tulips and forsythia

A Little About My Gardens, Past and Present

great-grandfather
My son and his great-grampa, 1978

I recently read a blog post where the writer explained about her backyard garden.  She included photos and her plans for each area of the outdoor space.  You can read it at the Hairytoegardener’s blog.

Growing up in Massachusetts, I lived on a hill overlooking my grandfather’s huge vegetable and flower garden.  I remember him always there, working in the garden (except in winter of course).  I can still picture him jiggling along with that old rototiller digging up the earth.  I wish I had run down and helped him do what he did, because I could have learned first hand how to be a successful grower of fabulous fresh vegetables.

I think he liked the solitude of gardening, so I would have been an unwanted pest maybe.  But as I recall, my grandfather was always kind and enjoyed us kids being around.  I think he could have taught me a thing or two about gardening.

Grampa's garden
The Field and Garden – after Grandfather was gone

Anyway, I never really got into gardening mainly because I had children who took up all my time. I presently have a 40 year old son, a 19 year old son, and two more in between. The most gardening I have done over the years were in my big Florida yard, where I planted everything tropical I could get my hands on, and in New England where I truly enjoyed digging in the ground.

I’ve lived at 16 different addresses. Some of those for only a very short time. In fact, one address was merely wishful thinking. I never actually had the chance to move in, but my items were there for a few weeks. The condo I was about to rent flooded from a burst pipe, and it was necessary to find an alternate place to live – temporarily.

I’ve spent many of my later years in survival mode, and that means I didn’t get to even think about such frivolous things as gardening.

But, when I had the chance to allow my mind to dream of a backyard full of flowers and blooming trees, and an herb garden, and picking ripe tomatoes, I worked relentlessly to make it happen. A lack of land restrained me somewhat, but in the first home, which was all my own, in New Hampshire, I planted in every available sunny spot I could find.  I did it all by myself, and I had a beautiful spot to enjoy.

backyard garden
My New Hampshire Backyard & Gardens

However, before that home, I had another New Hampshire home. It was the last place I lived.  Really, those were the last days of my life.  At that time, I lived more like most of the population. I was a normal person. And my husband (now ex) and I bought a house with land..!!!!… that had a wonderful array of gardens and ornamental trees, with a gorgeous forsythia hedge by the road.   In spring, I saw the tulips and daffodils pop out of the earth… imagine!  There is none of that in Florida.

Immediately I began to study the New England plant varieties and saw my yard becoming even more stunning as I planned to include more and more new shrubs and trees over the years.   In the two summers I lived here, I expanded the garden, adding a block pathway, bird feeders and bird baths.  There was an asparagus garden – I’d never had that before – and we saw black bear, turkeys and deer in the yard.  There was even a wisteria growing over a backyard arbor (not in the photos).  Yes, I could have lived here for the rest of my life, but two years later we were gone.

tulips and forsythia
Forsythia and Tulips, Spring at my first NH home
backyard garden
New Hampshire 1st backyard – photo taken from a skylight on the 2nd floor

When I write about my first NH house, it’s like I am talking about another person’s life. It was only 12 years ago that I lived here, but it seems like 100.

Today my yard is small and my house is surrounded by St. Augustine grass which grows like thick vines intertwining with itself.   This makes it incredibly difficult to remove – if I wanted to plant a garden.  Instead I have chosen a raised bed to grow vegetables (hopefully).   The plantings in the yard are simple and easy to care for as this was a home owned by some wealthy people who rented it out over the 12 years they owned it.  There is even a sprinkler system.  It’s a self-sufficient house.

So I have begun yet again to try to establish a beautiful yard. Except now I am older, and struggle with a disease that saps my energy. The gardening bug, once installed in our DNA, is impossible to ignore. My mind says “it’s too hot here, give up and just be at peace with the yard as it is”.

But my heart calls me to don those gloves and go out and dig!  Collect seeds, experiment with new plantings, take clippings and see if they will root and become new plants on their own.

The old dreams of a beautiful garden in my backyard are gone, but I feel good about the fact that when I had the chance, however fleeting the opportunity, I made the best of it.  I’ve left some great gardens behind.  I guess it was my tiny contribution to the planet.

Still, I can’t stop.

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Hydrangea

Found this hydrangea photo and good information on one of my favorite photographer’s site. I never grew pink hydrangeas like this one. It has fun little pointy petals. Pete kindly allowed me to re-blog here, so enjoy! And go see his photos… they are stunning!

Pete Hillman's Nature Photography

Hydrangea

I have always loved Hydrangeas. My Nan and Grandad grew them at the front of their house, and so did my Mom and Dad. It’s amazing how when you see a certain flower they bring back such wonderful, precious memories. Because of my love for the abundance of showy blossoms this popular shrub produces, and because of the fond memories, I have grown Hydrangeas in my garden for some years. Although, for the first time ever, I made the most silly mistake of pruning then at the wrong time so I did not get a single blossom last year. But this year, they are back again, and in splendour.

Here are a few facts about this colourful flowering shrub, some I already knew, and some I didn’t.

  • Hydrangeas go back a long way, and were here before we were. The oldest fossil finds discovered in America go back 40 to…

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white peony flowers

Peonies in July, But Not in My Yard

When I first moved to Florida back in 1979, one flowering shrub I missed was my favorite – the Peony. My grandmother had them in her Massachusetts garden around her old white farmhouse, and the huge blooms impressed me as a child. The fluffiness of the blooms were like none I’d seen, and the peony instantly became my favorite flower.

This page contains my photos of the peonies I planted and tended for the five years I lived in my New Hampshire house.  They bloomed in July, so I thought I’d treat myself to a trip back in time, when I could walk into my yard and see these beautiful blooms.  I wonder if the new homeowners are enjoying them today.


I live in Florida for 27 years, without growing any peonies in my landscape. I had everything else a southern gardener could grow. I had white and yellow jasmine along my fence. Camellias of all colors grew under the shade of the big live oaks in my 2.5 acre yard. I had a magnolia tree, orange tree, gardenias, hibiscus, crotons, and bougainvillea, lots of crepe myrtle, a stag horn fern, and more that I can’t remember now.  But peonies don’t grow in the deep south.

I really missed seeing peony flowers, and when I moved back to New England in 2005, I couldn’t wait to have some growing in my yard. Unfortunately, I ended up not having a yard of my own to plant them in until years later. But once I had my own home, I went out and bought a peony bush. I believe the Sarah Bernhardt (light pink flowering peony) was the first, and I can’t find a picture of that flower in my photos… but that one is my favorite.  (I’ll keep looking for a picture!)

I don’t recall the name of this white flowering Peony. I always kept the name of the plant in the soil beneath the shrub so I could recall the name. I no longer live there, and I’ve forgotten.

I know that the bright pink flower, with the yellow center is the Karl Rosenfeld. It’s not as fluffy as the other types I grew, but it was unique.

Peony flowers don’t last long.  I loved to photograph the buds too.  If I missed a day or two, and didn’t go outside (due to weather) I could miss the prime blooming time!

Most of my peonies – 3 plants – grew along an old wooden fence near the driveway.  The Karl Rosenfeld was planted out back.  The front gardens, near the house got too much sun for growing peonies, so I reserved that area for sun-loving shrubs.

Peonies are easy to grow, but some years they don’t get many flowers.  When they do bloom, ants can be found crawling all over the flowers.  Usually a cage or holder of some kind is needed to keep the stems upright once they flower.  It’s best to put the cage up and let the stems grow up through.

Viewing a sprouting peony in Spring, was just what I needed after a long cold winter!  Here they come….

peony in early spring
The Peony in Spring
pink yellow green croton leaves

Starting New Crotons From Old Plants

Finding plants that will propagate easily has always been a goal of mine. Starting new crotons from old plants is easy. In fact it’s easier than propagating most things I’ve tried.  Cut the stem, put cuttings in water and wait a few weeks.  More detailed explanation below.

It is possible to propagate hydrangeas, but that takes time. It’s worth it, because in the end you have a new, lovely hydrangea bush. In fact my baby hydrangeas grew quite large before I had to move.

But back to the crotons. These plants love sun and heat and can live through a draught. The wilted leaves come back after getting some water. Crotons like well-drained soil, and the sandy soil of Florida helps this plant to love it outdoors. It can even survive the cold nights we sometimes get here in Central Florida.

This first photo below was taken over the winter months, when the leaves are duller in color with more green and dark purple colors.  Or maybe this one just needed better care.

crotons and birdhouse
Winter Croton

In this second photo, you can see that this plant’s leaves have turned stunning red, orange, yellow and pink from the bright Florida summer sun.  I’ve also given it fertilizer and cleaned out the pot a bit.  It was full of ferns.

croton
Summer Croton

So, to propagate this croton, I waited until Spring when it began to grow some new leaves. Then I cut off the top of a longer stem, also making the stem long enough to drink from a vase of water. Remove the lower leaves of that cutting, and put it in water.

croton
Bright Orange Leaves of the Croton

You will want the stem to not be touching the bottom of the vase, so find one that leaves it hanging. The new roots will grow out of the bottom of the cut stem.
Wait a few weeks and the roots will emerge. Be sure to change the water in the vase daily! Once you see roots, it won’t be long before they are long enough and you can plant the new croton in a pot or the ground.  Don’t plant until the roots are at least an inch long.

propagated croton plants
Three New Croton Plants

These are my three new croton plants. Their leaves are not as bright because I took the cuttings before the mother plant’s leaves turned so pretty. But once these new plants are in the ground, in a sunny location, they will turn just as bright.