Karen Alley has been working with Carolina Gardener Magazine off and on for 10 years, but reading and writing about wonderful gardens doesn't automatically make you a gardening expert! While a passion for gardening has been a part of her personality since childhood, she will vehemently profess to not knowing much when it comes to the ins and outs of designing and creating beautiful landscapes, yet the desire is definitely there. This blog will follow Karen's adventures as she continues landscaping a relatively new landscape and starts a vegetable garden in a beautiful raised bed built by her husband.

Recent Blog Posts

Aug 26
The Summer of Rain  

Jul 18
Outsmarting the Varmits  

Jun 27
Trial and Error  

Jun 13
Second Time’s the Charm   (2 comments)

May 02
Full of Hope  

Apr 19
A Fresh Start  

Feb 25
Fun with the Birds  

Jan 25
Weather Watching  




The Summer of Rain
by Karen Alley - posted 08/26/13

This summer, it seems like all anyone has talked about is the rain, and yes, I'm adding to it.

I can’t tell you for sure how much rain we’ve had because I don’t have a rain gauge. But I know that all over the Carolinas, it’s been a rainy summer, breaking records in some areas. Everyone has their stories about how the rain has affected their garden this year, and I have plenty of them. Our little creek has turned into a rushing river, the bean seeds rotted in the ground the first time I planted them, and the cucumbers are growing as big as my arm.

But that’s not why I had to add to the conversation about the rain with another blog on the topic. The thing that drove me to blog on the summer of rain is my cosmos. It’s got to be at least 6 feet tall, if not taller! Granted, I know cosmos gets tall, especially by late summer. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen it this tall, and I’ve planted those seeds for many a summer. Some of the blooms are so high I’m reaching up to cut them. I just can’t get over it.

The rainy summer has caused some problems. My kids would tell you they didn’t get to the pool as much as they would have liked. The zinnias, which have produced bountiful numbers of beautiful flowers, are not that easy on the eyes when you get up close and see the powdery mildew all over their leaves.


And my mums, well, they only reason I’m leaving the decaying brown stems up is because I’m hoping for a great show of yellow flowers in a couple of weeks.





But you won’t find me complaining. I’ve been cutting flowers to take to my grandmother for 6 weeks straight now, we’ve had more beans and cucumbers from our garden than ever before, and our front yard is finally a sea of green rather than a patchy brown eyesore. Granted, some of that green might be weeds, but I don’t care at this point. I know the rain has helped the grass that’s there grow some really strong roots, and it will only get better from here.









This week marks the first week of school, and the pool is now officially closed. My kids can swim their hearts out next summer. As for me, I’m glad to be heading into September with a lush green lawn and no worries about water restrictions.



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Outsmarting the Varmits
by Karen Alley - posted 07/18/13

Just like every year, there have been both successes and failures in my garden. But one of the great successes this year is the beans. It’s something I’m even more proud of because of our complete lack of beans last year.


I have to admit, this is the one crop that I have really paid attention to this year. Two years ago, in my first garden, we got a few beans but my plants didn’t grow well. So after asking our expert, Dick Bir, I gleaned some information that I stored away. Namely, that beans plants like some space to grow and don’t like competition. What does that mean? I was more diligent in thinning them out as they grew earlier this spring, and worked hard at keeping the weeds out. (I still have had quite a few Japanese beetles, but while they've made some holes, they didn't devour the whole plant!)

















Last year, I didn’t get a chance to try these cultural tactics because rabbits ate my plants as soon as they sprouted. Three times. I eventually gave up on planting. This spring, I was determined not to let the rabbits win. I paid close attention to Stacey Libbert’s article on keeping rabbits out of the garden in our June issue, and did a few things she recommended. I planted the beans up at the edge of the garden near the driveway, which is the side that’s a raised bed. On the side near the woods, where I often see rabbits, I put corn, hoping to have planted a “natural fence.”

Of course, the corn didn’t get high for a while. So I also invested in an organic deer and rabbit deterrent, which I mentioned in a previous blog. It’s basically rotten eggs. I routinely sprayed once a week for about a month.

I have also noticed quite a few holes between my garden and the woods. So I can’t take all the credit for outsmarting the rabbits. I may in fact have some snakes who have helped my cause this year.

Whatever the reasons, I have ended up with a crop of beans that I am proud of. I have already put away four meals worth in the freezer and we’re eating them fresh for dinner way more than the kids would prefer. Now I’m just waiting for the tomatoes to get ripe. Because what says summer better than a plate full of green beans and sliced tomatoes straight from the garden?

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Trial and Error
by Karen Alley - posted 06/27/13

I love flowers and I love to plant things. But I’ve never been formally trained in design, and I also am building my garden as I have time and money. So there isn’t really a grand scheme. I plant what I find on sale or what people give me, and it has kind of worked out. I say kind of because now, four summers into my little patch of what I call a “modified cottage garden,” there are things I like, and there are things I would like to re-do.


Here are a few of my successes and what you might call “errors.”


First of all, I love getting a few plants from Proven Winners each spring. They let garden editors try out some of the annuals that will be on the market the next year. I usually trust them to choose plants that complement each other. After all, they are the professional garden designers here. This year, I was a little surprised at the colors of supertunias they sent, I went ahead and mixed them up in my containers. At first I was wary, but now the color combination is growing on me. Maybe it wasn’t what the designers had in mind, but it’s been a colorful way to cheer up our entryway this summer.


Another combination that has been a pleasant surprise is this coreopsis blending in with my purple verbena. Last summer, the first for the coreopsis, it barely made it over three inches tall with very few blooms. But now that it’s more established, it’s growing well, almost as fast as this verbena that’s threatening to take over the garden.


Another plant I love is this balloon flower. It’s so much fun to watch it burst into bloom, and it’s big and colorful. But not big enough. At the time I planted it my garden was smaller, I guess, but now this flower is hidden behind a towering purple coneflower and a ‘Going Bananas’ daylily that is living up to its name. Maybe I’ll move it somewhere this fall where it will be seen more next summer.


Overall, I’m very happy with my haphazard design. It is fun to see everything grow and watch how combinations work. Maybe someday I’ll be more worried about making a design and seeing it through, but for now, my garden suits me just fine.

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