TEN Things I Learned in My First Year of Flower Gardening

 

My daughter Juliette took these beautiful pictures of her sister in front of our Star Magnolia.

As a child, I had a strong aversion to gardening because it  sounded like just another chore. Even throughout college it didn’t faze me that I hardly knew the first thing about plants. In fact, I can remember wondering to myself: Who on earth would want to be a horticulture major?  And as a newlywed, I accidentally killed many of my mother-in-law’s plants when she put me in charge of them while she was vacationing. Man, that was a stressful introduction to the concept of over-watering. Who knew? I fought tears when she returned and I had to show her how wilted and dead they were, despite my devotion to the task. But the the closer I get to 40 years old, the more I’m drawn to gardening… anyone else? In talking with some of my fellow almost-40-year-old friends, I really feel like it’s a thing!

All of that said, it’s pretty ironic that I married a florist and have a mother-in-law and mom that adore their plants. They must have all rubbed off on me because now I love shopping at the local nursery, and spend at least an hour a day tending to our little flower garden. I even have dreams of having a small flower farm here on our property someday and converting space in our barn devoted to designing bouquets. And in case you’re wondering, since I haven’t mentioned it awhile, my mom and I still do our weekly project days together, but I haven’t documented it much lately because it’s hard to pull out the camera when you’re knee-deep in dirt, which is how we’ve spent most of our time together this summer.

But on to what I’ve learned!

ONE 

Do you have little critters (for me, it’s the deer) wanting to eat your plants? If so, Irish Spring soap is your friend.  Take a cheese grater to the soap and sprinkle the shavings around your plants. The smell of the soap will keep hungry animals away. I’ve found this approach to be a lot more effective and economical than sprays like Deer Off.  Another tip is to plant things deer don’t like around the borders of your garden. For example, I have dusty miller in my flower boxes. The deer don’t like the unusual silver color or fuzzy texture of this plant, and so it deters them from the other plants that they do like in my flower boxes. That said, I’ve also learned that even if a plant is advertised as one that deer don’t like, they will eat anything if they’re in the mood or hungry enough.

TWO

Look for planter pots at second-hand stores because they can be so pricey elsewhere. They don’t even have to be pots technically made for plants because there are special drill bits you can use to drill drainage holes into the bottom of any pot that strikes your fancy.  Here is a list of the type of bits you’ll want depending on what your pot is made of:

Plastic: Sharp twist bit

Metal: Ultra-durable cobalt steel bit

Unglazed Terra Cotta: Soak overnight in water then use a tile bit, a diamond grinder bit, or a Dremel tool

Glazed Terra Cotta: Diamond tipped tile bit

Thick glass: Glass and tile drill bits

Ceramics: Diamond drill bit or a masonry bit with a winged tungsten-carbide tip Hypertufa: Masonry bit

(Read more at Gardening Know How: Punching Holes In Planters: How To Make Holes For Potted Plants https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/containers/how-to-make-holes-for-potted-plants.htm)

THREE

Mulch keeps the weeds down so much. I’ve been absolutely blown away by how much it’s cut down on my time weeding. Plus, it makes your garden beds look much more put together. I personally really like black mulch because it makes my dirt look so healthy and rich.   

FOUR

Pinching is a way to get even more blooms out of your flowers. Not all flowering plants appreciate this so research a bit beforehand, but pinching is basically taking every third stem of your plant and cutting (aka pinching it) right above the nearest leaves on the stem. You typically do this when a plant is young and by doing so you will get so many more blooms and a much fuller plant, too. I love how the more you cut your blossoms, the more blooms you’ll have to share with your friends and family!

FIVE

Dirt is everything. It’s more than worth the money and effort to make sure you’re working with good dirt. I often buy a bag of garden soil and mix it with the native soil when I’m adding something new to my garden. Honestly, you’re wasting your time and money if you are planting in poor soil.

SIX

With the exception of potted plants, a deep water every two to three days is better than watering everyday. It helps the roots grow down deeper into the ground rather than spread widely and more shallowly. But again, each plant is different, so there are some exceptions to this rule. Also, watering in the morning or evening is best, but morning is the very best time so that your roots have time to dry out before the sun sets. Wet roots hanging out over night can promote rot, fungal growth and insect problems.

SEVEN

Most plants, but especially geraniums, I’ve noticed, love Miracle Grow. I’ve always put geraniums in my flower boxes and I like to fertilize them with Miracle Grow. You can do this up to weekly, although I rarely have the time to do it that often. But believe me when I say they will take off–it’s called Miracle Grow for a reason, I guess!

EIGHT

It is imperative that you weed around the base of your plants. If not, the unwanted weeds/grass will crowd the root of your plant and steal water from it, especially when it’s young.

NINE

Most plants have many varieties, some so vast they don’t even look like they’re from the same family. For example, this summer I bought six “Bowl of Love” peonies thinking their blossoms would look like a traditional peony, but while still beautiful, their blooms looked completely different than I was expecting, which was a little frustrating and disappointing to me, so take your time researching what your particular variety looks like.

TEN

And my favorite thing of all–I discovered the most amazing expandable garden hose! It expands up to three times when it’s got water flowing through it, and when you turn off the hose, it shrinks. It’s so much easier to maneuver and put away. Seriously, probably the most life-changing thing I got for my garden this year! No more kinks or connecting multiple hoses together. This one is long, lightweight, and requires zero lugging!

And that’s a wrap for now! I’ve learned so much about gardening this year, and I’m hoping to give aspiring gardeners like myself a leg up with this post!

Life is Better with a Big Sister

A great way to look at your interior design with fresh eyes is to take a photo of the space. Seriously, I cannot believe how insightful this is! But if your experience with this exercise is anything like mine has been, be prepared to instantly notice flaws that went unnoticed when you were analyzing the room in real time. So often, after I’ve gotten a room “picture perfect” for a little photo-op, I take the photos, only to later pull them up on my computer and be shocked by things like sloppy pillow placement, distracting wrinkles, or decor that’s too busy. Although potentially frustrating, photographing interiors can be so interesting and enlightening! I highly recommend!

On a different note, I wanted to share the new rug I got for my girls’ bedroom. This room–a favorite space of mine– has come so far in the last five years since we bought our house, and I’ve been dreaming about getting a rug in there from the get go. For awhile, I was convinced I’d get a giant round rug someday, but when I spotted this Giada Loloi Rug from a distance at Home Goods, I couldn’t help but haul it home for a try. It took the help of my mom and sister to get it placed beneath the adjacent twin beds, but we did it and I love it!

Some other things I love about their room are the dresser knobs, which used to be white, that I spray painted. I’m also very proud of the plants in there! There’s a fiddle leaf fig I rescued from its deathbed and a baby olive tree I just got. Both are thriving because of all the sunshine my girls get, and because I’m such a devoted plant mama. My girls often tease me because I’m always checking on them (the plants) and telling them (my girls) how the plants are doing. “You love them more than us!” they joke. Anybody else love their plant babies a whole lot?

Lastly, I’ve loved seeing what the girls come up with for their letter boards. Since December, Isabella has had “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” up on hers, so the Anne of Green gables quote is a most welcome change. Also, I don’t have it pictured, but Juliette came up with an original quote for her letter board: “Life is better with a big sister in it.”

So sweet, right!?

Let There Be Beauty

You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

Here’s a peek at some decorating updates I recently made to our entry.

I love and hate that quote. I often wish I could meander down every shiny path I fancy, but at the same time, it’s nice to have the wise permission not to, at least not all at once. If I could, though, I’d learn how to paint flowers, dance like an angel, dig into the art of flower farming and floral design; I’d be a songwriter, publish lovely little children’s books, have a formal education in interior design, and manage all that’s required to have a successful Style Me Marie blog. (Add to that list a clean house and a thriving family, and I think I’d die happy.)  

In the last few years, I’ve contemplated the wisdom in that quote often, and it’s inspired me to push some dreams to the wayside and focus on a select few, mainly this blog. Still, even with cutting a lot out, often my dreams feel out of reach and frivolous. Do interiors and flowers really matter when there are such hefty problems in the world, plus my own children to raise and nurture who, for nearly the last decade, we’ve chosen to homeschool, a constant weight and pull and joy.

Although not necessarily needed, maybe pursuing a blog featuring beautiful design and intricate flower arrangements would feel more justified if it were guaranteed to contribute financially to our family. Maybe then I’d feel more validated in my efforts. Maybe then it would matter how I decorated my house. So often my dreams feel like second-rate ambitions in the test of life, or so I’ve been tempted to believe. 

But as I sit here and write, I gaze out the window at my gorgeous and fragrant lilac tree and think, God created it and thousands of other flowering plants for the purpose of beautifying the earth, and what about all the glorious sunsets He paints for us each evening? The many ways He’s created beauty on earth are endless, and if it’s important to God, it can be important to me. 

Another liberating moment I had was while I was worshipping in one of our church’s many temples and contemplating whether God would have me put so much care and effort toward continually improving the aesthetic of our home. And not only that, but whether I should take it a big step further and promote the venture on this blog. After sincerely praying for His approval, I opened my eyes and immediately noticed the intricate detail on the chairs we were sitting in. Our temples, which we believe to be houses of God here on earth, are nothing short of immaculate elegance. I had my answer; while beautifying our homes might not be the most important pursuit in life, it’s still a worthy one if it brings peace and harmony. It’s also a skill I can bless others with and take with me into the eternities. (As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we also believe that the only things we can take with us after we die are our relationships and any knowledge we acquired during our time here on earth.) 

God and family will always come first, but I’d love to intertwine Style Me Marie into the fabric of a life that prioritizes the most important things. So, in my spare time as a God-fearing homeschool mom who adores her husband and kids, you can find me postponing the painting, dancing and songwriting for another day, and instead sharing the flowers we’re growing and designing–the beautiful, yet often messy, and hopefully happy home we’re trying to create. 

How to Paint a Piano

Years back, I wanted a piano so desperately it hurt. While I’m no concert pianist, playing the piano felt like a part of me that was missing. Thankfully, I was able to convey these heartfelt yearnings to my husband, who finally agreed that we could get one. I was elated! If I’m remembering right, I found one for free! I wanted to paint it, but I was so worried I’d ruin it, that I hired a professional to paint it for me. Watching the painting process was really eye opening. It was my first introduction to the world of chalk paint, and my color of choice was light blue. Dug these photos up…I couldn’t get enough blue back then!

Fast forward several years and we were moving. I wasn’t sure a blue piano suited our new living room, so I had it hauled upstairs to the great room. Then, one day on a whim, my mom and I decided to spend one of our project days painting it black because the chalk paint was chipping in places, and the color blue was still feeling out of place, even upstairs. Below is the best picture I could find!

By this point, I’d painted all types of furniture, so I wasn’t nearly as worried about painting a piano, although the tiny nooks and crevices around the keys had me slightly intimidated. I shouldn’t have been! And that’s what today’s post is about: how painting a piano is a doable project! 

This topic is fresh on my mind because I recently visited my sister in Spokane who had just convinced her husband to get a piano. (I’m noticing a trend with men and pianos…all that heavy lifting!) My sister has been wanting a black piano for years, and so my mom and I helped her paint her newly acquired vintage 1930s piano that was given to them. We just worked on it a little everyday after the kids were in bed for about three nights, and it turned out gorgeous!  

Here’s what we did:

  1. If possible, it’s always a good idea to rough the surface up with sandpaper. We just sanded it by hand and tried to protect the piano from getting dust inside of it by covering the keys and any openings in the piano.
  2. We wiped down the dust with a wet rag and then wiped it down again with liquid deglosser for good measure.
  3. We taped off the pedals and the keys.
  4. We wiped the piano down with tack cloth to get any lurking dust.
  5. We used Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint to put on a first coat, and it went on like silk!
  6. The next night, we put on another coat. For Advance paint, you’re technically supposed to wait 24 hours and lightly sand between coats, but we didn’t wait a full 24 hours nor did we sand. #rebels
  7. On the third night, we put on our third and final coat. We taped off the keys and when I was painting around the keys, I pressed down on the keys so that I could get into the crevices. You will probably have to take a very small paintbrush and touch up any spots you’ve missed after you pull off the tape.

And that’s it! No need to fear; pianos can be painted, and you can be the one to do it!

Design Advice You’ll Love

All three of my sisters are artistically talented. Whether it be dance, songwriting, makeup, fashion, decorating–I get so much encouragement and inspiration from them! Honestly, they should be the ones blogging. But since they’re not, from time to time I’ll pass along some of the things I learn from them. My sister Emma is in the middle of building the modern English country cottage of her dreams, and it’s been so fun to watch from a distance. She is a natural at interior decorating and design, and I’ve learned a lot from her over the years, so today I want to share three of her unforgettable design mantras!

1. “I want it to feel lived in.”

This might be my favorite thing she says. As I was showing her the painted tile in my powder bathroom several months after I’d finished the project, I was apprehensive about what she’d think because they weren’t holding up perfectly. They had a bit of a worn look to them from all the foot traffic and also because I never put a sealant on them. I was still trying to decide if I should start over and seal them off. But she told me she loved how they looked a little worn. “It looks lived in!” she said. Her response changed my whole outlook, and now I think the painted tile looks less like a paint-your-tile DIY and more like charming old-world floors. 

2. “I don’t want anything to be the star of the show.”

When Emma first said this, as she was considering different light fixtures for her dining room, her words stopped me in my tracks. I thought it was so profound that I think I even asked her where she learned that. “I’m sure I read it somewhere,” she said. 

I think it’s such a wise approach, especially when you’re making more permanent choices for your home. For example, instead of having the chandelier or backsplash or wallpaper command the attention of a room, make design choices that compliment the other things going on in a space and have everything blend and work together. Save the “stars of the show” for decorations and things because otherwise you run the risk of those “stars” quickly falling into an outdated abyss.

3. “Baskets! Plants in a basket. Toys in a basket. Bread/fruit in a basket. Baskets = homey.”

Ok, so you don’t have to put literally everything in a basket ; my sister just sent me this photo meme of a fridge with baskets inside of it–ha ha!

We don’t recommend taking it that far, but it would be a rare case indeed for someone to own too many baskets. They really do add an orderly texture and depth pretty much anywhere you can think of. I have some on the bookshelves in our offices, on the seat of our fireplace, near the couch, and on and on. I’m thinking about getting some metal baskets I saw at The Dollar Store the other day for my pantry–they don’t have to be high-end to be attractive! 

So, yes, I love these little mantras of Emma’s. She’s got me asking myself if there are “stars of the show” in my house that command too much attention and helps me remember that while creating a home is an art–it shouldn’t feel like an art museum. Our homes are where we live and can and should be a beautiful reflection of that, which requires embracing the quirks and imperfections and the life that’s happening inside.

That, and embracing all the baskets, of course!

Pink Chairs for my Office!

Over on my Instagram stories, I left everyone hanging about the makeover on my office chairs! My mom found these gorgeous and incredibly comfy chairs for 10 bucks apiece at a garage sale! The cushions were in pristine condition, while the wood frames needed a little love, so we decided to freshen things up with my all-time favorite paint: Advance by Benjamin Moore (satin). The color Black Ink (also by Benjamin Moore) seems to be my signature these days, so I bought some more of it knowing our front door could use some touching up. Had I not needed more paint in this color anyway, I would have considered painting them in a true black (or maybe a lighter shade of pink?), but I’m happy with how they turned out, and they certainly go with the flow around here.

Now, let’s play two truths and a lie, shall we?

  1. I had the bouquet specifically designed at our flower shops for this pink chair reveal.
  2. It was easy to paint around the cushions without getting paint on them.
  3. I’ve never read the book I’m holding–Wuthering Heights.

See below this before photo for some answers!

  1. Lie. Will gave this lovely bundle of flowers to me for Valentine’s Day and they just happened to look right at home with my chairs!
  2. Truth! I actually thought this project would be trickier than it was because I was worried about getting paint on the cushions, especially where the cushions meet the cane webbing on the sides. But we just wedged cardstock between the arms and the caning, and it blocked the paint flawlessly!
  3. Truth. This pretty green book has been in many a photoshoot, but I’ve never read it; should I add Wuthering Heights to my book list?

Pixie Dust

This is a little off-topic, but remember how I was so excited to make a music video for the song my sister Lissie and I wrote together about my kids when they were little? Well, not only did we make a music video, with the help of my brother Christian, we also entered it into the RootsTech Song Contest! And we’re semi-finalists! I’d be so thankful if you’d give it a listen and vote for us here: https://rootstechsongcontest.org/pixie-dust/

Update: We didn’t make the next round, but a heartfelt thanks to all who voted!

A Mood Board for our Mudroom!

In addition to the relentless stream of dirty clothes practically attacking me whenever I open the cupboard door to the laundry chute in our mudroom, our laundry-slash-mudroom is also the junk drawer of our home right now and has been pitiful lately! Needless to say, I loved gathering inspiration pictures and creating my very first mood board for our mudroom makeover, which is at the top of my list for big projects to accomplish in 2021.

And it’s not just cosmetics that needs fixing. Due to some water damage and rot issues we had when we first moved into our home, there are literally missing tiles and disintegrating baseboards to be dealt with before I can get started. The first step will be to replace the missing tiles and repair the baseboards, and then I’m planning on painting the tile in a charcoal grey color with Rustoleum Home Floor Coating to achieve a similar (but much less expensive) vibe to the inspiration picture (below/right) for our floors. I definitely want to have hooks for hats and bags in this room, too!

Ok, I’m obsessed with the green color and vertical paneling in the inspiration photo (below left). And paired with that floral rug and the charcoal floors I’m dreaming of? Eeeek! I could look at these pictures all day!

Below are some more vertical paneling and hooks to swoon over. Those stand-alone hooks are everything! I also love the built-in bench…but I’d have to forego having a folding table in our laundry room if I did a bench. Might be worth it. Something tells me I’ll still take all our clean clothes to our bedroom to fold even if I had a folding table in this room. Thoughts?

And now for my very first mood board! I created it in Photoshop and have included links below. Oh, and if you’re wondering why I added a shower curtain to the board, it’s because we have a shower in our mudroom, so it’ll be fun to get a new curtain for that! Like I mentioned, we don’t have a place for folding laundry, so I’m considering getting an industrial-looking utility table and storing a few cute hampers on wheels underneath it–a landing place for the dirty laundry that won’t ever go away for as long as I live! See, beautifying a room I spend so much time in should definitely be a priority, right?

I’d love to hear what’s on your project list this year!

Pretty Pity Party

As promised, here is the music video that I helped my sister make for her band Salem Swing’s latest song, “Pretty Pity Party!” It was so fun filming this in my freshly painted kitchen, making over the garden table and chairs and helping with some of the fun little details! She is an incredibly talented singer and songwriter, so I’ll hope you’ll give this a listen.

A Little More Christmas

Everyone has a different opinion about when it’s time to tuck away their Christmas decorations. I tend to put it away in phases, the same way I put them up. I think that helps me enjoy the process on both ends even more. Tell me I’m not the only one who still has at least some of theirs up?

My favorite decoration this year–the fresh garland I made for the first time–was, unfortunately, the last to go up and the first to come down. Like a fresh bouquet of flowers, organic decor never quite lasts long enough, but the way they breathe so much life into a space makes them totally worth all the effort. Here’s my garland a couple weeks old and honestly, on its deathbed, but I still love it and can’t wait to make them again next year!

A few days after Christmas, I had so much fun shopping the holiday clearance section at World Market (went twice in two days!), that instead of coming home and cleaning up Christmas, I came home and had fun decorating with my new half-off finds! This put post-Christmas decorating into stiff competition with pre-Christmas decorating! It was really fun.

Mainly, I replaced the brown paper stars on my mantle with some big yet delicate white paper snowflakes lanterns I found there. I really love them and just might keep them up until Valentine’s Day.

I also picked up some Star Shaped Pillar Candles that I’m saving to give away as little Christmas gifts next year, as well as smaller paper stars that I came home and added as ornaments on our Christmas tree. It’s up for debate at my house, but I think they’re just what our tree needed for New Years!

Oh, and have you ever heard of an angel chime? Also on clearance, this Gold Metal Angel Chime set could make great little gifts for next year, too! A few weeks before Christmas, some girlfriends and I had our own little “parade of homes” as an excuse to enjoy each other’s Christmas decor. At one of the homes, I was introduced to an angel chime for the first time. I love how in a dim room, the light from the candles flutters on the ceiling as the angels spin around.

The effect reminds me of a scene towards the beginning of The Greatest Showman when P. T. Barnum comes home to his darling family and lights a candle under what he calls “a wishing machine,” and it casts spinning light on the sheets they have hung up to dry that evening on the rooftop.

This is a wishing machine,” Barnum says. “You tell it your wishes, and it keeps them safe until they come true. Even if you forget them, they’re always there.”

The greatest Showman

I like to think that this is what an angel chime does! When I saw a bunch of them on clearance at World Market, I had to have one. To be honest, they’re a little finicky and tinsel-y, but I don’t even care because they’re just so charming. So, until I have Leonardo Da Vinci’s blueprints to make my very own wishing machine like P. T. Barnum does (wink), my angel chime should do the trick. I hope all of your wishes comes true in this new year!