Lessons learned from our summer garden…


I decided to capture my “lessons learned” from this summer so I can keep track of what is and isn’t working. Some things have been so easy to grow and others have been disasters!


Here’s what I now know: Lantana is really easy to grow but it needs sunshine, rain and a lot of space to spread out. In the picture below, you’ll see the Lantana that I planted last Spring… So cute. So little. So unassuming.



In July, it was still a great little pop of color, but it kept on growing like Jack’s beanstalk!


Some of the Lantana branches grew from 2 inches long to 4 feet long! By August, it had completely covered the Hostas. Next Spring, I will plant Lantana in a sunny spot with plenty of room to grow!

Next up, I deduced that Hydrangeas need a lot of water. I’ve had three Hydrangeas under a Flowering Cherry tree for many years, but the tree is bigger and fuller now which blocks access to sun and rain.

They start out looking great in the Spring, but by mid-summer, they droop and need me to supplement with the hose.

Womp womp.

My failed attempt at a vegetable garden devolved into a real life Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! In the picture below, you’ll see our teeny tiny plants next to a big tomato cage…

By mid-summer, each plant was 5 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. They grew together into this woven mess where tomatoes couldn’t get any sunlight and wouldn’t ripen. They all strangled each other in a dramatic, prolonged death scene and I finally had to haul the whole nest to the curb. I couldn’t even pull the cage loose from the vines!

Next year: one tomato cage per plant – and – in a new location with afternoon sun.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.jpg

Here’s what has been easy…

Sunflowers grow very fast and very tall.

They need a sunny spot and you cannot crowd them or they’ll create shade and kill themselves off. I had waaaaaaay too many crammed into this little spot.

Caladiums are happy in any shady spot. These were grown from bulbs I planted under a tree. I’ve always had success growing them in pots, too, as long as they’re shaded by a porch.

Everything in this picture above is easy – just plant it and walk away. I have never killed a Crepe Myrtle tree! And that is saying something, friends! Ditto for Red Bud trees. They are so resilient! All these shrubs are unkillable, too: the green one is called Cleyera and the purple ones are both varieties of Loropetalum. Down low is a ground cover called Purple Winter Creeper.

Monkey grass is [sadly] unkillable so I contend with it. #notphotoworthy

Here’s a close-up of another Loropetalum. I have several varieties and they all add such nice color!

Likewise, Nandina will grow everywhere I stick it in the yard and adds such nice color – evolving from green to orange or red. Some varieties are lime.

Hosta Lillies come back year after year whether in a pot or in the ground. They just want a shady spot. So easy and so pretty!

These are my favorites: Purple Coneflowers a.k.a. Echinacea. This variety is Kim’s Knee High (gotta love the name). They come back every year bigger and better than the year before! I may put a little cage around them next year for support and/or to keep kids and pets from tromping through them.

Gosh, I am in love with these flowers.

I have two spots in the yard that kill everything I plant there. Ever the optimist, I am going to try again next Spring and see what happens!


My plans for the Spring = dig it all up and move it all around and hope that makes all the difference:

  • Move Huechera to the flowerbed that kills everything and wish it all the very best.
  • Move weary, sad Azaleas to the shady spot currently occupied by Heuchera. <insert despair + low expectations>
  • Backfill Azalea vacancy with Loropetalum.
  • Move Hydrangeas next to Bryan’s blueberries in the space shaded from afternoon sun by the Pear tree.
  • Plant a Crepe Myrtle in the spot that kills every tree ever. <success rate: 0 for 4>
  • Plant Sunflower seeds in the same spot as this year, just less of them.
  • Plant Lantana right behind the Firecracker Gladiolus and Asian Lillies to give that spot heft.
  • Consider adding a Crepe Myrtle by the tree fort and a Burning Bush next to the grill.

This month in the yard: November

What a strangely warm Fall this has been for planet Earth – the highest average temps ever recorded. Here in The Cove, it means we have had our first real freeze this past weekend. Most of the yard looks pretty blah now that the leaves have either dropped or turned brown, but I’ve enjoyed having green grass in November!

The Oak tree in the back yard is pretty even though it’s covered in crunchy brown leaves.

Bryan’s blueberry bushes have all turned red.

I have one lonely bloom on the Cana Lilly by the patio… It never did get covered up in blooms this summer.

I added red and orange Mums to the flowerbed out front for a little Autumn color.

Shhh… Don’t let my flowers hear that Summer ended two months ago.

Hosta Lillies in November! Most of my Hostas have shriveled as they would normally do this time of year – but this patch is just green and perky!

The Irises and Lantana still look great.

The Heuchera still look healthy, but I don’t think I like these plants. They were recommended by Southern Living but they’re just super boring.

I got a mix of Pansies and Violets for a big pot near my driveway. These should tolerate frost so we can have a teeny pop of color this winter. I haven’t tried winter flowers before so wish me luck…

Nandina is so pretty this time of year! I love the red leaves.

More orange Mums for the pots by the garage…

…and for the pot under the pergola!

I think the trick to enjoying your yard and flowerbeds in the Fall is to just look at the colorful bits and ignore the rest. 🙂

Perking up the den with plants and a gold Sharpie…

I love houseplants all the time, but even more so in winter when everything is sooooo blah outside. A house doesn’t feel like a home until you add plants. By consistently neglecting ours, I’ve discovered which ones are robust. Ha!  The giant tropical in our den died a slow death this year, so I hauled it to the curb and decided to put my Peace Lillies in that nice big pot.

Remember the plant Michael and Freddie nearly killed 4 years ago? It has rallied back – slowly – and now shares this pot with another of its kind. #peacelilliesforthewin

Caring for Peace Lillies isn’t hard, but you can kill one if you lasso it with a jump rope (Michael), chew off all the leaves (Freddie), forget to water it (me) or all three. 😦

I stuck my favorite desk lamp in here since the den is a cozy spot to read or surf – especially in the winter when the fireplace is on!

Did you know there is a gold Sharpie marker?!? Yeah. For real. I may or may not have wandered through the house adding gold stripes to several frames. Also, professional bloggers remove the glass from their frames before taking photos. I am not a professional blogger. Please excuse the glare.

These are Red Aglaonema and joined us by way of the Lowes clearance rack. (You can find amazing deals when they’re shuffling inventory!) These plants love low-light so they’re perfect next to the fireplace.

It may be a faux pas to have live plants and fake flowers in the same room… I don’t know. But I really like both in here; each brings a little color and vibrancy.

Dizzy came to see what I was doing in here…

That’s the tour, folks!

The merits of being alert and focused while driving…

I shared this on Facebook and wanted to share it here as well. My hope is that someone will read it and think about it and maybe be safer because of our experience.


The kids and I had a frightening experience tonight coming home from [the movie theater]. A car was speeding and lost control, bashing through a guard rail and flying up an embankment before going airborne into oncoming traffic. It was headed straight for us — like a rocket flying through the air. I slammed on the brakes and braced for impact. My little girl was screaming. By the grace of God, and an immeasurable margin, the car passed right in front of us, then hit the shoulder and flipped 3-4 times down a hillside.

In the difference of a split second, tonight would have had a different outcome. I got to tuck my babies in bed tonight — and the mama of a very lucky 23 year old girl gets to hold her daughter in the ER tonight. A seat belt saved her life. Being alert saved ours. I’m rattled and grateful.

Several months ago, I bought these “no phone zone” stickers for our cars, but hadn’t made a real commitment to actually sticking them on the car and making that pledge. I’m so grateful I was focused while driving tonight. My car is now officially a phone-free zone. Will you join me? Please think about it.

4.75in x 4.75in (121mm x 121mm) No Cell Phone Sign Vinyl Bumper Sticker Decal Window Stickers Decals Car

The stickers we got are $5.99 with free shipping from Amazon.

No Cell Phone Zone - Color Sticker - Decal - Die Cut

I found this one today. So cute — it looks like an iPhone! 🙂
It’s just $3.99 with free shipping from Amazon.

Ralphie, our “pet” raccoon

There’s a raccoon living in a tree by our creek… just yards from our garage, and thus yards from the pet door, and therefore conveniently near a plentiful stash of Cat Chow. He’s been around for a few years now so we named him Ralphie, after the kid in A Christmas Story.

Late one night, I opened the garage door and literally called, “Here kitty, kitty,” before realizing this is not our cat Claire! Our pets are scared of Ralphie and stay far away from him. When I took this picture, our cat Dizzy was hiding up on a shelf. Ralphie tip toes past the cats but he runs from Freddie.

Freddie can always tell when Ralphie has come by because of the scent. I can always tell because I see something like this…

Funny enough, Ralphie prefers Cat Chow over Kibbles n’ Bits every time!!!

Raccoons can carry rabies, but as long as he is mellow and chilling peacefully in his little nest, he is welcome to drop by for a snack every once in a while.

Royals finish 3rd

The Royals came in third place in the city volleyball tournament. Apparently a baseball team with a similar name is good this year? Whatever. <wink>

Leah’s volleyball season wrapped up last week. They played their hearts out in the semifinals of the city tournament but lost by a hair – and a controversial call – to the team who went on to beat the undefeated team twice that night to go home in first place. It was a lot of fun – and surprisingly intense – for girls 10U rec league volleyball!

Here’s the Royals following their second win of the tournament which meant they would be coming back for a third night. At 5’7″ (and still 10 years old) Leah is the tallest girl in the league. I like what my cousin Mark had to say, “Surely there’s a D1 scholarship in here somewhere.” Ha! I wish! Leah is a good player and I’d love to see her continue to play as long as she is enjoying it like she is now!

Leah played really well in the semifinals. Serving is her strong suit. (It was “crazy sock day” at school so Leah left on her crazy socks for the game.)

Get this: There are 7 public middle schools in our city. The girls on the top three volleyball teams in the city are ALL zoned for Leah’s middle school.

Here are the kids saying, “Good game. Good game. Good game. Good game…”

Both grandfathers were in attendance! Leah has a big fake smile because she was really unhappy about losing that game.

The cheering section also included little brother Michael, BFF Andrew, his mom/my friend Dawn, and Uncle Stevie!

The very best part of volleyball was playing with AC! These two are so sweet together!

Leah’s friend Andrew helped me keep score at one game…

Front row: Reagan, Ava, Paige and Lydia
Back row: Coach E, Mikaela, AC and Leah

That’s all, folks!

Who has two thumbs and had fun today?

Coaching Michael’s football team was seriously the most fun I have had in a while! Listen, if you can spend time with your child and other sweet babies – and stir in football on top – how could it not be fun!?!

Michael is the biggest but not the oldest. He’ll be in this same age group next year! And yes, I’ve talked with him about the importance of Offensive Linemen. 🙂

The coach on the far left would do something funny at the end of each practice: He’d point at himself with his thumbs and say, “Who has two thumbs and had fun today? This guy! This guy!” It cracked me up – and it was so spot on!

Leah’s Tween Room Update

Inspiration for Leah's room...: We have been tweaking Leah’s room for about a year and it’s finally ready to reveal!!! The changes are small but dramatic and very “tween”.  Here was the inspiration photo I found on Pinterest… Isn’t it adorable?  I loved the bright pink against the aqua but my little tomboy said No, way! The final room ended up a bit different…

Leah and I both still loved her room the way we fixed it up 2-3 years ago, but the antique furniture (from her great-great-great grandparents) wasn’t up for the wear and tear of little kids. It needed to move to the guest room. I decided to buy her a good queen mattress to keep long term, rather than a twin for a platform bed or bunkbeds. That was a tough call – I know kids love bunkbeds. I didn’t want to buy little kid stuff because she’s growing up on me – fast – but I didn’t want to buy grownup stuff because people in this house still jump on the bed – and I need that to be OK because jumping on the bed is fun. So here is where we landed:

Leah now has a gallery wall with her paintings, pictures of her friends, and a cool photo I took of her boogie boarding at the beach that I enlarged to poster-size.

The headboard was a Craigslist find that I painted lime to match her quilt. The lime herringbone pillow covers are from Hobby Lobby.  The aqua sheets and study-buddy pillow, body pillow and the quilt are both from Target and the peace sign pillow is old but I think came from Justice. The little clip lamp for reading is from Ikea.

Brown Bear was Leah’s first teddy bear and is still her favorite.

OK, now you’ll see where the Pinterest inspiration came in…

Ikea’s Expedit/Kallax bookshelves are the best invention ever. Leah’s stuff is much more organized: baskets for school supplies, craft supplies, etc.

That’s the tour!!!

The Halloween Marathon

We did Halloween right – yet again this year! The marathon began with a chili supper and Trunk-or-Treat at church on Wednesday. (It’s mostly an outreach to the community but the kids from our church participate as well and it’s always a lot of fun!)

Michael was Harry Potter! Imagine that?

Here’s Leah as Katniss from “The Hunger Games”, Michael as Harry Potter, and our buddy Andrew as a bad guy from an anime series I’ve never heard of (which would be all anime series).

Here’s an action shot taken at church.

So the trick with Trunk-or-Treat is everyone decorates their trunk and brings candy so the kids can trick-or-treat around the parking lot. It’s a way of ensuring kids from not-so-safe neighborhoods get a chance to trick-or-treat. 🙂

Uncle Stevie had a lot of fun asking each kid what they were dressed as. Almost every little girl was a princess and most were either Anna or Elsa from Frozen. One toddler was dressed as Freddie Kruger. I kid you not. I didn’t know whether to laugh or run.

Bryan and Aunt Ginny estimated at least 200 kids came by!

The good times continued on Saturday when the kids went trick-or-treating in our neighborhood!

We have an annual tradition of trick-or-treating with our friend Andrew that dates back to kindergarten when he and Leah met. In recent years, the tradition includes Andrew’s dad driving the minivan while Andrew’s mom and I drink wine and the kids hop out at the houses that have the most intriguing decor to lure them to the door! Ha! Our kids make big claims every year about getting “knee deep in candy” and “going until midnight”. It never happens. The whole gig wraps up by 8:00 PM.