Design Your Garden with Collages

Decorating Your Garden

by Sandy Swegel

The snow is still deep. Temperatures still below ten degrees. Seeds are ordered. Poppies and wildflowers were strewn on last week’s snow. Garden magazines are read. It’s starting to get hard to occupy the impatient gardener. My irritation with being bored is at about the same level as my neighbor’s 3-year old whose delightful need for attention and distraction sends her knocking on all the neighbor’s doors. Oh to be a pre-schooler again.

I’m past the age where I’m happy playing with crayons or Barbie. But as I watch the clever neighborhood moms coming up with a million games and projects to occupy snowbound children, I decided there was a way I could almost be a pre-schooler again. I could make a collage.

Only in the grown-up world, it’s not called a “collage.” It’s called a “visioning board.” The movie “The Secret” made visioning boards popular. I’m not too big on just having pictures of a perfect garden because, well, I know me. I’m never going to have a perfect garden. I’ll get too distracted by turning the compost pile or watching the bees or running off to do errands to get my garden perfect.


But a Garden Vision Board or Garden Collage is great for keeping track of new ideas and creating imaginary gardens. And all my pretty seed catalogs and magazines have perfect-sized pictures for cutting out small images of flowers and plants that I can paste on my board.

It’s easy to get started.
*Piece of paper, poster board or old cardboard. An old dry erase board and magnets work too
*Scissors (you’re grown up…you can have the pointy ones now)
*Gluestick or tape.
*magazines and catalogs.

So simple but the whole point of visioning is that the process does make your ideas happen. This year some of the favorite flowers or vegetable you collage with now will be growing for real in your yard or pots.

Collage Ideas:
Flowers. Everybody wants more flowers and more color in their yard. Gather pictures of your favorite flowers. Put pictures of flower arrangements so you can remember to grow those flowers.

Garden design. You can collect photos of designs you like. One day you’ll get around to it. My father collected pictures of gazebos for twenty years before he finally retired and had time to build one. I know I will make an herb knot garden one day.

Tweak your mature garden. If you’re ambitious with a printer you can print out a picture of your garden to use as the base of your collage and try out what flowers bring some added pizazz to the nice garden you already have.

Vegetable gardens. The preschooler next door has an electronic game that lets her plant carrots and tomatoes. She’s too young to know we used to design our vegetable gardens with pen and paper in the olden days. Gather pictures of your favorite foods.

Gardening Friends. Or you can just cut out pictures of bees and dragonflies and hummingbirds and all the other pollinators to remind you of your gardening companions.

Vacation Gardens. A collage of all the gardens I could have had if I hadn’t moved to Zone 5 Colorado. Bananas and tropical flowers.

Mostly, I’m collaging to have a little tactile fun and inspiration in the middle of a snowstorm. We have to remember that the reason we started gardening is that it’s fun and beautiful and creative. Not just work to be checked off a to-do list, but a place to nurture our spirit.

Photo credit:

Good Bones

Winter Garden Treasures

by Sandy Swegel

Oh, Look. More Snow in the forecast.

I’m trying to be a grateful gardener. Really, I am. I watch the weekend forecast for yet more snow and utter to myself, “Oh, it’s good. We need the moisture.” I squint to see if daffodil shoots can push their way through old hard ice and console myself, “Snow is so good. It insulates the plants and protects them from howling subarctic winds.” But after weeks of cold, I’m running out of gardening reasons to love the snow.

Then I remembered Winter Bones. There’s that old adage that the secret to a good garden is good bones. From a design standpoint, that means the basic structure of the garden. The trees and paths and arbors. It’s hard to see the bones during the summer with all the foliage, but looking at the winter garden is like viewing an X-Ray of your garden. The foliage and flowers are gone and now you can see the skeleton of your garden.

Want to strengthen your garden’s bones? Take an inventory now of what you see as you walk in the apparently barren yard. Walk around your neighborhood and see what gardens are enticing even though it is winter.


Here’s what Winter Bones I like to see in the garden. Which ones do you have? Which ones can you add in this year?

Trees that make archways over paths.
Judicious pruning of trees you already have can make lovely walkways. Prune branches up so that branches along a path are at least 7 feet high. You can walk under them but not hit your head.

Thin Your Trees.
Apple and Plum trees can get quite dense without regular pruning. They block the sun from getting to the garden beds underneath and they produce less fruit. While these trees are still dormant, cut out some of those water shoots and old broken branches so you can see the structure of the tree now.

Grow interesting Bark
Paperbark trees are my favorite trees in winter. Their peeling, colorful bark called out to be touched and admired. Paperbark maples are great as are the Paperbark Birches which survive better in arid Colorado. The white bark of aspens and birches are great in summer and winter. In warmer places, sycamores and crepe myrtles and eucalyptus are exquisite bark

Grow tall shrubs
Twig dogwoods (red and yellow) stand out now. Pruning out a third of the old branches each year gives a beautiful shape and vivid color. Nine-barks in winter show off their great peeling bark.

Strategically place grasses
Clumps of grasses placed on corners or edges of beds or even as a mini hedge help create “rooms” in your garden, Grasses grow just in one season, so if you have a new garden and are impatient for structure, grasses provide it in one season.

Photo credits:


Native grass seed

Heirloom vegetables

Wildflower Mixes


What can a Gardener Do in a SnowStorm?

How to Survive Winter

by Sandy Swegel

Oh my, what a winter. In Colorado we haven’t suffered like the Northeast has…just last week we had five glorious warm sunny days in which I cut back grasses, pruned dormant trees, and started some cleanup. Alas, today, there’s eight inches of snow on top the fence and more coming. What’s a gardener to do?

You can Design a Snow Garden.
OK, come summer you’ll call it a Moon Garden because it will be all white. But I’m been Googling all the plants with “Snow” in their names. One hot summer night this July, I could be surrounded by a field of white flowers that cools me off remembering that snowstorm last February.

My thoughts so far:

Agapanthus SnowStorm
Spirea SnowStorm
Bacopa Giant Snowflake
Alyssum Snowdrift

Then there are the common names: Snow in Summer, Snow on the Mountain, Snow Flower, Snow Drops, Snow Rose, Snow Poppies. There is no end to this pun. But it could be a wonderful whimsical garden that would delight your friends and just glow in the moonlight. Install some garden solar-LED snowmen or snowflakes to come on after dark. You’ll either have the cleverest garden or the most eccentric garden on the block. Either sounds great when you’re stuck in a snowstorm.


 Heirloom Vegetable Seed


Wildflower Mixes

Grass Mixes

Organic Vegetable Seed

A Valentine’s Day Gift for the Bees

Bee Love

by Sandy Swegel

Nothing like Valentine’s Day to make us think about who and what we love. If we look at the huge number of Facebook “likes” we get when Mike posts about bees or wildflowers, we know our followers have a special love for wildflowers and for the bees and other pollinators who feast on wildflowers.

So how about we all do something special for bees this Valentine’s Day and plant a special Wildflower Patch for them that is a food source both beautiful and safe. A wildflower garden can be a whole meadow or it can be a tiny corner of your garden. Size isn’t as important as a good source of food that’s grown from seed naturally.


We’ve written here before about the dangers of the neonicotinoid pesticides (now more easily named neonics.) The bottom line is that if you buy plants, it is likely they were treated with neonics at some point in the greenhouses where they are propagated and grown for sale. Neonics are good killers and control the aphids, mealy bugs, scale and thrips that plague crowded unnatural greenhouse conditions. It’s much for expensive for big growers to treat pests naturally when mass spraying of neonics takes care of the problem for them cheaply. The cost to the bees doesn’t factor into the budget.

But for bees, it’s starting to look like even small amounts of neonic residue left in plants can hurt them. See the link below for the Harvard study that found that healthy bees that were exposed to even sublethal doses of neonics were significantly less likely to survive winter.

The only way to protect the bees until neonics are outlawed here as they are in Europe is to make sure they have natural sources of flowers that are grown from seeds instead of from purchased plants. And the best plants to grow are the ones bees have evolved with: Wildflowers. Anyone who gardens that knows that Wildflowers are a real “if you plant it they will come” experience. Every pesticide free wildflower you plant will be covered with happy bees.

So our Valentine’s message is this:02.13.15-VDay-FB
“Bees, We Love you. We want to show you our love in a time-honored way humans have always shown love: we want to feed you lots of good food: the pollen and nectar from naturally grown wildflowers. We want you to be healthy and happy and share many more Valentine’s Days with us.”

Harvard study:
Photo credit:

Lessons from an Orchid Show

Indoor and Outdoor Gardening Ideas

by Sandy Swegel

Seeking solace from Winter and brown landscapes, I headed to the Denver Botanic Gardens yesterday. They have turned all their indoor spaces into a grand orchid show with orchids in the conservatory, orchids in hallways, and orchids tucked into every nook and cranny. A perfect winter escape.

Here are some ideas I got for both indoor and outdoor gardening.

Green in a Color Too.
There were intriguing green orchids underplanted with miniature green plants including mosses, creeping jenny, dwarf junipers. It was a riot of texture and color…the colors were all green but clearly, there are many different green colors: chartreuse creeping jenny and growing tips of juniper, deep dark green ground covers, bright green coleus, variegated green ivies, soft green mosses and prickly green evergreens. Oh my. This mixing of green colors and textures works outdoors especially in shadier areas too. Do what the DBG did…throw in a lone shock of purple and, voila, the planting is art.

Orchids Aren’t Just for Pots.
The orchids weren’t just sitting inside pots. Their roots were also packed in orchid bark held together by plastic wrap (disguised with attached moss) and tied to the top of trees or dormant branches. This would work in the kitchen too…how about an orchid leaning down from the top of the refrigerator…or attached to the side of the cabinet at eye level when you’re doing dishes. Orchids are very close to being air plants…they just need some humidity. Tie an orchid to a ficus tree in your living room.


Orchids Can Be Team Players.
Traditionally we display orchids as lone divas. One orchid, in its own orchid pot, on a bare surface…very modern Asian looking. But the world of orchids has changed. Once it took many years to grow orchids but now tissue cloning churns out beautiful flowering orchids so cheaply you can often get an orchid that will bloom for months for only $10 at the grocery store. The DBG used these specimens as one flower among several in container plantings. This would work outdoors too in shady moist locations.




Three Ways to Hurry Spring Along

How to Quickly Prepare for Spring

by Sandy Swegel

Even in snowy Colorado, signs of Spring are showing up. The landscape is mostly brown, but on the warm side of rocks, weeds are greening up. Who knew how happy I could get watching a weed grow! Wednesday we had five inches of snow and Thursday the temperatures hit 60. But I am still IMPATIENT. Here are three ways to make it feel like Spring is here and to hurry spring along.
Dig Winter Up and Bring it Indoors

In warm sunny spots, grape hyacinth foliage is greening up and the soil’s not too frozen. I dug up a little four inch patch of the shallow bulbs, potted them up and gave them a home in the south window. The grateful bulbs started growing right away and will give me flowers in another few weeks….while their brothers in the garden are still sleeping.

Do some Pruning and Force some Branches.

This later winter time is the best time for pruning dormant shrubs AND for forcing flowering branches. Just a few days in your warm kitchen will trick some pussy willows branches and forsythia to start to bloom. The Early Spring issue of Country Gardens magazine has a whole section now on using pussy willow branches.

Put Micro Greenhouses in your Garden

Take an empty 1-gal plastic water jug and cut the bottom off. Tent an area of pansies or the grape hyacinths and let the tiny greenhouse bring blooming on now. As soon as the flowers show up you can remove the greenhouse…the flowers can handle the snow. After the flowers are blooming, you can move the water jugs over to the reseeding arugula bed to force some arugula microgreens.

C’mon Spring. We need you NOW!


Photo Credits
Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure


Cute food you gotta grow

Mini-Sweet Bell Peppers

by Sandy Swegel Oregano 952700-BBB

One of the new seeds we’re carrying this year ranks number one on my cute food meter and in my top three best and fastest cute appetizers. This wonder food? The little mini-sweet bell peppers sold in grocery stores in mixed bags of red, yellow and orange. They are wonderfully sweet and colorful. You can make an entire appetizer plate in less than five minutes if you stuff them with goat cheese or cream cheese.

Mini Sweet pepper appetizer recipe:
Slice peppers vertically. Fill with goat cheese, cream cheese or egg salad. Serve



Grilled Mini Sweet Pepper recipe.
Put peppers on a skewer. Coat with olive oil. 4 minutes each side of a preheated grill.

Are these easy and quick recipes or what?!

If you don’t have that much time, the mini-peppers are great for nibbling fresh just like cherry tomatoes or carrots. Chopped, they also make a plain lettuce salad beautifully colorful.

Fortunately, mini sweet peppers are also easy to grow. You need a warm growing season and you need to start the seeds indoors in most places, but peppers take up a very small footprint in the garden. They forgive you forgetting to water them. They love miserable hot sunny days. It’s easy to tell when they are ripe….you can see the bright red, yellow or orange colors from across the yard.





Best Heirloom Vegetables

Grass and Wildflower Mixes