little area, can’t wait to get started. (That is clematis in the pots and I’m so excited to see what they do!)

After all the beds were cleared out I focused on the patio. Again with the leaves. For this I use our leaf vacuum to suck them up. The potting bench area was a mess:

Lovely eh? Classy.

And now it’s clean and ready for some herb planting:

DIY potting bench

You can see how we made that bench here – it was surprisingly easy! It’s cedar and has patinaed to a lovely grey color. I need to sand it down a bit to get some of the stains off.

My last area to tackle was the vegetable garden. It’s pretty obvious the winter kicked my butt: 

It’s like I just threw up my hands, ran inside and hibernated for four months. Oh wait, I did. :)

I cleaned up the mangled mess of tomato cages and dead plants, weeded, put down two bags of fresh soil and planted this year’s garden:

square foot garden

I’m going simple this year. You can see that my strawberries are already shooting off everywhere. I didn’t want to pull them up since they’re already blooming:

growing strawberries

I’m just going with it this year – I’ll actually get more than five strawberries, so bonus! Strawberries are a good investment if you have the room because they are a perennial and will come back every year.

I’ll cut them down in a few weeks after they’re done and plant something else – I couldn’t find red peppers over the weekend so I may try those.

I loosely use the square foot gardening technique for my garden. It opened my eyes to the fact that I don’t need to have a ton of space to grown a lot of food. You just need a small area – and you will get a LOT of food. Growing food is actually pretty darn easy – I plant and then water if we don’t get rain for a few days and the food grows. No special anything – just Miracle Grow soil, six+ hours of sun a day and water.

So far other than the strawberries I have two cucumber plants, two tomato plants, four arugula, lavender and rosemary. The latter used to go in my herb planters but they get pretty big. At least rosemary – this is my first attempt at lavender:

DIY garden markers

I saw the cork garden marker idea at the Katie Brown site a couple years ago and finally did it. It was so simple and I think it’s pretty darn cute – and FREE. Well…after a few months and a few bottles of wine anyway. :)

Six hours and five lawn bags later – the beds are cleaned out and the vegetables are growing! Now I can plant a few new plants and then mulch everything. I’ll share the backyard tour soon, after that’s all done and things have grown in a bit more. You can see last year’s tour here.

Do you enjoy working outside? A favorite plant? It is gratifying to see the plants grow and bloom – I love it. It comes with a lot of work in the spring but after that it’s smooth sailing.