So just what is a raised bed? It is a volume of garden soil contained within a set of walls made of wood, stone, metal or concrete that rises above the normal soil level. It’s a popular method of creating a garden space, but has many benefits.
The Benefits of the Raised Garden
Why go to all the extra effort to build a raised bed garden for your flowers or vegetables? Using raised beds can not only improve the quality of your plants and overall gardening experience, but they can also add an aesthetic factor to the garden with shape and dimension. Here are some of the general benefits of raised bed gardening:
Less weeding – Ok, let’s face it, I hate weeds. They are the bane of my existence, and I spend many hours of the day picking, pinching and digging to try and reduce their presence. With a raised bed, you are starting with a fresh and clean soil base, and if you mulch correctly, you should have minimal weeds (at least for a season :))
Control of Soil Chemistry and Makeup – with raised beds, you have total control of the soil, its pH and overall consistency. You can add sand, peat or fertilizer to create the perfect environment for what you are growing. It’s a clean palette, and can be easier to build out than existing soil.
Better water retention – Because you control the soil and consistency, if you live in areas with sandy soil, you can make sure your plants get adequate water and it is retained during the hot months.
Minimal soil compaction – Raised beds provide the ability to work an area of soil without walking on it, and compacting it. Loose, fertile soil allows for oxygen to reach the roots, as well as a medium for even water absorption.
Soil temperature – warmer soil temperatures early in the season and later in the season extend your growth window, and raised beds provide a nice extension. Like a garden blanket, the soil volume is insulated from the extremes of ground and air.
Save the back – that extra height brings the garden up to you, and for us older folks in the crowd, it can allow for a gardening experience without the bending and kneeling that is a killer.
This is the first in a series of posts on raised beds, follow us here and on Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch. Here are some other links to some great posts:
Information About Cottage Garden Design and Ideas for the Cottage Garden
As we build out our picket fence cottage garden and put in a new cottage-themed shed, we have been doing a ton of research on cottage design, cottage ideas and themes. Below are some of the best links we have found for your cottage garden research efforts.
Flowering bushes/shrubs are the foundation of any modern garden, offering a privacy screen along a border, attracting bees and birds, and providing amazing color and interest throughout the landscape. With hundreds of types and shapes, there’s a beautiful type bush for every one.
There are some key steps to choosing the right garden bush. First, make sure it’s suited for your USDA Planting Zone. You will need to figure out the area of your garden where you plan to plant it. Does it get full sun or does it like the shade? Here’s the most important items to remember:
Some flowering garden bushes bloom on branches that grew the year before (old wood)
Others bloom on this year’s growth (new wood)
Others bloom on both old and new wood
If you’re not sure and have doubt on what you have with a specific bush, wait until the plant blooms, then prune it to your desired shape. If you prune beforehand, you risk cutting off flower buds and having no flowers for the season.
Here are our garden bush favorites, and a list of flowering bushes/shrubs to add to your garden this year.
Oh the joys of lavender. I have to admit, it is our favorite and we have it throughout our property, including a large field. As a garden bush, lavender provides beautiful form, foliage color interest (Grey green) and amazing colored spike flowers. It is relatively easy to grow in certain zones, and provides scented buds and spikes for harvest.
Size: 1′ to 3′ spread depending on variety and age.
Varieties: Try Grosso and Provence for great all purpose, hardy plants
Ah, the formal and shaped boxwood, the mainstay of the English Cottage Garden. Boxwood garden shrubs come in a wide variety of types, over 140, with varieties that vary in leaf size and color, size and acceptable climate. Buxus can be used as a hedge, anchor or feature, and lends itself nicely to shaping.
Size: Typical varieties grow 1 to 6 feet, with some growing to 20 feet at maturity.
Zone: Boxwoods do best in zones 6-9
Varieties: Most common are American, Japanese, Small Leaf and Hybrids.
Ok, here at Celtic Farm, we absolutely love our hydrangeas. We have propagated them and put them all over the property. Under trees, in garden beds, and even have a patch of about 30 for cut flowers. They are amazing bushes that add color and beautiful shape to any garden scene. Their big, bold flowers come in all types of colors, but blue and pink are the most common.
Size: 3 to 8 feet at maturity.
Varieties: Mophead Hydrangeas are the most common, but there are too many varieties to list. You can find some here: Garden Bush – Hydrangea
We all have them. We all tolerate them. That old pair of scissors that are so dull they bend the paper and need sharpening. In the garden, dull garden scissors or snips can leave wounds that can risk the health of your prize plants. If you knew how easy it was to sharpen them, you’d kick yourself. So let’s take a quick peek and the steps to sharpen scissors, and get them a sharp cutting edge. Fortunately, this technique can be used over and over to sharpen not only all your scissors, but you can sharpen garden snips, secateurs, loppers, and all your other dual blade tools with nearly the same sharpening technique.
What You’ll need:
Diamond Sharpening Stones (I like Diamond Paddles)
Water or Honing Oil
Paper for sharpened cut testing
A screwdriver (If your scissors have a screw)
A permanent marker (optional)
So, there are a ton of options for actual scissor sharpening when it comes to tools. But I like simple, and diamond stone sharpening paddles are my favorite. They come in a set of 3 usually, coarse, medium and fine, and can be used not only to sharpen your scissors, but other tools in your garden shed or shop. And they are relatively cheap and take up minimal space. You can also throw them in your pocket, or garden apron, for access out in the wild.
You can use these diamond stone scissor sharpeners dry or wet, and the debate is out on which is better, but i like to use just a little water on the stone, and it seems to help sharpen and keep the stone clean as steel comes off the blade.
Scissor Sharpening Steps
Prep and Disassemble Your Scissors
If your scissors have a screw, taking them apart during the sharpening processes can be quite helpful, and you can get access to the full blade. If not you will have to open them fully to get the blades.
Sharpening the scissor blades is a two step process, and it’s important to do both sides of each scissor blade during sharpening.
Take the permanent marker and run it along the front blade of the scissor. This will give you a reference and make sure you have sharpened the entire blade of the scissors. You can use the ink as a guide to show areas of the blade that have been left unsharpened.
Sharpen the Blades
I start with the back of the scissor blade, or the flat side. The goal here is to remove any burs (very fine), get rid of any rust that has accumulated, and make the edge totally flat. Put the scissors on the edge of a table or bench and run the stone over the scissor blade in a flat, sweeping motion. If should just need a few swipes with the fine paddle, but if there is rust or divots you may need to use the coarse paddle to remove more material. Once you have shiny metal on the blades edge, clean up with your towel and flip to the other side.
Now, let’s talk about how scissors work. They actually shear whatever you are cutting between the contact point, so the angle is very abrupt at the tup of the blade. As we sharpen the scissor blade edge, it will only be about 10 degrees off perpendicular to the bevel side. This seems counter intuitive, and most folks try and sharpen at the bevel angle. You can put the scissor blade in a vise, or hold it securely in your hand, and run the paddle from inside out across the blades edge. A few passes should put a shiny edge on your blades.
Test Your Sharpening Work
Try and cut the paper. A fine blade should cut with out effort, and you should be able to “push” the open blade across the paper, cutting with ease. If you can’t, rinse and repeat.
Sharpening Scissors Video Guide
If you are like me, a quick video is my best learning tool. See our “Sharpening Scissors” video for a simple, short guide to teach you how to sharpen just about anything with diamond sharpening paddles.
Ready to Sharpen?
So that’s it, plain and simple. If you are like me, you will go on a sharpening binge and sharpen all the scissors in your house garage and even your neighbor’s. Check out our video library that show sharpening techniques for scissors, pruners, mower blades and more.
Continuing on our obsession with the cottage garden, it flowers, design principles and overall feel, this post is dedicated to non-plant cottage garden features, both traditional and non-traditional. Here is a list of our favorite elements for the cottage garden.
Fences and Gates
The feeling of contained chaos, or that you are entering a wonderland, is common in the design of the cottage garden. A low fence or wall, usually a picket or stone, is a primary and typically essential element of the garden’s soul. The gate provides an entry point to the garden and its paths, greenery and color.
Overhead: Arches and Pergolas
Vertical elements add to the enclosed spaces within the cottage garden, and arches adorned with climbing beauties like roses and clematis will provide you with a wonderful blended view of the sky and beautiful flowers. Pergolas can establish outdoor rooms or space for chairs, tables and benches.
Sitting: Benches and Chairs
The cottage garden relieves stress, and provides an escape for its owner, family and friends. With all the spaces created, and views of beauty, why not add a chair or bench to sit and gaze, and take in the sights and wonders of nature
Inviting in our flying friends can help establish a wonderful little ecosystem of plants and birds. Placing these beautiful ornaments in a central or planned room within the cottage garden will give you a whole new experience, and add to the overall charm.
The sound of flowing water adds another sense beyond the sights and scents of your cottage garden design. The garden is the perfect place for small, medium or large fountains to add visual interest as well.
This is just a short list of features. Read the rest of our cottage garden series to get ideas for your cottage garden design, and plans.
Picking and Planting Annuals in Your Cottage Garden
Continuing this series on the Cottage Garden, and this post on annuals follows Perennials for the Cottage Garden, and Just What is a Cottage Garden? Annuals provide beauty, texture and amazing color to the cottage garden layout, and there are sooooo many to choose from. Here are some of our favorites, with a list to follow:
There are very few flowers that provide such great vertical interest and color as the Foxglove. With its colorful, spotted spikes, and glorious bell shaped flowers, it will provide a great backdrop to any cottage garden planting scheme..
A great planting companion with the Foxglove, the Snapdragon is also a vertical interest plant, and provides a great layered effect when planted around the foxglove or delphinium. In such a large array of colors, you cant help but find one or many you love.
These plants are cottage garden mainstays, towering at the back of the border in your choice of shades of blue, pink or white. You will need to stake them before they get too tall, and protect them from slugs and snails early in the season. They will add to your cut flower bouquets and provide great beauty.
These fast blooming, heat loving plants will give your cottage design color, foliage and consistent blooms throughout the summer months. These heat lovers will continue to provide flowers as long as you dead head, and come in amazing colors palettes and sizes to bring a smile to any gardeners face.
Here is a big list of annuals and perennials you can add to your cottage garden for enjoyment:
This is the second post in a series on Cottage Gardens, mostly focused on the English Cottage Garden style. If you haven’t read the first post, Just What is a Cottage Garden?, take a minute to read about the definition of a cottage garden, and basic design principles for making your own. The cottage garden requires a mix of plants, and we will start with perennials. With those design principles in mind, here is a listing of 5 great plants to start your own English cottage planting.
Oh, the sweet smell of lavender in the cottage garden! This beautiful plant is the perfect companion for any cottage garden design. It provides a great visual foundation with its beautiful color, and if you choose the right variety, the long spikes and grey green foliage will add depth and honey bees to your landscape. Varieties: Provence, Grosso, Hidcote.
The beautiful peony can provide multiple elements to your cottage garden layout, and with its beautiful blooms and hardy foliage, can provide great depth and dimension, as well as an amazing scent. White, red or pink, the beautiful, full blooms can be a staple for your english cottage garden.
Ok, I have to say hydrangeas are our favorite flower. And what cottage garden would be complete without these stunners. Pinks, whites, and blues can provide some pop, and amazing texture to the landscape. Their foliage is a beautiful addition from a dimensional perspective, and overtime they fill a great space, and in our opinion is the best shrub for your cottage palette.
Soft colored roses can be a main staple in your cottage plant list. You can also add a climber or two to provide height and give you an excuse for a trellis or other vertical feature. Colors like peach, salmon and white can give a soft, beautiful addition to the garden planting, and be an anchor that provides beauty year round.
What traditional english garden would be complete without boxwood. It is more likely associated with formal gardening in the UK, but used sparingly, it can be an anchor point in the cottage garden, if left to freely grown, and can provide you a palette for shaping.
A short list, but a starter for your new cottage garden, or spicing up and old one.
When we built our new enclosed garden, I started doing some research on the Cottage Garden Design style, and what that really meant. There’s the traditional English Cottage Garden, the Americanized Cottage Garden, the hybrid cottage garden. What are the true fundamentals of the cottage garden design style? Here is a quick definition, the best I found:
The cottage garden is a distinct style that uses informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. The earliest cottage gardens were more practical than today’s, with emphasis on vegetables and herbs, fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. (Wikipedia)
The original cottage gardens were built by British laborers who had little time for maintenance, but needed a space to help feed the family, grow herbs for medicine, and flowers to bring birds and helping insects nearby.
As time went on, the British nobility began to idealize the cottage life, and the concept of the cottage garden was expanded, and the beauty of flowers became a focus in cottage garden design.
So, in researching, here are some key elements and design principles for making a cottage garden.
Pinks, Purples and Whites – for most cottage gardens, its all about the color palette, and creating a sense of romance and whimsy.
Scents are Key – tied to the visual romance, is one of glorious scents: lavenders, peonies, roses and the like.
Creating enclosed spaces – the typical cottage garden is enclosed by a picket fence, with climbers weaving through the pickets.
Creating other spaces – within the garden, there should be small themes here and there, concentrations of colors, heights and shapes.
Use informal crowding – the typical cottage garden is tight and compact, almost overflowing with flowers and foliage.
A mix of pathways – the garden should almost feel as you can wander through its curving pathways for hours. Informal edges should allow creeping plants to encroach on the stroll.
Mixing colors – sticking with a single palette is taboo, and there should be a sense of disorganized chaos in both color and texture of plant.
Intriguing elements – a mix of statues, design, birdhouses, fountains, benches, etc. should be placed throughout.
There are no rules – the best part is just go for it, and put your ideas into your design. If you don’t like it, change it 🙂
More to come, as this is one of our favorite topics.
One of the most common questions we hear is “When do you prune or cut back lavender?” Here is a quick outline of what you need to know for pruning/cutting back lavender successfully. While lavender is a hardy, strong plant in the right growing conditions, it does need special attention when it comes to pruning, and cutting back properly is the key to a healthy lavender plant that will last many seasons. And just so you know, correctly pruning lavender plants will help yield more flowers and a healthier, stronger plant.
If you read any garden book, lavender is known as a semi-shrub. Understanding this concept forms the foundation for proper lavender pruning. A semi-shrub is a plant that grows like a perennial, producing green growth year after year. The older parts of stems on a semi-shrub start turning woody after a few growing years. On any lavender variety, you’ll find that deep down inside the mound of grey-green leaves, stem bases are woody with almost a “barky” texture.
Those woody stems are are any area you don’t want to see. That wood is lacking strength, not strong like a tree’s trunk, and when winter brings snow or ice, or the plants are watered overhead, the woody stems are more likely crack and break. If you prune back to hard, the Lavender’s woody stems won’t produce new green growth. As the stem shifts to wood, your plant loses its ability to produce new green lavender shoots, which are the ones that flower and produce those lovely blooms. While pruning lavender, if you cut into woody stems and back too far, they won’t grow again, but will simply die.
When you prune your lavender, you’re aiming to slow down the plant’s progress toward forming woody stems, and keep it at an early growth stage, young and vigorous. As a rule of thumb, you need to plan on pruning lavender at planting time and every year right after it blooms. When you are planting lavender, prune plants lightly, removing all growing tips and flowers. This encourages the plant to branch, and grow. Use this same lavender pruning technique every year as new growth starts to appear.
Pruning lavender after flowering is ideal, but if you miss the window, it is a forgiving plant. You can plan your lavender pruning when it works for you, as long as you complete it by early spring when the temperatures begin to rise. Lavender flowers on the new growth that appears each year, so if you prune before new growth really starts lengthening, you won’t interfere with blossom formation and the normal growth cycle.
Pruning lavender in spring is always sometimes necessary in colder regions to remove stems that suffer winter damage to stems. Pruning lavender at the end of the growing season, in late summer to fall, can help open the plant’s interior to allow good air circulation. Also removes some of the branches, which can ultimately help prevent winter damage. Ideally, pruning lavender twice per year in spring and fall is optimal, if you can squeeze that into your gardening plan.
When you’re pruning lavender plants that are established and hardy, remove at least 1/3 of all growth when cutting back. With older plants, you can cut back three leaf pairs above the woody stem area. Don’t cut into the woody area, as mentioned because the buds on those stems won’t sprout.
If Dad spends his time in the garden, then there is no better way to put a smile on his face than to give him a Father’s Day Gardening Gift. Here is a quick list of gardening gifts for men that any father would love:
The Hori Hori Garden Knife – nothing screams Dad more than a large blade at the hip. No really, this garden tool is amazing, and is the “Swiss Army Knife” of garden tools. You can cut, saw, dig, plant, weed and measure, and these are just a few of the chores it can perform with little skill. This is one of the most popular items in our store on a consistent basis, and gets fantastic reviews. Highly recommended. Buy Our Hori Hori.
The Dibber – okay, not as cool as the Hori Hori, but if your Dad appreciates woodwork, then this is your gift. These are handmade tools that can be handed down to family. These heirloom seed planting tools are a must for any gardening purist. They have been used for centuries to create holes for seeds and bulbs, and these tools area a must for any father that plants consistently. See Our Seed and Bulb Dibblers
A Quality Garden Tool Set – an awesome Father’s Day Gift for any Dad, you have to ask yourself: Isn’t it time Dad had a nice set of garden tools? We recommend a wood and stainless set that will resist the elements and provide a pleasurable gardening experience for any father. Celtic’s Garden Tool Set
Quality Garden Shears – If Dad likes his garden neat, then a quality pair of garden shears are a great gift. Having lightweight, strong and sharp shears are key to plant health, and ease of use. Our Quality Garden Shear
Copper Garden Markers – ok, what is cooler than copper markers to keep track of what you plant and grow. Make sure you buy 10″, with galvanized metal stakes to make sure they last and resist rust. See our Copper Garden Markers
Garden Kneeler – if old pops has bad knees, or kneels for long periods out in the garden, then this is a great tool. I use mine for gardening, household chores, working on the tractor, and any time I need to kneel out on the farm.
You can buy any of these in our garden shop. See our Father’s Day Gardening Gifts.