Make a Unique Petite Floral Container

Small floral design is a favorite of many garden club members. Just like fairy gardens and small animal breeds, there is just something about small things that delights. Small designs call for small containers.

Petite floral arrangement containers can be what you find or make. Creativity is your friend for re-purposing what others might throw away, such as a cap off a perfume or shampoo bottle. Or you can make your own containers. Cut PVC pipe can be glued using a water resistant flexible glue to a base of plastic cut to the perfect size from a produce container and then painted to match your imagination.  Testing containers for water tightness is recommended before using a container in a show. If your perfect container does leak, find a smaller waterproof container to hide inside the leaking one so you can keep your design idea intact and still use a container that may have a crack or hole.

pvc glue and plastic container

Oven bake clay can be shaped into whatever you can think of and baked and then painted. Oven bake clay allows for quickly moving from container design idea to the final product ready for your plant material. If you have used the kind of clay needing a bisque fire and then a separate glaze fire before the finished product can be used, you know the oven bake clay technique will be a time luxury. Oven bake clay requires no specialized equipment beyond a household oven. Using a wax paper covered piece of cardboard and a piece of small PVC pipe as a rolling pin, the clay can be rolled out and then easily shaped into a container. Designs can be imprinted on the clay before baking, although too much design on a container can be distracting and cause judges to take points off a design. 

Oven bake clay can also be used to make a base for a container that does not have a flat bottom.

For garden club floral designs, painting white oven bake clay clay after it has been baked is recommended because the color white of the clay tends to draw the eye to it and you want the viewer to mostly be looking at the plant material in the design and having their eye move throughout the design, not focusing just on the container, which might happen if you have a white container. Colors in all parts of a design matter and painting your own gives you absolute control over container color in the design.

Making your own petite containers are easy and fun and allow for more flexibility. Is your garden club looking for a workshop idea? Making petite containers from oven bake clay could be just the thing to energize your members and inspire them to enter a flower show to show off their containers made at the workshop.

Tool Time in the Garden

Favorite garden tools have been a hot topic at local Texas Garden Clubs meetings. While talking about tools, many garden club members from both clubs and their guests shared some gardening tips. You are invited to share in the comments what your favorite tool or garden tip is or one we left out.

Favorite tools:

  • Ratcheting loppers


  • Pruner: many had their favorite, so ask around. Sanitize with alcohol. Keep sharp using a whetstone and condition with oil.
  • Leaf picker uppers
  • Gloves: many gardeners have their favorite brand, so ask around. The gloves sold to work on roses going all the way up to your elbow were a favorite of many.
  • Whetstone for sharpening tools. Learn to use it correctly.
  • Cooking oil spray to put on tools before use for easy shaking off of dirt if you are not big on cleaning tools. Keeping your tools clean is recommended.
  • Bucket or bag of sand with a little bit of motor oil mixed in to clean and sharpen larger tools like shovels or pitchforks
  • Wooden Clothes pins: handy for things like pinning covers over tomato cages
  • Really long tweezers or long needle nose pliers to reach in between cactus to help with grooming cactus beds
  • Long jaws pliers to pull young tree seedlings
  • Garden cart to sit on that has storage for tools
  • Shuffle hoe for weeding
  • String, yarn, those stretchy lingerie straps on women’s clothing used to help secure shirts onto hangers in retail stores that have little use when you own the shirt and seem to forever end up flapping about outside of your shirt causing embarrassment. All can be used to tie plants, like tomatoes. Gardeners are pros at re-using things, which ties in well with the mission of National Garden Club “National Garden Clubs, Inc. provides education, resources, and national networking opportunities for its members to promote the love of gardening, floral design, and civic and environmental responsibility.” And the Conservation pledge “I pledge to protect and conserve the natural resources of the planet earth and promise to promote education so we may become caretakers of our air, water, forest, land, and wildlife.” – accessed January 24, 2020.
  • Japanese weeding sickle. Be mindful there are ones best used by left handed people and ones for right handed people, so shop carefully
  • Plastic flying discs can be used as sliders to help move heavy pots inside and out
  • Kneeling pad/kneelers to increase knee comfort
  • Books! Consult local gardeners for their favorites
  • Reusable leaf bags and the plastic things that hold the top open of bags
  • Use plant labels
  • Plant rosemary in a different location if one dies and you want to replace it
  • Old pill bottles can be used as shakers for small seeds by putting small holes in the lid
  • Heavy duty ice scoop from a restaurant supply store is great for scooping soil, bird seed, etc.
  • Doggy poop bags (unused of course!) are a great size for small amounts of trash or gathering plant material
  • Small plastic bags can be used to protect you from poison ivy oils by putting bag over the ivy and pulling out and turning inside out to close just like surgeons do when removing gloves or like dog owners do when picking up doggy poop in bags.
  • Use bright tape to mark your tools and to make them easier to spot in tool bag or on the ground
  • Use tea bags, coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells in the compost or directly added to soil to feed the garden microbes and improve soil health.
  • Use pecan shells as mulch.
  • Keep a gardening notebook or notepad and always have a pencil handy. Peel off information stickers on pots of plants purchased and put in the notebook for future reference.
  • Store an old sock with powdered sulfur in it in a plastic bag and before going into garden, take the sock out of the bag and bump it around your ankles before going out in the garden in warm weather to discourage chiggers, which are definitely a problem in Texas. Sure, you’ll smell like sulfur, but it beats those itchy chigger bites.


    Be mindful of your health when gardening:

  • Use gloves
  • Wear a hat
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Cover up that skin with clothing or sunscreen
  • Protect your back. Use proper lifting technique. Get help to move heavy objects. Use tools such as plastic discs to move heavy pots.
  • Stay hydrated, take a reusable bottle of water with you
  • Carry a dose of aspirin (3 to 4 of the 81 mg tablets of aspirin, or a 325 mg tablet) with you. Many serious gardeners are of, ah-hem, mature age, and if the signs of a heart attack come on, one gardener said taking a dose of aspirin is what helped her husband save her life, in addition to emergency medical help, which you should definitely get if you think you are having a heart attack. I recommend discussing this recommendation with your physician or pharmacist to make sure it is right for you, including a discussion of the other medications and medical conditions you have. I will add a recommendation to keep your aspirin supply in good dating, store it in a cool dry place, and discard when it is past the expiration date on the bottle. I suggest if you carry a dose with you out in the heat and humidity to garden regularly, go ahead and rotate it out with a fresh batch regularly to make sure it will do its job and will be safe to take. If it smells strongly like vinegar, it is time to rotate it out and discard the old ones. Give your in-date aspirin a whiff so you are familiar with what the normal smell level is.

4 P’s to Garden Success

4 P’s to Garden Success

  1. PLAN:  Make a sketch of your yard and where you’d like plants.  Note the sun and shade spots and how many hours of each.  Is it  full sun all day or only morning?  Then, see what you have and what are you going to buy.  Don’t buy every plant you crave at the nursery. This often leads to a polka-dot garden of onesies, not a coherent landscape. Purchase fewer things in greater numbers to plant in drifts, and repeat elsewhere in the garden.


2. PREPARE: Seventy-five percent of successful gardening is soil.   Proper bed preparation and maintenance will have thriving plants.  Build up the native soil with liberal amounts of organic material.  Work enriched compost into the area when planting and keep beds mulched.  Limit the width of your beds.  Remember you’ll have to crawl in there and weed.  Four or five feet is enough.  If larger than that, you might consider stepping stones. Another aspect to your success is irrigation.  Hand watering here and there just does not translate into healthy plants.  Drip or soaker hoses on a timed system work well.  A sprinkler system would take all the worry away and it’s super easy, just turn it on or have it set to specific days and times.

compost                           soaker hose

  3. PURCHASE: Make a budget and stick to it.  Plant the right plants during the right season.  Draw on Extension recommendations for plant choices or Certified Nursery Professionals.  Aggie Hort is our go to reference.  Texas natives and plants like the Texas Superstars are well adapted to our weather cycles.

4. PLANT: Select quality plant material. Purchase only what you can plant and if you wish to have larger plants, get a professional landscape contractor involved.  Give your plants proper care once they are in the ground and maintain to get established. To have a coherent landscape, plant the same plant in greater numbers to create emphasis on certain colors, textures, and heights.  You’ll often see this in magazines and newly landscaped gardens.  No soldier planting all in a straight row.

fence planting

Must have references:

  • Doug Welsh’s, Texas Garden Almanac
  • Bill Welch’s, Perennial Garden Color and other titles
  • Magazines: “Fine Gardening”, “Garden Gate”
  • Facebook: Texas Gardening
  • On line: Aggie Hort





Calendula oficinalis – Pot Marigold

The Romans discovered that the marigold bloomed on the first day of each month, and named it for the calendar.  Thus, the Latin term Calendula oficinalis.  Oficinalis is the word to indicate “official medical abilities” as accepted in a pharmacopoeia.  Calendula can bloom in Fall, Winter and Spring here, but usually gives up in the Summer.  Note: no part of this article is related to the hybrid marigold.  The word marigold is used interchangeably with calendula.

There are numerous pages written on the medicinal qualities of the calendula, including remedies for various conditions of the skin, Exzema, Inflammation, Bodily Discharges, Sprains, Bleeding, and Mood Elevation.  Culpeper and other seventeenth-century harbalists felt that the use of calendula could comfort the spirit.  He suggested a chest plaster of marigold steeped in lard, turpentine and rosin to ease the heart during intense fevers.  When I was growing up we always had calendula in the medicine cabinet in one form or another, and it was always growing in the kitchen garden.  Henry VIII used marigolds in his personal recipe “Medycyne for the Pestilence.”  In this he used a handful of marigold, sorrel, burnet, feverfew, and a half-handful of that old epidemic standy rue, as well as a few dragons (snapdragons, that is!).  He wrote “This tea, if it is taken before the pimples do apere, then yt will hele the syke person with God’s Grace.”

Marigold flowers were once used to produce perspiration when on the verge of a dangerous illness, particularly during epidemics of measles and smallpox.  Marigold was often used by English country people either in tea form, or as a posset (a drink made with hot milk, and curdled with either ale or wine, sometimes sweetened or spiced.)  The Garden’s Labyrinthe (1577) also describes marigold as a toothache aid – “The juice of the marigold petals mixed with vinegar to be rubbed on gums and teeth becomes a soveraigne remedy for the assuaging of the previous pain of the teeth.”  It was also once considered an excellent remedy for red eyes, and, like the regular marigold, it has been planted in the vegetable garden as an insect repellent for hundreds of years.


Calendula petals are available in dried form, as a tincture, pressed juice, ointment, or lotion.  Use them for a dash of color in green salads, potato or pasta salads and soups.  Or, sprinkle the petals on cake icing for a delightful springtime dessert.  Young leaves are tender and edible, the mature leaves bitter; a few petals in rice color it like saffron, and it can also be used to dye cloth.  According to some sources, Calendula originated in Egypt, where it’s flowers served as the original dye in cheeses.

Easy to grow from seed, this plant also readily self-sows.  A little seed goes a long way – the average number of seeds per lb is 72,554!

(This article is re-posted from an article I wrote in March 2008! but as I just planted some today I thought I’d post again!!!)

New plants for the New Year.

January is a great time to plan your garden & landscape for the coming year.  Many of us feel the “New Year’s” urge to make improvements, both in self and our gardens.

On my plant list this year are (1) some I have never grown before, (2) others I haven’t grown in a long time, and of course some old favorites!  I buy my seeds from many companies, so any labels seen in these photos are not intended to be an endorsement of that particular company – you have to try them all and see what suits you best!

  1.  Among those brand new to me this year are Banana Tree Musa (Ensete ventricosum) as an annual or houseplant, mixed cacti  from seed,  Luffa to make sponges, from seed, and Kumquats from fresh fruit.

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  2. Previously grown in past years include Papalo, (a summertime Cilantro substitute),  Hibiscus sabdarrifa, the dried flowers of which are used to make Hibiscus Tea (Flor de Jamaica), and Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab), the flowers of which can be added to salads for a different taste and as a pretty garnish.

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  3. Tried and true Old Favorites include Lemon Trees from seeds of the lemons I use in making marmalade, and Moringa oleifera, which I am growing from seeds I harvested this year from my own tree.  Moringa bean pods are amazing when dried – great for flower arranging!  Each of my four pods contained 24 – 28 beans and the first ones planted are beginning to sprout.  The flowers are wonderfully fragrant, and the leaves are great on salads, in scrambled eggs, smoothies and many other dishes.


Long before there were gardening books, people had noticed that certain plants did not do well in certain spaces, while others thrived where they were planted.  From this observation grew the concept of Companion Planting, the art of determining which plants “like” each other, and those which don’t!

companion-plants-2 Companions are also used as indicators of disease, as in Europe where the practice of planting a rose bush at each end of a row of grapevines has been followed for years.  If the roses show signs of pathogenic or insect trouble, it alerts the vine grower to check the vines and take appropriate action – a kind of Early Warning System!  Unfortunately, in France this practice is being discontinued by many growers because of a different kind of rose problem – theft!  Under cover of darkness, tourists and natives alike are finding the vineyards a wonderful source of free rosebushes!     Most people have heard about planting marigolds with tomatoes, because marigolds are thought to discourage nematodes, but who pauses to wonder why the marigold can be infested with spider mites, while the tomato might show no sign of them?  Basil and oregano are also widely planted with tomatoes because not only do they grow well together, but some declare the tomatoes absorb a slight flavor of the herbs – perfect for Italian cuisine! companion-plants-3.jpg  Nasturtiums are popular companions in the garden, getting along well with most plants, including tomatoes, squash, and radish, and are very versatile in that they are easy to grow, pretty, companionable, and edible!  The flowers give salads a peppery flavor, and the seedpods are commercially produced as Capers!  According to one published list, lettuce, carrots and radishes make a strong team when grown together, but parsley does not like pumpkin, squash, cucumber, sunflower, tomato or raspberry!  Parsley is happy around beans, corn, cabbage, horseradish, marigold, and eggplant and as a lure for the Colorado potato beetle.
Guate#5.Caoba.2There is little scientific evidence that companion planting “works”, other than the fact that few plants will grow under or near the Black Walnut (Juglans nigra L), because of the chemical produced by the tree, juglone, which is toxic to much plant life; some theorize that the aromatics repel pests, and others that interplanting vegetables with flowers and herbs confuses the non-beneficials so they fly past their favorite host.  These days we don’t have huge areas of garden in which to separate the plants that don’t like each other, but if there is a particular plant which doesn’t do well, pay attention to who it has for neighbors.  Next year give it new friends to grow with, and don’t forget to plant those nasturtiums!


Botanical Arts for Indoor Gardening Fun

Did you  know there is a whole chapter on Botanical Arts in the National Garden Clubs Handbook for Flower Shows?  The chapter is a treasure of ideas of ways to enjoy plants outside of the garden beyond simple cuttings and floral designs.

The National Garden Club Vision of Beauty Calendar has many botanical art examples, including garden landscapes, bonded designs such as plaques and collages, hanging designs such as wreaths, jewelry made of plant material, and hats and dresses. Members can submit images for inclusion in the calendar.

Artistic crafts includes objects with a use which could be just for decoration, but can also be packages, jewelry, things to wear like hats or dresses or shoes, cards, candles, decorated trees, and the list goes on for items the flower show schedule could include. Fresh plant material, dried plant material, pressed flowers and leaves can be used, as well as flowers preserved in a more whole form such as by using desiccant or glycerin.

An artistic craft such as a napkin ring could be included as part of a show in a design section of table settings and add a layer of sophistication to the design for both the viewer and the designer.

Pressed plant material can also be used for artistic crafts and for bonded design types which include collage and plaque. Flower presses can be made with inexpensive materials, including just putting flowers between the pages of a phone book and putting a heavy book on top of it. There are plans for easy to make and inexpensive flower presses on the internet. Seeing how flowers you pressed a week or more ago turn out is a big part of the fun. A bright red flower may turn into a sophisticated looking wine color, like the oxblood lily did in my flower press my father made for me from wood, inexpensive parts from a hardware store, cardboard and paper to absorb moisture (thanks Dad! and thanks Mom! for talking him into making it and for contributing examples for Botanical Art for this blog). Orange and yellow cosmos flowers hold their color especially well when pressed. Experimentation and quantity are encouraged with pressing flowers. Some of the flowers will end up getting pressed in odd shapes or just not turn a good color for what you want to do or get damaged when you make your craft, so try a variety of flowers, press more than you think you will need and include different types of leaves to give you more options. Having a design or two in mind can help you decide what colors you want to collect and how much. Once pressed, their natural form can be used or they can be cut if needed to meet your artistic vision. Making a note of what plant you are pressing on the paper the flowers are pressed between is recommended because sometimes flowers are not as recognizable when pressed, especially if they change color during the process. Collecting when plant material is at its best and dry is recommended, such as late morning when dew is dry and flowers have not faded yet. Collecting for pressing is another way to enjoy the garden and get up close and really look at what you are growing. Protecting your pressed flower art from air exposure will slow down flowers from fading, usually to browns.

Photography is also included in Botanical Arts, and needs to be judged a little differently than most sections in flower show. Details can be found in the Handbook for Flower Shows.

Many of the guidelines and qualities assessed during judging are the same as those for horticulture or design entries. Using design principals will help you with your final product.  The scientific name of the plants are used as part of the entry. No artificial plants are allowed. Plants used should be in good condition and typically damaged plant parts are removed before use in a botanical art piece. With the exception of a category called Exploration-Freedom of Style, treatment such as paint or dyeing is not allowed for fresh plant material, but is for dried material.

Botanical arts are yet another way for us to appreciate plants and nature.