Why I Blog + Keeping Poisonous Plants Out of Our Garden

Sometimes I wonder why I bother blogging at all. Some days it seems like many people view bloggers as just someone to contradict, like the internet is one big arena of the high school debate team. I know I personally do not blog to try to start arguments, debates, or be insulted about the way that we live our lives, and I cannot imagine any blogger who would write with that intention. Most bloggers do not get paid for running their blog, so it is not like they are getting a weekly paycheck for keeping up with a blog, or have a boss telling them what to write about, or editing their entries.

So, why did I start my blog? Way back here on my first post on Tumblr, I started the blog with the intention of teaching my husband more about portraiture. I figured if he was documenting my more creative outfits and outfits I had designed and sewn, with the intention of posting the photos on a blog, he would be more motivated to work on his skills than if he was just photographing me for photos that no one else would ever see. He had experience with photography, but I wanted to work on his skills with portraits so he could assist me as needed in the photography business we wanted to start. I very quickly got bored of only blogging about my outfits, and decided that since I had already gone to all of the trouble to build the blog, I might as well start posting more interesting content.

A couple of generations ago, things like gardening and creating new recipes were common activities. I noticed among my own friends that they were hobbies and interests that were not as common as I am sure they used to be. I wanted to share some of my own experience (especially with gardening), and help inspire others to get out and get creative in their gardens, and maybe try making some healthier meals at home. I started writing about things I was growing in our garden, and documenting some of the recipes I came up with.

I started gardening at the age of two, with the encouragement of my dad. It is something he enjoys as well, and so did his mother. While my dad was always encouraging and teaching me about gardening, his mother was not encouraging to me about my gardening skills. She would tell me horribly mean things, like I would never be able to grow strawberries as well as she does (strawberries are not the easiest food to grow). She would tell me that nothing I grew would ever be good enough to win any awards or receive any recognition. Some of those comments stuck with me for a long time.

Since gardening has been something I have been interested in for so long, I wanted to help demystify the process of gardening for those who read my blog. It really is not that difficult (no matter what my grandmother claimed). I wanted to help inspire others to get outside and grow something beautiful or useful (or both!). Even when I only had a little studio apartment with an old fire escape at the end of the hallway, I still worked on growing a container garden of edibles that became a community garden for my building. I want people to know that it is easy to grow your own food and flowers. That is why I blog.

I also blog as a way to document our lives, mostly for our own reference. It may sound a bit morbid, but after having a couple of close calls with my health where my doctors were having conversations with my husband about the fact that I may not make it to the following day, I wanted to make sure that I was documenting our family from my point of view. A few times, when I have been too ill to be up and about with my normal routine (either when I had a severe case of pneumonia, was on pregnancy bed rest, had meningitis, etc.), my husband actually referenced several of my blog posts to find some of my recipes or figure out how I normally handle certain things around here. I like having that peace of mind knowing that my simple act of blogging could be a great point of reference if needed. Also, it is so much fun for me to be able to document our little guy growing up, especially for family members who are not local!

In addition to all of that, I really enjoy sharing when I have found something that works well for us, like the amber teething necklace post or my rave review of the gDiapers system. Those were not sponsored posts, they were just honest reviews of things that I was excited about and wanted to share with others. Unfortunately, sharing what works for us has not always been met with favorable responses.

After I wrote my gDiapers post, I was suddenly flooded with angry hate mail from crazy crunchy moms who were upset that I referred to disposable diapers as “regular diapers”. I know that cloth diapers are the original thing that everyone used, but sorry…disposables have become the norm, whether any of us like that fact or not (hence my use of the term “regular”). Such a minor thing to gripe about in reality anyway. I posted my low-sugar lemonade recipe, and got more angry hate mail from people who were upset that it was not as sweet as store-bought lemonade. With the disclaimer that it is a low-sugar recipe, without artificial sweeteners, why would you expect a sickeningly sweet lemonade anyway? When I decided to share the artwork I designed for our son’s nursery (for free, as printable pdfs), I mistakenly made a typo in referencing one of the Bible verses. As soon as the first person brought it to my attention, I corrected the post and the artwork, and apologized profusely for the typo. I still got tons of angry emails and comments because I was not able to correct the typo in the pin that had since gone all over Pinterest. Sorry, but that is not my fault…I did not design Pinterest. As I told one angry reader, the last time I checked, there has only ever been one perfect person, and He has never yelled at me for a simple typo. You would think that people interested in free Bible artwork would have a little more patience. It’s not like they purchased the artwork and it was defective!

I may have some strong opinions about how we do things in our house, and I often share those on my blog. But here’s the thing…it’s my blog. Meaning my own personal corner of the internet. I am not writing for a boss, or writing to get a grade at school. If you do not like how we do things here or how I write, you can simply find something else to read. I have a zero tolerance policy for internet bullying and rude comments. Even less patience if those rude comments come from someone I actually know or worse yet have considered a friend. If you have a legitimate concern, that is understandable, but people who just want to complain for the sake of complaining are persona non grata in my world. Just because you stand up publicly and say “here’s what I’m doing and it works for us” doesn’t mean you are also saying, “here’s what I’m doing, rip me apart if you don’t agree”!

Also, I never claim to be a certified expert at anything I write about. I am not a certified Master Gardener (yet…I don’t have the time to complete that process now). I never claim to be the best gardener in the world, or have grown the world’s biggest squash, or anything of the sort. If anything, I always think I am not doing a good enough job with our garden, and if you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, you know that I almost did not even bring my squash to the fair that ended up winning first place and division winner. When I am proud of an accomplishment or award I receive, it is just news that I am excited to share…that’s it. Like most of us, I am always learning and challenging myself to learn more and try new things. My blog is just my way to document the process.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, has it inspired you to get out and try new things in your garden, experiment more in your kitchen, try a new DIY decorating project, give cloth diapers a try, or something else? If it has, please send me a photo! I would absolutely love to do a special post with reader photos that have been inspired by my past posts!

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Thank you for reading my rant, and now back to the regularly scheduled programming, so to speak. I always try to keep our garden free of any poisonous plants. I have realized recently that this is not always something that people take into consideration when planning a garden. If you have children, grandchildren, or pets, it is a good idea to keep in mind that some plants may be toxic or poisonous if ingested. Our son does a pretty good job now of knowing what he can pull off and snack on in the garden and what he cannot. He even can tell when a tomato, strawberry or kumquat is not ripe yet. I have worked with him extensively on this for months. However, one of my good friends had a scare a few months back with her daughter. She texted me a photo of a plant that her daughter had nibbled on, and was worried that it may be poisonous. Thankfully it was not poisonous, but it motivated me even more to make sure that nothing in our garden was toxic. Even though I grow specific plants for our pets to eat, some of them have a tendency to nibble on just about anything when they are in a certain mood.

When planning what I would plant in our garden, I selected mostly plants that have edible flowers, such as sages, rosemary, roses, nasturtiums, and lavender. I wanted to be sure that just in case something was accidentally ingested by our son, one of his friends, or one of our pets, it would not be a problem. I used to grow things like sweet pea flowers, just because I love the way the smell. Unfortunately, sweet pea flowers are highly toxic. I tried planting them in places that I thought our pets would not find. Our one cat became so infatuated with the smell that he seemed to find them no matter where I planted them. I have since stopped growing sweet peas.

When we purchased our house, it had lots of elephant’s ears plants everywhere (seen above). They are highly toxic, and unfortunately grow from little tiny pieces of the root system, making it difficult to completely get rid of them. Even the tiniest piece left underground seems to allow them to come back. I thought I had previously gotten rid of all of them when we first moved here, but they keep popping up when I least expect it. It means that I go out in the garden early each morning and do a quick check before our son and any of our furry kids wake up and come outside to play. Another thing that I keep trying to get rid of is the English ivy around our son’s garden, also poisonous if ingested. Ivy is nearly impossible to kill off, and it keeps coming back despite my best efforts. I have resigned myself to the fact that it may be a lifelong battle, but I at least try to keep it trimmed back enough so that it does not drape down into E’s garden. It is currently growing in the retaining wall planter above his garden.

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When I was purchasing plants for our back yard garden, I researched each plant online before purchasing. I have a variety of succulent arrangements in containers in the back yard. When I first researched the fire sticks shown below, all I read online was that they could be a mild skin irritant. That did not seem too serious so I did not worry about it much. However, in the series of gardening classes that I recently took at our local botanical garden, the instructors started talking about how dangerous fire sticks can be around children. They can be poisonous and deadly if ingested in large enough quantities, and can even cause temporary blindness. I was completely freaked out and it was a scary reminder that I need to always be sure to get my information from a reputable source online. I since replanted my fire sticks in their own containers, and relocated them up onto the high ledge above our son’s garden, where they are out of reach from him and all of our pets. Similarly, I also made sure all of my medicinal herbs are not accessible. Most of these are intended for internal use, but that does not mean I want anyone going in there and nibbling on things they should not be eating (more info on my herb garden coming next week).

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If you are researching plants for your own backyard, I highly recommend referencing the ASPCA list of toxic and poisonous plants. Many of the things in our garden that were planted by previous owners were on that list, and I have removed them, such as lantana, elephant’s ears, etc. If you ever have any concerns that your pet or child has eaten a plant, contact your veterinarian or pediatrician immediately.

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Orange County Fair 2014 Wrapup

I took a lot of pictures this year during our time at the Orange County Fair, and I wanted to share some of my favorites (the ones that I haven’t posted already anyway).

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Getting my flowers ready to bring for the cut flower competition.
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I entered two different giant squashes, on two different weeks. The second one was not as big as my first one. This one won third prize.
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My limes did not win a prize, but I was still proud of those little guys!
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Same with my apples, especially since that apple tree is brand new to us!
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My figs were up pretty high on the display (so I couldn’t get a good shot), but they didn’t get a ribbon either. 😦
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My kumquats got second place!
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My succulent arrangement won first place and division winner for the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle contest! So proud of this one. 🙂
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This spindly little succulent was my entry for most unusual container plant. It did not win a ribbon, but I am still proud of how it is so odd looking! This plant was one of my rescues (saved from an ugly divorce situation where the wife was intentionally allegedly trying to harm the husband’s plants. I have come across some interesting plant rescue stories via Craigslist).
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One of my teapot entries.
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I was sad that my little teapot from our wedding didn’t win a ribbon, but I heard lots of nice feedback about both of my teapots. 🙂
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My little wooden clogs were my entry for most unusual container. It sadly did not win a ribbon, but I overheard at least four fairgoers commenting on how they thought it should have won one, which made me really happy.
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My little baby staghorn fern won second place, up against some huge ones!
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In the cut flower department, my succulent bloom won second place!
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My fuchsia won third place!
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My pretty (and somewhat unusual) geranium won third place!
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My climbing roses won third place also!
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E and I proudly posing with our big winner of the week. He helped put mulch in there so it is partially his award too. 😉
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For those of you who garden, who inspired you to start gardening? Who do you turn to with gardening questions? For me, my dad was the one that started me off early with cultivating a green thumb. He got me started at the age of two with my own little vegetable garden, and a little flower garden and flower boxes around my playhouse that he built. I still text him frequently with panicked what do I do?!? questions. His mom was an avid gardener, and it is definitely something that is being passed down to each generation.
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The first time that we all went to the Orange County Fair, I was pregnant with E. I have never been a big meat eater, but when I saw the signs for those giant Texas turkey legs, I had to have one. I think I shocked my whole family. This year, I finally understood my pregnancy cravings for those turkey legs. I was not able to capture E’s first taste a previous night of these turkey legs (my hands were greasy and I didn’t want to dirty up the camera). The first night, he literally had tears of joy rolling down his face because he was so excited. We were hoping for the same the second time around (I kept my hands clean so I could get pictures of him eating this time). No tears the second time, but he was still really excited.
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Grandpa’s head makes a great drum!
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Watching the motor derby.
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About to get on his first pony ride!
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We live in an area with a lot of horses. Every time we go out to run errands, there are people riding horses down the main road. I think since E sees people on horses so often, he took to the pony ride like a pro. 🙂
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Goofballs!
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I really wish we could get some baby goats. 🙂
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I was very nervous about this activity. I am still breastfeeding E, and he is a milk fiend. I was so afraid when we explained to him that he was going to milk the fake cow that he would end up putting his mouth on one of the rubber nipples. Surprisingly, he followed my husband’s instructions very well!
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E helps me brush our pets daily, so this activity booth was a no-brainer for him.
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My ribbon collection from this year. Things were too chaotic here with projects when the fair started, and then I was feeling really weak for a while after my miscarriage, so I only got to participate in the last two weeks of the fair (the orange ribbons are participation ribbons for each week). I am pretty proud of my 11 ribbons in just two weeks! We will see how well I do next year when I am more organized and things are hopefully less chaotic around here. 😉
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My Summer Reading List

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I have to admit, I am not very organized with my gardening. I try at times, but I end up gardening more like an artist than a scientist (and that aggravates my engineer husband at times). I fertilize and water the plants based on how much I feel they need, not calculated amounts. I try to keep on a schedule but I always loose track. I decided that going forward, I am going to get a lot more organized with my gardening. I have tons of gardening books that I refer to when needed, but I decided that it is time to go through, really get in depth with these books, and start creating a more organized approach to my gardening. I’m pleased with how my gardening entries did this year at the Orange County Fair, but I would like to be more organized about it next year and come home with even more ribbons. 🙂

If you are new to gardening, and looking for some book recommendations, I put together a short review for each of the books that I have in my reading stack. Each book in my stack is great, and they cover a variety of topics.

Starting from the bottom, the Sunset Western Garden Book is one that I have had for years. This copy used to belong to my grandmother, and it was given to me after she passed away. At the time, I did not have a flower garden, but I started reading through its’ wide expanse of information and bookmarking pages. If you live on the West Coast, the Sunset garden books are a must-have. Someday I will probably upgrade to a more modern version. 🙂

Western Garden Book of Edibles This is another great one, with information about pretty much any fruit or vegetable that you can grow here on the West Coast.

Sunset Big Book of Garden Designs You may have noticed a trend…I am a big fan of the Sunset gardening books. 🙂 They are very well tailored to gardening here on the West Coast. I got this book after I planned our front and back gardens, but it has some great ideas if you are planning a complete garden makeover. It gave me some great ideas for the garden I am planning in our downstairs yard. 🙂

Modern Essentials This is technically not a gardening book, but got thrown into the mix because it is something I am trying to learn more about. This book is wonderful for anyone interested in learning more about using essential oils. I have been using lavender oil and fresh herbs for a variety of things for years, but I recently incorporated a lot more essential oils into our routine, and it is something I absolutely love. I am going to be blogging more about our journey with essential oils soon.

DIY Projects for the Self Sufficient Homeowner This book has some great ideas for projects that I would like my husband to build eventually. 🙂 It has helped me show him step by step instructions for some of the things I would like him to build eventually. Some of the projects I am not 100% sold on, but that is up to personal preference. For example, we don’t like the idea of planting edibles in plastic containers that may not necessarily be rated as food safe (we try not to use plastic much at all to be honest). I was also disappointed that the book got me excited to try to build a solar food dehydrator, only to later realize that we do not live in a climate that is conducive to solar food dehydrating (so then I immediately ordered this electric dehydrator for preserving). Otherwise, the book has some really great projects!

Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening This book is my favorite out of all of my gardening books, hands down. It has such a wealth of information, and covers so many topics. It has monthly checklists that I am determined to actually go through each month from now on. This book usually sits on my nightstand, next to my Bible. 🙂

Mini Farming This book has great in-depth information about various home farming methods, and detailed information about the benefits to the various methods. Reading this book has motivated me to get more precise with my vegetable planting in our raised beds. I definitely recommend this book if you are interested in growing your own produce.

The Backyard Homestead This book packs in a ton of information about edible gardening with limited space. It includes information about warm and cool season planting, proper soil preparation, how to cultivate a variety of types of fruit and vegetables, pruning guides, sample garden designs, preserving information, and lots more. The sample garden designs are one of my favorite parts of this book, and we drew inspiration from this when we did our first round of planting with fruit trees when we first bought our house.

The City Homesteader This book is a must-have for those with limited space who want to get started with edible gardening. The first few chapters are great for those who are new to gardening, covering all of the basics, and the later chapters have more detailed ideas even seasoned gardeners will appreciate. It gives a breakdown on which fruits and vegetables are well-suited for growing in a small space and which are not. It also gives great step-by-step instructions for a variety of projects that will help you live more self-sufficiently and Eco-friendly. There are chapters on beekeeping, raising livestock in a small yard, making cheese and yogurt, building a root cellar for storing produce, and more. There is even a chapter on foraging for wild foods which has become so popular lately. 🙂

Flower Gardening Secrets This is another older book that used to belong to my grandmother. It has some great, time-tested tips and techniques that will get you on your way to growing a beautiful flower garden.

Soil Mates This one is not pictured, but it is one I always keep on hand during planting time. It has cute little drawings of vegetables, and my son loves looking at this book. I assume I couldn’t find it at the moment because he probably ran off with it again. 🙂 The book may read as a bit silly at first (kind of like a soap opera for vegetables), but it really carries some very useful information about what vegetables are good near each other, and what to plant far away from each other.

If you enjoyed my book reviews and would like to order any of these books, please consider purchasing through the links provided. The price is the same as if you went through the main Amazon.com homepage, but they are affiliate links, which means ordering through those links helps keep this blog running!

My $20 Greenhouse/Shed Makeover & Garden Updates

Recently, my husband and I sat down and went through and organized our lists of projects that still need to be completed for our house. We prioritized things into URGENT, high priority, medium priority, and low priority. One of the things on my list was that I wanted a new greenhouse (made out of the recycled windows that I have been collecting), and I wanted a cuter garden shed. Once I realized that we literally have over 50 items on our project to-do list, and those two fell pretty low on the list, I decided it was time to be happy with what I have for now, and make the best of them. Eventually we will probably get around to building my dream greenhouse, but in the meantime, I am happy with my little popup greenhouse. I made the inside much better which helps!

The greenhouse and shed are in our downstairs yard, which is actually a secondary lot joined to our property. You can see the before pictures here. My little plastic raised beds have been moved around a few times since we moved here, but I think I am finally settled on their location. I am addicted to finding free stuff from Craigslist that I can upcycle into something cute for the garden, and the bench and bench cushion below were some great Craigslist finds. 🙂 The bench looked awful when we got it (the previous owners left their kids alone with some paint samples and the kids went wild on the poor bench), but a can of spray paint and it is now a cozy little area under the apricot tree. When we moved in, you actually couldn’t even see that poor little tree because it was being strangled by vines! I am so proud to have rescued it. 🙂
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The metal shed was a rusty eyesore. I had some leftover paint from when I painted our patio furniture, so I decided to start painting the shed. The only thing I bought for this greenhouse/shed makeover was a couple of extra cans of spray paint and suddenly they are both much better! We also recently got a second compost tumbler (found here). We loved the first one so much, and realized now that there are three of us, we are generating a whole lot more food scraps! The one bin was getting a bit overwhelmed so it is nice to have two now. We are also in the process of putting in another large wooden raised bed in this downstairs area (getting dirt down there is a tedious process and my husband is building a ramp which I need anyway).
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Inside the greenhouse is my favorite part of the transformation. I had lots of cute decor things that I have made for photoshoots over the years, and have been storing them away in my office. I typically hate reusing the same props over and over, but didn’t want to get rid of a lot of these things since I worked hard on them. I couldn’t find a spot in our house for everything, but they made the perfect (free!) decorations for my little greenhouse!
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I realized that my pitcher plant was not doing well because apparently you are only supposed to water it with distilled or rain water! Ooops! It is getting some love in the greenhouse for now while it recouperates. I also gave it a spray with some watered down fertilizer. The other plants on the shelf rack are things that need some extra love (after getting trampled by my son for example), or things I have recently propagated. 🙂
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I made a pathway out of pieces of slate that were removed elsewhere in the backyard. In case you are curious (since people always ask me), you can find his cute moccasins here.
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A little chandelier makes everything better.  🙂
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My ferns and some other plants are not always in here, but they needed a bit of extra TLC after being at the fair all week. They came home fine, but just a little sad and droopy after being in a cold, air-conditioned building all week.
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The little star lights are battery operated string lights I got at Ikea many years ago. When my husband saw them, he got upset thinking I was trying to hint that I needed electricity in there. I assured him they were just for decoration, and any time it is dark, I won’t be in the greenhouse because I close it up at night. 🙂
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My little baby staghorn fern won 2nd place at the fair, even up against big huge ones! 🙂 It is a very happy, healthy little guy.
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I am addicted to propagating new plants from cuttings. I love having lots of plants and making more for free is the best! I have found great results with starting cuttings dipped in rooting hormone, then placed in a jar of water, and then transitioning them to moist potting soil once they have roots established.
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This thermometer is the best since it also gives humidity percentage. So important to keep an eye on the humidity levels in a greenhouse. You can find it here.
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I couldn’t get E to look at the camera today. He fell again and got another nasty cut right above his eye and he is quite upset about it. He has been sad when he sees himself in the mirror.aliciainwonderlandblog

I cleared out all of my lawn care tools, which left me some room in the shed to get organized! Most of the shed is actually taken up by my husband’s stuff, but now I have my own little organized corner. 🙂 I have been having a hard time with the wildlife chewing through my bags of fertilizer, so I got this dresser to stash my bags (the dresser was another free Craigslist find!).
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Our raised beds are coming along, even though they got a really late start this year. I have recycled doors placed at the ends of the raised beds for now (to keep the dogs out), but they will be going up soon and make the area look more our style. 🙂
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My cucumbers and peppers have not been doing as well as I would have expected. They have consistently perfect moisture, no signs of disease, perfect soil fertility, full sun, and yet they were struggling. I finally figured out the problem (besides the fact that they were planted so late in the season). The darn Japanese beetles have been burrowing under the soil and munching on the roots of my veggies. I just sprayed everything with neem oil which should help deter them, and also gave the plants a folliar treatment of an organic fish/kelp emulsion to help perk them up.
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My husband keeps getting frustrated that I planted the raised beds “so sparse”. I assured him that lots more will be poking through soon. 😉 I filled up all of the extra spaces with carrot and beet seeds.aliciainwonderlandblog aliciainwonderlandblog
Our son is a tomato fiend. He knows exactly when to grab the tomatoes too. I can guarantee that he will find this one tomorrow.
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I can’t wait for this guy to ripen. 🙂
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I planted tons of corn seeds very late in the game. It will be an experiment to see how they do. 🙂
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This is another one of my mystery squash plants that came from the compost in the flower beds. This was the only transplant survivor. I am so curious to see what kind of squash comes from this one. 🙂
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My monster squash plant is starting to try to take over the whole flower garden! That is just ONE squash plant!
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After my recent miscarriage, I cut all the roses in the garden and put them where we buried that tiny little baby. The garden seemed sad for quite some time after that. It finally started getting blooms again, and just in time for the last week of the fair. My flowers won a few ribbons (more on that in another post soon).
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Remember my post about the wasp problem and disease on this rose bush? The rose bush is doing much better thanks to diligent application of neem oil, and the wasp problem is gone thanks to the Waspinators! I was very skeptical but it seems to be keeping the wasps away!
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Last but not least, it is time to start seeds already for the fall/winter! I am starting snapdragons, stock, violas, pansies, and calendula for flowers. For veggies, I am starting lots of cool season foods like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower, onions and leeks. I will also be planting lots of carrots, beets, radishes, kale, mustard, and other root vegetables and leafy greens straight into the raised beds in the downstairs garden. I use the raised beds downstairs for cool season plants since it has a cooler microclimate down there thanks to the pine trees and the way the ocean breeze comes through there (our upstairs back yard stays much hotter year-round because of the way the concrete retaining walls block the breeze).

I used to start seeds indoors, but we don’t have any sunny windows in this house where I can set up flats of seeds. Also, the last time I started seeds indoors at our old house, our pets got to the sprouts in the middle of the night and had a party. I woke up one morning and found baby veggies and dirt all over our living room. Not a fun day. I am trying out seed starting with these portable little greenhouses (found here). I have them in our patio, under the pergola for now, but like the fact that I can easily move them around if I need to. I have been closing them in the late afternoon to try to keep the temperature fairly even. I am hoping this works out! I have a variety of seed starting trays, but I like these best. Also, make sure you always use organic seed starting soil for starting seeds, not potting soil (here’s a great option).
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The Giant Squash

When I was pregnant with our son two years ago, I attended the Orange County Fair for the first time. I was blown away by all of the giant fruit and vegetables that home gardeners entered into the fair. I was so excited to see so many competitions for gardeners. There are plenty of photography and art competitions everywhere, but gardening competitions seem pretty rare around here. I was determined to enter a giant vegetable in the fair the next year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to enter last year after 11 months of pregnancy and post-partum bed rest. We went to the fair last year and had fun, but I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t prepared to enter the competitions yet.

This year, our backyard garden remodel took way longer than we expected. My new vegetable beds did not get installed until the very end, leaving me no time to prepare any vegetables to enter into the fair. I was quite disappointed, until I noticed that some vegetables were sprouting up as volunteers from the homemade compost that I mixed into the flower beds. There was one baby squash plant in particular that I could tell was going to grow quite large, so I let it grow and nurtured the little surprise planting. As luck would have it, that little surprise ended up growing my biggest squash to date. I started getting excited once I realized I may have a good entry for the fair.

The night before I was planning to bring my squash to the fair, I started reading online about winners of largest squash competitions. I read that there is a man on the east coast who regularly grows 1000+ pound squashes. My “little” 10 pound squash suddenly felt inadequate, and I considered not bringing it at all. In the end, I figured I may as well bring it because even if it was not the world’s biggest squash, it was the biggest one that I have grown in the 30+ years since I started gardening, and I figured that was something worth celebrating.

I usually spend my early mornings working in the garden, before our son wakes up. I get up at sunrise and tend to the garden, hang clothes and diapers on the clothesline, etc. It is my peaceful time of the day. The garden in the early morning hours is my favorite.

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E is thankfully a late sleeper. He was not initially very thrilled that I pulled him out of bed, but once he realized it was for pictures, he was quite cooperative. 🙂 Apparently he thought that we were about to cook this squash since I finally cut it off the plant, so he got his “cooking utensils” ready!
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Then he started talking to the squash and petting it. Silly boy.
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I tried to get another angle with my camera….No, Mommy! No standing on chairs!
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So then I was quite surprised to read, not only did my “little” squash win first place as biggest squash, it also won Division Winner for the whole squash category! I was beyond honored and excited. Not bad for my first time entering a gardening competition, right? 🙂
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My squash’s ribbons motivated me to get myself in gear and enter a few more items for the last week of competition for the fair. More on that coming to the blog next week!

Butterflies & Ladybugs in the Garden

After we went to the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, I decided I need to up the ante in E’s garden to get him even more butterflies coming by. The butterflies already like the current selection of red valerian and red geraniums, but I wanted to attract more with some more options for flowers. When I started creating E’s garden, I removed all of the plants in the area that were poisonous (planted by previous owners). Some of the plants that butterflies enjoy are also poisonous, so I wanted to make sure that I only added non-poisonous additions to his garden.

I also recently went through and had our garden certified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation (more info here). Our little changes to E’s garden helped improve our score. Soon the NWF is going to have an additional advanced certification as a butterfly habitat, which I am hoping to get as well. I can’t wait until our garden signs arrive!
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The first thing that I tracked down was a butterfly bush, also known as buddleia. I found this one at Sunflower Farms in Torrance, CA. I also put down some sunflower seeds.
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Next, I found a dune buckwheat, native to the Palos Verdes Penninsula. I purchased this from the South Coast Botanic Garden.
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I also added in some nice yellow yarrow, which can be found many places.
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Butterflies love oregano, so I added in some organic oregano.
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At the butterfly exhibit, I noticed that the water trays were filled with pebbles. I started doing some reading and discovered that butterflies like to have a little rock to perch on while drinking their water. I set up this little terracotta saucer of water with some rocks, and put it on a plant stand in the back of E’s garden.
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I also read that some butterflies like to drink out of slightly muddy sand, so I made another water dish with sand.
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We added some more flowers that butterflies and caterpillars love, all of which have edible flowers for humans. I love the seeds from Botanical Interests because they will actually tell you on the packet if the flowers are edible (always a great safety precaution if you have young children or pets).
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E is always a good helper when planting seeds.
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He had started running after the cats earlier that week and had to get glue stitches on a nasty cut on his forehead. He tripped and fell and cut his forehead open on the floor…he can’t quite keep up with the cats yet.
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After we finished working on his garden, my garden needed some assistance from some additional ladybugs. My neem oil treatment had gotten rid of most of my aphid infestation, but I wanted to bring in some additional ladybugs as a preventative measure. I purchase my ladybugs from Armstrong Garden Center (I mention this since sometimes they can be difficult to find). Ladybugs are best released at dawn or dusk, and E is never awake at dawn, so we released them at dusk that night.
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He had a lot of fun with the ladybugs crawling all over him. 🙂
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Once they started getting all in his hair, he had enough and got a bit upset. Other than that, he had a lot of fun releasing the ladybugs into the garden. 🙂aliciainwonderlandblog

Backyard Garden Tour – Flowers and Plants!

This is the most exciting part of my backyard garden tour, where I show the flowers and plants I selected in more detail! In selecting my plants, I wanted to make sure that most were low-water plants (with the exception of the roses…those need more water but I justify it because they are my favorite and I use them for lots of culinary uses and herbal teas in the winter). I also gave myself the added challenge of making sure there were no poisonous flowers or plants since our cats and dogs like to nibble on anything they can find. They used to munch on grass, but now that we have no lawn, anything is fair game to them. Also, I would hate for our little guy or any of his friends to get sick if they put a plant in their mouth!

I ended up using a variety of flowers that are actually edible and/or herbs. Roses are edible, as are fuchsias, nasturtiums, and many other flowers. The cats love finding a cozy spot to curl up with some of the herbs I planted such as lavender. Below, I have some nasturtiums, Santa Barbara daisies, geraniums, Mexican sage, California lilac, Shasta daisies, red valerian, elephant’s bush, and a David Austin rose. I planted lots of geraniums and Santa Barbara daisies throughout the garden because they do so well in our climate. They were actually planted here in a couple of spots by a previous owner and survived despite the house being vacant for about a year.

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Another variety of sage with some more David Austin roses.
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My David Austin Malvern Hills rambling roses.
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I selected almost all David Austin roses because I love their scents and old fashioned charm. They look so different from most of the roses that you see these days, and to me they are worth the extra investment.
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Bacopa and ivy geranium in hanging baskets near the Malvern Hills roses.
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Lavender, nasturtiums and our dwarf lemon tree.
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A little vignette of color in a semi-shady area…coleus, fuchsias, bacopa, sweet potato vines, and heuchera.
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These firestick succulents in the center of this arrangement have actually been relocated elsewhere since I took this photo. I learned from one of the instructors in the series of gardening classes I am currently taking that they are extremely toxic and can cause temporary blindness, and even be poisonous enough to kill if enough is ingested. When I initially read about them online, all I saw was that they could be a “mild skin irritant”. Apparently they can do a whole lot more than just irritate your skin!
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I planted pretty much any kind of sage and lavender I could find.
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The bright pink flowers below were actually here when we bought our house. They are one of the very few plants that were here originally that I left growing (there were many diseased, dying, poorly planted, and poisonous plants that I removed over the past couple of years). They are called red valerian or Jupiter’s beard. They are amazing and super hardy. They are self-seeding, and come back year after year. Occasionally, I trim off the spent blooms to clean them up a bit, but they are really low maintenance. They also require almost no water. I literally barely ever water them. Right now, in our horrible drought, they are one of the few plants that I see in the nearby wild areas that are still alive. Even lots of the native plants are just brown with the current drought.

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I also recently found a similar white flower, which I was excited about.
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In the level below all of the red valerian, I have lots of geraniums and Santa Barbara daisies planted. They also need very little water.
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Under our fig tree, I have a little shady area of the garden that needed some shade loving plants. I used lots of fuchsias, with some jade, Persian shield, coleus, and mint. The jade plants were burnt in the heatwave recently but are recovering quite nicely now.
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This is another little shady area under our hibiscus tree. Here I planted helichrysum, begonias, heuchera, fuchsias, coleus, Persian shield and iresine. I just love all of the bright colors in this area. Most people tend to think they have to grow impatiens in a shady area (which I think are such a boring flower), but there are so many more options for shady areas of your garden!

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Behind the row of roses, the sunflowers that my son and I planted from seed are really starting to bloom like crazy. 🙂
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