Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

How to Make a Garden Gazing Ball

I used to think garden orbs were a little kitschy until I decided to make one myself. Every gardener personalizes their garden in their own way and it seemed like it was time for a garden orb in mine.

My gazing ball

My gazing ball

Gazing balls, garden orbs, gazing globes, and garden balls are all names for a shiny sphere that adds an element of color or reflection to a garden space. They can be made from a number of different materials in a variety of sizes, but for mine I used a bowling ball that I purchased from a local secondhand store.

The first step is cleaning the ball. I used isopropyl alcohol to remove years of bowling alley oil and palm sweat from the ball.

Cleaning the ball

Cleaning the ball

Second, the finger holes and engraved letters need to be filled. I used wood putty. Not all wood putties are the same; some aren’t intended for large holes and will crack when dry. I used a wood putty formulated for filling gaps with minimal shrinking and cracking. You can also use plaster or caulk.

Using putty

Using putty

You want to leave one hole open for mounting the ball in your garden. I left the thumb hole open because it’s larger than the others and gives more options for mounting.

To reduce the amount of putty I needed, I filled each finger hole with rolled newspaper first. This left a depth of about 1/4 inch to fill rather than the original two-inch hole. You may need to do this in a couple steps. Fill most of the hole, let it dry and then add a final fill.

Filling space with newspaper

Filling space with newspaper

After the putty dried I sanded it. The idea is to have the filled hole flush with the exterior curve.

Sanding the dry putty

Sanding the dry putty

After driving a length of rebar into the ground I set the thumb hole on it and began painting the ball. Be sure to choose an exterior paint because the orb will probably be exposed to weather outside. For this ball I selected a metallic gold paint.

Using spray paint

Using spray paint

For extra weather protection you can cover the ball with polyurethane after the paint dries. You need to use spar varnish that is specifically formulated for exterior use. Simply brush it on the entire ball.

Spar varnish for exterior applications

Spar varnish for exterior applications

At this point you can consider the project finished and display your shiny, colored ball. My problem is that many used bowling balls have gouges and scrapes that detract from the smooth, shiny surface I desired. For this gazing ball I opted to add color and texture with the addition of colored glass stones from a craft store.

Using a clear, exterior grade caulk, glue the glass stones to the ball. It just takes a dollop of caulk. Press the stone to the ball firmly. The weight of the glass will cause it to slide down the curved surface if you don’t hold it in place for many minutes. I found that a large rubber band placed around the middle of the ball not only marked a straight line, but also helped hold the stones, reduced their slide, and didn’t require me to waste time applying continual pressure.

Placing the first stones

Placing the first stones

You’ll need to let the first layer set up and dry before moving on. The weight of more than one row will be too much for the rubber band and many pieces will drop off, but with the first row intact it provides an anchor for successive layers. After a few hours of allowing the caulk to set it should be strong enough.

Continue adding rows of stones. I found it best to do two or three rows at a time and let the caulk set before moving on with more rows. After the upper half is dry, turn the ball over and finish the second hemisphere. I used an egg carton to support the ball while I was working but a large bowl, pan, or wood template would work too.

Covering the ball with glass

Covering the ball with glass

This project took about four days to complete with me completing layers periodically through the day.

When the entire ball has had a few days to dry completely it’s ready to place outside. Rebar is an easy mounting rod. Galvanized pipes can be used and can be painted to match the ball. Copper pipe adds a nice touch and brings an eclectic look when is develops a patina.

Their is no limit to the colors and designs that you can use to make gazing balls. After the gold ball with colored glass I made a silver one with clear glass stones.

My silver gazing ball

My silver gazing ball

Next I’ll break up an old mirror and grout the edges after mounting the pieces to the ball. It will be a truly reflective orb.

With a little imagination, a bowling ball, and minimal crafting skill, you can have a gazing ball of your own.


More Gifts for Gardeners

Gardeners are a giving group. As the growing season progresses, we’re more than willing to share our flowers, produce, seeds, and advice to anyone willing to partake. We give our time, labor, and effort to build gardens and grow plants of every type. After giving so much during the growing season, it’s nice to receive thoughtful gifts during the holiday season.

In my previous article I discussed some of the simple items and tools that many gardeners might like to receive. There are many other potential gifts for the gardener in your life and today I propose a few more.

Two gift ideas top the list and are quite obvious, as I was reminded when the last article was published. Plants and seeds are the basic ingredients that make what we do possible. They’re the foundation of the garden and few gardeners would refuse them. The hardest part is trying to figure out what to give.

The easiest way to do give green is with a gift card or gift certificate from a local nursery. Many gardeners go over budget at planting time because there’s always another plant they’d like to try. Being able to make those purchases without budgetary concerns is a great gift.

While I’m not a fan of gift cards normally, I recommend this method because gardeners can be picky about their plants. A plant given with the best intention may not be appropriate for our specific gardens. While orchids are beautiful, I don’t have the facilities to grow them properly and while the gift of a live plant would be appreciated, the plant would begin a lingering death as soon

as I touched it. Many other plants that can be purchased from catalogs won’t survive my dry, hot summers or harsh winters. For gardeners like me a gift certificate makes more sense.

Seeds are a better option than live plants at Christmas because there are many more to choose from and they won’t die before it’s time to sow. I recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( and Territorial Seed Company ( as good online sources. Take the time to determine if the plant that comes from the seed will survive in your region before buying. For the best success, select seeds that you know your gardener already grows.


Seeds can be a good gift

Another basic, yet great, gift is a book about gardening. I have a pretty substantial gardening library, but there are always new books coming out with new ideas and techniques and I’m always willing to learn more. If your gardener has expressed interest in a particular type of gardening, find a book on that subject. Lasagna gardening, square-foot gardening, hydroponic gardening, roof gardening, container gardening, and bio-dynamic gardening are just a few of the topics that would be new to even experienced gardeners.

There are many great reference books that should be part of every gardener’s library. Here are a few: “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants” from the American Horticultural Society; “National Garden Book” from Sunset Magazine; “The Practical Gardener’s Encyclopedia” from Fog City Press; Reader’s Digest “Illustrated Guide to Gardening”. These are just a few of the books that I reference regularly.

For a flower gardener interested in beginning to grow vegetables, buy a book on vegetable gardening. For a vegetable gardener buy a book about flowers. For all gardeners, buy a thorough book on composting. I’d suggest you take a look at the books they already read and enjoy for an idea of appropriate subjects, and so you don’t duplicate any.

Magazine subscriptions are another nice option for readers. I subscribe to eight different magazines and go to the library to regularly read the ones I don’t get. I prefer sitting in my own chair, in my own house, when I settle in to read and look at the great garden photos so a subscription is better for me. One of my favorites is “Garden Gate”; it’s well written and always has information appropriate to my gardens. Another good mag is “Horticulture”; the photos are amazing, though most of the articles are written for gardeners who don’t live in the mountains. For Western gardeners, “Sunset” focuses their gardening articles to regional specifics, though gardening is just one part of the magazine that also includes sections on travel and cooking.

“Gardening How-To” magazine is a nice resource for gardeners, particularly new gardeners. It is written for the entire U.S. with some region-specific information. It’s produced by the National Home Gardening Club, of which I am a lifetime member. Membership in the club includes the magazine and access to their very informative website. The gift of membership might be a good idea. Check them out at

While I proposed garden art in the last article I neglected to mention the most basic decorative garden component. Pots and planters are readily available year-round and easily used by gardeners. A pot that is brightly-colored, uniquely-crafted, or over-sized can look great as a garden focal point. Pots can be moved around by the gardener until they find the proper home and there are always enough plants to fill them. Even if your gift ends up in a hidden garden corner you can expect that it will be used.

The pot makes this garden art more unique

The pot makes this garden art more unique

If your gardener is a social animal or you would prefer they leave the house occasionally, consider giving the gift of club membership. Many cities have gardening clubs and they usually have a membership fee. Sign your gardener up. Locally we have an Iris Society, a Rose Society, and a Horticultural Arts Society. There are neighborhood garden groups. There are volunteer gardening groups for schools and churches. Do a little research and see if there’s a group, club, or society that matches your gardeners strengths.

While I could spend a great deal of time listing the great power tools that I’d love to own or the large structures I’d love to build, every gardener is different and my desires may not be ideal when it comes to your gift purchases. Take a look at your gardener for the best gift ideas. If he’s always complaining about his torn jeans, buy him a new pair. If she keeps harping about the weeds or an area that needs to be cleared to make a garden bed, give the gift of your time in the garden.

The best gardening gifts are the ones that come from the heart. Taking a little time to ensure your gift matches what your gardener needs will make your efforts memorable and welcomed. While the tools are nice, the books are good, and the seeds will grow, it truly is the thought that counts.

Gifts for Gardeners

Gardeners are pretty easy to please. We find enjoyment in getting our hands dirty and find that the simplicity of nature can be quite beautiful. While there will always be an expensive plant or tool that we drool over, inexpensive and thoughtful gifts are usually very welcome.

For those looking for a welcomed gift for a gardener friend or family member, the following suggestions should help you make a wise decision. Be aware that a good gift doesn’t need to cost much and each gardener’s personal tastes and gardening methods should be taken into consideration when choosing. There are some snobby gardeners out there, but most of us aren’t.

At the top of my list is a good hat. Granted, we can be vain and picky about our wardrobe and selecting the perfect headgear is important, but if your gardener doesn’t wear a hat they should. The sun can be very damaging and my own skin cancer attests to the worst-case scenario. A wide-brim hat needs to be on every gardener’s head. A gifted hat can change the way they garden and could save their life.

My favorite garden hat

On a lighter note, the gift I always look for in my Christmas stocking is a nice pair of leather gloves. While I enjoy the feel of warm soil on my fingers, I wear gloves for most of my gardening tasks. Digging, weeding, constructing, and clearing brush are all tasks that are made easier while wearing gloves. I will buy a three-pack of cheap cloth or cloth-leather gloves for a few bucks, but laying down a couple sawbucks for a nice leather pair doesn’t happen often. When I have a good set I’ll use them until they’re worn out. That’s why I hope for a new pair at Christmas each year.

These gloves are about done

My shed and garage are filled with garden tools, but most of them are still the ones I bought when I first began gardening years ago. And back then I didn’t really know what I was doing so cheap tools seemed a good choice. I still make do with hand tools that have broken handles, bent spines, or dull edges. It makes sense to buy new ones, but that’s too much effort. A gift isn’t any effort at all.

Pruners are a good example of a tool that many gardeners need upgraded. There are many wonderful hand pruners that are ergonomically designed with cushioned handles. Deadheading and small pruning chores are easier when the tool is comfortable. A little information about a gardener’s personal preference can help when choosing hand pruners. There are basically two kinds: bypass and anvil. While each type has its purpose and usefulness, some gardeners have a clear preference. For pruning live plants, I prefer bypass pruners because I think anvil pruners can damage plant stalks and stems. Luckily many stores sell hand pruners with both types packaged together.

A couple of uncomfortable bypass pruners

Trowels are another common gardening tool that may need an upgrade. A good quality hand trowel can last a lifetime, but few of us have one. I have different trowels and they all have problems. My favorite, with a nice, wide, padded handle, was discovered by Lily the Lab when she was a puppy; the handle is now chewed up. On another, the wood handle has separated from the metal blade and I spend as much time sticking the two pieces together as I do digging in the soil. A sturdy, ergonomic trowel would be nice to have. There are skinny trowels and wide trowels and they all have a use.

A good trowel is hard to find

I discovered a wonderful weeder years ago and remarkably I’m the only gardener I know who owns one. It’s a stirrup hoe, also called a Hula Hoe. It’s amazingly easy to use and removes small weeds below the soil surface. Every year I use it when weeds begin to sprout. It eliminates most of them before they become a problem. It’s a tool I think every gardener should own.

Stirrup hoes are great

Another nice tool is a dandelion weeder. It has a forked tongue on a long, narrow spine designed to dig along the root of dandelions and pull out the entire plant. It works. You can find them with handles long enough to use while standing, but I prefer the hand-size ones. They are great for dandelions and many other long-rooted weeds. Every gardener should have one.

Dandelion weeders work well

Many other garden items are nice to have, but seldom purchased by the gardener. I’m always in need of plant markers. Galvanized metal ones with zinc or copper nameplates are very attractive, but I haven’t purchased many because they’re a bit extravagant. I own a few, but find myself using cheap aluminum or plastic ones. If I had more of the fancy ones I’d use them.

Cheap plant tags don’t always look good

Plant ties are similar. A twist of twine is all that’s needed to hold a plant to a stake, but I recently saw Velcro plant ties. They’re reusable, strong, and a great idea. For a gardener who wants a fancier plant tie than twine, Velcro could be the answer.

The simplest items can be the most useful. I never seem to have enough staples in my garden. I’m talking about the galvanized metal staples that are six or eight inches long. I use them to hold bird netting, soaker hoses, and plastic row covers in place. By the end of the season many of them “just disappear.” Very inexpensive, they’re a wonderful stocking stuffer.

Staples have many uses

I tend to think that a gardener can’t have too many bird feeders. While some gardeners don’t want birds in their garden, I do. I have hummingbird feeders, and suet feeders, and seed feeders. Especially in winter, birds can use the thoughtfulness of a gardener who supplies free food. Bird feeders can be simple or fancy and in all cases can be a nice gift.

Decorative bird feeders look good

I love garden art, and I do think that is one thing there can be too much of in a garden. But a few tasteful pieces can be fun and add character to a garden. Last year my wife got me a nice, welded iron, tricycle plant stand. It blends nicely with the other scattered pieces of art in my landscape and I think of her every time I see it.

A nice sight in the garden

There are many catalogs and stores brimming over with wonderful gift ideas for gardeners, but it’s often hard to choose the right gift. The suggestions above are just some of the useful garden items that make my gardening experience better and can make your holiday shopping easier. Gardeners aren’t hard to buy for and we’ll accept anything useful in the garden.

Recycle Wine Bottles with a Garden Border

It’s easy to recycle wine bottles in the garden. I pondered about the best way to combine two things that I enjoy… gardening and wine. Creating a garden border with the empty bottles is a great way to recycle and create a unique visual accent.

A wine bottle garden border

My wife and I share a bottle of wine on our Friday date nights and I save the bottles. The empties multiplied in boxes stowed in a shed while I decided on the best way to recycle them and after a few years the wine bottles needed to be used before we were overrun by glass. Many bottles can make a long garden border and I have a big garden.

A wine bottle border is long-lasting, colorful, distinctive, sturdy, and can even repel gophers and moles (more on that in a minute).

The process is easy: dig a hole and put in the bottle. Digging a trench makes the process a little faster and more uniform as you place the bottles side by side. Digging individual holes adds a slightly more random look.

Bottles placed before digging

Wine bottles come in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. Depending on which wine you drink you may have many similar bottles or many different bottles. Wine bottle borders can reflect your personal tastes in wine and gardening. Using the same kind of bottles can make a border of consistent and vibrant color. A more eclectic design comes when you mix shapes, sizes, and colors.

There are no rules when creating recycled art in the garden. Burying the bottles with the bottle top in the hole and the bottle bottom above the soil allows the widest part of the bottle to define the border. Placing the bottles with the open end up creates a slender profile. Mixing the orientation combines both aspects.

Burying the wine bottles with the open end facing up can even repel burrowing creatures. The concept is that when wind blows over the bottle top it creates a tone, like the music from a jug band. This creates noise that vibrates through the soil. The theory is that this random annoyance repels animals sensitive to sound, namely gophers and moles. I’m not aware of any studies on wine bottles repelling animals, but the idea seems plausible.

My gopher-deterring border

I’ve buried hardware cloth beneath the fence around my garden in an effort to keep gophers out. If weird soil noises keep any brave gophers from exploring weaknesses in the buried metal fence, I’m all for it.

Removing the label beforehand makes for a cleaner look. Soak the bottle in water to loosen the label. Some labels only need a few minutes in water while others need hours. Some labels are plasticized and come off in one piece, others need to be scraped with a knife or thumbnail to remove the paper and glue. It’s not hard work but it may take a little time. I placed a number of bottles in a large bucket filled with water to hasten the process.

Bottles ready for soaking

When deciding on creating a wine bottle garden border keep in mind that the bottles are made of glass and broken glass is not a good soil amendment. Consider placing the bottles in an area that is not exposed to activities that could break them.

Spots that border the lawn and could interact with lawn mowers and trimmers pose possible breakage. Spots that border walkways raise potential of someone kicking or tripping over the bottles. Spots that border children’s play areas pose risk for the kids.

I’ve placed some of my bottles in a border around my perennial vegetable bed, the asparagus and rhubarb. That bed isn’t tilled and the soil isn’t disturbed so the bottles are safe from potential damage. It also sets that bed apart from the rest of the garden, defining its uniqueness.

My perennial bed border

Other bottles can be used to make a garden border, but they may be more susceptible to breakage. Wine bottles are thicker than most beverage containers and can handle great pressure. Beer bottles can look great as a border, but they’re made with much thinner glass and can break when exposed to sun, wind, and hail. Plastic bottles won’t hold up to weather and don’t look nearly as good either.

So if you have a lot of wine bottles or have the potential to collect a lot of wine bottles, consider making a garden border. You’ll probably be the first in your neighborhood to have one.

How to Make Seed Balls From Recycled Paper

Making seed balls is a great garden project for gardeners of all ages. A seed ball is a small object that packs seeds together with a growing medium for planting. The concept is accredited to Masanobu Fukuoko, a Japanese farmer and philosopher who developed the basic formula of mixing clay with humus or compost, and seeds. The balls can be sown in a “natural farming” method where soil tilling isn’t necessary. The seed balls are thrown or laid on the soil and nature’s rains dissolve them to reveal and germinate the seeds.

Last week I wrote about “seed bombs” and how to make them. Seed bombs are essentially seed balls with a sometimes nefarious purpose. The clay and compost balls are tossed into vacant city lots or barren fields and flowers and grasses sprout depending on the seed in the seed bomb.

For a more aesthetic seed ball, a family gardening project, and a fun gift idea, consider making seed balls from recycled paper. Instead of clay and compost, paper holds the seeds together in the ball.

Paper seed balls

When water is added to paper it can be pulverized to a pulp. Seed is mixed with the paper pulp and turned into seed balls. These seed balls can be formed into many different shapes and made in many different colors.

To make the pulp you’ll need a blender or food processor. I recommend using one that is old and not regularly used for your meals. Inks in the paper will be transferred to the plastic and are hard to clean. I purchased a used food processor from Goodwill for a few dollars. It’s now dedicated to the task of making seed balls.

The paper needs to be torn or shredded before adding to the blender. If you pack in a wad of paper and then add water you’ll probably burn up the motor pretty quickly. Smaller paper pieces work better.

I began with four full sheets (four pages each) of newspaper and ran the newspaper through my paper shredder. I’ve also used shredded bills and junk mail to make seed balls. The shredded paper breaks apart easily in the blender when water is added.

Working in batches, put the torn or shredded paper in the blender and add water. I’ve found that soaking the paper in a tub of water before adding it to the blender helps it break apart easier. Even if it was soaked beforehand you’ll still need to add water to the blender.

Shredded paper in the food processor

We’re talking about a lot of water. The four sheets of newspaper required cups and cups of water. I tried measuring to develop a precise recipe but stopped after the first batch. A couple handfuls of shredded paper required more than two cups of water.

The paper needs to turn into a mushy mash. The blades of the blender or food processor will rip the paper into shreds only when it is overly saturated. If you don’t use enough water you’ll get a clump that just bounces around the blender or stays in one place, not breaking apart. Add more water as the blender is blending until you get the paper thoroughly disintegrated and a mushy pulp develops.

Processed pulp

Remove the pulp and set it in a bowl or put it into a colander to allow some of the water to drip out. Continue blending all your paper and water in small batches until all of it is pulp.

At this point try to remove a good part of the water by pressing or squeezing the pulp with your hands. Discard the water or save it for another batch. With the pulp very damp, but not dripping water, transfer it to your mixing bowl.

Moist pulp

I added 1/4 cup of wildflower seeds to the entire pulpy mass that four sheets of newspaper produced. Using my hands I kneaded it all together like making bread dough. You want the seeds to be fully mixed into the paper pulp.

Adding seeds

When it’s all incorporated, takes small pieces of the mix and press them into molds, into cookie cutters, or form them with your hands into balls. I find that using small cookie cutters give you a greater variety of shapes to choose from. Keep adding the pulp and seed mixture until the mold is filled.

Pressing pulp into the mold

The seed balls will need to dry so removing as much water as you can at this point will accelerate the entire process. Begin by compacting the paper as much as you can to force water out and then soak up the water with paper towels or newspaper. These blotting materials can be turned into more seed balls later on.

Blotting excess water

Gently remove the seed balls from your mold and let them dry for a few days. Removing them allows you to use the mold for the next batch and also give the seed balls exposed surface area for drying. They’ll expand slightly in the process.

By using water tinted with a few drops of food coloring you can get seed balls of any color you like. You can also try shredding colored paper and mixing that with water. Varying the shapes and colors provides wonderful gift opportunities.

Tinted paper seed balls drying

While seed balls made with clay and compost can be thrown on the soil surface and will sprout, seed balls made with recycled paper work best when planted in pots beneath a thin layer of potting soil. The decorative shapes and colors make the planting a fun activity for kids.

Making seed balls with recycled paper works well on many levels. You reuse waste materials while adding fun to planting. It’s not as messy as the clay seed balls can be and the finished products look better. The entire project takes just a few minutes and the paper seed balls can be stored for months before giving away or being planted.

If you’re looking for a fun gardening project, try making recycled paper seed balls.

Thanks to Erin from Gardening in the Lines for some consultation on making seed balls.