Trying to Balance an Art-Filled... Love-Filled... Health-Filled... Fulfilled Life!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

With the Fourth of July approaching, I was inspired to create a fun, patriotic garden centerpiece for my patio table. This project was so simple, my two year old even helped with the painting and assembly.

I started with the least expensive terra cotta pots that I could find. These small pots are cheap and perfect for children’s first attempts at painting creativity. For my project I decided on a Flag theme on three pots, in cascading size and assorted shapes, to create a tiered fountain of red, white, and blue flowers. If you’re feeling a little queasy about your painting skills, don’t over think it! Just glance at one of the hand-painted pots at your local retailer, probably painted overseas in Asia, take notice of all of its flaws, and realize that perfection is not the goal, but rather the overall whimsical, fun burst of color, and loose pattern that will provide a background for the true art, the summer flowers of your choice.

To begin, purchase basic craft acrylic paints in the colors of your choice, and a high gloss acrylic sealer (brush on or spray). Terra Cotta is extremely absorptive and will soak in water from the soil and bubble up the acrylic paint unless you seal the inside of the pot with the acrylic sealer first. I applied 3 coats of the sealer and allowed it to dry (this happens very quickly in our dry heat). Then I decided on a pattern for my three pots, and after dressing my toddler in a smock and plopping him on a plastic drop cloth with his own 25cent pot, a paint brush, and plate of paint, we both dove into our creative projects.

The stripes were simple enough, I found it best to started with the white first, as it went on thinner, and dried faster, thus avoiding pink stripes once the red was applied over top.

I have never been great at painting stars, there are just too many straight lines, so rather than using a foam stamp (which is another fun tool to use with your kids), I decided on white 5 petaled daisies to replace the stars, overtop a cobalt blue base paint, still giving the impression of stars, while corresponding with our garden theme. Their simple, organic shape is very easy to master with a small round or flat head brush. My smallest pot, I base coated a cherry red, and then added one single white daisy for a little modern whimsy. I had my toddler help with the centers of each daisy, dolloping a bright yellow spot in the center of each flower. After each pot dried, I sprayed on more acrylic sealer over the painted surface.

Now my boy and I were ready to really get our hands dirty. I purchased several 2 dollar six packs of summer annuals that are drought and heat resistant in corresponding patriotic colors. Five-petal White Vinca were perfect for the white stars, while the deep fuchsia Vincas were close enough in color to the cherry red of my striped pots. I also picked out some bright red Celosia (or cock’s comb) for extra texture and height, and some beautiful blue lobelia for their petite deep blue blooms, and dark full cascading leaves. I even found a faded remnant of a miniature blue delphinium on the clearance shelf for a little added variety, and the beautiful spring bloom still had a little life left in it. Since the Fourth wass just days away, I planted the centerpiece fairly tightly, to achieve a full abundant look, however, if creating your piece early enough, space the plants properly, and with proper care and watering, the flowers should fill in very nicely within a matter of days. Container gardens can get really stressed and dried out in the early summer heat, so be sure to water daily, and if your piece is getting blasted by late afternoon sun, move to a more shaded location. Once your special event is over, the flowers can be transplanted to your garden beds, where watering, while still important, is not required as frequently. Vincas and Celosia will thrive throughout the heat of the summer as long as they are kept watered, and both are more drought tolerant than most annuals. One small vinca plug should grow into a very nice cluster of flowers up to a foot in circumference.

This tiered planting project can also take on the shape of a cake, and is thus perfect for outdoor birthday parties and showers, just pick appropriate colors and have fun with shape and pattern, try stripes, checks, polka dots, or plaid. Have fun with your kids, and create their own precious hand-painted bud pots to give away as gifts to teachers, grandma, and neighbors. They too can try their hand at polka dots and stripes, or else use foam stamps, little hand-prints, or their own finger painting. Just be sure to get your hands dirty and let your kids get dirty too, creating fun and memories while also adding whimsy to your patio garden.

Summer Roses

June is for brides and roses, and maybe not in that order. Perhaps it is because of the sudden profusion of flora that explodes onto trellises, fences, archways, and garden beds, that brides have traditionally chosen this month over all others for their special day.

This is the month that the climbing varieties display their short but dynamic annual show, and the traditional and hybrid bushes are in full bloom, hopefully for the entire summer and into fall.

With the explosion of color, comes a little grower responsibility for best results. This is the time to give the roses extra care, be sure to water thoroughly and deeply in the early morning or late afternoon, into well drained soil. With all the extra water needed, nutrients can be washed from the soil quickly, be sure to feed with a ½ dilution of liquid rose fertilizer once every two weeks or so. Do not use high nitrogen fertilizers as this can burn the root system in the hot months. Be sure to have a thick layer of mulch over the root bed (pine needles work great). This will keep the soil moist longer during these scorching summer months. If you use manure around the root system, be sure that the cow and especially horse manure has aged and decomposed over a long period of time (a couple of years for horse manure), again to avoid burning the roses.

Dead-heading spent roses is crucial for more abundant blooms. If allowed to remain on the bush, the plant will expend energy in forming the rose hip full of seeds rather than new blossoms. Remove the faded blossom with a sharp knife or scissor to the point on the stem just above the first set of 5 leafed stems on full healthy plants, and three leafed stems on newer, less established bushes. Make a 45 degree angled cut, right above a bud node that faces outward from the plant. Be sure to stop pruning and fertilizing in October as the roses need a chance to heal over and go dormant before the hard frosts of winter.

If your roses are stressed, and lacking water and/or nutrients, they may be prime targets for pests such as aphids and spider mites. Be sure to water often, and spray off the pesky critters with a hard stream of water, applied to the top and bottom of the leaves. Lady bugs are an aphid’s worst nightmare, and can be purchased from our nurseries, or online. If these natural treatments are still not doing the trick, a safe foliage soap detergent can be applied with the water. I don’t advise the use of insecticides, as there is nothing worse than drawing in a glorious scent of rose only to be tainted by the smell of harsh chemicals. We had a rose bush when I was a child that smelled of insecticide years after the previous owner had stopped treating it. They can also harm our local butterfly and bee populations. If you are noticing yellowing and spotted leaves, remove immediately, and do not leave the rotting leaves and wood around the root systems as this can proliferate fungus and disease. As our season becomes more humid, watering should be avoided later in the day and evening, as this can give time for molds and mildews to grow. Water instead in the early morning.

June is a very difficult month in Arizona for transplanting roses, the heat can be too much of a shock to the system. Transplant new roses once the monsoons move in, cooling our afternoons, and adding moisture to the air, and into early fall. A fun and economical practice started by the pioneer women of yesteryear is the simple propagation techniques of taking small cuttings (about 6 inches in length) from a branch that has blossomed, dip it in powdered rooting hormone, and stick in a 50/50 mixture of moist potting soil and pearlite (sand may be used in perlite’s stead). Place a mason jar, bell jar, or even ziplock bag over top of the cutting and allow it to take root in its new warm, moist environment. (Wait until daily temps fall below 100 degrees to do this process, otherwise, you can try in a sunny window indoors). Take the cutting with extremely sharp, clean shears, again at a 45 degree angle, strip a small strip of flesh up about ½ inch from the cut to promote healing and in turn root growth from the bud nodes. This is a great way to share with neighbors and friends. My parent’s entire neighborhood has fences lined with gorgeous fuchsia miniature climbing roses, in full bloom this month, all shared and propagated by one generous gardener years ago.

If you are bringing in cuttings for indoor arrangements, be sure to make clean sharp cuts, and bring the roses indoors immediately. Remove extra foliage that would otherwise be underwater. Fill a clean vase with lukewarm water and floral preservative. To prevent drooping of the flowers from air bubbles that become trapped in healed over stems, fill a sink with warm to hot water, and with your sharp knife, make a clean diagonal cut underwater, and then immediately place your blooms into the vase. Keep the roses in a cool part of the home, away from fruit which can let off gases that will cause the roses to wilt more quickly. This will ensure a more beautiful, fresher arrangement for days on end, a perfect, beautiful reward for all of the TLC that you’ve bestowed upon your prized shrubbery.