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Making Beautiful Flower Arrangements at Home

August 20, 2015
Finished Arrangement Cover Photo

Guest Post by: Anne

My weekly goal is to make flower arrangements with material cut from our yard.  They usually goes in one of two places:  either on the dining room table (short and roundish so as not to block the view at dinner) or on a table in the family room where they can be viewed at a distance and can be taller and more colorful.

Choosing and Cutting Flowers

With this in mind, I take the Rubbermaid juice container, fill it with cool tap water and head out to the front yard where the summer cutting garden resides.  This is best done first thing in the morning when the flowers are freshest and full of water.  Late in the evening is your second choice.

Selecting foliage for late summer arrangement

Choose flowers and foliage that are in season for the fullest arrangements

Dark Coral Zinnia for Late Summer Arrangement 1

Dark Coral Zinnias are the star of this bouquet, play with colors and shapes that compliment the zinnia

Henry Eiler's have tube-shaped petals

Henry Eiler’s have tube-shaped petals

Start by taking stock of what’s available.  You want a nice selection of colors and textures that will compliment the setting.  I begin cutting the feature flowers, or stars of the show.  Use nice sharp bypass pruners for a clean cut that will not mash the stems.  Cut stems above a node with leaves or buds, a bit longer than you think you;ll need.  They can be cut to length later.    Strip off all foliage that will fall below the water line as these will make it harder to arrange the stems, and accelerate decay.

Cut stems at an angle and right above the first node so that they have a chance to rebloom

Cut stems at an angle and right above the first node so that they have a chance to rebloom

Removing leaves not only declutters your arrangement but keeps the water from turning brown

Removing leaves not only declutters your arrangement but keeps the water from turning brown

Gently remove damaged petals

Gently remove damaged petals

Move on to the filler material.  You’ll want enough material to support the single flowers, but not overwhelm them.  I combined a selection of “Henry Eilers” rudbeckia, Guara, linderhiemer, garlic chive in bud stage, and the end of the Shasta daisies.

Endless Summer Hydrangea bloom

This hydrangea adds color to arrangements all season long

Lastly, cut a few large pieces to anchor the arrangement.  Here I used several “Endless Summer” hydrangea blooms that were fading from pink to green, some mid-size “Guacamole” hosta leaves as a base, and finally one clump of fruit from an enormous “Awabuki Chindo” viburnum.
Conditioning flowers before arranging

Start conditioning your flowers 24 hours or more before an event so that they look their best for guests

Here’s the hard part.  You need to condition the flowers for 24 hours or so in a cool place away from direct sunlight.  This allows the flowers time to drink up water needed to brace themselves for the ordeal ahead.  Cheating on the time lessens the durability of the material and the length of time the arrangement will last.  (OK, I have been known to break the rules but the flowers don’t last as well).

Styling Your Arrangement

Choose a vase based on your flowers and on the location of the arrangement

Choose a vase based on your flowers and on the location of the arrangement

When all is ready, select a container and fill with clean cool tap water.  The ones here are my selection of vases for upright arrangements.  Like the three little bears, some are too large, some have necks that are too narrow, and the one that is closest to being just right is on the left.

Flower Arrangements Step by Step

Step by Step

I start with the feature flowers when using a frog for support, but don’t own one that fits this vase. so I had to begin with the filler for support.  Arranging flowers is somewhat by trial and error.  Trim each stem to a suitable length, but always remove at least an inch to allow it to take up water more easily.  Remove damaged petals or leaves – good grooming allows you to use less than perfect plant material.  (Also invite any insects that have come in with the flowers to leave by the front door.  They are seldom good guests at the dinner table).

Play around with colors, textures, and height for your best arrangements

Play around with colors, textures, and height for your best arrangements

If the arrangement will be viewed from all sides, turn the container frequently so that it doesn’t wind up with a front and a back.  Top off with water, wipe the bottom, and place on something that will protect the furniture.  (Flowers like Iris will drip beads of moisture at the most inconvenient times…)

Finished Arrangement Cover Photo

Wow your guests with your effortless skills

Enjoy!  But arrangements are like pets, they need fresh water daily.

About the Author: Anne | AHmazing Mother | Native & Rare plant enthusiast | Award Winning Baker | semi-professional Weekend Treasure Hunter | Sentiment-alitarian | On-the-sly dessert taste tester
Garden

How To Save Squash Seeds

July 2, 2015
Save your own squash seeds

Remember when our garden looked like this? Now we harvest enough to eat and store.  We have saved some of the squash seeds from our favorite plant.  It was the only one that tolerated big temperature swings, started producing early, and bears up to three squash PER DAY!  A+ The other plants are fine but they average 1-2 squash per week.  Let’s see if we can’t save those good genes shall we?

1. Let the fruit mature

Choose a squash from your best-producing plant and let it mature far past the time when you would normally harvest.  When picking squash to eat you are looking for fruit that is a pale yellow color and about 6-10 inches long.  Squash that you will be using for seed should be dark yellow to orange with tough bumpy skin.

seed saving choose a squash from your favorite plant and let it mature

Mark your squash with sharpie so you remember not to pick it

You will know it is ready to harvest when you can’t leave an indent with your finger nail.  Allowing your squash to mature on the vine for this long means more seeds to save.

2. Remove seeds and pulp

Cut your squash open and scoop out the seeds and pulp with a spoon.  Separate the seeds from the pulp as best as possible and add both parts to a jar.  You’ll be adding 1 part water to one part pulp and seeds so your jar needs to have plenty of space.

Saving summer yellow squash seeds

Scoop out the seeds from each half. Just like when you were a kid carving a pumpkin!

3. Allow mixture to ferment

Set the jars in a warm place (75-90 degrees) uncovered for two to three days.  Squash seeds tend to germinate very quickly so you want to check your jars daily.  The fermenting process is critical for squash in particular because it naturally occurs as the fruit decays.  Fermenting increases the number of seeds that will sprout.

The pulp will start to produce bubbles and white film.  You will also see the seeds start to swell.  The seeds are past the point of saving if they have started sprouting underwater.

4. Wash and cull seeds

Pour out the jars into a large bowl and add water.  Swirl everything around until the good seeds settle to the bottom and the bad seeds and pulp float to the top.  Strain them out and continue washing your seeds in fresh water until they don’t feel slimy.

Heavier seeds are mature enough to germinate.

Heavier seeds are mature enough to germinate

5. Dry seeds

Drying your seeds is crucial to keep them from molding or sprouting too early.

After washing drain the good seeds in a colandar and pat off excess water with a dish towel.  Spread the seeds on a dinner plate (seeds stick to paper towels and wax paper) to dry.  Set the plate in a cool area of your house with good circulation.  Flip the seeds daily for even drying.  You can check to see if your seeds are dried by snapping one in half.  If it breaks you’re ready to go, if it bends you need more drying time.

Dry the seeds on a ceramic plate because they will stick to papertowels

Dry the seeds on a ceramic plate because they will stick to papertowels

6. Storage

Properly dried seeds can be stored for months or more in airtight containers.  If you plan to store at room temperature, place seeds in glass jars in a cool, dark spot in your house.  Avoid placing the jar in direct sunlight.  Seeds stored in the freezer should also be stored in glass containers, but first spread them out on a cookie sheet in one even layer to freeze.

Transfer to your jar after 24 hours.  This prevents seeds sticking to one another. It is also helpful to place a dessicant pouch in each jar to prevent moisture buildup.

Prevent bugs and critters from gobbling up your hard work by coating the seeds in diatomaceous earth.  This can be found at any garden store.

store squash seeds

Store your seeds in labeled packets and then in glass jars in the freezer

Starting from scratch?  Check out the amazing array of vegetable seeds at Seed Savers.

 

Garden

Setting Our Fence Posts

May 5, 2015
Using string as guides can help square up your fence posts

This weekend we knocked out the hard part of the fence by setting half of the posts.  We were excited to get started on this project after sharing the plans with you a few weeks back.

My dad has meticulously planned this fence for months, watching vidos and scoping out every fence from here to Williamsburg.   He takes pictures of all of them to get design and construction ideas.  Our favorites are no-fuss, classic designs.

A string guide helps line up each fence post with the first "guide" post.

A string guide helps line up each post with the first “guide” post.

We used Behr’s Transparent Weatherproofing Stain & Sealer in Cedar Naturaltone.  Opening the can I was a little worried at how orange it was, but on the wood the color is almost like honey.  Whew! It helps blend out the green tinge of the pressure treated posts and will help them match the cedar pickets. We gave everything two coats and paid extra attention to the end grain of each post.  Because the posts each took the color differently, we’ll go back and give any sore-thumbs another coat or two.

For the fence, each hole had to be more than 2 feet deep.  That's a lot of digging!

Each hole had to be more than 2 feet deep. That’s a lot of digging!

After digging each hole, we added some rocks to the bottom of each for drainage.  We set the first post by squaring it to the walkway.  This will eventually become part of the gate.  To make sure each subsequent post was square and level to the first, we used a series of string guides along the ground.  When we were happy with each one, the hole was filled with concrete mix and water.

Once all the posts are set, we’re excited to have our family come over to help with the pickets and finishing touches.  (read: opportunity for a cookout!)

One side of fence posts is complete.  Should we expand the plans on the other side?  Help us decide!

One side of fence posts is complete. Should we expand the plans on the other side? Help us decide!

The other side of the fence is where we are running into some issues.  If we expand the plans further out into the yard, there will be room for another gate towards the garden and trash cans.  BUT, there is an existing flower bed directly in the way and an underground electrical conduit powering the garage.  Obviously we would be very careful around the electrical, but changing the plans could mean that the fence sections aren’t equally spaced.  Form or Function? What do you think?  Tell us in the comments!

 

Garden

Living Wall, mmmm! extra fern-y

April 28, 2015
Neil holding living wall planter succulent

We added a healthy dose of green to our foyer this past weekend by installing a living wall.  Spring patio projects on Pinterest inspired us to bring outdoors in.  The ferns and succulents add dimension to the little nook under the stairs and we couldn’t be happier with the end results.  The ferns, one stag horn and one maiden hair, are from our favorite Gardens in a Flowerpot.  The succulent and planters are from West Elm.

The finished living wall in the nook under the stairs!

The finished living wall in the nook under the stairs!

But it wouldn’t be diy without some good old-fashioned trial and error.  The mounting hardware that came with the planters will work for most houses…just not 150 year old walls.  Our walls ATE the tiny plastic ones West Elm provided.  Just shredded them.

So we upgraded to 40 pound, fish-hook style wall anchors.  The finished planters are not that heavy but I could just see myself playing 52 pickup if they ever fell.  Neil, heading up installation, was very patient with me AND our walls.

Living Wall: This planter is perfect because it mimics the way the fern grows off of trees.

This planter is perfect because it mimics the way the fern grows off of trees.

After all three were securely anchored, I poured in 2 inches of orchid potting mix.  The planters have no drainage holes and the bark will keep my tendency to overwater from drowning our new plants.  Before you plant, take care of any root bound plants by loosening the roots with a fork.  Fill in around the plant with soil and water.

Living Wall: You can just see the heavy-duty wall anchor we used to secure the planters.

You can just see the heavy-duty wall anchor we used to secure the planters.

Where do you find inspiration for your diy projects?  Tell us in the comments!

 

 

Garden

Edible Garden: Waiting and Weeding

April 23, 2015
spinach wildflower container garden

We’re back again this week with exciting progress in our edible garden.  Despite being a LITTLE over-eager with the tilling and planting, our garden is turning out to be a success!  We’ll have to replant some seedlings this weekend but everything that made it through that last cold snap is thriving.

Edible Garden. A healthy yellow squash plant

A healthy yellow squash plant

We planted a little of everything from the Survival Seed Vault that we received for Christmas (thanks Casey and Scott!).

Gardens in a Flowerpot had a nice selection of heirloom tomato seedlings that my mom couldn’t pass up.  All those wildly colored tomatoes will be a nice addition to the big boy and early girl varieties we had already planted.

Our tropical "scarecrow"

Our tropical “scarecrow”

Our new neighbors all told us that there is plenty of wildlife roaming around here.  We’re doing our best to keep them from making a salad bar out of our seedlings with some shiny mylar tape and parrot “scarecrow”.  It seems to be keeping the birds who like plants out and the birds who like bugs in.

Edible Garden. A Carolina Reaper Pepper plant.  Search this on YouTube at your own risk.

A Carolina Reaper Pepper plant. Search this on YouTube at your own risk.

Edible Garden. Each plant has TONS of strawberries! But with only four plants we might be splitting the tiniest pie ever.

Each plant has TONS of strawberries! But with only four plants we might be splitting the tiniest pie ever.

All those little green strawberries! I would have planted more strawberry plants if I had known they would do so well. These plants are from Norfolk Feed and Seed and they were all but sold out last time I went (which is pretty much every weekend).

Time to start trolling the cooking blogs for recipes.

How is your edible garden coming along?  Tell us in the comments below!