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  




Fun with the Birds
by Karen Alley - posted 02/25/13

I am a person who loves the smell of a live Christmas tree. Even though there’s a part of me that cringes a little to think a tree was cut down just to sit in my living room for a few weeks, I reassure myself that the tree was planted for that very reason, another will be planted in its place, and I’m supporting a great industry of our state.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to throw it out when Christmas is over. This year, we haven’t even made it that far. The tree has been sitting out on our front porch since Christmas because we haven’t disposed of it any further. We don’t go out that way much so I don’t see the tree often, but the other day I happened to walk by it and it was still green and healthy. Pretty amazing, after almost  two months with no water. I decided it needed to have more of a life than just sitting, neglected, on the porch, so I came up with a great idea, to decorate it with birdfeeders and put it out in the front yard.

First of all, let me preface this by saying I am not crafty. I do not get on Pinterest and get ideas of things to make for my kids. Also, we live back in the woods, so it doesn’t really matter what I do in my front yard, there are no neighbors to offend. Obviously, since the tree has been on the porch since Christmas!


I got the kids to help me gather up some pinecones, and we made birdfeeders to hang on the tree. Just the simple project the kids do in preschool, rolling pinecones in peanut butter and then birdseed. I hung them up with red yard and put the tree in the middle of our front yard.



And I have to say, both the birds and I loved this project. They’ve been coming to dine on a regular basis, and I get a great view from the window of my office. It might become a new after-Christmas tradition!

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Weather Watching
by Karen Alley - posted 01/25/13

Weather Watching

I’m a weather junkie. My husband even says that I have a crush on the weather man, and if I were honest with myself I might have to admit he’s right. I don’t care whether it’s Van Denton or Austin Caviness, I love them both the same. So why am I so fascinated with weather patterns? I can’t really say. But one thing I’ve learned is that gardening and weather go hand in hand.

In the early spring, I eagerly watch the forecasts to see when it will warm up enough for me to plant my fragile seedlings outside. In the summer I’m watching for rain to come and quench my gardens. And in the fall, while I eagerly anticipate the cooler weather and beautiful leaves, there’s a part of me that dreads seeing the first frost in the 7-day outlook, because I know it means the last of my late-summer blooms.

Then we come to winter. Things are pretty slow in the garden right now, but it’s one of the most exciting times for the weather. We can have a high of 65 degrees one day and a high of 34 with a chance of sleet and freezing rain a few days later. And for the most part, I can enjoy watching the weather and even being out and about without worrying about plants, planting or anything ruining my plans to be outdoors. The beauty of winter is that we usually plan to be indoors because we assume it will be cold. So when we get a rare warm day, we gardeners are excited to get a chance to go outside and play.

The past two weeks have been especially exciting with the weather. Last week we had more rain than I’ve seen in a long time. I felt like it rained constantly from Sunday night to Thursday night. Except that on Thursday afternoon that rain turned to snow. Friday morning my kids got a chance to go throw a few snowballs while I knocked the heavy wet stuff off my nandina.



Here's a view of my raised-bed garden. It has great drainage, but even it had a puddle!


And who knows if this lettuce will make it in this container, it has worse drainage than I knew!

Today we had snow and sleet again, but this time I was ready for it. We had plenty of food at the house and no big plans to do anything, so when school was called off at 6 a.m. I was ready for a snow day. Unfortunately it’s the kind of snow day that’s not too fun to play in. So we took advantage of it by playing some Monopoly Jr. and watching a movie. And of course, the kids got their sleeping bags out and had a campout in the hall. It’s the time of year when I can be thankful for a solid house, warm heat, and a beautiful view from my window of nandina, winterberry and bright-red cardinals.

I’ll also be keeping a close eye out on the weather. It looks like next week there are a couple of days with highs predicted in the low 60s. Might be time to get out and do some garden clean up that didn’t get done in the fall!



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Bring It On, Winter!
by Karen Alley - posted 11/06/12

Most of the time I welcome each change of the seasons with open arms. I’m one of those people who can’t say that I have a favorite of any time of year. I love to bask in the heat of the summer, I revel in the changing color of the leaves of fall, I enjoy cuddling up in wool sweaters in the winter and taking walks in the brisk cold, and I eagerly seek out the new blooms in the spring.

But for some reason this year, I was sad to see summer go and even somewhat dreaded fall. The bright colors of the trees just didn't do it for me this year. Instead I just saw my beautiful garden turning brown and the lush trees quickly becoming barren.

But this weekend turned things around. The kids spent an entire weekend with my parents and I cleaned up, inside and out. I spent Sunday afternoon out in the garden, doing tasks that I’ve put off for weeks. I dug up the dwarf conifer that had succumbed to some illness and turned from green and healthy to brown and needle-less in a matter of days. Just looking at it had made me sad, since I picked it out with care for the corner of our house when we did our first landscaping.

I pulled up the last of the annuals that had turned brown with the last couple of frosty mornings. I even pulled up the marigolds that surrounded my vegetable garden, blooms and all. It was time. But I saved plenty of seeds!

I trimmed back herbs and strung some up in the basement to dry.

I found some extra mulch in our mulch pile and covered up the part of the garden the dogs have claimed as theirs, hoping it will cut down on the amount of dirt they track in.






In the end, I felt very productive. Maybe it was the fun of saving herbs for hearty soups this winter or the nice, clean look everything had once I cleaned up, but by the end of the day I was excited about fall again and even ready for winter to come. I can’t wait to see these holly trees laden with bright red berries contrasted against the first snow, which I’m sure we’ll get before Christmas the way this year is going.





I’m putting on a brave face, just like our Jack o’Lanterns decorating the porch, and telling winter to bring it on. I’m ready now!


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