The Gardener Wife

For anyone happening upon this blog and wondering where I’ve gone and what has happened –

My Newsletter

I’ve been writing an email newsletter since June 22, 2018, and now have several hundred subscribers. If you’d like to join them, you can sign up for The Gardener Wife newsletter right here.  It’s not just about gardening—it’s about garden-style living! You’ll still get practical tips for growing; plus, with my garden-to-table eating recipes and advice you’ll learn how to use what you grow (or what someone else has grown). 

What people are saying…

Debbie, Wow! What a great newsletter. You are soooo very thorough in your writing. I love it.  –Diane B.

Excellent! Well written, informative, fun!! –April W.

Lots of good, no – EXCELLENT info!  –Donna H.

Debbie, I just got your newsletter and I love it!  So informative. –Diane Madden

In order to avoid missing my newsletters after you subscribe, you should add Debbie@thegardenerwife to your email contacts list. If you don’t do this, then your email service provider is likely to filter my newsletters out of your inbox and into your spam folder or promotions tab.

My New Website & Blog

I also started a new blog and launched a new website,, in 2021. For more details, read my launch post.

While there may be some overlap between my blog posts and my newsletters, they are not the same. The newsletters are emailed directly to you through my mass mailing service, MailChimp. My blog posts, on the other hand, will come to you via email only if you follow my blog and set your preferences to receive emails. There is a “Follow The Gardener Wife” button on the right side at the far bottom of every page on my website. If you’ve already subscribed to my blog, that button will say “Following The Gardener Wife.”

Another difference is that my blog posts are shorter than my newsletters because they usually cover only one of my blog’s main themes:  grow (practical tips for growing), eat (garden-to-table eating), enjoy (garden-style living), and pray (growing spiritually). Each of my newsletters, in contrast, includes sections on all of the first three of these themes, in this order: enjoy, grow, and eat. And the three sections of each newsletter are seasonally appropriate because I relate them to what is going on in my garden at the time I’m sending out the newsletter.

A final difference is that my blog posts are permanently located on my website, so you always know where to find them—unlike newsletter emails, which could get lost or deleted from your inbox. This also means that they are easier to search, if you’re looking for something in particular, since there’s a search box near the bottom of each page of my website. You can also browse through my posts about any of my themes by selecting the buttons on my homepage or the tabs at the top of any of my website’s pages.

My Social Media

I’ve also been posting on social media. Here’s where to find me, @thegardenerwife:

  • on Instagram – for lots of photos
  • on Facebook – for more details and information
  • on YouTube – for occasional videos

In addition, I’ve continued to give garden talks.

Need a speaker for your club, library, or other group?
Email for information on my topics and presentations.

I’m doing all this because . . .

want to help everyone GROW SOMETHING, something beautiful–even better, something to eat!

Thank you for stopping by and catching up on what I’m doing!

Still digging it,

Debbie Rea – The Gardener Wife

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There’s a New Weed in Town

weed ID bur cucumber

Sicyos angulatus – Bur cucumber (photo by Gwen Barber O’Leary)

OK, it’s actually an old native plant that is new to me and to my neighbor who asked about it in a local gardening group: “Can anyone name this vine? It’s growing prolifically more than anything in my garden so I’m assuming it’s a weed.” Someone else suggested it was cucumbers.

I did a little research and responded: Cucumbers is close! The plant ID folks say this is Sicyos angulatus–a.k.a. bur cucumber. From what I’ve gathered, it is native to North America (listed on Illinois Wildflowers) and invasive in other parts of the world. It is a problem here, too, in corn and soybean fields. It’s an annual that should die off over the winter, but you should remove it before it sets seeds for next year.

Now I will recognize this weed when it turns up in my own garden!

There’s a New Blog in Town

—or at least there WILL be! After several years of blogging casually here at A Well Watered Garden, I am planning to launch a new blog: The Gardener Wife. (The name comes from how my husband refers to me in his Facebook posts.) While this original blog began as an online garden journal, my new blog (and future book, too) will reach out to help others with the many gardening tricks I’ve learned along the way. 

I am asking you who read this blog to tell me what problems or struggles you have with gardening so that I could focus my future writing on the information that would be most helpful to you. What have I said that you have found most helpful? Are there any specific ways, such as the example above, in which I could help you?  Plant ID is not my forte, but if I cannot identify a plant I can usually find someone else who could. And then I could, as I did above, gather information about it. Perhaps there is another gardening issue that I could help you with. Perhaps you’d like ideas for how to use garden produce, whether you grow it yourself or get it from a farmer’s market or CSA. (I often post pics of that on @thegardenerwife on Instagram.) Let me know!

I am the gardener wife, and I want to help everyone GROW SOMETHING, something beautiful—even better, something to eat!






OK, folks, here’s my new website!

Debbie Rea
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Door to Door Gardens

Colorful Roadside Garden in Door County

I just came back from my first trip to Door County. Although we did not go there for any garden walks or shows, my friend Danelle and I could not help but notice the beautiful gardens we saw as we antiqued our way through several towns.  Everywhere we looked, there were colorful flowers blooming!

colorful border of annuals

Oo, look at THAT!

This garden in particular stood out as we drove by, so we made a mental note to stop and look for it on the way back to take some pictures. Despite its many colors and different plants, this roadside garden is very pleasing to the eye. I think the repeated pattern and its undulating shape is the key.  The dark leafy plants keep the bright blooms from getting too busy, and they give the eye a place to rest.

Here you can see how the pattern changed further down the road and away from that gray fence.

This is a closer shot of one of the sections back by the gray fence.

One section of the roadside garden

You could play Name That Plant if you like. I see some Persian Shield, some pink zinnias, some Angel Wing begonias–but what are the bright yellow flowers with yellow centers? Danelle said they were Black Eyed Susan, a variety without the familiar black or brown centers. I looked them up, and sure enough there is a variety of rudbeckia hirta called “Irish Eyes” or “Green Eyes”–who knew!

The discovery of this plant variety that I was not aware of before is my favorite takeaway from this unofficial garden walk. I had already been planning to move one of the clumps of Brown Eyed Susan in my back yard bed because it is covering up the pretty rose behind it. I like the brighter yellow of Irish Eyes, too, so I will start using it instead.

Backyard Cottage Garden – 8/27/17

See the two clumps of Black Eyed Susan here in my garden. Can you see the rose behind the one on the right? No, that is why that rudbeckia must be moved.

Below is part of the pretty garden we found by The Shoreline Restaurant, where we ate dinner. I was pleased to see white daturas, which seed themselves in one or two of my containers, and pansies, which I always try to grow from seed as edible flowers, both blooming very nicely. Now I want to find a good spot in my garden for growing a nice clump of daturas!

Danelle in the garden of The Shoreline Restaurant

There were many other beautiful gardens in Door County. It seemed like pink hydrangeas were blooming everywhere. The towns by the bay, with their cute shops, cottages, and gardens, reminded me of Mackinac Island. And that reminds me that I have yet to sort through the hundreds of pictures I took there last year at the Grand Hotel Garden Show. So many blooms, so little time!






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Fight the Blight

Tomato plants, tomato cages, tomato saucers, tomatoes in raised beds

Tomato Beds – 7/25/17

Everyone knows that I love tomatoes, but not everyone knows that for a long time I have been dealing with soil borne diseases on my tomato plants. Despite various preventative measures I’ve tried, this year is no different. Early blight has hit several of my tomato plants. After I posted a picture of them and said that I would begin rescue operations when it was drier outside, a friend in Chicago said she had the same problem and asked what to do about it. I’m writing this post to answer that question for her and anyone else who is dealing with early blight and other fungal diseases.

tomato disease, early blight on tomatoes

BEFORE: tomato plants with early blight – 7/21/17

As already noted, I wait until the tomato plants are dry before I do anything. Then the first thing I do is prune away all the yellowed and spotted leaves. These do NOT go into my compost.  The disease moves from the bottom up, so the plants will start to look leggy as the season progresses. With clean pruners, I also remove any non-fruit bearing suckers I see higher up the plant. Removing those unneeded branches will provide better air circulation for the plants, which also helps keep the disease from spreading.

Serenade for tomato disease, Lysol for pruners, bucket of diseased tomato foliage

Blight Fighting Tools

In order to avoid spreading the disease from plant to plant, I spray the pruners with Lysol whenever I move from one plant to the next.  When I first took the master gardener course, I learned that bleach is not instantly effective for sanitizing tools because it requires at least 10 minutes of soaking. Who has time to do that between every plant? Moreover, bleach is corrosive, so it could damage your tools. Someone in the class suggested we do what he had heard rosarians do: spray rubbing alcohol on the pruners. I did that for years until someone in Midwest Fruit Explorers passed around a study that suggested that straight Lysol was more effective, so that is what I have done ever since. You could explore the various options for yourself. I keep the Lysol in a little spray bottle, and I use a paper towel or a clean rag for wiping off the clippers.

Then I spray the plants thoroughly with an organic fungicide to help keep the disease from spreading. Years ago I tried an organic copper fungicide, but I have had better success in recent years at slowing the disease down with an organic biofungicide called Serenade. I buy it at local garden centers and go through a bottle or two every year. After I prune each plant, I spray it from the bottom up. When all the pruning is done, I spray all the plants in the bed from every angle, all around, as best I can.

AFTER: same tomato plants after first round of treatment – 7/26/17

I have also taken to wearing latex gloves when I perform this whole rescue operation. I can just throw them away when I’m done and not have to wash them before I use them again (as I should with regular garden gloves). I do not recommend doing this job with bare hands–they can get irritated by the sprays and plant oils.

That’s how I fight the blight! At another time, I will talk about the measures I take each year to try to prevent these soil borne diseases.

Tomato Harvest Update

Patio Princess Tomatoes – 7/31/17

Tomatoes in our area have been slow to ripen this year due to high temperatures last month. I knew that heat could also cause them to come out more orange than red, so I went ahead and harvested these two orangey Patio Princess tomatoes today. They were not fully ripe yet after all, but they worked fine in a salad with a creamy dressing I had made with chives and dill.

Before today’s medium size tomatoes, I had so far picked only a few cherry tomatoes. The first came from the container that I won. The next ones came from the volunteer tomato plant that I have allowed to grow in a corner of the broccoli and Swiss chard bed. Finally, the Super Sweet 100s have started ripening. These are my favorite–so sweet that we eat them like candy!

Containing My Excitement Update

Speaking of the container that I won, I am disappointed that the tomatoes harvested from it so far have tasted sour–even the red Fantastico. (I do not know what variety the yellow ones are as their tag was lost.) I do mean sour, not tart! I believe this could be due to not getting enough water.

This container has been very difficult to keep watered. Unlike my other vegetable containers, it appears to be dry every single day.  Most–but not all–of my own vegetable containers are self-watering pots. However, even the ones that are not self-watering have been able to retain moisture much better than this container. Perhaps that is because I used a better soil mix or because I had mixed in some compost. I tried a self-watering probe in this container, but it did not work.

The rest of the container has not done well either. While I enjoyed harvesting some of the lettuce, it did not work as a “filler” because it did not spread out. It would have been better to space the lettuce plants farther apart. The bush bean plant dried up and shriveled away, so there is no “spiller” on that side of the pot. The Swiss chard that was supposed to grow t0 18-24″ does not seem to have grown at all–some “thriller”! I am glad I had already planted Swiss chard in my raised beds. It is doing great there, and I have harvested and used a lot already.

In the meantime, I have moved this container to my herb bed since the red lettuce has bolted. I am hoping it will seed itself around the garden. My first lettuce of the season is usually from self sown volunteers like this.

Even though the plants in this container have not done well, I am glad for what I have learned. I do like the idea of mixing several different plants in a large container and trying to make even the vegetable containers a little decorative in composition. I had never thought of putting a thriller, filler, and spiller in a vegetable container before! All I have done in my vegetable containers is put basil around some of the tomato containers. I am looking forward to trying more creative vegetable containers next year.











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Summer Decorating – Gardener Wife Style

container garden on deck

A relaxing morning on my flower bestrewn deck – 7/7/17

Summer has arrived at Chez Rea! That is to say that the garden has hit its stride. (That is not to say that the garden is finished and all planting is done. That NEVER happens around here, as my husband would be quick to point out!) Finally, the main planting and set up is done, so now I actually get to enjoy the garden either by myself or with guests. Sure, I still have to maintain it–there’s always watering, harvesting, weeding, and even more planting to do–but the work is not as intense as it was in spring. Now the work is interspersed with relaxing mornings and an occasional firelit evening on the deck, plus the fun of cooking and entertaining with goodies from the garden.

garden landscape with perennials

Front Yard Garden – 7/4/17

When summer officially began on June 21, I was still working like crazy to get my garden to this point. I spent the first day of summer weeding the front yard as thoroughly as I could, and it came out pretty enough for a picture.

Flower Bestrewn Deck and other Containers

Containers, Container Garden, Backyard Retreat

Flower Bestrewn Deck – 6/19/17

Remember spring? – 4/21/17

I had started planting containers a month before, so by June 21 I already achieved my annual goal of a “flower bestrewn deck.” That’s always my goal because I don’t have any garden beds planted within view of the deck yet. With all my containers, the deck itself becomes a garden, a delightful place to sit and relax among the flowers. Remember how that deck looked in the spring? Here it is in July!


4th of July Summer Kick Off

Summer Containers in Front – 7/4/17

It was my goal to get the deck, gardens, and house all looking as good as possible by the 4th of July for our big family party (a party that has grown bigger over the last few years as more distant family members and a few friends have joined us). It was also time to put away spring decorations and bring out summer ones–at least the red, white, and blue phase. (Later in the summer I will use lemon yellow and tomato red). This annual party kicks off the summer entertaining season for us.

Party Time! 7/4/17

Hydrangea Arrangements – 7/3/17

The day before the party, I picked loads of hydrangeas to make centerpieces for the party–because “cut flowers are so nice!” How convenient that I have so many white flowers blooming in time for this holiday every year! I picked them from the back corner by the wicker chair planter, so the front yard display was still beautiful. (Later in the summer I will have brightly colored zinnias growing in a little cutting bed next to Mrs. Greenbeans.)

Here is where I put those arrangements the next day for the party. (As for my spring centerpieces–I had not used the succulents in anything else yet, so I just added a little patriotic pizzaz to them and put them outside by the kitchen door.)

See the painted alliums?

Remember my new alliums? Well, they were spent and dried, so I spray painted them blue and white (colors I already had) and stuck them in a few containers to add a some more fireworks to the decor.

Wave petunias and other annuals not planted yet

I had also picked up extra annuals on clearance. I had not had time to plant them yet, so I just plopped them into pots and on top of soil filled containers–an easy trick!

Back Yard Cottage Garden

Back Yard Cottage Garden 7/4/17

Garden to Table

Besides acting as a lovely backdrop for the party and croquet tournament, my garden provided part of what we ate and drank. As I often do for summer gatherings, I made lemon balm water and edible flower ice cubes. Our guests brought lots of food, so the only cooking I did was to grill burgers on my BLUE grill. (Everything tastes better when cooked on a blue grill!) Nevertheless, I managed to include several things from my garden among the condiments I set out: fresh onion, bread-and-butter pickles, and Dilly Beans.

Kitchen Garden Kicking, Too

As for the kitchen garden, that has also hit its stride. I was already harvesting and using herbs and the cool crops while I was getting the warm season vegetables planted. I got as much of it weeded as I could before the party and put up my collection of antique farm tools and other ornaments. See the large metal letters that spell the word GROW (not MORG!)–a new addition this year. Whenever I talk to my garden, that’s what I say to it: GROW!






















Posted in Containers, Herbs & Edible Flowers, Ornamentals | 4 Comments

Hibiscus Hiatus

We’re already into late spring, but I’m taking a short hiatus from intensive gardening to share a couple hibiscus recipes and my mid-spring What’s in Bloom photos. First, the hibiscus–and other edible flowers!

Chez Rea Spring Garden Salad – 5/27/17

What’s in Bloom in the Gardener Wife’s Salad

I made this special salad entirely from my spring garden. From the cool season beds I’d planted six weeks earlier, I got two kinds of kale, Swiss chard, radishes, green onions, and a little arugula. (The lettuce I planted did not come up. I’m thinking the seeds were probably too old.) I meant to put pea shoots in the salad, too, but I forgot! I also added a some amaranth greens (the purple leaves), Lamb’s Quarters, and dill. All of these seed themselves and come up on their own. Of course, I HAD to add all the edible flowers that were blooming: chives, Bachelor’s Buttons, and Golden Gem Marigolds. I just LOVE edible flowers!

Edible Flower Vinaigrette 5/27/17

Edible Flower Vinaigrette

You don’t see any hibiscus flowers in the salad, but they’re in there–in the dressing! The above picture shows what I put into the salad dressing: hibiscus vinegar (because I just LOVE edible flowers!), olive oil, local honey, no salt seasoning, plus parsley, chives, and rose thyme (because I just LOVE edible flowers!) from my garden. Yes, the rose thyme really smells and tastes like rose petals. It has been thriving in my herb bed for several years now. It is definitely hardier than common thyme, and it even seems to be hardier than lemon thyme, too.

I didn’t really measure out the ingredients. You can see how much oil and vinegar I put into the Bullet Blender cup–about 1/4 cup hibiscus vinegar and 1/3 cup olive oil. I added 2-3 teaspoons of honey and blended it. Then I added 1 teaspoon of no salt seasoning, and I used kitchen scissors to cut the herbs you see into the cup before blending it again for a little bit. If I were planning to keep this dressing to use later, I would also add 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard to help keep it emulsified.

Jamaica (Hibiscus) Punch

Dried Hibiscus

I included a box of Red Zinger in the above sampling from a local supermarket because hibiscus is the main ingredient in that tea blend, and it has rosehips, too  You may have already had some edible flower tea without knowing it!

As you may have noticed, I used a store bought hibiscus vinegar in my vinaigrette. Alas, I have not grown the kind of hibiscus best for culinary use: Hibiscus sabdariffaFortunately, dried hibiscus flowers are readily available in various ethnic markets and online (but not always certified organic, alas). This fact makes it easy serve edible flowers year round, whether you grow any or not.

Different countries give this flower different names, including Jamaica and Rosa de Jamaica. Actually it is the calyxes, not the flowers, that are used. I have taken to combining hibiscus tea with Jamaican style ginger beer to make a red punch drink that I like to call Jamaica Punch. Ginger beer, like root beer and ginger ale, is non-alcoholic (except for a few varieties–check the label), and it has much more flavor than ginger ale, which usually doesn’t even have ginger in it.

Hibiscus Vinegar, Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup, Candied Hibiscus

Other hibiscus products are a little harder to find, but they’re out there. The hibiscus flowers in syrup are a great way to make any drink, including my Jamaica Punch, extra special. Put a few drops of the syrup and a flower in the bottom of a pretty goblet or champagne flute, and then add hibiscus tea and ginger beer, or sparkling water–anything! I guarantee you will impress your guests and make them feel special.

Garden Update

Kitchen Garden 5/30/17

We are well into spring now, and I’m almost done planting the warm season vegetables, both in the ground and in containers. Yesterday, which was National Gardening Exercise Day (June 6), I got most of my ornamental containers planted. Flower bestrewn deck, here we come! Even though my primary focus has been on planting everything that I want to enjoy later, I’ve still taken the time to stop and smell the roses along the way. Actually, I stopped to take a picture of everything that was blooming.

Front Yard with Alliums Floating in the Air  5/17/17

Backyard Cottage Garden 5/11/17

Deck Container Garden 5/23/17

What’s in Bloom at Chez Rea

Here are the flowers that have bloomed since my last What’s in Bloom post of early spring flowers.

Containing My Excitement Update

The tomato plant in the container that I won is blooming, too!

Garden Friends

I also took pictures of various visitors to my garden.

Hummingbird 5/11/17

Fred the Toad hung out with me while I planted the tomato beds. By the time I turned the soaker hose on to water the newly planted tomatoes, Fred had hopped to the front of the bed and buried himself in the soil by one of the hoses. I hope he likes the shower I installed! I saw him a few days later, half buried under the mulch next to Mrs. Greenbeans‘ bed.

















Posted in Containers, Garden to Table Recipes, Herbs & Edible Flowers, Vegetables, What's in Bloom at Chez Rea | 1 Comment

The Grand Prize Game!

I planted all my container vegetables this Monday, and my husband had fun posting about it. Those who are familiar with WGN’s Bozo’s Circus will understand his reference to the Grand Prize Game when they see how I lined up my pots.

He got many more reactions and comments on his next post.

Here are my own before and after pictures.

Containers before planting – 5/29/17

It was quite an exhausting day! According to the Fitbit I got for my birthday, I took over 15,000 steps, walked over 5 miles, and climbed 11 flights of stairs.

My Method

  1. I moved all the containers to the grass, so that I don’t get more soil falling onto the rocks and giving weed seeds a place to grow. Most of my containers, by the way, are “self watering,” so I don’t have to water them as often. Water in the reservoir at the bottom is wicked into the soil above through a soil filled channel in the specially shaped bottom. I removed and cleaned all the reservoirs.
  2. I took out the top third of the potting soil in each container, and I loosened the remaining soil and mixed organic fertilizer throughout it. Then I watered it well.
  3. I gathered all the vegetable seedlings that I wanted to put in containers and decided which ones would go into which pots.  In the smaller bright blue containers I put the plants that would not grow too big:  Patio Princess tomatoes that I’d started from seed a Cajun Belle pepper, which had been recommended at that container gardening class I took. (The container that I won is pictured above, at the right in the back row.) In the square containers, which are not self watering, I put pepper plants because they do not need as much water.  I also put some summer squash, yellow straightneck, in one of the big brown containers.
  4. As I planted each pot, I filled the top third with moistened fresh potting soil, and I added more organic fertilizer. All the tomato plants got a dose of RootShield, too, because I had some left over from planting my in-ground tomatoes. (I do NOT recommend a similar product from Gardens Alive anymore because they sent me some that was not viabl–right after they had researched its shelf life!)
  5. I put reservoirs and saucers under the containers and moved them back to their place on top of the rocks by the side of our driveway, on the south facing side of our house. Then I added some supports for the plants that would grow large. Finally, I watered them.

Since taking these pictures, I’ve added labels and a few more supports. (The aqua blue container, planted with my largest Patio Princess tomato, is going to my mother-in-law.)

Containers after planting – 5/29/17







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Spring Decorating–Gardener Wife Style

I like to decorate for every season, both inside the house and out. I’m a collector as well as a gardener, and our house is small; so changing things around every few months gives me the opportunity to rotate and highlight different collections. (Besides, it forces me to do some dusting and cleaning!)

Gardening, however, takes priority over cleaning and decorating in the spring because I have to get the seeds started and the whole kitchen garden prepared and planted (and planted and planted) as well as clean up the ornamental beds and keep up with weeding (and weeding and weeding). That makes spring the most likely season to be skipped in my decorating cycle. Usually, I’m doing good if I can just put away my snowman collection after winter and bring out the chickens that grace my kitchen the rest of the time. I’m happy I did more than that this year! And I’m happier still that besides setting out my birds and eggs, I got several things PLANTED for spring decoration.

Growing Wheat Grass

One of my favorite things to do for spring decorating is grow wheat grass for centerpieces. Here you can see a few ways that I’ve used it over the years.

I used to look for wheat grass seeds in garden centers, and they weren’t always easy to find. They were not cheap either! And then I learned that I could buy them in health food stores–any place that sells hard “wheat berries.” This year I bought organic wheat berries from Whole Foods for just $1.49 per pound. That’s much better than paying $3 for just a few ounces!

I planted them 2-1/2 weeks before Easter, and they grew well enough to need trimming a few times. Before planting, I soaked the wheat berries for several hours and prepared the containers. It’s nice if you can find containers with drainage holes that can fit inside your decorative containers. If you plant straight into containers with no drainage holes, you have to be careful about overwatering them so they don’t grow a fuzzy fungus.

I filled the containers with moist pro-mix potting soil and then spread the seeds in single layer–all just touching each other–over the top. I did not cover them with more soil because when the blades of wheat grass start to grow, they push the soil up in tiny clumps. Just a single thick layer of seeds on top of the potting soil gives a nice lush look to these. I kept them covered with plastic wrap (or the lids of the plastic berry boxes that I planted some of them in) until they germinated. Then I removed the plastic covers and placed them in bright light.

All dried up! 4/13/17

As they grew over the next couple weeks, I used scissors a couple times to trim them to about 3 inches. But then tragedy struck! Remember how I said that spring is a very work intensive time for me? Well, I let too much time go by without checking and watering the grass, which was up on the highest shelf under my grow lights. Ugh, I found them dried up just a few days before Easter!

The grass in the blue and white square pedestal container, which had no drainage holes, seemed to be a little greener than the others. I watered it and put it back under the grow lights. It was resurrected enough by Easter to use.

Resurrected wheatgrass–in use for Easter dinner. 4/16/17

By the way, that yellow eggcup with an eggshell of succulents is something I bought a couple years ago at the Gardeners Flea Market. I just replanted it for this year.

Succulents to the Rescue!

Fortunately, I had a back up plan. I had seen baskets planted with succulent arrangements at Lowe’s, and I’d already decided to make my own with the ceramic basket that was currently holding dried moss and painted eggshells. (I’ve grown wheat grass in it in past years, but this year I was using it as a centerpiece on the dining table before the wheat grass was grown.) I’ve been collecting and propagating succulents in the hopes of using them in future miniature garden projects. After the wheat grass containers dried up, I found another container and made two succulent planters, one for the dining room table and one for the kitchen table. I hosted Easter dinner for our extended family, so I set both tables.

A Fresh New Look for Outdoor Containers

Front Yard – 5/11/17

There was a time when I thought summer was the only season for outdoor containers. It’s hard to think about planting containers for spring when I’m already working on preparing plants for my many summer containers. Plus, I don’t want to spend much money on plants that won’t last long. And I didn’t!

All I bought was an $8 basket of yellow pansies. I planted them in the big container by our front yard bench. I was tempted to fill the middle with more plants–something tall and bright pink, like tulips. Instead I put one of my metal obelisk plant supports in the middle.

Front Yard Container in Evening – 5/11/17


Later I added a candle lantern inside it. Made for outdoor use, it is battery-operated and has an automatic timer function. And best of all, it was only $8! Thank you, Aldi’s! I set it on top of a paving stone, not directly on the soil. I like the welcome its flickering light gives to evening visitors at Chez Rea, don’t you?

As for the deck containers, I cleared them of their winter arrangements and put my galvanized metal watering cans in them. I also added the bright metal flower stakes I picked up at the Dollar Store last year. (These kept my little cutting garden looking pretty until the zinnias grew up.)

I do have one living plant out there in early spring–the rose tree. I set it by the wall at first to keep it a little sheltered. It already has a bunch of buds on it (5/11/17), so I should move it out into its usual spot where it will get more sun.

Spring Deck – 4/21/17

The “Tree of Enchantment”

Just bought – 3/1/17

Before I began all this spring decorating, I picked up a little weeping pussy willow tree from the floral department at Meijer’s, labeled as the “Tree of Enchantment.” (Shortly afterwards, I saw large ones in the garden center at Lowe’s.) I thought it would make a nice living indoor decoration and that later I could plant it outside. It sat on my kitchen table until Easter, and then I moved it to the buffet table. Now I’m not even sure if it’s still alive, so I don’t know if it’ll make it outdoors after all.

Kitchen Table 4/6/17

Buffet Table – 4/16/17

Indoor Garden Clean Up

One of the ways I overwinter things for my container garden is to take cuttings in the fall and keep them in vases by my kitchen window. (After Thanksgiving those vases were slipped inside snowman buckets to fit in with my winter decor.) Not only had the sweet potato vine cuttings got raggedy looking by the end of winter, but they also were plagued by white flies. I pulled off the dry leaves, trimmed the cuttings, and gave them all a good rinse before moving them into little watering can vases on the bottom of my baker’s rack.


What’s Next

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on the garden whenever the weather and my schedule has allowed. Planting containers for inside and outside made it seem like I was still gardening while I was decorating for spring. I already have a few summer containers started, and that rose tree is now (5/22/17) in full bloom. It looks like we’ll be frost free through the end of May, so I just started planting tomatoes. There is so much yet to do–and so much yet to tell you about! Stay tuned.

Speaking of staying tuned, I am now on Instagram and Twitter as well as Facebook. (For now you can click on those links to see my posts. When I figure out how to do it, I will add buttons for them to the sidebar, where my Facebook link is now.) I am using “the gardener wife” as my handle on these accounts because that is how my husband has taken to referring to me in his Facebook posts (most of which are public and humorous). It fits my social media persona and I like it, so “the gardener wife” I am.

Posted in Containers, Garden Problems & Solutions, Houseplants, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation, Tips and Tools | 1 Comment

Containing My Excitement

I won! I won! – 5/16/17

I love to go to classes–gardening classes, cooking classes, Bible classes, craft classes, art classes–really, just about any classes! (That’s how I’ve wound up with two masters degrees and credit from at least nine different colleges, plus certification as a Master Gardener and a Master Naturalist.) Because I especially enjoy gardening classes, I always go over and above the continuing education requirement for maintaining my Master Gardener certification.

Last night I went to a class on container vegetable gardening at The Growing Place in Aurora. It was a bit of a hike, but I figured it would be worth it because the class was free. Yes, free! I love free classes best of all. A friend came with me, and we got there early so we could look around this large and beautiful nursery that was new to both of us.

Then we made our way to the class location. Right away we got to sample some tasty food and drink made with garden vegetables and herbs. I was delighted that the recipes were printed for us to take. It was like getting a little cooking class bonus along with the gardening class. How delightful! Did I mention that this class was free?

The class itself was excellent. I appreciated the specific plant variety recommendations, especially of peppers that are good for containers. I definitely have to try growing Giant Marconi instead of bell peppers, and Cajun Belle for a little spice.

It was also interesting to see how many different vegetables could go in a single container if their growth habit is appropriate. You can follow the same formula as for ornamental containers: a thriller, a filler, and a spiller. In the container planted as a demonstration after the talk, the thriller is Ruby Red Chard, which grows to be 18-24″ tall. The filler is a 4-cell pack of lettuces. The spillers are Blue Lake bush beans and two tomatoes planted at an angle so they’ll grow over the sides of the pot. The red one is Fantastico and the yellow one is . . . I don’t know–I lost the tag! [I will check and update this post later.]

I was very happy with the class, and I thought that was going to be it for me. Anyone who wanted to plant a container could buy the items and do one there, but I was not planning to do that. And then the teacher said we should look under our seats to see who had won the demonstration container she’d just planted. It was I! FANTASTICO!

I was super excited that I got to take this great container garden home with me. I can’t wait to see for myself how planting the tomatoes at an angle leaning out of the pot will work. I got refreshments, recipes, and a free container garden–how classy is that! I was so happy that I treated myself to a new scented geranium, almond. Thank you, The Growing Place!


Posted in Containers, Garden Talks and Shows, Vegetables | 9 Comments

Sailing through the Sales 2017

Wolduis Farms Sunrise Greenhouse – 4/29/17

‘Tis the Season–for Plant Sales

April showers bring May plant sales! We gardeners are itching to plant annuals and to add new and wonderful perennials to our gardens. And don’t the garden centers know it–and the garden clubs and anyone else who wants to sell plants! (I used to be part of that action myself, back when I would sell my extra vegetable seedlings at my friend Donna’s annual driveway plant sale.)

My babies going to market. 5/10/12

2017 PLANT SALES: Mark Your Calendars!

Here is my rundown of plant sales for local gardeners. These are presented in chronological order, and I’ve put asterisks by my favorites. Click on the links for details such as times and locations.

May 5-7, 2017 – Friday to Sunday

Bird Haven Greenhouse Plant SaleHere you will find a greater variety of flowers than at the big box stores. The Bird Haven Greenhouse is at Pilcher Park in Joliet.

May 6, 2017 – Saturday

Best sale for edibles!

*Downers Grove Organic Gardeners Plant Sale – This is the ONLY organic plant sale in our area! You could find some organic vegetables at various nurseries and stores now, but you will not find the variety and excellent quality that you’ll get here. They also sell native perennials. It is sponsored by one of my favorite garden clubs, the Downers Grove Organic Gardeners. See this sale flyer for details.

May 11-13, Thursday- Saturday

LTHS Horticulture Club Plant Sale – The plants at this sale were grown by Lockport Township High School students. I like to check it out because they usually have some interesting selections beyond the normal stuff.

Lombard Lilac Sale – Lilac fans, this sale is especially for you!                              (SPECIAL UPDATE–added 5/3/17)

May 12-13, Friday-Saturday

*DuPage County Native Plant Sale – You will have to go and see what is available at this sale because it’s too late to preorder anything. Don’t worry, though–there will be plenty there. Whether you go to this sale or another native plant sale, I recommend that you still peruse the sale catalog to plan ahead and think about what you’d like to buy. For more information about these plants, look them up on Possibility Place’s website (they’re the ones providing the plants for all the local native sales) and on Illinois Wildflowers. It’s too bad that we’ve already missed the native landscaping classes that preceded this sale. I’ve been to a couple of their classes before, as well as the plant sale, and they were excellent.

May 13 – Saturday

Ace Hardware – (UPDATE: I have corrected the date and time for this one. -5/5/17) If you’re up early and your local Ace is like mine, you should get there before it opens at 7:00 A.M.  This yearly sale is good if you’re interested in hanging baskets (always good for Mother’s Day) and cheap flats of annuals. It’s not a good sale if you want an interesting variety of annuals. These are just basic bedding plants. Make sure you follow their rules, too. To get the best price on the flats, they need to be all the same type of plant but not the same color.  Watch your cart and DO NOT “shop” from other people’s carts! Last year someone took a basket from my cart after its contents had been tallied and while I’d gone inside to pay for it. There were no other baskets like it left (it had Martha Washington geraniums in it), of course, so the only thing Ace could do was refund my money. Fortunately before that happened, I spotted my basket on the culprit’s cart, which was being guarded by someone else. When the woman who had mistaken my cart for a sales rack returned to her cart, we got the mix up straightened out.

*Lake Katherine Native Plant Sale – Another nearby native plant sale! I’ve listed the three that are closest to me. If you would like to find others, see *Possibility Place’s list of events. Like I said above, they’re the ones providing the plants for all the native plant sales around us. They specialize in growing native plants, all from seeds collected locally.

Naperville Community Gardeners Club Sale – I have never been to this sale, but the pictures and descriptions look promising.

May 20 – Saturday

A favorite find at the Gardener’s Flea Market – 5/1813

*Gardener’s Flea Market – I love this sale! They have plants and much more! I have bought many cool things here over the years. This is held at the Barber & Oberwortmann Horticultural Center, next to Bird Haven Greenhouse in Pilcher Park.

Fox Valley Gardeners’ Sale. I have not been to this sale, but Aurora might be closer to some of you. It might be similar to the Gardener’s Flea Market in Joliet.

Bringing Nature Home Native Plant Sale – Yes, ANOTHER native plant sale! This one is for the Will County Forest Preserve District, and it has extra features like rain barrel pick up and an opportunity to tour the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Traveling Science Center. There is even a pre-sale event on May 19 (my birthday!), for those who would like to enjoy music and a reception as well as an earlier chance to pick out plants.

May 21 – Sunday

Southtown Dahlia Club SaleThis is where to go if you want to buy dahlias and talk to experts about growing them. My own experiences with growing dahlias have involved more failures than successes I’m afraid. That’s a good reason for this to be the year I finally go even though it’s hard for me to get out on a Sunday afternoon.

More Plants on Sale

This is just a small corner of Woldhuis Farms Sunrise Greenhouse! – 4/29/17

Besides all these annual sales, there are many, many, many, many, many plants being sold at stores and nurseries all around us.  I’ll put in a little plug here for my two favorites.

(1) Woldhuis Farms Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL, is where you’ll find by far the most amazing selection of plants–and all at great prices, too. The catch is that it is quite a hike for us. This nursery is HUGE–I have never seen anything like it! Before you go, you should peruse their online plant lists and guides carefully and make a list of what you want. (Print their coupons, too, if you like.). They even have an aisle of native plants! When you walk in, you should pick up a plant location guide. Use that and the map on your cart to fine where the plants you want are located.

(2) When I don’t want to go that far but want plants not found in other stores (lemon-rose scented geraniums, for instance), I go to Ted’s Greenhouse in Tinley Park. If you shop at Ted’s between May 15 and June 15, please download this flyer and show it when you check out. Then you’ll be helping my garden club as well as your garden!

Plants from Ted’s – 5/2/16

More Gardening Adventures

It’s about time to start planning ahead for this year’s garden walks. For those and other gardening events all around the Chicago area, check out Chicagoland Gardening’s Calendar of Events. Call me if you want a friend to come along!


Posted in Ornamentals, Tips and Tools, Vegetables | 3 Comments