Wreath making in the height of Lavender Season

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One of my lavender plants (lavandula angustifolia) nestled between Pittosporum Tom Thumb and Hydrangea Incrediball

I have quite a few lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) plants . They thrive in my yard, and I am quite happy about that! About mid-July, depending on the weather, I start to “harvest” the lavender. I cut it as it just starts to bloom, cutting about 2/3 of the stem (or a bit more). Then, this is the fun part, I lay it on the floor around my house; in my sitting room, in my bedroom, in any free space that I can find, because it is a lot of lavender! I try and lay it flat, to help it to dry out as quickly as possible. A couple of weeks usually does the trick (as long as it isn’t wet when I cut it). Thankfully, we don’t really use the sitting room, so at least it isn’t a problem to use the entire floor of that room!

This one is my favorite lavender plant (Lavandula angustifolia) in bloom

There are a few things I do with the lavender. If I have time when I cut it, I will make lavender wands (the stems must be fresh though, so they don’t break while bending). I also make lavender sachets, which involves taking the lavender off of the stems after they are dried, and then sewing up little pouches. You can click here to read and see more about wands and sachets. But my favorite craft to do with lavender is to make wreaths.

I took apart one of last year’s lavender wreaths. Here’s what came off of it! (Lavender, Rosemary, Roses, Spanish moss)

It is a time when I can be creative, work with my hands and just have fun.  I love it! Depending on the wreath, it takes about two hours to make, give or take. Aside from the plant materials, the main items which I use are: floral straw wreath form, floral “u” pins, and secateurs. I try and use some kind of different plant material every year, and this year I used poppy seed pods, and an artichoke. I made three different wreaths, each a bit different. Here’s a look at what I did!

This is how it begins: a bunch of lavender, and a wreath form!

I start with grabbing a bunch of dried lavender and any other plant materials I’m going to use. The above wreath is only going to have those four roses with the lavender. I attached the roses first and then worked around them, starting on the top right. I tend to work out from the top, first going right half way around, and then working from the top again and going left.

I cut the lavender a bit more than one width of my finger space from the flower.

It can be a tedious task, as it takes many, many bunches of lavender to fill the wreath! The up-side is that the room smells wonderful while working with the lavender!

I love my GelPro classic gel mat, especially when standing on tiles for so long! (I also love my sparkle Birkenstocks)

It takes patience, but it is lovely to see how it fills in and of course the smell is wonderfully relaxing!

One little bunch at a time!

The next wreath had lots more plant material! I didn’t use the artichoke which is in bloom on the table, as it was too big.  I did use a tiny one, though.

The lavender in the center of this wreath is actually from last year. You can see the difference in color when I add the outside layer.

close up of the roses, poppy seed pods, Rosemary and artichoke

It was only after taking the close-up picture above that I realized that the wreath would look better with another layer of lavender. It just looked like it was missing something.

Filling in an outside layer of lavender.

Ah yes, you can see it now, can’t you?  The inside layer is definitely lighter! 🙂 This is where the two plus hours comes in…

The third lavender wreath will have poppy seed pods and roses.

My third lavender wreath had roses and poppy seed pods.  I started at the top left for this one, and placed the roses on the right.

Pinning the roses on.

The roses are also from my garden.  I try and cut as many as possible early in the season so they will be dried enough for the wreaths.  I think I’ve finally decided that it is best to cut them while they are still closed. They will still dry even when opened, but the color stays darker when they are closed.

The poppy seed pods were neat!

I really like the poppy seed pods!  This is my first time using them in a wreath. I know they dry brown, so I’m not sure how it will look in a few weeks time. I’ve also learned NOT to turn the wreath upside down as millions of teeny tiny seeds will go everywhere! 🙂

I LOVE making lavender wreaths! I had to stop at three because I don’t have any more wreath forms and I can’t seem to get my hands on them here!  Please let me know if you see where I can buy them in Ireland!

Plain and simple with LOTS of lavender.

A little bit more than “plain and simple”, but still LOTS of lavender!

Over the top! A lavender wreath with yarrow, roses, poppy seed pods, rosemary, and one globe artichoke. Oh – and LOTS of lavender!

Whatever lavender doesn’t get used in the wreaths will be taken off of the stems and stored in containers to be made into sachets (eventually).  The lavender stays fragrant for a very long time!

There is lavender growing around our playhouse, too!

I have not harvested all of my lavender, as that wouldn’t be fair to the bees!  No, there is still plenty for them.  I will have to trim those plants later in the season, after the bees are finished with them.

I hope you enjoyed seeing how I create my lavender wreaths!

In peace,
Dana

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“… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who happened to have a home in Hyde Park, NY, which is not far from where I’m from, was speaking in his first inaugural address as U.S. President in 1933, in the depths of the depression, when he spoke the words “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.  What a statement of truth. Although, thankfully, I have never had to face anything like the Great Depression, I have found myself thinking from time to time, of this statement about fear, as I conquer little fears in my life.

I was fortunate to be able to bike with my brother during a visit home to the US. We had fun cycling along the greenway in Connecticut.

You might laugh, but one of those little fears of mine was of using clip-on cycling shoes. (I said you might laugh!)  A number of years ago I became interested in triathlons. I trained and competed in a few, and I had a lot of fun doing so. Typically though, when cycling for the distances I was, you’d trade in your sneakers and pedals for special cycling shoes which clip on to special pedals. Of course, being clipped in means that you have to unclip to be able to put your foot on the ground to either balance yourself or get off of the bike. It takes some getting used to, to be able to quickly “free” your foot.  You’d be surprised at how often you’d have to stop suddenly, and put your foot down quickly! If you don’t unclip fast enough, you, and your bike, tip over.

I enjoyed triathlons for a number of years. This was a special bike that I had (and used) for 15 years! (notice the cages on the pedals)

Well, I was afraid of tipping over so I stuck with my sneakers and ordinary pedals … for years (many, many years).  When we moved to Ireland 10 years ago, I stopped cycling for a while. But a few years ago I started again.  Then last year I upgraded my bike, and finally, just a couple of months ago, I decided to upgrade to clip-on shoes.  Even entertaining the idea was huge progress for me!  I was finally leaving my comfort zone. I had the support of my husband, who has become an avid cyclist.  He knew that after I got the hang of them, having the proper cycling shoes would actually help my cycling! Oh I was so stubborn, due to my fear.

My husband and I biked 90 km round trip to Bergerac, while on vacation in France. I tipped over at around 30 km – but I’m still smiling!

The first few cycles with the new shoes went great, but I hadn’t really been tested with a need to quickly un-clip.  That would happen on our vacation, when we were cycling in traffic!  There was, as it usually happens, a need to stop quickly and I was able to un-clip in the nick of time! Let me tell you that my heart was racing!  Well, that worked out O.K.; I managed to not fall over, or get hit by a car!

I loved biking and enjoying this amazing scenery along the coast in France.

There is a little more to this story, though. On another outing while on this same vacation, I managed to actually tip over.  I was really lucky to have it happen the way it did!  We were in the country this time (no traffic!), and I was going really, really slow as we were debating if we were going to turn around at this junction or the next, and as I went to turn, I hadn’t maneuvered properly and as if in slow-motion, I tipped over! Thankfully I didn’t hurt myself, and I learned that you can still un-clip as you are falling. 🙂

We enjoyed cycling along the greenway paths in France.

I’m still super cautious with un-clipping, but I’m so glad that I finally switched over to proper cycling shoes.  They really do make a difference with your cycling!  And it all came down to conquering my fear.

Here we are on a break while biking around our home turf in Annagassan, County Louth.

As I get older, I have become more aware of little fears that have held me back. Little by little, though, I’ve been learning to face them and over come them.  Because if we face what is in front of us, then as FDR said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

My husband and I really enjoy cycling together (my cheeks are really pink from working hard!)

What little fears will you conquer?

In peace,
Dana

And this is what all of the fuss was about! Well, sorta. The fuss was really about overcoming a fear, which, although it took years to do, I did overcome. It’s those little things that make us who we are 🙂

End of a Chapter

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In the beginning… Emer and I in 2007 at a swim gala

They say all good things must come to an end.  But maybe instead of it being the “very end”, it is just the end of a chapter? … My daughter and I are just home from the Stuttgart International Swim Fest competition, and with the end of that competition is the end of the season for us.  Since she will be going away to college next year, it also means the end of her swimming with the team.  For the past 8 years I have been coaching with the team while she swam.  But with her leaving, I felt it was the right time to say “good bye” to the team.

My daughter and I at a Sliabh Beagh event in 2015

I swam competitively from the age of 10 all the way through and including in college.  I loved swimming, and being a part of a team, and I was lucky to have had some very good coaches.  Fast forward a few years, and my daughter, at four years of age, asked if she could join the summer swim team! The summer swim team was all about having fun in the water, and she loved it! After our move across the ocean a few years later, her love of swimming continued and we were super fortunate to be introduced to the Sliabh Beagh swimming club (pronounced Sleeve Bay, and named as such after the mountains in the County Monaghan region).

The Sliabh Beagh Aqua Sprint squad after winning their 2012 final

It was at a swim gala in the early days with the club that I was talking with one of the “senior” parents on the team, when the topic of coaching came up. During the conversation she asked if I’d be interested in coaching with the club.  Honestly, I’d never thought about coaching before then.  Also, I wasn’t sure what it would be like coaching the youngest squad!  But I went through the coaching courses, as well as licensing, and pardon the pun, I then dove right in! I was very lucky, the kids were great, the parents were supportive, and our coaching team was excellent. I have learned so much over the past 8 years!

The Sliabh Beagh Aqua Sprint squad after winning the 2014 finals (I think I am calling for someone to join in the picture…)

My younger daughter joined the team as well.  I stayed with the younger squad while she was swimming with them, and then moved up the squads as my girls did.  My girls were receptive to my coaching, and never minded when I was in their squad, and I’d go so far as to say they liked it.  🙂

My two girls at the National Aquatic Center in Dublin for a swim competition

I was a tiny bit surprised how much I enjoyed coaching. I mean, I loved coaching. It was so much fun helping the kids to achieve their best, and watching their improvements along the way.  I’d have to say that I was persistent with my kids, until they were finally able to maintain the changes/improvements in their strokes.  I learned that you can’t coach everyone the same.  That can be a little tricky when you have lanes filled with kids, but I think over the years I managed to figure it out.  My favorite expression from our head-coach (he has LOTS of expressions) is that Rome wasn’t built in a day.  I’ve used that countless times, not just with the kids, but with myself.  It takes time to make changes, and make things happen.

My daughter and I at Division II swimming competition in Limerick 2014

I’ve coached a lot of kids, and I’ve seen kids with natural talent, kids with a huge passion for swimming, and kids with an incredible work ethic. There were, too, the kids who were just in it for fun, and that’s O.K., too.  I think what sticks in my head most is that every little thing counts, and when you focus on all of those little things (one at a time!), you can achieve your goals. It takes time, remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but with persistence, it is possible. That mindset is completely applicable to everything in life!

Sliabh Beagh swim club, swimmers, parents and coaches in Eindhoven 2017

Our family has really enjoyed being a part of this team.  Everyone, from swimmers to parents, to coaches, has been great to work with. Three years ago they started a new tradition of attending an international swim competition near the end of the season.  That has been one of the major highlights for so many of our swimmers and parents! For some, that is the end of their season and they really end it on a high!  We’ve been to Stuttgart, Germany twice and Eindhoven, The Netherlands once.  All three trips were so much fun for everyone!

The Stuttgart International Swim Fest opening ceremony in Germany 2016

Swimming outdoors, for our Irish team, was so much fun! My younger daughter and I at the Stuttgart International swim fest 2016

It is bittersweet, stopping coaching for now.  I still love it, but our team practices at 5:45 A.M., and it is a 40 minute drive for me.  That equates to an insanely early start to the day!  It sounds a bit crazy to non-swimmers, but to swimmers who understand the dedication that is necessary, and getting in those minimum two hours of practice a day, this is our reality.  And since my younger daughter had to stop swimming last year for medical reasons, I won’t have anyone swimming with the team.  So for now, I think a little break would be nice.

My daughter and I in Eindhoven at the International Invitational Swimming Competition 2017

It is wonderful to see the kids continue on and swim in college, too.  Our goal as coaches is to develop Long Term Athlete Development and encourage “Swimming for Life”.  We want to keep kids swimming into old age!  We’re not interested in quick rises to the top and then burnout, which can happen so easily in this sport.

My daughter and I on our way to Stuttgart 2018

Sliabh Beagh ASC – swimmers and coaches, Stuttgart International Swim Fest 2018

I was very lucky. We were part of a team where the swimmers benefited hugely from the way the team nurtures the overall well-being of each swimmer.  They nurture good team-mates, and character, in addition to helping to build top-class athletes. This stemmed from the team’s founders, head coach Eamon and his wife Ita.

I have learned so much from our head-coach Eamon and I had a lot of fun with my Aqua Sprint co-coach Linda!

I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to coach such great kids along side some great coaches and an amazing support team.  I appreciate how wonderful it is to be able to do something you LOVE!

Our team secretary, Claire, who does more for our team than any one human being could possibly do!!!

And just like that, the chapter is finished …  Thank you so much for the wonderful memories,  Sliabh Beagh ASC.  It truly has been a gift.

In Peace,
Dana

The Importance of Friends

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Now that’s a funny title for a gardening blog, isn’t it? But as I was gathering the pictures of my Iris plant which I was going to write about for this blog post, I was brought back to when I bought the plant and who I was with: my gardening girlfriends.

The Gardening Gals Gang on our “getaway to the UK” in 2017

This got me thinking about the friendship I share with these special women, and how important that is to me. There is a small group of us, all brought together by Susan. We enjoy each other’s company and we especially enjoy anything and everything related to gardening. When we first started getting together, we would tour our own gardens and share our plants. We’ve moved on to exploring other well known gardens both in Ireland and in the UK. Last year we ventured over to England to Chipping Campden, and visited the gardens at Hidcote and Kiftsgate.  But it was on one of our ‘Irish outings’ when I purchased my ‘Benton Storrington’ Iris.  We were in Wexford visiting the beautiful Bay Garden, when we then stopped by the Camolin Potting Shed, which is a great place to find more unusual items for your garden.

Iris ‘Benton Storrington’

We had a wonderful day out at the Bay Garden.  Our chat is never just about gardening, but about all facets of life! I’m sure we solved all of the world’s problems that day! Not only that, we were also rather successful on our quest for some special plants.

the Gardening Gals plant purchases in Wexford 2016

I can feel my spirits lift when I am around good friends, it is so wonderful. Sometimes life gets too busy, and we might only have time for quick notes on the computer, which is O.K. short term. But nothing beats a good ol’ chat – either in person or on the phone! It is just good for the soul.

Iris ‘Benton Storrington’

It is tough to find time to nurture relationships, especially when our lives are a little too jam packed with activities.  I am quite guilty of being involved in too many things sometimes!  But thankfully, I have good friends who are patient and always there for me when I show up 🙂

Iris ‘Benton Storrington’

It is a little funny, too, that a lot of the flowers I’ve planted in my garden have connections to the people in my life. I simply love flowers and plants and trees, so if I associate one with you, that means I really like you!

Iris ‘Benton Storrington’

Just a quick word about the Iris which this post was about: I wanted to add a bearded iris to our garden, but was looking for the right color. Having only a picture to go on, I decided to give this one a shot. I planted my two rhizomes in April 2016 and this year is the first year I have blooms.  It not only bloomed, it more than doubled in size. Unfortunately, it spread in the direction of one of my hydrangea, and was mostly hidden after it flowered.  I will have to move it to a more open space, where the rhizomes can continue to be exposed to the sun.

Iris ‘Beton Storrington’ – a teeny tiny bit inside the hydrangea…

I have a love of flowers, and because of that I like to learn about them as I go along. After our iris bloomed I did some research on the name. The history is rather interesting!  Cedric Morris, an artist and plantsman, bred the Benton iris, raising thousands of this bearded variety from seed. The name comes from the area in which Cedric lived: Benton End, in Suffolk. This all took place between 1934 and 1960.  Years later, Sarah Cook, a head gardener at Sissinghurst Castle garden, made it her mission to bring this collection of iris “back to life”, for which she has had amazing success. She teamed up with Howard Nurseries and achieved a Gold for their display at the Chelsea Flower Show 2015! These iris are known in particular for their subtle and delicate colors and markings. If you’d like to learn more you can visit The Big Delve website or for some amazing pictures of fields of the iris visit Gap Gardens website.

I’m glad for this lovely addition to my garden.  But really, more important than my new flower, the bottom line is to take time to nurture those friendships!

Which flower are you associated with? 🙂

In peace,
Dana

In my tasty June Garden

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allium purple sensation is now “finished” in the garden

When it comes to the garden there are changes going on all of the time.  Just like in life, time moves forward whether we are ready or not!  The garden has moved from showing off spring flowers on to growing our fruit and veggies and showing off some early summer flowers. We live in County Louth, and although other parts of the country have had rain, it has missed us for the good part of 4 weeks.  I can really see and feel the dryness in the garden.

A very dry veggie and fruit garden

Look at that grass! Granted, we don’t pay any attention to the grass other than mowing it (probably too short, I might add), but it is usually *green* and not yellow.  Anyway, this is an early June look at our pumpkin and zucchini (courgette) plants, along with our blueberry and strawberry plants, and our pear tree.

organic zucchini (courgette)

The organic zucchini plant was given to me in May.  Actually, I did a little bit of a swap, and traded sunflowers for zucchini.  It is great to find someone who grows organically and likes to share! We mixed in a good amount of our compost when we planted them.

organic pumpkin plant

The picture above is of one of my pumpkin plants.  Pumpkins LOVE compost.  We worked in as much compost as we could into this bed.  The seed for this plant is actually from the pumpkins I grew in 2016.  While I did try to grow from last year’s seeds, they didn’t produce anything.  So I then tried the seeds from the previous year, and “Bob’s your Uncle” – they grew! 🙂

blueberries

The blueberry plants are overladen with berries this year and the berries are growing to a nice size!  I am still trying to figure out if my soil has enough acidity for blueberries, as some years they do well and some they don’t. I’ve given them lots of my compost early on in the season, and I’ve kept them watered during this dry spell.  We’ll see how it ends up!

green strawberries

The strawberries are still *very* green, and not very big.  They, too, were lucky recipients of our compost (there is never enough compost, so I have to pick and choose which plants get it!).  I’ve also made sure to water them, so again, I’m hopeful that over the next week or two we’ll get some nice color in them (and a little bit more growth!).

baby pears in early June (strawberry beds in the background)

Our pear tree is doing well again this year.  It is only in the past few years that it has produced fruit, but boy was it worth the wait!  These guys are teeny tiny right now, and only the width of a small finger.

This picture is of our pears in September 2017 (they were delicious!)

another look back at our fall garden of September 2017 with sunflowers, pumpkins, pears, and blueberry plants which have pretty red leaves

a full bed of sunflowers early June 2018

I have tried a new location for sunflowers this year.  I’ve alternated garlic and potatoes in this bed over the past few years, so it was time for a change.  We apparently didn’t dig up all of the spuds last year, as there are some growing up between the sunflowers…  These lovely plants are all grown from my sunflower seeds from last year. My father-in-law kindly started them for me in his greenhouse.  They have really shot up over the past number of weeks, and look to be quite happy!

You have to be sure not to wait too long to collect the sunflower seeds as the birds LOVE them and will clean out the entire flower heads before you know it! (sunflower from our garden Fall 2017)

I really should write a post just on compost, because it is so beneficial!  I’ll put that on my to-do list.  Here’s a look at our “summer” compost heap:

Compost heap (top layer is all new season grass) with a fab overhang of Elder trees!

Underneath all of the new grass is aged compost from last season

It is worth digging the good stuff out from underneath the grass!

I have a separate tumbler for food compost, but I think I will leave that picture for another post!  Thankfully, no one can really see our compost heap, and the sight of it certainly doesn’t bother me given how good it is for the garden!  But I really don’t want to end with pictures of my compost.  I’m going to first show you a picture of tulips and our Hawthorn trees when they were beautifully in bloom with white flowers.  This year I really think the flowers came and went too quickly!  And then I’m going to end with a picture of an early summer plant (peony).

Queen of the Night tulips with a backdrop of Hawthorn trees in flower

Paeonia Bowl of Beauty – all four pictures are different flowers but from the same plant

I hope you have enjoyed this little tour of my June garden. Anything tasty or pretty growing in yours?

In peace,
Dana

The charm of Lilacs

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a view of our garden in May

The wonderful thing about moving into a home which doesn’t have a garden plan, is being able to create one yourself!  When we moved here, our home had some lovely lavender plants in one section near the house, but otherwise it was all grass.  It has been an eight year “work in progress” project, and it honestly still is a “work in progress”, but I’ve been able to add so many of my favorite things, including lots of lilac!

Syringa v. Beauty of Moscow sitting in a very small Irish Pottery milk jug

For all of the years I have lived in and visited Ireland, May traditionally has the most wonderful weather with warm temperatures and sunny blue skies.  This year was no exception, and the weather was a perfect backdrop for the lilac shrubs we planted a few years ago.  I love the scent of lilacs! Unlike lavender, where you need to brush against the plant to enjoy the scent in the garden, Lilacs are fragrant all of the time after their flowers bloom.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Andenken an Ludwig Spaeth’ has a deep wine color

Syringa vulgaris Ludwig Spaeth early in May in evening sunlight

I have five varieties of lilacs. Our first lilac was a pink variety called Beauty of Moscow.  The buds are a light pink and then when it blooms the flowers are white.

the flower buds of the Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow’ are light pink and when they bloom the flowers are white

The lilacs have taken a few years to settle in. The only extra care I give them is adding my compost to the soil around them.  This year the shrubs are the most floriferous.  It has been worth the wait!

Syringa v. ‘Sensation’, ‘Andenken an Ludwig Spaeth’ and ‘Charles Joly’

I’m not sure if I can pick one as my favorite, but I *really* like the variety ‘Sensation’.  It is the smallest of the tree-like shrubs, growing at a slower pace, but none the less, it also looked very well this year.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

If you are looking for a small, extremely slow growing lilac shrub with huge bang for your buck in the fragrance category, then I would suggest Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’, pictured below.  This little shrub was planted 6 years ago! Although small, the fragrance is mighty!

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’

The flowers are quite delicate.

close-up of Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’

My least photographed lilac is the Syringa v. ‘Charles Joly’. It just seems a tiny bit messy to me!

Syringa vulgaris ‘Charles Joly’

I have so enjoyed watching as these shrubs come into flower and bloom, and of course I’ve enjoyed their wonderful scent.

Watching (and smelling) these shrubs has been such a lovely way to transition from spring into summer!

I hope your weather has been as agreeable!

In peace,
Dana

So many butterflies … of the crochet variety!

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crochet butterfly blanket (with our apple tree and cherry tree in the background)

This sounds a bit of a cliché, but creating a special, unique and personal gift is something that I love to do. There is a young special person in our lives, and I wanted to make her a gift which she would know was made just for her. Although the “perfect” idea did not come to me easily, and I did a lot of searching on-line, I think in the end that I found exactly what I was looking for.  🙂

This is my crochet “butterfly blanket”!  The butterflies are crocheted and are part of the blanket (not appliqué).  But I discovered that although the butterflies were so cute when I made them, the wings were curling up and then they just looked like bunches of yarn.  Perhaps if I blocked them they would stay in place, but instead of doing that, I decided they would look nice embellished with sequins and beads.

the details

Yes, sequins and beads … on every. single. butterfly.  … and there are fifty-five butterflies! I have to admit though, that I really enjoyed this part. I mixed and matched colors and somehow it all came together in a fun way.

more details

As for the colors, lavender, light pink and light blue are the favorite colors of our special little person.  Those colors were the main focus of the blanket, with yellow and raspberry thrown in to add that splash of color. I used my favorite yarn, which is Caron simply soft. They have an amazing range of colors!

my daughter was kind enough to model the full view of the blanket for me

I have to admit that although I used a pattern to create the butterflies, there is no “overall” pattern. (You can see the free on-line MyPicot butterfly pattern here.)  If I were to make this one again, I would definitely do more “before we start” planning. The complete randomness of the butterflies is O.K. by me, but for my daughter who is mathematically minded, it is very unsettling!

a relaxed look

Borders of blankets can be tricky.  I played around with this aspect of the blanket, too. I used the “bangles” pattern from Nicky Epstein’s “Crocheting on the edge” book.  The blanket took on completely different looks with each round of color that I added! But when I completed the blue round, I felt it looked complete.  Phew!  I finished it the day before our special someone’s First Holy Communion!

our little special someone is all smiles with her special blanket!

Thankfully, she smiled when she opened her gift.  (double phew!!)

That’s three blankets in over eight months (I’m a slow crocheter), so now it is time for me to take a tiny break – at least from making blankets!

You will now find me in the garden on a more regular basis 🙂

In peace,
Dana

Spring Reflections

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Queen of the Night Tulip

I love spring! It is so nice to welcome in the warmer weather, the singing birds, and the colorful flowers.  These are such simple pleasures, and all it takes is a conscious effort to stop and make the time to appreciate them. I genuinely LOVE these simple pleasures! This is what I hashtag #beautyallaroundyou.  (Sorry, I can’t help myself!)

cherry blossoms and bluebells

It is also the time when I plan out any changes or additions to the garden.  I add at least a few new things to the garden every year.  I just like to have something new to look forward to!

New additions this year: Tulips Don Quichotte and Mystic van Eijk surrounding viburnum

Apple blossoms from our Arthur Turner (cooking) apple tree and our new tulips surrounding the viburnum

The viburnum in the photo(s) above isn’t new. I had it in a pot for two years.  It was happy for the first year, and then it wanted more attention which I neglected to give it.  So I hoped it would be happier in the ground, and so we planted it at the end of last season, and then added tulip bulbs around it last fall.  The viburnum has lots of little blooms on it, but they are a light green still, whereas when they are in full bloom the flowers will be white.

a nicer view of the colors of tulips Don Quichotte and Mystic van Eijk

I have some (O.K., LOTS of) ideas for additions to the garden.  I have to pace myself though, as it is a lot of work to take care of!  I don’t use any chemicals, so that means there are a lot of weeds to pull!  It also means that there are a lot of weeds I don’t get around to taking out, and that is O.K., too.  I really enjoy working in the garden, but I want to be able to enjoy other activities, too, so I just have to be conscious not to over do it.

Parrot tulips

This garden needs some more tulips!

The above picture shows the bed which has the pink parrot tulips in it. They are near the end of their lives in this picture.  But we have lost some of these tulips over the years, and I really would like to get more for this bed.  The bright pink flowers in front are bergenia and they are doing great!

bergenia in front and parrot tulips in the back

I will be changing around our vegetable/fruit garden a tiny bit.  I have been focusing more on flowers than food, and the garden just needs some adjustments.  It is all part of maintaining a balance.  Here’s a look at some of the fruit that looks great right now in the early stages!

blueberry flowers and a bee

teeny tiny pears

cooking apple (Arthur Turner) blossoms

eating apple blossoms

But my favorite bed at the moment is the one that has our Japanese Maple. It took us nearly three years to realize our Japanese Maple was extremely unhappy (we had different issues with it along the way).  But I think we’ve managed to finally get it right with this tree, as it looks beautiful this year!

side view Japanese Maple garden

I find it peaceful and rejuvenating when I get to spend time in the garden.  Oh, and I also LOVE to take pictures!  Lots and lots and lots of pictures!

Bluebells and Japanese Maple tree

I hope you also get to enjoy some time in the garden! But either way, I hope you enjoyed your visit to my garden. 🙂

In peace,
Dana

The Right Time (Boxwood Planting)

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timing when to plant

My life can feel pretty crazy at times.  So I like to have some order to it, and sometimes that plays out in the garden.  I think boxwood plants, also called box, genus name buxus, are the epitome of orderliness.  Their shapes and lines in the garden can be so pleasing to the eye. They are easy to grow, shapeable, and are perfect for borders.

we have three round shaped boxwood plants on one side of this bed, with hedging on the other

my established boxwood, hedging a bed that is in transition (but at least the hedging looks good!)

They are also easy to propagate.  I like the idea of saving money, so we did a mass propagation last summer by simply taking cuttings and planting them in raised beds. The Royal Horticultural Society website is where I go to ensure I’m on track with my gardening.  You can click here to see their tips on propagation.  We kept the cuttings watered and weeded through the fall and winter.

boxwood cuttings in raised beds (gladiolus in the background)

Now, there are different theories on when to plant out those cuttings. You might decide to wait several years to replant them, or not!  I chose to wait only the one season, and plant them out in what would normally be spring, but what actually turned out to be winter weather.  Fall is another option for planting them.  So honestly, I don’t know how they’ll fare, but they are still looking O.K.

boxwood cuttings (and pumpkin vine) October 2017

A view of our second bed with boxwood hedging which is still filling in, while on the left we have rounded shaped box plants (the newest bed which the box are now planted in is that mess on the far side of this bed)

We spaced the new plants about 12 inches apart.  We have box in two other beds.  One is well established (which is where we took the cuttings from), and the other is still filling in.  Box is slow growing, and easy to shape.  It can grow in full sun, or in shade.

freshly planted boxwood plants

Like I said, it is an easy to grow plant!  There are two important things to remember: young plants shouldn’t be allowed to dry out (not an issue here!), and equally as important is they shouldn’t be allowed to sit in waterlogged soil.  The later could be an issue here in Ireland in winter.  They like to be fed, which I’ll do in the spring, well, now really but I was hoping the weather would improve a bit first.

second bed with boxwood hedging

the first bed where I planted box hedging

Young hedge should be cut back by a third in May to promote full, “bushy” growth. Mature hedging should be trimmed in August. This is also the time to shape topiaries. The difference between May and August trimming is that in May the freshly cut new growth branches are left susceptible to weather damage and diseases. In August the new growth branches are simply stronger (hardened off).  The last grouping, old neglected plants (imagine!), do well with a hard pruning in late May.

our fresh boxwood plantings

Please just ignore this small tree in the corner of the picture above, which needs to be relocated!

some of the David Austin roses in bloom last year – pre box planting

our rose bed filled with David Austin roses now has boxwood hedging

I am looking forward to seeing how this bed fills out with both the roses and the hedging.

Helleborus orientalis Double Ellen Red is a new addition to the Rose bed

I will keep you updated on how the newly planted boxwood fare!  Hopefully, there will be good news to report 🙂

In peace,
Dana

An “Elmer” blanket – because to be yourself is the best way to be!

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One of our favorite children’s books!

Isn’t it wonderful how children’s story books are able to teach life lessons in such a fun way? A favorite book of my family is Elmer by David McKee.  The copyright is 1968, and the story still holds its worth today. It is the tale of a patchwork colored elephant who doesn’t like being different than all of the other elephants. He tries to change by acting and looking like everyone else, but he learns along the way that everyone loves him for who he is, and that it is always best to be yourself.  Such a simple, touching story.

19 of the 21 colors used in the blanket (navy and cream are missing)

I wanted to make a special blanket for my daughter’s 18th birthday, for her to take to college next year.  We had been looking at lots of different styles together, but once we had the idea for an Elmer blanket, that was it, the decision was made. I took out our copy of the book and kept it nearby, for nostalgic reasons.  It surprises me how even still, every stage of parenthood is such a gift. I could write so many things to describe how wonderful my daughter is, and how much we love her.  I won’t do that, though! 🙂  I will simply share that she is someone who has always been comfortable being herself.

having fun with granny squares

So this is the story of my creating our own Elmer blanket.  I was lucky to have LOADS of colors to use (21 different colors, actually).  I have no idea where I had all of that yarn stashed (read: hidden)! I’ve learned from previous projects that it is best to use the same type of yarn throughout a project.  My yarn of choice here was Caron Simply Soft.

the pattern is that there isn’t a pattern

The crochet squares are five rounds, which is somewhat large, but a very simple pattern. The center of the square is comprised of a pattern of 4 double crochet to 3 chain stitches, with each round after that increasing by 4, the final row having 20 double crochet to 3 chain stitches.  There are 150 squares, which comfortably covers a single bed.  I crocheted them together using a technique that doesn’t show the stitches on the front. I’d never done this before, so the Little Tin Bird’s tutorial was quite helpful.

 

The ears and tail are “free moving”!

I used gray as the first border color to connect it to our elephant story. Although Elmer would have been patchwork, I crocheted two gray elephants for two corners, again to connect it to our story. The elephant pattern was fantastically easy, as written by Repeat Crafter Me.   The purple border is because my daughter’s favorite color is purple.

a look at the blanket pre-fringe border

The final piece of the blanket is the ball fringe.  I wanted this blanket to be extra special so I went through many, many crochet books, and online sites, looking for the perfect finish.

creating and stuffing the balls

a bit of an operation going on…

I wasn’t sure about the “balls”, and the first one I made was too big.  But with a little tweaking, I figured out a size my daughter would be happy with.  We also decided not to have them at the top/bottom as they might get in the way with sleeping! There are 80 balls, 40 on each length of the blanket.  The ball fringe pattern can be found in Nicky Epstein’s “Crocheting on the Edge” book.

my favorite view of the fringe

What an amazing experience it was making this blanket.  I loved working with all of those gorgeous colors!  The balls were new to me, and fun and easy to make.  Best of all, my daughter loved it start to finish (I consulted with her all along the way).  It was truly a labor of love!

Emer with her Elmer blanket (and her sister kindly helping to hold it up!)

my daughter is happy with her new blanket

 

Sweet dreams

We could all use a reminder of Elmer’s lesson now and again – it is always best to be yourself!

that is me, being my (crazy) self!

In peace,

Dana