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My Marigold Drive

A patch of marigolds decorates Marigold Drive, near my house on Apple Blossom Road. My neighborhood is pretty adorable in that way – all these nature-inspired street names.

I adore the marigolds. A family of duckling statues hover above in a bird bath. Walking past on the way to the community park makes my day. I lean out the window at the three-way stop as I’m driving to the grocery store. Hey, birdies.

The first year my husband and I lived here, I would tell guests to pass the marigolds, then turn left.

Time passed quickly. On my mid-October birthday, the gardener cut them down. One day they were there; the next day they were gone. Poof. I couldn’t believe it.

I reminisced about the patch with my friend Mary. “Why would you tear down something before it was dead?”

“Are you trying to make a point?” she posed.

“Well, no,” I laughed. “For once I’m only thinking about these flowers.”

So let’s get to the root of the issue. A deeper meaning lies beneath every gardening experience. In this case, the stone edging could not protect the plants from the impending frost. So why watch them wither?

This year I understand, the marigolds only have a month left. Shears will pierce their necks on a solemn autumn evening. Sunlight will touch upon their petals one last time. Perhaps the gardener will display vases of their beaming blossoms in her kitchen. Or they may return to the compost, from whence they came.

Lesson learned – sometimes it’s best to end something that’s already dying. Don’t wait for the brittle stems to catch the wind. Clip the life. Savor it indoors. Share a floral arrangement with a passerby. We plant annuals to share perpetual growth with our neighbors, not loss.

Gardening reminds me that these plant cycles are a part of human life. I embrace growth. Feeling motivated by like minds who do the same. Like those ducklings, let’s hover on the brink of positive change. Every day is an opportunity. Traveling along that path – that’s my Marigold Drive.

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Ode to My Wildflower Garden

‘Tis the season for hacking. No, not internet hacking. I mean, bidding farewell to sunflower stalks and unruly plants that flop down, after one too many storms. This is a tale about wildflower gardening in windy Pennsylvania.

I couldn’t have planned it better – three levels of fennel, queen anne’s lace, and black-eyed susan. A trio of yellow, white, and green. The fennel overhead my two favorite flower types lights up my summer.

Not sure how the neighbors feel about it, but I adore this focal point in my backyard. Along the property line, vegetable plants hug the wilderness. “Thank you for the pollinators,” they whisper.

Last year, my husband and I sprinkled seeds to the wind. We had finally found our suburban plot of land, and we were ready to farm it. Our first herb – fennel. Yes, we decided fennel belonged amidst wildflowers.

Jason said, “I want this to be so prolific, that we regret it a little bit!” During his travels painting barns across the Lehigh Valley, he had collected seeds that struck his fancy. Who knew what their names were; this was a free-flowing experiment.

A farmer slowed him down for a moment. “You know, son, the strongest varieties will win in the end.”

wildflower gardening in windy Pennsylvania
Happy Birthday to me – October 2016.

The first year, our backyard succumbed to this free-for-all. It was quite a sight. To extend the season, Jason cut and displayed them in Mason jars for my birthday.

As the sun set on the first frost warning, I wandered in the dark clipping the last of them. No better way to end the season than with a bucket of beauties…and bugs swarming around the house.

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We discovered, that farmer was right. So long to the mysterious little orange buddies that peeked out last April. This year, the fennel won. Though it was gracious enough to welcome into the family: crazy ladies Anne and Susan. (In fact, the Herb and the Queen tied for first place.)

I’ve come to appreciate simplicity. (This is my version of simple!) I never would have guessed that green and white, with yellow accents, would rule my property. My instinct at a garden nursery is to grab hot red geraniums and spicy orange nasturtiums. These, too, found their way into the color scheme, but there’s something special about classic white.

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There’s also something special in spontaneity.  I didn’t plan for a field of Lace. Yet I did dive into moon gardening magazines in the dead of winter. My moon garden came to life outside the magazine margins.

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My friend Maris and me at the garden party.

At our garden party, Jason and I made s’mores with ten close friends, huddled around our new fire pit. White Queens and Hydrangea glowed in the moonlight. Our volunteer sunflowers bowed down on this glorious scene. And the best part – it was all unplanned.

I wish I was writing this outside. If only I could say that this piece of “garden writing” happened in the garden, notebook in hand, perched on my patio. I’m sorry, the season for wildflowers is coming to an end.

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The Queen rules, then falls.

Thunderstorms are trending in Easton, Pennsylvania. Each time the thunder and lighting visit, the fennel plummets. A storm hits; I trim down the stalks. Another storm hits; I arrange another half-dozen bouquets. Knock, knock on my neighbor’s front door. “Would you like another vase of flowers…and an unwanted squash?”

It was time to hack down the wildflower patch.

Hard to believe that it all boiled down to these two jars. A sample of dehydrated fennel leaves and seeds. In Memoriam – Our Wildflower Garden 2017.


The story continues!

Picture it: a meadow of spring bulbs, followed by a show of summer blooms.

Do you think I should plant spring bulbs in my wildflower garden? If so, which ones would look best and thrive in a field?


Thanks to GrowIt Garden Socially for republishing this post!

Verbena vs. Scaevola: Two Trailing Beauties

One day I was overthinking the verbena and scaevola in my planter arrangements. So I decided to compile my research and ramblings into an article. Before posting it here on my personal blog, I submitted it to our much beloved site Gardening Know How – and it got published! Since I’m constantly looking up how to solve problems (or prevent them) on GKH, I’m excited to finally contribute!

Fellow Gardeners: Do you prefer verbena or scaevola? What are your favorite spillers? Comment below!  


Verbena and scaevola are often paired together at garden nurseries. When you’re shopping for summer annuals, likely you consider a thriller, filler and spiller. For the latter, verbena is popular for its bold round clusters; however there’s also beauty in scaevola’s delicate fanned flowers.

Verbena
Verbena
Scaevola
Scaevola

The similarities between these two nectar rich spillers

Both have a trailing habit, ideal for urns and window boxes. Pouring with petunias and geraniums, these spillers fill out any container. Be sure to deadhead spent blooms – verbena can cut back one fourth of its length.

Average watering is necessary, considering they are drought tolerant and in fact thrive in the hot sun. They do best when forced not to dry. Water when the soil feels a little dry to the touch.

These nectar rich spillers attract butterflies to their blooms and deter deer. While they are favored in containers, they can be used as groundcovers too.

To spread the vines around the rest of your garden, propagate cuttings.

The differences between the ‘Enchanter’s Plant’ and ‘Down Under Dainties’

Verbena blooms in many colors:  orange, pink, purple, red, white, yellow and variegated. Scaevola, on the other hand, only comes in three colors: blue, pink and white.

Verbena prefers poor soil but can use some compost organic material to improve drainage. Scaevola performs best in a commercial potting mix.

Scaevola is also called the “rayed” or “fanned” flower, in light of its blossoms resembling the rays of the sun or a flat fan. In Latin, Scaevola means “left-handed”, symbolizing its one-sided blooms. Verbena means a “leafy branch used ceremoniously or medicinally” in Latin; “enchanter’s plant” is another common nickname. Beloved in homeopathy, verbena officinalis cures nearly 30 health issues.

Verbena thrives in either part sun or full sun; scaevola insists on full sun. A native to the Americas and Asia, verbena is hardy in zones 7-11. Scaevola, nicknamed Down Under Dainties, is native to Australia and hardy in zones 9-11.

Planter arrangements in my garden

I’m easily swayed by spillers, which suit the large concrete urn in my front yard and the 50-inch wide window box hanging off my kitchen window. When met with trays of verbena and scaevola on my flower shopping adventures, I couldn’t resist either of them. I’m familiar with verbena’s need for deadheading, and always found it worth the lush vining blooms.

This is the first time I’m welcoming scaevola in my garden. I think it has a classier, old-world feel compared to verbena. I prefer pairing scaevola with the European geranium – and verbena with the modern, American petunia.

Although I ended up combining the old with the new in my urn. Read more.


Fellow Gardeners: Do you prefer verbena or scaevola? What are your favorite spillers? Comment below!  

Why Mass Plantings Are Beautiful

Considering my last post summarized a flurry of experiences, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what’s really on my mind: LANDSCAPING. More specifically, landscaping with mass plantings.

Creating a piece of art, whimsical yet intentional

Last year I insisted on planting “all the things!” Guess what? It was a mess. I realized that I’ll  likely live many years and CAN plant everything my heart desires – one mass planting at a time. No matter how many old lady seasoned gardeners advised me on this, I had to learn this lesson for myself.

At the flower tent, my new friend spoke of buying at least three of the same plant. “It makes more of an impact,” she said.

Now I’m finally listening.

On a rainy day in early April, I pulled over to the greenhouse closest to my work. Spring fever had hit me; I was dying to plant my first pot of annuals (do you know the feeling?!). This time I had a plan — mainly purple pansies. Not only do they withstand the last frost and even snow (which has been known to fall during April or May in Pennsylvania), pansies are my absolute favorite annual flower.

The shopping experience feels vastly different when you’re on a mission like this. I looked out at the sea of pansies and remember – this year, try a color scheme to pick up the purple shades of salvia and catmint budding in my front yard. I scrutinize every purple pansy in this greenhouse – classic dark with a single eye, a faint shade of lilac, a stray cheery face of bold white and purple, and finally the winner – violas pouring from their pots. I gather these little girls, and the cashier looks down at my boxes and says, “Wow, this looks like a wildflower garden!”

I giggled to myself: After investing all this effort into a traditional planting style, she still thinks my collection looks like a wildflower garden.

Driving home this year with three boxes full of purple pansies (and, I admit, a six-pack of solid yellow ones) paled in comparison to last year’s shopping spree. Rather than glance back at an assorted rainbow of faces in cool mauve and purple & hot red and yellow…I saw the result of several graceful paint-strokes in my backseat. A conscious choice to create a piece of art.

Landscape in front yard
When you look at this landscape, where does your eye go first?
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I bought two batches of pansies because critters (possibly my cat here) ate the heads off ALL of them. Critter Ridder works to keep the pests away. It safely deters them with the smell of Capsaicin, though it does wash away in the rain.

Maintaining a focal point in the chaos

My adventure in May was to find cascading geraniums – adding a European feel to my window boxes. My friend Karyn recommended A&H Greenhouses, which doesn’t even have an online presence (so that was a good sign). Upon my arrival, I entered geranium heaven. Yes, I found my cascading geraniums…but once again I swam in a sea of color. Tall, blooming geraniums lined the back of the greenhouse. True crimson red, red-orange, hot pink, cool pink, coral, lavender, white, multi-color mixes.

FOCUS. Wait, I have a plan. Deep red geraniums for my backyard, to later complement the emerging hot-colored sunflowers, marigolds, nasturtium and Persian Carpet zinnia.

I drove home with four deep red geraniums and one hot pink that I couldn’t resist. As I marched to my backyard, I dubbed this year: The Year of Geranium.

The shed
Red geraniums on the shed, paired with blue lobelia. In the distance, a hot pink geranium is planted in a large terracotta pot.

I love geraniums. They’re a thriller, filler, and spiller all at once. They create ideal focal points for the garden. In my crazy backyard, I’m growing many works in progress – a wildflower garden, vegetable garden, and moon garden. Like a scattered mind, it desperately needs some direction. Among the newly established vegetable sprouts, volunteer sunflowers, spinach and weeds…hangs a red geranium in the arched entrance-way and a matching one perched on a tree stump planter. Despite the chaos, you can’t stop staring at those focal points.

I’m starting to realize that less is more. Hopefully I can be that old lady (of 27) to convince you that mass plantings are beautiful. I’ll try to continue this practice, but my wildflower garden will always provide a home for impulse buys out of my color scheme.

What’s your planting style? Share your thoughts below! 🙂


Thanks to GrowIt Garden Socially for republishing this post!

How I’ve “Leveled Up”

On December 24, I set some lofty goals for the new year. I admit, I was pretty frustrated. After reading about “leveling up” in the bullet journaling community, I realized my life was ready for an upgrade. I asked myself: Will focusing on fewer “trades” bring me true success?

I set these goals for 2017, intending to improve as a writer and a wife:

Good news! I have been rising to the occasion!

While I’ve been slacking on blogging, I have a good excuse: I’ve developed my professional writing in other ways. Soon after ringing in the new year, I landed a freelance magazine writing job for Guerrero Howe Custom Media out of Chicago. And as a result of attending GLVWG meetings, I met a fellow writer who offered me a full-time content writing job for Architect Marketing Institute. Both are creative work-from-home gigs, and I’m thrilled to announce that I can call myself a writer in daily conversation.

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I promised to contemplate my spirituality and my love of literature by memorizing a short prayer and reading it aloud once a month. Honestly…I didn’t do that. Instead I’m using the Calm app to meditate nearly every morning. Plus I’m ticking away at a new reading list. If anyone wants to get together to discuss The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, let me know! (Total coincidence that I quoted her in my Dec. 24 blog post.)

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Thinking more carefully about finances, I ask myself before spending: Would I rather a stranger hand me these pansies or $30? The answer truest to my heart lately is that I would rather have the flowers. The purple color scheme, coupled with pink and yellow accents, in my front yard is delightful. Worth every penny.

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As acts of love toward my husband Jason, I promote his faux finish painting and continue to meal-plan weekly. Thanks to my good friend Ashley who insisted on meal planning, this weekly routine added flow to our life.

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For spontaneous recreation, Jason and I have been spending more time in nature. Gardening feels more like work early in the season, but we’re confident that our landscaping will thrive throughout the year. We took a short trip to Spruce Lake retreat where he and my father-in-law were working for a couple days. Since all I need is Wi-Fi for work, I gathered my computer bag and headed up to the wilderness. In the evenings, we enjoyed chatting on the deck and exploring the walking trails.

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Since Christmas, I treated our home to several houseplants – a peace lily and many more – to clear the air. This week, I added a middle-eastern style table runner to the dining table and a vase of pink and white peonies, which we share with the neighbor. Jason and I already hosted two garden parties this summer.

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Acts of kindness that linger in my mind happened in my final ESL class at Northampton Community College. My students and I openly discussed my need (and our collective need) for growth after I revealed that they would likely be my last class. I told them how grateful I felt that my last group was so lively, friendly, and dedicated. On the last day, they threw me a huge party. I’m forever grateful to have ended my time at NCC on a positive note. We dined on homemade food from the Americas to the Middle East, danced and took selfies. Our personal trainer for the class, Fausto from Venezuela, said to me, “Teacher, remember this moment.” And Fausto, I always will. Thank you for focusing our attention on the present moment even in the face of career changes and grade point averages.

Perched in my new home office I’m still wondering: What brings true success? Comment below with your thoughts.

Gardening is More Than “Something to Do”

I’ve heard several people utter variations of the phrase, “Oh, it’s something to do.”

When I bought pansies last autumn, the cashier in the greenhouse said, “Well, that’ll give you something to do when you get home.”

A family friend spoke of crafting: “It gives me something to do.”

My friendly neighbor responded to my teaching ESL: “That’s interesting. It’s something to do.”

Is boredom trending?

Feel free to wash my dishes or sweep my floor. But we don’t need something to do; we need something to love.

If you need something to love, dear neighbor, join me in my backyard. My husband and I continued to cut down our dormant wildflower garden last weekend. We enjoyed the unnaturally warm weather for one of the last days in February. I noticed that the poppy seeds I had sprinkled underneath the straw had germinated. Visualizing a field of ox-blood red poppies, I felt at peace.

Today, I harvested leeks and parsley from the hoop-house at NCC East 40 Community Garden. My kitchen window welcomed the breeze as I washed the greens in the sink. Cleansing the food that survived the mild winter doesn’t just give me something to do. In those moments of uprooting a leek and rubbing off its dirt, I overlook calling the electric company about an expensive bill. I fall into nature’s balance, focusing on the present moment and appreciating the organic food before me. Mother Nature offers us the opportunity to grow food and flowers and to share those natural wonders with our loved ones.

You, too, have something to love. Though perhaps you’ve neglected it. Wishing to feel productive at the end of the day, we accomplish the bare essentials instead of nourishing our souls. We dive head-first into work and delay what brings us joy.

I understand. My tendency is to call the electric company before taking a three-mile walk. Lately I go through the motions: chores, work, television, and repeat. That’s why I’m making an effort to treat myself.

Life is fleeting. Spot those moments when you’re lacking fulfillment, and fill them with passion.


Thanks to GrowIt Garden Socially for republishing this post!

Friendly Fawns

Experienced July 22, 2014 at Dr. Melinda Toney’s homeopathic healing center in Catasauqua, Pa. 

As I wandered through the naturally paved pathways of Melinda’s outdoor office, I came upon a field lined by a forest. I walked slowly, carrying a cup of lukewarm green tea. Out of the green haze, two fawns ran toward me. We locked eyes. Perhaps my dress, adorned with blurs and splashes of rosy color, reminded them of a familiar flower bush. I may never know. I am almost certain, though, that these fawns approached me to recreate a reunion between long lost friends.

We may have known each other in another lifetime – I thought as they drew closer – but now we were meeting again in this life. The fawns slowed their stroll; I stood still. A few more steps on either of our parts could have given me the gift of touching their supple fur. Instead, I was given a different gift. The fawns cocked their heads to the side and I began to do the same, mimicking their curiosity. Frozen in time, we wondered how and why two fawns and a human ended up within limb’s reach of each other. I broke the silence with a nervous giggle. They stood stunned, shaken by this foreign sound I had created in the midst of their habitat. The two fawns turned to each other as if to say, “We saw her and delivered our message,” and trotted back into their forest.

I stood for a few moments to savor the moment. Smiling wide and looking around for another human to possibly witness it, I made my way to the nearby river to finish my cooled green tea. I circled back to our meeting place. I stood and waited. One of the fawns peeked its head out of the forest and walked toward me again! This time she kept her distance. Yet again we locked eyes.

Then she went home to her companion and perhaps told this same story.

 

 


Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

How It Is

In March 2010, I visited the Tate Modern museum in London. A large steel structure loomed in the center of Turbine Hall, showcasing an exhibit entitled “How It Is” by Miroslaw Balka. This cavernous, industrial space was more beautiful than any “wonder of the world” on my itinerary. My new acquaintance Elspeth and I walked into this chamber, into the darkness. When you go in, you don’t know where you’re going, or why. You just go because everyone else is going. You follow the crowd. You wander through the abyss and hear strange voices, wandering in curiosity but also searching for a familiar sensation. You reach the end of the box and touch the surface before you.

It’s time to turn around.

You turn around and see shadows of people from different walks of life. You cannot see their faces because you are still in the dark. You’ve collectively joined the shadow. But you walk back to the beginning with hope of seeing the world through a new lens. Indeed you do. When you reach the beginning, you peer into the space, which was once a void. The second time, you see people’s faces with a childlike clarity not possible without that initial obscurity.

Like a child on a playground, I said to Elspeth, “Let’s go in again!”

She laughed at me and shrugged.

We ventured inside for the second time, and everything was clear. I saw people’s faces, not their shadows. There was light, in fact perspective, within the chamber’s confines. When we looked back for the second time, I could see why I went there in the first place.

Subconsciously, I learned a valuable lesson that day. Part of the human experience is hovering on the brink. We encounter fresh experiences, which can unnerve or inspire us. Undiscovered territory makes life interesting. While reaching for a familiar friend or at the very least a stable surface in the steel structure at the Tate Modern, I realized that sometimes we must make peace with the unknown.

Sprouting Seeds, Savoring Hope

Sprouting seeds helps me savor the present moment and look forward.

Not long ago, I’d respond to fellow gardeners who would recommend seed starting: “That’s nice, but I don’t have the time.” Then last spring I decided to give seeds a chance. Settling in my new home felt like an ideal time. In our new basement, my husband and I created a make-shift station, florescent lights dangling from adjustable ropes, three shelves, and two plastic curtains to prevent our cat from digging in the dirt. We planted mostly vegetables – six varieties of tomatoes, multi-colored peppers, summer squash, Persian baby cucumbers, broccoli, lettuces, and herbs. Basil and curly parsley grew faster than I anticipated. I grew French marigolds and nasturtium which would protect the vegetables from pests.

March through May, I watered the seeds. As they sprouted, I felt proud and optimistic. Dedicating ten minutes a day to these seedlings caused immediate growth then continual, predictable growth. Soon I realized my dedication was a minor factor contributing to the seeds’ success. Yes, I had bought them, assembled them, and watered them, but they alone possess potential. Harvested from their mothers and fathers, they waited for my simple acts to help them fulfill their destiny. Still, they could have discovered purpose without me; a single seed can easily detach from its parent plant and float to a new destination. I’m humbled to play a small part in nature’s cycle. Mother Nature softly models her virtues – embracing change, letting go, savoring time, and knowing deep down that there is always room for growth.

Mother Nature shows us hope.

Maintaining such faith and hope is easier in the comfort of my basement where a small, sincere effort makes a difference.

I took on more than I could chew in my garden last year. My husband and I transformed our muddy grass into organically-shaped beds – vegetables and wildflowers in the backyard and perennial flowers in the front. Unruly weeds haunt the side of my house, while iris tubers quietly spread underground. The wildflower patch was most successful, and I can figure why. My husband and I spread potent horse manure throughout the space and immediately freed seeds to the wind. Wood shavings grounded the seeds as we accepted their need for independence. When they chose their homes, they clung to the rich soil. We blanketed them with straw and sprayed water on top. Seasoned gardeners giggled at our wild (though prolific) vegetable plants, but they admired the wildflowers growing in their first year. Heirloom Queen Anne’s Lace and Black-eyed Susan took center stage among unclassified blooms. The wildflowers flourished because we set them free with proper tools.

Taking these lessons to heart, I’m organizing my seeds for 2017.

The meme on this page illustrates matter-of-fact optimism.

“Why so optimistic about 2017? What do you think it will bring?”

“I think it will bring flowers.”

“Yes? How come?”

“Because I am planting flowers.”

I relate to the second character in the meme because I’m looking forward to the oval of crocuses emerging in my front yard. I don’t know what 2017 will bring, but I know for sure it will bring flowers.

 

Planning a Moon Garden

I’m paging through a seed catalog while admiring the blanket of snow outside my bay window. We crave this quiet during our daily hustle and bustle. Today’s snowfall reminds me that the color white creates solitude.

To establish such a sanctuary in the spring, I’m planning a Moon Garden. It will feature white flowers that glimmer in moonlight with a supporting cast of soft silvers, purples, and blues. My friend Michael lent me the book The Twilight Garden: Creating a Garden that Entrances by Day and Comes Alive at Night, by Lia Leendertz. As she writes, a garden is “a place of refuge.” Frantically planting vegetable seedlings and perennials last year, I rarely sat back to enjoy my creation. Michael encourages me to set up seating areas. Mine is tucked away in the shade. So the plants in my moon garden need to tolerate (or love) shade. Two white hydrangea bushes already set the scene. Last year, a friend was eager to get rid of the “invasive” ground-cover Lamium, which I planted among young hostas and ferns.

Humidity enhances scents dangling in the summer breeze. Jasmine will climb the fence behind the bench where my husband and I unwind after work. Cloaked by a hedge of lavender, we’ll enjoy privacy outdoors and host small parties.

Here’s what else is on my list:

  • Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is an annual that opens at night.
  • Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum spp.) is a perennial that flowers nocturnally. Each flower lasts for one night only!
  • 4’o clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) open between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera) is a shade-lover that could fill out the hostas, standing out with their frosty leaves and false forget-me-not flowers.
  • Silver ferns (Cyathea dealbata) are other shade-lovers that I’ll plant between the existing green ferns.
  • False Spirea (Astilbe chinensis) looks like a good leafy filler.
  • Columbine (Aquilegia ‘Blue Jay’ or a solid white) might be too bold for my taste. I prefer delicate flowers.
  • Lamb’s Ears, Candytuft, Forget-Me-Not, and White Dianthus with silver foliage are other options for groundcover.

Fellow gardeners: Have you planted any of these? Which shade-tolerant white and silver plants would you recommend? What advice do you have about moon gardening?