it’s a mys-tree to me

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We’ve worked hard for this tree. One of my favorite things about gardening on a budget (translation: zero dollars) is scoring “free if you dig” plants from neighbors. This tree was a volunteer in a neighboring ditch that we dug up last spring. It was small enough in circumference to reasonably move, but already more than 8 feet tall. After a hazardous ride home with a giant tree sticking out of our van, we planted it in our backyard as part of what we call “Operation Block the View” (houses are a bit close together in these parts). Of course, only then did we try to figure out what kind of tree it is. The neighbors thought it might be a flowering cherry, but the leaves were wrong. It was, however, flowering — we soon found out that transplanting a tree in the middle of flowering is a bad idea, watching as the leaves shriveled and fell. But before summer was out, the tree bounced back to life.

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This year, we were stunned (even a bit alarmed) at how fast the tree was filling out. And in July, the mystery tree had fruit! At first we thought they were cherries, but I quickly discovered that they were tiny plums. (At least, they sure look and taste like plums — I took a tentative bite, causing my husband to worry, “What if it’s a poison plum tree?!”) A month later, the tiny plums are no larger. Is there such a thing as a tiny plum tree, or is this something altogether different? I’m sure I could ask a garden expert, but this voyage of discovery is just so much fun. — Mary T.

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garden inspiration: “miss rumphius” and “a man named pearl”

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Have you seen “A Man Named Pearl” yet? It’s a documentary about an untrained horticulturist who creates a yard with topiaries that defy convention. Again and again as I watched it, I was reminded
of a story I read to my kids: “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney. In the book, a young Miss Rumphius tells her grandfather she wants to travel the world and live by the sea. He responds that she must do a third thing — make the world more beautiful. In the documentary (without giving too much away), Pearl Fryar starts out merely wanting to dispel the neighbors’ notion that he won’t keep up his yard. Along the way, he manages to make a garden — and a community — more beautiful. Find “A Man Named Pearl” on Netflix or buy it at Docurama. — Sarah L.

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re-use for bubble wrap: insulation for metal planters

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I love the look of modern-ish metal planters, and you can get large ones for low prices at IKEA. I recently decided that the ’50s-era expanse of concrete in our backyard needed a makeover, so I decided that I’d move beyond my usual annuals — cool as they may be! — and get some evergreens suitable for containers. (I ended up buying a compact boxwood.) The area where they’ll reside gets full morning sunlight which lasts far into the afternoon, so the consultant at the nursery gave me a tip that was new to me: because metal pots can heat up, it’s a good idea to insulate them to protect plant roots. She suggested lining the pots with bubble wrap, so that’s just what I did. I have tons of it saved from packages that I never seem to use but don’t want to throw away. I simply formed the sheets of bubble wrap in a circle inside the pots, filled in with dirt, and planted as usual. Great tip! — Mary T.

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come rain or shine: an indoor/outdoor rug roundup

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I’ve been trying — as many of us have, I’m sure — to spruce up our beyond-hideous deck for prime summer enjoyment. It’s a great space, don’t get me wrong — it’s just in dire need of a couple of repairs and a new coat of paint or two. But in the meantime (or at least until it stops raining for a few days) I’m planning on just covering it up with a cute indoor/outdoor rug. I’ve scoured the web for some options, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far, ranging from $35- $200:

Dash and Albert have a stunning diamond rug, above, starting at $34 for a 2’x3′.

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I love the candy apple red design on this Henri Floral Rio Mat from Cost Plus World Market, $40 for a 6’x9′.

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I’ve always been a fan of Chilewich placemats and runners, but I’m absolutely in love with these 24″x36″ spun vinyl utility mats, $75.

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If your tastes tend to the more traditional side, perhaps this trompe l’oeil Persian rug floor mat (made from polyester and foam) from Urban Outfitters, $148 for a 66″x46″, is a good choice.

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I love the bold geometric design of this indoor/outdoor rug from Overstock.com, a large 7’10″x11′ for $178.

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Last but definitely not least is the ultra-cool reversible pegboard rug from CB2, 5’x8′, $200.

I’ll probably end up getting more than one — what doesn’t go on the deck will be great in our sad dungeon of a basement! — Megan B.

From our partners

old-fashioned annuals are new again

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In talking with garden friends and nursery staff, it seems old-fashioned annuals are back in vogue this year. Perhaps it’s botanical comfort food during the recession, or maybe it’s just a natural cycling around again. Whatever the reason, here are some tried-and-true annuals to enjoy in your garden this year. — Jenny P.

Impatiens — Lots of colors and wonderful for shady areas! They like lots of water, though, so don’t let them dry out.

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Geraniums — There is something so cheerful about these plants! Choose from red, pink, white, or salmon. Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings and remove the old flowers by snapping them off at the base of the stem.

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Marigolds — Sunny and ruffly — there’s a reason our grannies planted these! And here’s an added benefit: if you like to vegetable garden, plant marigolds around the edges of your garden to deter pesky veggie-eating bugs.

Begonias

Begonias — Small flowers in red, pink and white, with green or bronze foliage. Plant them close together for more impact. They’ll also take a bit of shade where the many other annuals want full sun.

Zinnias

Zinnias — There are so many colors and varieties of zinnias that you’re sure to find one that fits what you’re looking for! Just remember to be careful of overhead watering; zinnias are susceptible to powdery mildew and don’t like water on their foliage. Aim the hose at the base of the plant or use a drip system.

Photos, top to bottom, via: Sanna Mattson MacLeod, Human Flower Project, Cordite Country Show Notes, Weidner’s Gardens, Parks Wholesale Plants

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