10 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again in My Garden Number Four: I wouldn’t pull weeds without being careful to identify what I am pulling. (See number 3)


Number Four: I wouldn’t pull weeds without being careful to identify what I am pulling. (See number 3).

So you’ve heard the story of my battle with poison ivy on this place. Thankfully, I know to look for poison ivy and I know now how to identify it, but sometimes…it sneaks in there and before you know it, the vine is hanging as blessed as you please, spraying it’s noxious juices all over me. So it really is important to pay attention to what you pull.

There are other weeds as well that can cause a tremendous amount of skin and lung problems. It’s really important – especially if you live in rural areas or if you are clearing plots of land that has never been cultivated – to learn to identify these weeds. Identifying poisonous weeds. Poison sumac, poison oak and wild parsnip are some that cause pretty serious reactions that it’s important to know what you’re touching.

There are a good number of other flowers and plants we often see in a garden that are poisonous as well. We need to make sure that when we are planting plants, know who will be visiting and playing in your garden. If you host or have little kids living with you, you probably won’t want to plant things like foxglove, lily of the valley or plants that have poisonous berries; the littles tend to try to eat anything that looks like a sweet berry.

But the other reason you need to be able to identify what you are pulling is because sometimes you may be pulling up the plants you fostered to grow last year. It’s true! It took me about 5 years to be able to grow cone flowers and poppies! Do you know how alike weeds they look when they are popping their heads out of the ground?

I think sometimes I get so excited about Spring after a long cruel winter, that I just start digging and pulling and tearing up my garden, and I often pull what I had so tediously protected the year before.

I remember one day visiting my friend and I reached down and started to pull what looked like a dandelion from her flower bed. She stopped me and explained that it was a coneflower! I had just complained that I couldn’t get coneflowers to grow in my garden!! Needless to say we had a good laugh over that one.

So, now, I try a couple of things to help. First, I keep track of the plants in my garden – kind of a little road map – so I can remember the next year what should be coming up again. I also wait just a bit in the Spring to fiddle with the garden. This is for a couple of reasons, actually. Sometimes in my haste for Spring, I will remove the mulch that is necessary to protect the emerging plants from the fluctuating early Spring weather.

Happy Gardening!





10 Things I wouldn’t do Again in My Garden: Number Three: I wouldn’t  use herbicides to kill off unwanted weeds except poison ivy. Vinegar doesn’t kill poison ivy. That stuff just needs to die.

Every year. Seriously. Every single year except this one, I’ve gotten into poison ivy. A few times it has been in my garden. The first year was probably the worst. I had decided to tackle the iris patch that was in the front yard. There were some beautiful iris in that patch – many I hadn’t seen before, but they were all congested in this little patch, and the weeds were atrocious.

My goal was to pull the weeds so I could dig up the iris to replant them throughout my garden. I had this great idea of making  a winding path throughout my yard, and the iris and lilies would be the backdrops. (Some of my ideas are not that great.)

So, I started pulling weeds. On a very hot June day. Of course, back then my hair was really long, and I didn’t think to put it up. I kept putting it behind my ear, wiping my face because it was sweating, and generally rubbing poison ivy juice all over my body.

You see. What I didn’t remember was “Leaves of Three Leave it Be.” Good lord.

The next day, my eyes were swelled shut and soon I was having trouble breathing. I had a severe reaction to the stuff. My husband had to take me to the emergency room, where I got steroid shots and got on enough steroids to last me throughout the summer and into the fall! It was awful! My face swelled so badly that my nose just looked like two little slits in my face! After I started healing, I went to the store, and I scared a little kid. I’m not even joking!

So, that year – my very first year – I broke my promise to be organic. While I still mourn for those lovely iris that would have made a beautiful winding path through my garden, I attacked that patch of poison ivy with a passion. I’m surprised that anything can grow there even 20 years later!   Pictures of Poison Ivy

There are times when you just have to use the bad stuff to control some weeds. When I have found poison ivy or similar weeds, I nuke them. I don’t want to take the chance of my health being compromised because of some weed. For the most part, though, there are ways to control your weeds organically that are pretty effective.

I keep vinegar, salt, Epsom salts and Borax on hand throughout the summer, There are several recipes. Here is my favorite:

  • 1 gallon white vinegar
  • 2 cups salt
  • 1 TBLS Dawn Dish soap

I use a weed sprayer that I bought cheap at Walmart and just spray. This requires frequent use, and it works best if you pull the weeds first and then spray when they are itty bitty.

What do you use for weed control??


Things I Wouldn’t Do Again in My Garden: Number Two


Things I Wouldn’t Do in My Garden Again:

Number Two: I wouldn’t plant free plants from my friends until I knew whether they were naughty or nice.

Soon after we moved here, I met a new friend  who was really into gardening and who loves to share. She gave me hostas, plantain, sedum, naughty, naughty phlox and lilies (see my previous post). I bought packets of seeds and at the end of the season, I purchased half dead plants I was sure only needed a loving home to survive.

I should have learned about the differing needs of each plant and what it would bring to my garden. Naughty phlox, for example, is beautiful. The plant itself stays healthy looking throughout the summer and the lovely lavender blooms  add a nice backdrop for a garden. Well, a garden planned for flowers to just drop seeds and bloom wherever, that is! The garden I am planning for next year will be perfect for naughty phlox. It’s going to be a wildflower garden full of phlox, coneflower, milkweed and other lovelies; the garden will have no rhyme or reason, which is perfect for these kinds of plants. The good news for next year is that I still have Naughty Phlox and Milkweed that are still popping up all over my garden;  I’ll be able to dig up and transplant to the new garden.

I mean, who doesn’t love a dwarf Burgundy striped sunflower? Or a morning glory vine that twines in and out of the trellis all around your new deck? Or lemon balm and mint? I certainly did the first year! In subsequent years, though, I rued the day I planted them.

Did you know that those unique sunflowers drop seeds? AND did you know those seeds will only produce the unique sunflowers for a year or two? After that, the seeds will produce normal sunflowers that are like having trees in your garden. Which if you’re into that sort of thing, it would be cool, but in the front yard of my very undone house, it looked junky.

Now, instead of planting everything I can get my hands on…… Wait. I still do that. I haven’t really learned my lesson yet. I still plant about anything I can get my hands on (except for Naughty Phlox), I do try, though to learn about the plants ahead of time and put them in places where they can thrive and beautiful but not invasive.

Don’t think that’s important? Ask a farmer about the value of a morning glory vine! I bet you’ll even learn a few choice words, depending on the farmer.








10 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again in my Garden: Number One


Number One: I would never plant ditch lilies again!

Back in the day I received a bunch of day lilies from a friend and given my financial state, I was especially grateful for the gift. I planted them in a thin line along the perimeter of my garden, thinking they would be a nice border. My idea was to create a flowing stream of lilies. It was very pretty. For the first two or three years.


And then they multiplied.

IMG_2581Like a lot.

I had more lilies than I knew what to do with, so I dug up a bunch and thought I’d make an attempt to  extend my line of ditch lilies to create a backdrop of the garden that ran along the sidewalk. I really don’t know what I was thinking, but that year it looked GREAT!

What happened the following year still doesn’t make sense to me, but I have named it “The Year of the Ditch Lily” because it was THAT year that those lilies multiplied like rabbits. I had ditch lilies coming up everywhere. What had previously been a nice flowing stream of lilies throughout my garden was now gorging swell nearly overtaking everything I ever planted. I dug up tons of these lilies, shared them with friends, loaded some in our ditch where they could happily reproduce unfettered and some were, sadly placed in my compost. When these efforts didn’t work to control the lily population, I dropped the R-bomb on them (Roundup) and placed a layer of cardboard followed by landscape fabric and river rock.

IMG_0005That was about 5 years ago. I STILL have lilies that have poked their heads through! They are tough.

So, I guess I really should not say I’d NEVER plant ditch lilies again. I mean. I love them. I do love their tenaciousness and I love the orange flower they poke up. I also love the way the leaves gracefully dance in the breeze. I have just started putting them where I don’t mind their procreation efforts. ❤



10 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again in my Garden


We moved here over 20 years ago; someday I’m going to post pictures of this old place in the rough. While the house was in really rough shape, it was neat because I could tell there was a gardener who once lived here. The remnants of his care and creativity were scattered throughout the yard. Sadly though, like the house, the gardens were very neglected – only remnants were seen of his creativity. Those remnants sparked a love for gardening in me that has not diminished over the years; it has certainly grown.

About 7 years ago, I began a “Garden Reclamation Plan,” which has helped me reclaim the gardens I started when I was able to be home full time and to create them in a way that made it a bit easier to manage. I am so pleased with how everything is working out!! There has been a lot of trial and error in my gardening adventures, and  while some of that is a vital part of learning, I kind of wish I would have known some of these things before I tried them.

So, over the course of the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned. Here’s the short version:

  1. I wouldn’t plant ditch lilies in my garden.
  2. I wouldn’t plant free plants from my friends until I knew whether they were naughty or nice.
  3. I wouldn’t  use herbicides to kill off unwanted weeds except poison ivy. Vinegar doesn’t kill poison ivy. That stuff just needs to die.
  4. I wouldn’t pull weeds without being careful to identify what I am pulling. See number 3.
  5. I wouldn’t be afraid to build things for my garden by myself.
  6. I wouldn’t underestimate the beauty of using weed barriers, but I would never, ever, ever use landscape fabric as a weed deterrent again.
  7. I wouldn’t underestimate the power of a long term plan for my gardens.
  8. I wouldn’t try to create a great big garden in one season.
  9. I wouldn’t neglect preparing my gardens for winter.
  10. I wouldn’t have left the heart shaped pond for last.

Stay tuned!!

What Do We Value?


Last weekend, a replica of an historic covered bridge was destroyed by an arsonist. I live in Madison County Iowa, the home of several historic covered bridges and they’re kind of a big deal here. This bridge was actually a replica of one that had been destroyed by arson about a decade or so ago. Our law enforcement community has made two arrests and I’m sure they are continuing their investigation.

While I am deeply saddened by the Cedar Bridge burning, this has made me even more painfully aware of how much our society values things over people. Everyday I work with victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, domestic violence. The perpetrators of these crimes seldom see much for jail time. Slaps on the wrist are quite common. Meanwhile their victims are stripped of their innocence, their dignity, their sense of worth and sometimes their long-term well being.

I often wonder how a society that values things over people can possibly endure. When a person who cheats on taxes receives more prison time than a person who rapes his child isn’t there something wrong? When a person who burns a bridge receives more jail time than someone who perpetrates domestic violence for years on his partner and his children does, it cements the notion that children are not valued, women are not valued. Things are valued.

When I hear that it will cost a million dollars to rebuild a replicated bridge, I wonder how far that million dollars would go in this county to provide desperately needed mental health services.

I do think people need to be held accountable for what they do. Please don’t hear otherwise. I’m proud of the law enforcement community for their quick and thorough response to this crime. They’re pretty amazing! (I may be a little biased.)

I am very conflicted though. I have read through many many posts and comments seeing rage and hate and desire to see just punishment. A seventeen year old and a twenty five year sentence. Tomorrow I’ll be face to face I’m sure with any number of perpetrators from whom I need to protect a precious child and there will be no outcry and no sentencing and my heart will continue to question our priorities.

Hot Process Pine Tar Soap


I have done the hot process soap a couple of times and while I thought it worked fine, I didn’t just absolutely fall in love with the process — until today. I’ve had a few people request some pine tar soap, and I wanted to get it out to them quicker than the normal wait with the cold process, so I got out my trusty crock pot, did some checking on the Internet and away I went!! (My original recipe is here.)

I like The Prairie Homestead blog, so I searched her site and found a great tutorial for making soap using the Hot Process. Score. (If you’re interested in doing the Hot Process method, take a peak at her blog.)

Pine Tar Soap can be a bit of a booger to make. There is really a very short window of opportunity to add oils or to get the soap into molds. It can set up so fast and seize that processing it can be tricky. Today, though, through the hot process method, I was able to add essential oils and carefully spoon the soap into my silicone molds.

I bought different Pine Tar than I have used previously. Farnam Horse Health Pine Tar  turned out to be quite a surprise to me. I really didn’t like the fragrance of this pine tar at first. I mean. It was really offensive. The other stuff I used had a strong pine smell, but this, well, I’m not sure what to say about that.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I added the essential oils at the end of the process. The fragrance is rather appealing, I think. It’s still sitting over there on my counter all wrapped up and I kind of want to take a peek and smell it again, but I’m going to refrain. I’ll let you know if I change my mind tomorrow.

I’ve never put too many essential oils in my other Pine Tar Soaps. I may have gotten carried away, but I know that 1)no one would have wanted to bathe in that smell and 2)these oils are so incredible in what they can do for skin issues.

Here’s my modified Pine Tar Soap Recipe:

For a 4 pound batch:

  • 9.14 oz. coconut oil
  • 27.4 oz. olive oil
  • 9.14 oz. pine tar
  • 1 tbls castor oil
  • 10 oz. distilled water
  • 5.1 oz lye

Essential Oils after cooking:

  • Patchouli, 1/2 tsp.
  • Frankincense, 1 tsp
  • Rosehip, 1 tsp
  • Cedarwood, 1 tsp
  • Lemongrass, 1 tsp
  • Clove Oil, 1 tsp
  • Eucalyptus, 2 tsp
  • Lavender, 3 tsp.

Using a scale, weigh the coconut and olive oils, the pine tar  and castor oil and put into a crock pot on low. As the oils melt, put the water into a glass or stainless steel container. (I use mason jars when I do this.) I also place the jar of water in the sink. I have had jar break before. Thankfully it all went down the drain and not all over my counter and floors!!

Carefully pour the lye into the water (do as you oughter, pour the lye in the water! A special thank you to my chemistry teacher Mr. Scholtens for that little ditty) stirring carefully. Be very careful. This has horrid fumes, so you will want to have a window open and you will want to wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Lye at this stage can BURN!

After the oils have melted, stirring carefully, add the lye solution to the oils. Pour slowly and stir thoroughly.

You will need to keep stirring until you reach trace. I did use my stick blender for a short time and it worked great. You cannot use a stick blender when using the cold process method. I use this blender.

Once it makes it to trace, put the lid on the slow cooker and set a time for 50 minutes. I checked mine every 15 minutes or so and stirred. During this stage is when I almost gagged at the pine tar smell. It gets better. I promise.

After 50 minutes, I added the essential oils and stirred really well. This was lovely. After the essential oils were fully incorporated into the soap, I spooned the soap into my 2″ round silicone molds. Since I’ve been making soap the cold process way for almost 20 years, out of habit I wrap my soap molds and insulate them. I did that with these as well. A little extra cooking doesn’t hurt anything.


Let me know if you used this recipe and method. What did you like? What would you do differently?