Beyond Poinsettias

Do you like the classic red and green color scheme but feel ready to mix it up a bit? We tend to think of poinsettias as the only option for indoor plants to decorate our homes during the Holidays  but a trip to Molbak’s nursery this week showed me several other options for adding a splash of red.

Anthurium – Christmas goes tropical!

Photo credit; Wikipedia commons (featured image)

This is an easy care, long lived houseplant. The most popular variety has big waxy ‘flowers’ in a brilliant Christmasy red, each one with a central yellow spike although there are also pink, white and salmon varieties available. Large heart shaped leaves complete the tropical touch. Just to get our terminology correct, what we consider a red flower is actually a spathe (a type of bract) and the spike is called a spadix which is covered with the true flowers in a dense spiral. So now you know

Light – Bright indirect light is best

Water - allow to dry between watering

Humidity – anthurium grows in the landscape in tropical zone 10 so it is no surprise that it does best with higher levels of humidity. Stand on a saucer of gravel and mist daily.


Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)

One of the few succulents grown for its flowers. Photo; Wikipedia Commons

Large, waxy dark green leaves form a rosette above which large clusters of vivid flowers nestle. Each flower is only 1/4″ diameter but the clusters can be 4″ or more across. Scarlet red blends are a great choice for this time of year but they are available in shades of orange, yellow and white too. There are both single and double flower forms but in all cases these flowering plants grow as a low mound 10″ high or less. Native to Madagascar.

Light – bright, indirect light

Water – allow to dry slightly between watering

Humidity – average

 Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)

Cyclamen persicum 'Metis Red'

The variety Metis Red has a pink blush to the more traditional red. Photo credit; where it may also be purchased

I could grow these just for the foliage. The heart shaped green leaves are  marbled or distinctly patterned with silvery-white and the flowers are typically pink, white or red although I also saw plenty in a deep magenta/burgundy shade this year. The stems are usually dark too, adding another layer of color to this already beautiful plant.

Light – bright indirect light

Water – water from the base when dry to the touch. Allow to dry between watering

Humidity – Average

Note; keep in a cool spot

Christmas Cactus

Photo credit; Wikipedia commons

This is the plant that keeps on growing…and growing…and growing, often passed down to family members and given to friends. This old fashioned favorite never seems to actually go out of fashion.

The draping branches of segmented succulent foliage have little ornamental value until they start to bloom; that’s when it’s really ready for the Christmas party! Festooned with layered tubular flowers in red, pink or a bi-color this is a plant that packs a lot of color into its pot.

Light – Bright indirect light

Water –  keep on the dry side

Humidity – above average so set on a tray of gravel and mist occasionally

Note; keep away from the front door, fireplaces and heating vents

So venture beyond poinsettia-land at the nursery. You’ll also find bromeliads and amaryllis to tempt you!

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Table Top Pots – Perfect for Holiday Gifts

The Nativity Scene was re-organized daily by Katie! 1991

The Nativity Scene was re-organized daily by Katie age 3 1/2

When our children were small and the budget was tight we made all our Christmas gifts, cards and even tags. I would start many weeks ahead of time, the sewing machine working late into the night as I made matching flannel shirts for my husband and son (then 2 1/2 years old) and a Beatrix Potter duvet cover for our daughter.

My husband and son back in 1994 with their matching shirts

My husband and son back in 1993 with their matching shirts



The kitchen would be filled with spicy aromas as I steamed home-made Christmas puddings to be wrapped in red cellophane and cooked up dozens of mince pies. Cards were crafted from folded fabric one year, lino-cut block another.

Always the comedian - Paul hangs his own ornament on the tree. 1994

Always the comedian – Paul hangs his own ornament on the tree. 1994












Even the Christmas stockings, nativity scene and large wall hanging-style advent calendar were stitched with love. In hindsight I wonder how I ever did it all!

Twenty or so years have gone past – life got busier, budgets eased and we were able to give ‘bigger’ gifts. It was so much fun to be able to go to the store and select something special for friends and family. Home-made Christmas decorations mingled with shiny new baubles and trinkets discovered at specialty stores.

The children are now adults, our daughter  married  with a home of her own and we seem to have come full circle. I still enjoy the festive atmosphere at the shopping mall – in small doses! But I much prefer to be at home, carols playing, log fire burning and filling the home once again with the smells of Christmas. A few beautiful, specially chosen gifts share space under the tree with homemade items.

Each piece made with love by my husband Andy

Each piece made with love by my husband Andy

Special ornaments are still purchased and exchanged on Christmas eve but  we also wait to see what beautiful designs my husband has handturned on his woodworking lathe, each piece crafted with  love and sure to be treasured for a lifetime.

Today it’s less about budget than about choice. We understand the value of giving the gift of time.

So to help you create a special gift I’ve got a few design ideas for quick table top containers for inside and outside the home. Once you’ve assembled the materials they take only minutes to put together.

1. The Miniature Christmas Tree

A 10" diameter outdoor container - color all year

A 10″ diameter outdoor container – color all year


Frost resistant container approx 10″ x 10″ with drainage hole

Potting soil

1 x 4″ Alberta spruce or other conifer

1 x 4″ berried wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

1 x 4″ bugleweed (Ajuga repens)

2 x 4″ golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia n. ‘Aurea’)


Putting it together

Add potting soil directly to pot – no crocks at the bottom

Add plants and tuck soil into gaps

Water until it drains through hole at base

Optional – finish with a pretty red bow

Where to keep it

Outdoors in sun or shade for winter, part sun in summer


2. The Woodland Pot

7" diamater woodland pot for a covered porch

7″ diamater woodland pot for a covered porch


7 or 8″ diameter birch bark pot with liner but no drainage hole

Charcoal (buy in small bags from a nursery)

Potting soil

1 x 4″ Alberta spruce or other conifer

1 x 4″ flowering hellebore e.g. Jacob

1 x 4″ berried wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

1 x 4″ Emerald Gaiety euonymus (Euonymus .f ‘Emerald Gaiety’)

Moss to finish

Optional; wired bow and glittered stems


Putting it all together

Add 1/2″ charcoal to base of pot.

Carefully add potting soil

Plant up as shown adding soil into gaps

Add decorative items

Finish by adding moss to hide soil

Water just enough just to moisten the soil. The charcoal will absorb some excess and stop smells. Do not overwater

Where to keep it

Outside on a covered porch where it will not receive direct rain. (Can be brought inside for a few hours)

3. A Fresh Look

A Fresh Look - try a cyclamen over a poinsettia

A Fresh Look – try a cyclamen over a poinsettia


7-8″ diameter burgundy metal container with liner and no drainage hole


Potting soil

1 x 4″ Normandy pine

1 x 4″ Pepperonia plant

1 x 4″ button plant

1 x 4″ cyclamen

1 x 2″ ivy


Optional; wired bow and berry accents

Putting it all together

Assemble as per woodland container BUT keep cyclamen in plastic pot

Water as for the woodland container but remove the cyclamen and set it on a saucer of water then allow to drain before replacing it in container.

Where to keep it

Indoors in a cool location.


An invitation

Join me for one of my Holiday Container Workshops on December 6th  and make memories as well as a unique container. The log fire will be burning, Holiday music playing softly in the background, warm, homemade English mincepies and a glass of bubbly to enjoy and a few hours to step away from the busyness of the season.

There are two workshops to choose from but spaces are filling up quickly. For more details and to register click HERE.

Here are just a few photos from one of the workshops last year.

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Enjoy this season of giving by giving a little of yourself.

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It’s All a Load of MOO POO

Annie MooPoo

Here’s how to get healthier houseplants, happier veggies, abundant container gardens and a jump start on seed sowing; it all comes down to Moo Poo tea by Haven Brand products.

What is it?

You know all the slippery yucky stuff in the cow fields that you try hard to avoid stepping in? There you go – except this is dried in the sun for several months and doesn’t smell – promise! It is sold in little teabags so is much more convenient than liquid compost tea sometimes available at nurseries. I mean you can’t put that in a Christmas stocking can you? Oh and it comes from happy cows that have grazed on native grasses.

What does it do?


Photo taken early July -

Photo taken early July – by September everything was HUGE!

It conditions the soil so that plan roots can absorb nutrients. This in turn promotes healthier root growth and stronger plants. It can also be used as a foliar spray for a quick nutrient boost

So what are the benefits over other fertilizers?

  1. It is entirely organic – no chemicals or synthetic chemicals are added at any point in the process
  2. The price! A three-pack of Moo Poo is $12.95 which makes over 20 gallons
  3. It doesn’t damage the soil unlike a number of chemicals that kill beneficial microbes and fungi needed for plant growth
  4. You see the results quickly because it releases nutrients quickly
  5. Easy to use – just stick it in a bucket and add water. No complicated measuring

What plants can it be used on?


  1. Vegetables as a foliar spray or use it for watering. I do this once every two weeks as a boost. I also used it to help salvage what I could from last years embarrassing crop!
  2. Containers. For the past few years I have been asked to create container gardens for magazine photo shoots and MooPoo has been a lifesaver! This year I received a delivery of shrubs which ended up getting left in a UPS truck over a weekend despite assurances this wouldn’t happen. They were in pretty bad shape when the arrived. The only thing I could do was re-pot them and begin a bi-weekly watering and foliar spray regime with MooPoo. Not only did they survive they thrived and looked stunning for their close ups (The article will be published in Country Gardens magazine next year)
  3. Indoor plants. Now this really would be a test if I managed to keep plants alive indoors using MooPoo! That would mean remembering to use it, however, and I am notorious for completely ignoring  indoor plants. Others assure me it works like a charm though
  4. Seed transplants. You know how fickle those newly transplanted seedlings can be? Well I used MooPoo on them last year and every one of them survived….which explains why I provided the neighborhood with veggie starts
  5. Bulbs. Soak your spring bulbs and garlic in MooPoo overnight before planting and just see how fast those little shoots emerge!

Still don’t believe me?

My good friend and co-author Christina Salwitz put this video together for rancher and owner Haven Brand Annie Haven. Those of us who contributed are  gardeners, horticulturalists and garden writers. Many of us are also designers. We Moo Poo in our own gardens and recommend it to others.

Ready to buy?


Order here –  get some for you, some for friends and some for those Christmas stockings!

Happy MooPoo-ing

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Enhance your Garden Structures with Foliage


Design by Joanne White

Most gardens contain structures of some sort. Whether a humble garden shed, a child’s playhouse, an archway that leads to the vegetable garden or an old weathered bench these are existing garden elements which we may have to work around since they are too awkward or heavy to move. Make the most of them by adding some personality and framing them with beautiful foliage plants to transform them from a utilitarian object to an important focal point


Design by Carol Ager

Design by Carol Ager

Have you noticed that when you sit in the garden it feels most comfortable to have your bench or chair backed by a hedge, fence or some other structure? We feel less exposed with something behind us and have a greater sense of being within the garden.  I believe gardens should be experienced not just observed and part of that is a physical sense of connection.

Benches are really an example of garden furniture but for the purpose of this post I’m going to include them as a structure – something which has been constructed and although possible to move we usually have a good sense of where we want them so any planting has to take that into account. They are also one of the cheapest garden structures!

With the bench in place consider the plants that will surround it – behind and to the sides. These will help make it feel a part of the garden and act as a picture frame.

The bench above is clearly a focal point in the border, wrapped by a delicious blend of foliage and flowers. Notice how the colors of the surrounding foliage and flowers have influenced the choice of bench cushions. Imagine the scene with only the flowers – the white hydrangeas, orange dahlias and daisies. It wouldn’t be nearly so striking. It is the inclusion of colorful foliage plants that helps transform this simple wooden bench into an intimate space that invites you to linger.

 Garden Sheds

From the garden of Dan and Darlene Huntingdon

From the garden of Dan and Darlene Huntingdon

I am fortunate to have a lovely little cabin in my garden that has served many purposes from summer guest house to wedding registry office and writing studio. It has pride of place in a large border and is surrounded by layers of trees, shrubs and perennials – a focal point in every season.

While we may not all have a garden large enough for a structure of that sort we all need somewhere to store tools, pots, a lawn mower and bags of potting soil. Sometimes the garage is pressed into service but you may also have a simple non-glamorous garden shed. Maybe you can dress it up a little?

I fell in love with the little cabin shown above. Somewhere to keep those gardening reference books handy perhaps, or just sit and listen to the birds while sitting on the deck. Yet picture this without the surrounding leafy trees and shrubs; imagine it just sitting in the middle of a lawn. It would have a completely different feel. The foliage framework embraces the cabin as well as those who pause there.

Archways, Arbors, Pergolas and Gazebos

Leu Botanical Garden, Florida

Leu Botanical Garden, Florida

Careful planning and attention to detail is what transforms an ordinary project into an outstanding one and the example above is a case in point, offering an opportunity to get several great ideas for our own gardens. The gazebo is centered on a paved geometric walkway resembling an intricate mosaic while at each corner post a large planting pocket has been left for the lush, tropical foliage of Philodendron. Without the foliage this structure is imposing rather than inviting.

Leu Botanical Garden, Florida

Leu Botanical Garden, Florida

A friend of mine calls her garden ‘Open Arbors’ because of the many welcoming archways and entrances it contains. The scene above evokes a similar feel. Passing through the open gates and  vine clad archway, you are drawn to the classic white swing nestled within a soft green cocoon, sheltered completely by foliage and flowering vines. It would feel completely different without the foliage  frame.

I hope this series of four blog posts on using foliage to enhance focal points has got you thinking about your own garden. So often we think that adding another plant will make the garden look ‘right’. We keep on adding, when in fact we may need to edit, simplify and establish a focal point which we can then enhance with foliage.

I know you’ll love my new 7 part online garden design course on Craftsy; GORGEOUS GARDEN DESIGN; Foliage & Focal Points. It has many more ideas!


Click on the image for my class details

Click on the image to watch a video trailer, study the course contents, read reviews (all five star) and to sign up. This class will never expire, you can watch whenever you like and as often as you like. You can interact with other students as well as with me for personalized help and ideas. Plus I never age – got to be good!

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Focal Points & Vignettes Using Containers


Whether your container is left empty as a sculptural element or abundantly planted with a colorful assortment of trees, shrubs perennials and annuals, it is unlikely to be seen in isolation. Often they are placed

  • On a patio
  • Within a garden border
  • Adjacent to a path

Look around and behind your container – what do you see?  Is there a colorful shrub or tree adjacent to the container? Are there distant trees – what color is the foliage in spring, summer, fall or winter?

If we take these color and style cues into account when we select plants for the container or the color of the container itself, the overall composition becomes a memorable vignette, not just a container garden. Even a small container can ‘ live large’ when tied into its surroundings in this way.

Foliage as a Backdrop


Sometimes it is only through the camera lens that we really see what works. I tried photographing this purple pot in several locations and from different angles before settling on this one. I needed to achieve two things; have the container be  distinct from the backdrop yet also be visually related to it. Since the pot is only about 18″ in front of the grass that wasn’t easy!

To keep the seriously squished, exuberant planting from being lost  I  looked for a solid backdrop. That didn’t mean it had to be a conifer or hedge but rather that there was only  subtle detail within the backdrop foliage itself. The soft wispy Shenandoah grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) provided a shimmery curtain that set off the bolder textures of the plants in the container.

Since the color scheme of the container was purple, burgundy and silver with a pop of raspberry for accent the burgundy tipped grass tied in perfectly.

Foliage as a Frame


When empty containers are placed in the garden they always seem to look better when nestled within plants rather than standing in a void. I especially like to add foliage plants with soft textures in front of them but take care to tie the colors of the foliage and container together.

In the photo above you can see how the multi-hued leaves of Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Gulf Stream’) repeats the dusky colors of the rustic pot. A cream and yellow striped grass would not have completed the scene so effectively

Foliage as a Color Highlight



This small blue pot is only 12″ tall and wide so I often set it into a border to make it ‘live large’. This fall it is planted with foliage in shades of gold and blue/green, accented with the pink Bud Bloomer heather in the center. Notice the broad leaf perennial at the front which is a blend of pinky-purple and dusky green. That is Burgundy Glow bugleweed (Ajuga repens ‘Burgundy Glow’ ) and was my inspiration for setting the pot within a cluster of Midnight Wine weigela (Weigela florida ‘Midnight Wine’). This adds depth to the colors of the bugelweed and frames the entire scene taking this blue pot from a small focal point into a more dramatic vignette

Foliage as a Seasonal Accent


Learn to observe the changes in the garden and see if you can take advantage of seasonal foliage colors. Here the clay rim of the container is enhanced by the backdrop of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’) in its fall glory. In summer a blue hosta to the front of the pot ties into the main container color.

Foliage sets the Scene

IMG_6715 A tropical design in this container would not have been nearly so effective – or pleasing to the eye as this more naturalistic style. The backdrop of native trees, shrubs and ferns suggested this dwarf maple as the centerpiece (Acer palmatum ‘Redwood’) whose red bark tied into the color of the container itself and inspired the colors of the summer annuals. The container stands out from the backdrop visually yet stylistically it is connected to it.

If you would like to learn more about using containers as focal points in the garden take a look at the course I teach for Craftsy; GORGEOUS GARDEN DESIGN; Foliage and Focal Points


Click on the photo for more details

Next week I will conclude my four part series on using foliage to enhance focal points as I give you ideas for using structures such as arbors. Missed the earlier posts? Enjoy part 1 and part 2 again

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