Before & After in the Jail Yard

Waaaaay back in 2011 when my store, Applehurst, was new, There was a lot of ugly gravel and an ugly alley in the former jail exercise yard. Add some junipers for screening, a crabapple for color, ice-cream-colored paint, and a few herbs, and… voila!


Surrounded by gravel, baked by the sun, and less than a foot of top soil over gravel.
Surrounded by gravel, baked by the sun, and less than a foot of top soil over gravel.


Springtime in the alley!
Springtime in the alley!

Free video lesson on Growing and Using Herbs

Thanks to the generosity of Project Green in Iowa City, I was invited to give a presentation on growing and using herbs on April 1 of 2012 at the Iowa City Public Library. The wonderful ICPL–and their equally wonderful librarian, Beth Fisher–taped the presentation and made it available on their website. First are introductions from Mary Lowder of Project Green, then my presentation starts at about 3:30. I hope you find it helpful. You can see the whole presentation, which runs for a little over an hour, or stop and start as you like.

Click the link, and then click the Play button at the bottom of the screen. Plant to Plate: Growing and Using Herbs

herb video screen shot

Rubber-Neckin’ to Come

You know what rubber-neckers are, don’t you? Streeeeeetching their necks to see all that can be seen as they drive by an interesting sight. They are typically referred to as the cause of slowing traffic as it passes by a wreck. Twist that connotation around a bit, please, and think of rubber necking at a garden as you drive by. Yes, you have! I know you’ve rubber-necked at a garden. (Maybe it was a wreck of a garden!) That’s what I’m aiming for in my new yard at the former Madison County Jail in Winterset. Unfortunately, I’m still mostly aiming. (In case you’re not familiar with our move, you can see more about our 1903 county jail in Winterset, Iowa, at

Surrounded by gravel, baked by the sun, and less than a foot of top soil over gravel.

Slowly. Much too slowly. Starting a new garden from scratch is taking much longer than I would like, but I keep reminding myself of the lessons of patience that I have already learned. I’ve heard it said–and I do believe it’s true–that you should live with a new home landscape for a year before digging in.  We moved here in November, and the growing season has barely begun. I have already ‘dug in’ a bit, but I am thinking hard about what I’d like my new gardens and yard to look like.

The shady side with a little morning sun. Nice!

So, here’s the situation: I have two extremes of garden siting and conditions. One side of the ‘house’ is where the exercise yard of the jail was situated. There is little open garden space, and what is there has only a few inches of soil over several feet of pea gravel. The other side of the house has a traditional lawn under shady trees and deep, loamy soil. Sounds like the best of all possible options, but having many options seems to make it harder for me to decide what to plant with my limited time and dollars.

The gravelly soil will become my new herb garden, which works out well because I sell herb plants at Applehurst, and this will help people see what their little 4″ pots grow up to be. As for the lawn side of the house, I’ll be able to have the shade garden that I’ve always wanted. As for the shade area, there are so many possibilities! Goat’s beard (Aruncus), Astilbe – the tall ones, such as ‘Bressingham Beauty’, Heuchera– also the tall ones, such as H. americana ‘Dale’s Strain’, Ligularia, and snow-on-the-mountain (Aegopodium). Ferns of many kinds, hostas, even a mossy garden will work here. Yummy!

You should head to yoga class now to prepare. Don’t want you to miss a thing as you drive by next summer!

Favorite Container Combo

In summers past, while I worked full-time as a garden editor, I woke to watering chores every morning. As many as 40 containers required my attention, in the hopes that each one of them would be photographed for the pages of Better Homes and Gardens, or one of the other magazines I worked on at the Meredith Corporation. This year I had only five containers. That’s ‘5’ without another digit in front of it, nor following. Only five, as in the number of fingers I have on only one hand. (Relative) freedom! Yea!

But that doesn’t mean that I find container gardening a particularly boring or exhausting. It’s fun to create eye-catching pretties in the garden. Here’s one of my favorites of this season, and a pairing I’ll put together again: ‘Breathless Blush’ Euphorbia and ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ Ipomoea.

Did you pot up an especially rewarding pairing? Share it!

Make This Stuff and Stuff Yourself: Good Grape’s Post

I don’t read many blogs, but there are a few on my GoogleReader that I am nearly always glad to catch up on. One of my favorites is

Visit Good Grape for the most recent post, Nine Things Every Wine Lover Must Know How To Make. I have made several of the special treats on his list, and now I think  I’ll make a list of my own in a future post. (However, I’m not sure my homemade kimchi goes with wine.)

Mmmm. Stomach growling . . .