Ali Lawrence has been gardening since she was five. She was born and raised in Alaska but now resides in Pennsylvania where her family grows a large garden every year. Her passions include writing haikus and finding new ways to use her essential oils! Read more articles from Ali at and connect with her on Pinterest.


Balancing Your Backyard Making Room for Everyone
by Ali Lawrence - posted 03/29/17

Playground for Kids and garden

I’ve been thinking a lot about changes I want to make to my backyard to make it as usable as possible for everyone in the family. We recently bought a house that has just over a quarter acre of land, which means I don’t have a lot of room.

However, there are some very specific things I do want in my backyard. I want a fire pit, room for a small garden and a playground to keep the kids active and healthy. Research shows that playing outside helps build my kids' immune systems and stimulates their imaginations. I also want some grassy areas where the kids can play. So, how do you balance all of these different needs in one small outdoor space?

Create Zones for Family Members

My first step is to create specific zones that meet the needs of each family member. I know I have a quarter of an acre to work with, so I start out by figuring the amount of space needed for a swing set and sandbox for the kids. Next, I mark the areas outside for some raised garden beds and a little space for the fire pit where the adults will likely hang out often. The leftover space is yard space for the kids to play. I may add more zones later if there is room for them.

Because the space for the kids to play is ample, that leaves me a small area for my gardening —  and I know I have to get creative. Here is my plan.

Use Space Efficiently

There are more than 35 edible plant varieties I’d like to grow this year. With such limited space, I’m forced to come up with some creative ideas to accomplish my goals with my garden.

Raised beds and containers allow me to use the space I have, while keeping the different varieties separated. I start by creating a list of the plants I plan to grow, what type of light they need and where they could most easily grow in my yard. Also, some of the plants I’d like to grow require shade, so those can be planted on the side of the house where there is shade. Other varieties could be included in the flower beds in front of the house, especially ones that look a bit decorative anyway, such as some lettuces.

Grow Up

I’d love to grow some watermelons and squash, but those plants vine and require a lot of room to grow. Normally, growing pumpkins, watermelon, squash and even cucumbers in such limited space would be impossible. But, with the help of some vertical options, I can grow all of those and more. Granted, I do need to choose some smaller varieties when possible, so the fruit doesn’t fall from its vertical perch.

I may add some rectangular planters at the edge of the back patio and use an upright lattice that the vines can grow up. For beans, I can include a tall pole for them to climb. Cucumbers can be planted in a pot and allowed to trail down the sides.

Double Dip

Another idea I had is to create dual zones. For example, I could build a small playhouse for the children and add some edible plants on either side of the door, along with some other plants around the sides and back of the small house. We do have a community area close to our house and I’ve considered getting a grant to build a playground there for the entire neighborhood to enjoy and then I could save our backyard space for my garden instead!

The fire pit area can also become home to some beautiful pots of marigolds.


One thing is certain, the needs of my family will change as the children grow. What works for our backyard today may not work in five years. I plan to adapt my backyard space as needed. When the kids outgrow the playground, it can be removed and replaced with a hammock or small shed turned into a hangout area.

One of the best things about a small yard is that you can get to everything easily and change it as needed without spending a fortune. Whatever the needs of my family, my backyard will continue to be a retreat for us all.

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2017 Philadelphia Flower Show Highlights
by Ali Lawrence - posted 03/14/17

If you're tired of the snow it may be time to take a Holland. The world is full of brilliant colors and sweet smells at the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show. 

Whether you plan on visiting before the flower show ends on March 19th or if you are just looking for some cheerful spring photos to get you through winter, this post will walk you through the highlights of the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show. 

What to See at the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show

Give yourself a full day to take in the Philly Flower Show. First thing I would suggest doing is to mark any studio classes or timed events you would like to visit. Find a list of classes and events here that will take place at the Designer's Studio. You'll want to plan your visit around those classes. They also have other events such as garden teas at certain times that require additional tickets.

Try to go to the show as early as possible to view the main attractions before they get too busy. You'll enter through Hall A to view a breathtaking bridge surrounded by tulips. 

2017 Philadelphia Flower Show Pictures - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

Philadelphia Flower Show - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

The amount of detail put into the show is enthralling. About every half hour a music and light show would go on around the bridge lighting up the entrance display. Behind the bridge was a floating rainbow floral canopy consisting of 6,000 blooms. That's in addition to the 30,000 flowers already in the display. 

Floating floral canopy at Flower Show - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

The designers did a wonderful job at capturing the quaint feel of The Netherlands with creative interpretations of bikes. Speaking of bikes, metal work was a prevalent theme within the displays.

White Pedals - Philly Flower Show - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

Bridges and windmills played important roles in several of the displays, many of which adorned various plants, bringing ordinary objects to life.

Philly Flower Show Landscape Dutch Garden - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

The Dutch Ecodome made its first appearance in North America, brought to the U.S. by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. The Ecodome was born out of the passion of award-winning landscape architect Nico Wissing, who also designed the landscape display entitled "Reconnection." Nico and his team built the structure last year to accommodate EU ministers and agriculture counselors coming to discuss the future of Common Agricultural Policy. The dome is filled with innovations inspired by nature. After the flower show, the Dutch Ecodome will continue to Indonesia.

Dutch Ecodome - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

One of the highlights for me at the Ecodome was talking to Bart Bresser from the Parfum Flower Company who helped put together the Dutch Ecodome. All the plants in the Ecodome traveled from Holland, including a beautiful display of fragrant roses from the Parfum Flower Company. Bresser was a joy to speak with and was happy to answer any questions by visitors. 

Parfum Flower Company - Photographer Alicia Lawrence

Bresser is one of four leading Dutch designers from Holland whose work was displayed at the Flower Show.

The landscape display titled "Reconnection" was designed by Studio Nico Wissing and won The American Horticultural Society Environmental Award along with the silver trophy for landscape exhibits. Wissing's style is all about intertwining sustainable materials with human function and well-being. His landscape was the epitome of what has been called the Dutch Wave Movement, which takes a natural sustainable approach to landscape design. A wooden wicker wound throughout the display in a wave fashion.

Studio Nico Wissing Flower Show display - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

Studio Nico Wissing - Reconnection - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

My personal favorite exhibit from the Flower Show was designed by Robertson's Flowers and Events, which is located here in Wyndmoor, PA, with the theme Bike Ride Over the Canal. It received the best in show award, special achievement award of the garden club federation of Pennsylvania and the Phyllis M. Craig award for demonstrating the best use of color and innovation in flowering and foliage plants.

Robertson's Flowers & Events - Alicia Lawrence Photography

Robertson's Flowers and Events - Photo by Alicia Lawrence

Apart from the main landscape and flower displays, you can find over a hundred vendors that sell everything from lotion to flower-flavored syrups to bronze garden statues. If you like trees, don't forget to stop by Bartlett Tree Experts to answer any tree questions you might have. They were also giving away various rooted tree cutting while I was there. Across from the main halls is the Grand Hall Concourse, where most of the events take place including the Garden Spa (new this year) and Butterflies Live! (additional $5) where you can go into a canopy area where hundreds of butterflies are floating around. There is no time limit but you probably would only spend around an hour in the area playing with butterflies and learning about different plants that attract them. 

Butterflies Live! Flower Show - Photo taken by Alicia Lawrence

One of the benefits of the Flower Show that not many visitors take advantage of is talking to the leading designers and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society members in the information booths to give advice and tips to Pennsylvania gardeners. 

I asked one of the members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at the information booth what plant is one of the best plants for PA residents. She said the native Oakleaf Hydrangea was a popular choice in the 2017 PHS Gold Medal Plants exhibit. Each year, PHS displays plants for zones 5-7 that are renowned for their year-round beauty and hardiness. The Oakleaf Hydrangea produces tiny clusters of white flowers that resolve to light pink. The foliage also changes colors through the season. These plants can also be purchased the Flower Show.

There is so much to see at the Flower Show so below I've included a few other highlights in pictures.

Designer's Studio Flower arrangement - Alicia Lawrence Photography

Flower Exhibit - Photographer Alicia Lawrence

2017 Flower Show - Photo by Alicia Lawrence

Design Gallery Centerpieces - Flower Show 2017 - Alicia Lawrence Photographer

Pink Champagne Orchids from flower show -Photo by Alicia Lawrence

Landscape Design - photo by Alicia Lawrence

Burke Brothers Landscape Design/Build - Photo by Alicia Lawrence

Keep up to date with my garden adventures on Instagram, click here to view.

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Inside Look at Philadelphia Flower Show 2017
by Ali Lawrence - posted 03/08/17

tulips flower show in philadelphia

I'm bursting with excitement for this weekend's trip to Philadelphia to see the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show. This year's theme is Holland: Flowering the World which will transport you into the Netherlands.

You join my tour of the flower show on SnapChat or Instagram. Be sure to follow me by this Saturday morning on March 11th so you don't miss the live video and photos. I'll also be posting a follow-up article here on Pennsylvania Gardener Magazine next week. 

For those interested in experiencing the magic in person, you can buy tickets here for the Philadelphia Flower Show. The show runs from Friday, March 10th to Sunday, March 19th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. 

There are three international designers at the flower show:

1) Bart Hoes with his style of growing edibles in combination with perennials and bulbs. 
2) Nico Wissing who designed the Ecodome at this year's show that will feature sustainable Dutch practices.
3) Carrie Preston who has recreated a classic Dutch "stinze" garden.

You will also want to check out The Hamilton Horticourt where you can view succulents, orchids, bulbs and variety of other plants that will be judged. At the back of B Hall, you can join the Gardener's Studio to listen to presentations covering topics from bees to bulbs. To see what young gardeners have in mind, check out the Educational Exhibit.

In addition, the Philadelphia Flower Show offers several unique experiences for all ages:

1) Teddy Bear Tea: Bring your child to the this adorable tea party on March 19th starting at 11:30am. There will be petite food and children's entertainment. (Separate ticket is required and must be purchased online.)
2) Garden Tea: A peaceful and delicious way to spend an afternoon. The Garden Tea is already sold out but availability might change so visit them at the flower show to double check. Two times are available daily.
3) Garden Spa: A new addition this year! Take a break from walking and enjoy healthy concoctions, facials, and massages. Offerings differ each day so check their site for details. (Separate ticket is required and may be purchased at the show or online.)
4) Make and Take: Great for kids and adults, choose to make a flower crown, miniature bulb or succulent garden. (Separate ticket is required and may be purchased at the show or online.)
5) Early Morning Tours: These VIP experiences are available from March 13-17. (Tickets should be purchased online ahead of time as this sells out quickly.)
6) Butterflies Live: California's SkyRiver Butterflies created this interactive exhibit for all ages. Visitors will learn about butterflies, pollination and native plants that attract butterflies.
 (Separate ticket is required and may be purchased at the show or online.)
7) Flowers After Hours: Join the Philadelphia night life at the flower show through the I Love the 90s event Saturday, March 11 at 9:30pm. Purchase tickets here.

You can feel good about purchasing tickets at the Philadelphia Flower Show since the proceeds go to benefit the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.


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