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    Container Vegetable Gardening

    I’ve been perennial gardening for years. Adam and I were sort of thrown into it nearly 10 years ago, when we moved to Maine, and the house we bought was surrounded by an amazing array of perennial plants and flowers. I’d grown up gardening with my mother, and felt, at the time, that I had a pretty good handle on plants. I could get mostly any houseplant to grow & thrive, and had luck in our previous apartments with summer annuals out on the balcony. But 8 fully landscaped flower beds on two acres (the woman from whom we purchased the house even left us with a detailed map of the flowers and plants – yeah, that might have tipped us off)… this was a different animal altogether. During our five years in Maine, we had some gardening successes (amazing echinacea and lilac bushes) and failures (composting, vegetable gardening, and weed management - FAIL), but in all, we learned SO MUCH about gardening (namely, never, ever, buy a house with 8 huge meticulously landscaped perennial beds again, because man oh man, that is a LOT of mulch), and came to love it in spite of the challenges. We even got married in our gardens (cue giant previously mentioned echinacea):

    When we moved to our apartment in New Jersey, I really missed the calming aspect of gardening, in spite of the work. I missed tending the plants (that didn’t talk back, but let you know by growing bigger & more beautiful, that you were doing a good job nonetheless), smelling the fragrant lilac in early spring, and the feeling of great energy and beauty that exuded from each plant. So, as soon as we bought our house here, I set to work spending a near fortune all my free time on planting New Jersey-friendly perennials, and slowly expanding our tiny front flower bed into the beautiful garden it is today. I’ve always involved the children when gardening; from the time my daughter was a baby – I’d set her out on a blanket next to the bed where I was working – until today; where both of my children happily work beside me, and even lead the way in gardening.

    My daughter & son leading the way out the back yard to our pumpkin garden

    This year, since both kids are of the age where they can actively participate in and learn about the details of planting, caring for, looking after, trimming, and harvesting plants, I decided to take another step forward in gardening, and we started a “vegetable garden” and container veggies. Now, I put that first one in quotes because our current “vegetable garden” actually only consists of pumpkins, sunflowers, and ornamental corn (which we planted today), due to the unknown soil quality and potential contaminants. I’m not comfortable eating anything we plant out there. However, because I think there’s great teaching and motivational value for my children in being able to actually EAT the literal fruits of your labor, I also decided we’d take on the task of container gardening in our enclosed back yard (out of reach of the landscapers who liberally and frequently spray pesticides through our neighborhood).

    After an initial less-than-stellar attempt at locating organic potting mix at a big box store this weekend, I elicited the assistance of twitter. With the help of Hobo_Mama & innerwizdom’s sage gardening advice, I was able to locate an appropriate natural potting medium for our new cucumbers (and for transplanting our tomato and strawberry). The kids and I made a special trip to Whole Foods and found an organic potting mix by Organic Mechanics and an organic compost & peat mix by Coast of Maine (rather apropos, no?).

    As an aside (and let me say, neither of the aformentioned companies have contacted me in any way, and I paid for these items myself - I just feel it necessary to tell you about how awesome they are), the difference between the two actually organic soils and the so-called "organic" soil by Miracle Gro that I was duped into buying at the local big box store is unbelievable. The M.G. (abbreviating from here on out, as not to attract any more unneeded attention to said mainstream brand) soil smelled so noxious – even IN the bag (unopened!) in our house – that that I had to immediately put it outside. There was NO WAY I was going to put our edible vegetables in that. After opening the bag, I discovered it was heavy, dense, smelly, and full of unknown bits of who knows what. I didn’t want my children to even touch the stuff. I should have been tipped off by the warning on the back, indicating to keep away from children. It’s SOIL! Keep away from children? Ey yi yi… can you say greenwashing? In contrast, the Organic Mechanics and Coast of Maine soils were rich, dark, and smelled heavenly (like dirt SHOULD!) yet were light & fluffy to boot. I willingly encouraged my kids get themselves dirty in the organic soils.

    My son alternated scoops from both bags and filled the container. My daughter placed our cucumber plants (we chose a low-growing bush variety - good for containers, and pickling!) in the midst, and gently pressed down the additional soil my son placed around the base of the baby plants. We put in a metal trellis on which the cukes could travel up. Watered, and done!

    Next, came tending the back garden. We discovered that something (we’ve seen deer, groundhog, birds, and squirrels visit our garden, hence the installation of the fence) had eaten the heads off of our sunflower sprouts; which was our third attempt at growing sunflowers out back. On the upside, our Northern Giant pumpkin is really taking off! We also had some random wild corn sprout up in our garden, so we decided not to leave those stalks lonely, and planted some ornamental red corn.

    The kids turned up the dirt, pulled weeds, and prepped the soil.

    My three and five year old painstakingly placed one kernel at a time into each hole and gently covered them. I was amazed, as I always am, by the gentleness and patience my children naturally display around the plants. We watered everything, and voila! Another fabulous day in the garden! Here’s hoping nothing decides to dig up the kernels as special treats.

    Up next? Transplanting our tomato & strawberry plants into the fragrant Maine soil. So... what are you planting?

    Posted: Jun 09 2010, 00:00 by kelly | Comments (5) RSS comment feed |
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    Spring Garden Update

    It's hard to believe, but we're already entering late Spring! So, I thought it would be a good time to update what’s blooming in my sunny & shady perennial gardens since my last gardening post!  The view in my gardens change nearly every day – I love it! Gardening is so peaceful... the connection with the earth... I really can feel the positive vibrations from the plants - it uplifts me!


    So back down to earth.  A few of the photos below are of flowers newly planted this Spring (sweet william, stratheden, scabiosa, & yarrow), so they may be blooming out of turn.  I’ll have to wait until next year to see where they fall in the blooming cycle – I usually end up moving things after a year or so depending on height and bloom time.


    So here’s what’s in bloom right now (courtesy of my iPhone)!

    First, the sunny garden:

    Cranesbill with Stratheden (one of my favorite spots in the sun garden)


    Sweet William


    Coral Bells (these grew so TALL this year!)

    Yarrow (with Phlox not yet in bloom, behind)


    Next, the shady garden: 




    Lamium (this is a super-quick spreader... I wouldn't mind if it took over most of the shade garden - so pretty!)


    So, what's growing in YOUR garden? I'd love to know!

    Posted: May 25 2010, 16:14 by kelly | Comments (2) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Gardening | Outdoors | Seasons

    Springtime Views from Our Perennial Gardens

    Back in the beginning of March I posted about the very first signs of Spring in our perennial gardens – the snow melting and flower sprouts bravely pushing up through the mulch.   Fast forward just two months – see how much exciting growth has happened in our gardens - - -  Thank you Mother Nature!


    The kiss of the sun, for pardon. The song of the birds, for mirth.

    One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.

    ~ Dorothy Frances Gurney

     (Thank you to @OnBradstreet for sharing with me this perfect poem)

    Clematis (my favorite climber)

    Columbine (with Foamflower behind)


    Coreopsis (with Hosta)


    Poppy (our newest addition this year)




    Salvia (with Liatris & Daisies behind - not yet in bloom)



    Iris (so beautiful, yet so fleeting - they last only a week)



    Wild Strawberries (Mother Nature's surprise for us, it grew in this year in place of grass!)

    Posted: May 02 2010, 12:28 by kelly | Comments (2) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Gardening

    Houseplants as Natural Air Purifiers

    We have many houseplants – I don’t think you can ever have enough!

    Houseplants are proven air cleaners. They add oxygen, regulate humidity, filter out toxins, and beautify your space. I believe they add positive life energy to a home, and help children learn about tending plants and caring for living things.
    NASA did a study on houseplants and indoor air pollution. Certain plants are able to remove dangerous chemicals from the air like trichloroethylene, benzene, & and formaldehyde!
    Read NASA’s findings on interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement.
    Based on that study, here are my recommendations for best air cleaners:
    Top chemical removers:

    Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
    Marginata (Dracaena marginata)
    Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”)*
    Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis)
    Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii)
    Mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)*
    Mother-in-law’s Tongue (Sansevieria laurentii)*
    Other super air cleaners:

    English Ivy (Hedera helix)**
    Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aureus)*
    Chinese Evergreen (Aglonema modestum)
    Green Spider Plant (Cholorphytum elatum)
    Heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium)*
    Ficus (Ficus benjamina)
    Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia)**
    *Toxic/Irritating to skin - use caution around curious toddlers or pets
    ** Particularly Toxic/Poisonous - not recommended in households with small children or pets who could consume the leaves
    NOTE: I find it interesting that many of the aforementioned plants are considered toxic– particularly when ingested. I wonder if this is partially because they are so good at absorbing (and thus, perhaps harboring) chemicals?
    That being said, all plants have the ability to clean air. If you are uncomfortable with keeping any plants in your house known to have some toxicity, I’ve compiled a list of common non-toxic houseplants (not listed above). Now, while these specific plants may not have been studied to show the ability to drastically reduce toxic chemicals, the following plants will still do their job cleaning your air & beautifying your environment while being safer to have around children & pets.
    Non-toxic Houseplants:

    African Violet (Episcia reptans)
    Begonia (Begonia sp.)
    Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exalta)
    Christmas Cactus (Zygocactus truncatus)
    Hoya (Hoya sp.)
    Jade Plant (Crassula argentes)
    Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe sp.)
    Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus lobbianus) – this is a favorite!
    Peperomia (Peperomia sp.)
    Ponytail Palm (Beaucarenia recurvata)
    Rubber Tree
    (Ficus elastica)
    Wandering Jew (Tradescantia albiflora)
    For a larger list of toxic & non-toxic plants for pets, please see the ASPCA’s page.
    For a larger list of toxic & non-toxic plants for children, please see the National Poison Control center’s page
    For a list of hundreds of houseplants with description, photo, and care instructions, check out this site.
    Which houseplants are your favorites? Please let me know!
    Posted: Dec 16 2009, 11:02 by kelly | Comments (4) RSS comment feed |
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    Keeping Our Indoor Air Clean

    I’ve been thinking lately about our indoor space. I suppose this is only natural when its 30 degrees with blowing wind outside, making it extremely uncomfortable to be anywhere BUT inside!

    But the cold weather & closing up of windows & doors always makes me uncomfortable. Cleaning products, dirty shoes, dust… not to mention the continual offgassing of carpets & paints; I can’t help but think of the accumulation of unhealthy particles. So I dedicate this post to trying to keep our indoor air healthy this winter!

    We’ll start with the shoes. We’ve always kept a shoe rack by the front door and, as strange as it may be, I do ask everyone to remove their shoes on entry. This prevents the continual tracking of icemelt salt, dirt, and other gunk, through the house, and on/into the carpets.

    So… carpets. And paint. Sigh. In a perfect world, where I could design my own house, I’d have chosen natural ZERO-VOC paint for the walls, and toxin-free tile or wood for the floors. In reality, our home came with carpeted floors & painted walls of unknown origin. To this end, whenever we’ve had to do paint touchups, I’ve purchase all natural paints from BioShieldPaint.com (I don’t operate nor am affiliated with, but I’ve had good experiences with).

    To clean our carpets, I use hot water, a squirt of dish detergent, and essential oil of tea tree & lavender in the detergent compartment of our steam cleaner. I’ve found the essential oils + gentle cleansers work just as well to remove the surface & ground in dirt & dust while leaving the air fresh-smelling, and no chemical residue in the carpets!

    Speaking of chemical cleaners, we use only all-natural chemical-free cleaners inside the house. I do, unfortunately make an exception for bleach – as I’ve yet to find a reliable way to remove mildew in the bathroom. Tea Tree Oil does a good job at keeping the mildew & mold at bay once the bleach kills it, but it doesn’t get rid of it when its already there. If anyone knows a more natural solution for bathroom mildew, please let me know!

    Next, lets talk about the HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) air purifier, and why I believe its important to sleep with one. The bedroom is the place in your home where you spend the most time. You breathe & re-breathe the same air for hours on end. The ease of your breathing is linked with good sleep, and good sleep is linked with good health. It makes sense to me that keeping that air clean, circulating, free of dust, mold, animal dander, and dust mites (yuck) helps insure that we sleep better, keep our lungs clearer, and our bodies healthier overall! So why HEPA? Because its proven to remove the tiniest sized particulate from the air – from large dust down to tiny viruses. For info on how a HEPA works, read here.

    One drawback to HEPA purifiers is that they require a fan to operate – because in order to trap the particles, they need to pass through the filter. So you have to get used to the white noise while sleeping. However, we’ve embraced the sound of the fan over the last 15 years – and find we can’t sleep without it!

    Note: Not all air purifiers are the same. Some, actually, can be detrimental to your health. Please stay away from air purifiers that use ozone to clean the air, or have an ozone feature. They have been shown to create unhealthy levels of ozone in the indoor air which can lead to decrease in lung function, aggravation of asthma, etc. You can read the EPA’s report on ozone generators.

    Next up, the house heater filter. We’re currently using a 1” pleated allergen filter in our heater/air conditioner to filter the whole house air as it goes through our furnace. The drawback with this, as opposed to the standard flat fiberglass filter, is that it reduces air flow – so it does reduce the efficiency of the heating system overall. This does likely lead to a slightly higher heating bill because the heat has to run more often. But, I think the benefit of particulate reduction far outweighs the negative of slightly increased electricity bill in the winter. I recommend checking for a high MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating (the one we use is a 12) as well as a high MPR (microparticle performance rating). The higher the number, the smaller the particle the filter can capture.

    Now those last two items CAN be rather pricey, and not everyone has a blown air heating system, or wants to sleep with white noise. So, the third idea thing I recommend for clean indoor air is houseplants! Houseplants are proven air cleaners. They add oxygen, regulate humidity, filter out toxins, and beautify your space. I believe they add positive life energy to a home, and help children learn about caring for living things. They also are relatively inexpensive if you purchase from a bigger nursery, but particularly if you can obtain cuttings from friends who already have established plants. Schools & other non-profits tend to have houseplant sales as fundraisers. We’ve also had some luck with obtaining houseplants through garage sales (and the benefit to this is that they already come potted!). For a list of best air-cleaning houseplants, see my post on Houseplants as Natural Air Purifiers.

    Thanks for reading. Please feel free post your comments & ideas! I’m always open to suggestions, and continually working towards a more natural toxic-free home.

    Posted: Dec 13 2009, 16:24 by kelly | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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