Scarlet Runner Beans and Cardinal Climber Vines, Unique Flowers and Beautiful Shades of Bright Red

My husband, Tim, also a horticulturist, has always been fascinated with the Cardinal Climber Vine, the pentagonal shaped flower with an embossed star shape of sorts shown sitting in the palm of my hand in the photo on the above left.

I have always been intrigued by the beautiful red Scarlet Runner Bean, above right. This year, Tim, who is so awesome at remembering to plant seeds, got them planted by our front porch step this spring!

Now that I have seen these plants in action, I love them even more! Each flower shape is so unique and intricately detailed! I cannot fathom how such small flowers, each smaller than a quarter, can house such fascinating floral architecture! They are truly miraculous specimens to behold! Especially, if you stop for a moment, to examine them up close, and even dissect them.

I hope to one day, get my hands on a macro lens, so that I can capture the intricate details of flowers. Until then, you’ll just have to plant some yourself, or take my word for it!

Both of these vine type plants can be started from seed, and sown directly into the ground once the soil warms up in the spring. If you are living in the midwest, mid to late May would be a safe bet.

We used some wood blocks, and twine spaced evenly along the block, so that each side of our porch had about 6 strings spaced about 6 inches apart going from the ground up to the balcony above.

The vines quickly germinate, and once the heat and humidity take hold, they grow very quickly, especially, if you water the soil around them regularly.

Keep the soil evenly moist until they germinate, and then once they sprout, water every few days, if rain is not in the near forecast.

I almost lost mine, during extreme heat and drought, but luckily, a good drink of water revived them!


How to Root Coleus

Ahhhh, the Coleus….with it’s beautiful, vibrant color combinations, and intricately shaped leaf edgings, it’s no wonder we all wish they could last forever!

If you live in an area that freezes, you know that your coleus plants will not likely make it through the winter outside.  One way to preserve them, would be to build a greenhouse, and heat it all winter, to maintain the tropical climate, that Coleus Plants love.

Not many of us have that kind of cash laying around, so another way to enjoy Coleus a little longer, is to take cuttings and root them.  Coleus stems make beautiful, long lasting accents to end of summer bouquets.  As an added bonus, if you change the water in the vase once or twice a week, you might even get your Coleus stems to take root!

Down below, is a video demonstration that shows where to cut the stems, and what to do with them to get them to take root!  Hope you enjoy!

Self Watering Seed Starting Kits

I found something interesting today related to seed starting.  The older I get, the more I think I should simplify.

I was looking around on line for some cool indoor containers that would be fun to grow basil seeds and found this cute little kit.  It seems a bit pricey, but it looks sleek and contained.

This unit is self contained and includes:

  • a grow light
  • a self watering system with water reservoir
  • cartridges of special soil with seeds already embedded in them (evidently these are re-usable)


How it works:

According to the video, you pop in a pre-planted seed thingy that has the perfect amount of nutrients, special soil, etc. all in a cartridge of sorts.

  1. pop in a cartridge,
  2. fill a reservoir with water,
  3. and plug it in.
  4. Self watering seeds are a go.


Who Could Benefit from a Product Like This:

It could potentially be awesome if you are one of those crazy busy people who wants fresh basil, but can’t handle one more thing to remember to take care of.  Or if you are going to be gone for a few days, and don’t want to have your seedlings dry out, this might be something worth checking out.

The company claims you can grow your own cherry tomatoes in it, but I am highly skeptical about that.  Do they have a clue as to how huge a cherry tomato plant gets?  Even if it’s a super dwarf variety meant for containers, I would still not plant a cherry tomato in it, unless you plan to just start the plant and then plant it outside once it gets about 5 inches tall or so.

Plants that I think you would have the most success with using this unit:

  • basil,
  • cilantro,
  • arugula,
  • mizuna (Japanese mustard greens),
  • radishes(if using for microgreens),
  • beets(for microgreens),
  • basically, any kind of plant that you would like to eat regularly for microgreens.

Why I think small leafy greens would work best:

The reason I think it could work well for herbs that you eat regularly, is because you can maintain a small enough size plant that is compatible with the size of the unit because you will be eating your greens regularly.

I would love to test this product out and give a review!  I think it would be great for a city dweller with a small apartment or condo who doesn’t want to mess with a huge garden, but enjoys being able to pick a few tasty herbs to garnish meals, or simply to scratch and sniff!

What do you guys think of the look?

I found this little gizmo intriguing.  What do you think of it?  It’s a self-watering seed starting kit. There is a short video description of how it works with a time-lapse growing video to see it in action.  Click the pic if you want to learn more from the manufacturer.


Pick Your Own Strawberry Farms in Eastern Iowa

Our basket of loot from the strawberry patch. ©2015Marie Stephens Design

It’s hot out, but if you can get there early, it’s worth the trip to head out to The Pride of the Wapsi this week to get some, oh so yummy, fresh strawberries!

The cool spring temperatures and nice rains we had this spring have made or some lovely, sweet, yet tart, little jewels!  This year, is by far, one of the best tasting years for strawberries in a long time, in my opinion.

I would recommend getting there as early as possible, wear light colors, hats, and use plenty of sunscreen.  A nice jug of cold bottled water is highly recommended for after the pick.  Oh, and prepare to end up with random strawberry stains in odd places! You will be given a tray that can hold up to 10 pounds of strawberries.  Price is $2/lb.  Then, you’ll get a ride out to the field in a golf cart, where you will be given instructions for where you can pick.  Hold on tight, it’s a bumpy ride! Afterwards, you’ll get a ride back to the shed where your berries will be weighed, and you can pay.  There is a nice, outdoor hand washing station with soap and paper towels, so you can clean up a bit before you leave. On our visit, we saw a resident cow and 3 huge pigs.  All in all, it was a fun experience, even for my 2 little boys who were dragging their feet about wanting to go.  They were pleasantly surprised.  I think they enjoyed the crazy golf cart ride that the young lad gave us out to the strawberry patch! On our visit, we saw a resident cow and 3 huge pigs.  All in all, it was a fun experience, even for my 2 little boys who were dragging their feet about wanting to go.  They were pleasantly surprised.  I think they enjoyed the crazy golf cart ride that the young lad gave us out to the strawberry patch more than the strawberries! Find a pick your own farm near you!

©2015Marie Stephens Design

© 2015 Marie Stephens Design

Lilacs: How and When to Prune

A collection of lilac florets I meticulously arranged on construction paper one night after my boys went to sleep a few years ago.  There is something so soothing to me, to be able to be alone at night, after the house has reached a calm state, and to craft away with items I have collected from our daily outdoor adventures.  If you would like to purchase this print and customize it with a monogram or a name, I would be glad to help you!, Just click on the photo above, and it will take you to my etsy shop, Marie Stephens Design.
A collection of lilac florets I meticulously arranged on construction paper one night after my boys went to sleep a few years ago. There is something so soothing to me, to be able to be alone at night, after the house has reached a calm state, and to craft away with items I have collected from our daily outdoor adventures. If you would like to purchase this print and customize it with a monogram or a name, I would be glad to help you!, Just click on the photo above, and it will take you to my etsy shop, Marie Stephens Design.

My public service announcement for today is:  “Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their lilacs and trim, shear, thin, and prune them. ”  Always prune your lilacs, if they need it, right after they bloom, because if you wait too long after they bloom, you will be removing next years buds.

©Marie Stephens Design 2014  This is a Korean Lilac from my garden in Iowa last spring.
©Marie Stephens Design 2014 This is a Korean Lilac from my garden in Iowa last spring.

So if it needs it, do it now!  It’s also a good idea to remove a few of the really old branches from within the center of the plant.  Below is a link to an article by Fine Gardening Magazine on how and when to prune your lilacs. How to Prune Lilacs by Fine Gardening Magazine

Plants With a Purpose: Digging Deep for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

Keep Calm and Fight On” says my nephew, Isaac, who was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last fall.

Team Isaac
Team Isaac: If you would like to help out Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, click on the photo to learn more or join a JDRF Walk in your area.

I was able to use the tent I used when I sold flowers at the Des Moines Farmers Market, and the chalkboard painted sign that my husband made for me to use to promote my old flower shop. I even had an open/closed sign to hang on my mailbox. All props that I had from owning a flower business nearly ten years ago. Good thing I never throw anything away!

Last week was the Juvenile Diabetes Research foundation walk and fundraiser for the Quad Cities Area.  My nephew had his own team, Team Isaac, and my family and I had planned to walk.  A few months ago, I registered, donated some money, and thought I was done, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do, well….more!

On a whim, I decided to set my fundraising goal to $1000.  A few clicks, and entries, and I was set.  There was nothing binding me to that goal, and I could have even lowered it, but something in me wanted to rise to the challenge and hit that goal.  My next thought was, “Oh crap!  What the heck was I thinking?”  How am I going to raise a thousand dollars?

One week to go before the deadline, and I was only at about 25% of my goal.  The weather was set to be perfect conditions for the week: cool, sunny, and dry.  The soil was moist, as it had rained quite a bit the weekend before.  The stars were aligning, and the timing was perfect for none other than, a plant sale!  I titled it, “Marie’s Dig for Diabetes”.

 I don’t have many things that other people want or really need, but one thing I do have, is a hunormous perennial garden.  I also have a love for photography, and have been taking pictures of my perennial flowers for years, so I was able to design a nice little catalog page that showed some of the items I was digging.

FB Jdrf digging for diabetes
This is the little catalog page I made in Photoshop to use for promoting my fundraiser on Facebook. I organized the photos by the month that they bloom. If the same plant appears under more than one month, that means it blooms for each of the months it’s listed under. All photos are copyright Marie Stephens, and taken from my garden.

In exchange for donations to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, I would dig up starts of any of the plants shown.  I had some starts pre-potted, using old cottage cheese and yogurt containers with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage.  I would also divide starts on the spot and place them in grocery bags.  With the help of my family, friends and neighbors, and even a few strangers, I was able to sell enough plants to meet my goal, just in the nick of time!

Eric and Anna sent me pictures of their north facing home where they wanted to re-do their flower beds.  I was able to draw the plants right onto the picture, and then email them a preview of what it could look like once it all grew in.
Eric and Anna sent me pictures of their north facing home where they wanted to re-do their flower beds. I was able to draw the plants right onto the picture, and then email them a preview of what it could look like once it all grew in.

I even did a little bit of landscape design for one couple using my son’s tablet and a paint program app that I have.

All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope all the folks who bought plants had fun too.  It was fun to socialize and know that my work was going to a great cause.  My buns and hips and back were killing me, but a little bit of muscle soreness pales in comparison to all the insulin shots and pokes my nephew has had to endure in just the last 6 months alone.  I would do this again in a heart beat.

It’s so easy to forget how easy it is to make a difference.  I am filled with gratitude to have had the opportunity to be reminded, just how easy it is!  If you have a talent, a skill, that you haven’t used in a while, get out there and use it!  Who knows how many people you could be helping.  And let me just say, it feels so awesome to help, and feel useful for a great cause!

2 Organic Fertilizers to Get a Greener Lawn

Here’s another free gardening tip for the month of April or in the fall!   Want to have the greenest lawn on the block?  Here’s how:

  1.  Find a pickup truck.
  2. Find your local compost facility
  3. Order up a truckload of compost
  4. Haul it back home and spread it evenly over your yard, about a 1/2 inch thick layer over the lawn.
  5. Rake it in.
  6. Enjoy all the compliments you’ll be getting over the next few weeks as your neighbors oo and ahhh over how lush your grass looks!
  7. This is great to do once a year or every couple of years.
  8. Why does it work?  It supplements your lawn with much needed organic matter and nutrients.
  9. WARNING:  You might have to mow a lot more often!

If you’d rather not deal with the compost method, milorganite is a natural alternative.  Milorganite releases nitrogen slowly to your lawn and ornamentals in a form readily available to plants.  There is no need to water it in either! What is Milorganite?

  1. Purchase a bag of pelletized milorganite from your local garden center or home center.
  2. Put it in your fertilizer spreader, and set it according to the instructions on the bag.
  3. Apply on lawn and in your flower beds
  4. It’s a nice slow releasing fertilizer.
  5. Apply once in the spring and fall.

I am not claiming to be any kind of lawn expert by any means, but I have seen the difference first hand in our own lawn since my husband has begun doing this.  My brothers also have used the compost application method, and have had the same success.   That’s it for today!  Happy gardening, and mowing!  Have you broken down yet and got out the mower, or are you at a standoff with your neighbor to see who mows first?

It’s April. What Vegetables Can I Plant Right Now?

It feels like spring.  Finally!  We can all get out, get some air and get our hands dirty again.  But what can we plant that isn’t going to freeze on us and have to be replanted again later?  Here’s a list to get you started in your veggie patch.

  1. Potatoes:  as of Good Friday, you can start planting seed potatoes.
  2. Carrot seeds
  3. Beet seeds
  4. Peas
  5. Raddish seeds
  6. Broccoli Plants
  7. Cauliflower Plants
  8. Cabbage Plants
  9. Salad Greens
  10. Kale
  11. Arugula
  12. Mizuna
  13. Bok Choi
  14. Pak Choi
  15. Sweet Corn
  16. Asparagus crowns
  17. Strawberries

I’m sure there are many more, but this is just off the top of my head and will at least get you started:)

Wilcox tools are great for digging holes for annual flowers and vegetables, especially for those of us who don’t like to get down on our knees!  The extra long handle is 18″ long, super sturdy from tip to tip, and made in my native state, Iowa!



Click here for a great online seed selection

There’s a Snake in My Couch Part I : A Mom’s Point of View

By Marie Stephens1392322916394

Not everyone knows this about me, but I am a snake phobe.

I don’t like to visit them at the zoo.  I don’t even like to touch pictures of snakes in books.  I can’t even handle those fake plastic snakes.  I am not much of a yeller, but the few times that I have yelled at my kids were because they put a rubber snake under my pillow, or nearly caused me to jump out of my skin when they threw one on my bed while I was sound asleep.  I do not like the way they move, I do not like their creepy hissy looking tongues; I am fully aware of the fact that a snake’s skin is not slimy, but It still appears that way to me and it still freaks me out!

To all of you snake enthusiasts out there, I am truly sorry if this does not help to improve the public image of the snake and how important they are to the environment.  Let me publicly announce that snakes are wonderful creatures and very, very important to our environment and our food chain.  Just think how many more mice there would be without them!  Snakes are good, I get that….but when one decides to pay me a visit, in my home, as I am about to hit the hay for the night,  ALL BETS ARE OFF.

It was fall of 2005.  I was a brand new mom with a brand new baby who was just a few months old.  He had finally gone to sleep for the time being, so I had selfishly taken that quiet time to shower, brush teeth, and comb hair:  all luxuries for new moms.  It had been a long day of repetitive nursing, changing diapers, rocking, swaddling, and laundry with a baby that slept for maybe 15 minutes of every hour if I was lucky.  Needless to say, I was exhausted and ready to pass out for the night.

All the heat from the shower pushed me into auto pilot mode as I left our steamy bathroom and headed down the hall for the spiral staircase that led up to the loft bedroom in our rustic A-Frame house.  Sleep, that precious commodity that is so rare to new parents, was about to be awarded to me.  For the most part, I was already there.

I was approximately 15 steps from hitting my pillow when autopilot suddenly kicked into flight or fright mode.  As I slowly entered the dark living room and turned to go upstairs, I heard something.  A soft thump, as if something had fallen off the back of our leather sofa and onto the seat.

In an instant, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  I quickly flipped on the light switch and immediately turned my eyes to the couch.  Out of the corner of my sleepy eyes, I could have sworn that I saw the tail of a tiny little snake slither right into the crack between the couch seats.

In my thoughts:

“What the heck was that?”

“Was that a snake?”

“No….No way…..there is no way there could be a snake in my couch!”

“Or could there?”

“Oh crap!  There really is a snake in my couch….THERE’S A SNAKE IN MY COUCH!”

Picture yourself in the same situation…wanting to scream at the top of your lungs, but only able to scream with your mute button on for fear that you might wake the baby!

Now picture me…..once half asleep now fully awake, throwing my hands up in the air and running around in circles, screaming without making a sound.

After spinning around aimlessly a few times, I flew down the stairs to the basement to find my sleep deprived husband, tinkering away on some project he found in “The Family Handyman”.  I flung open the door and screamed wildly, “There’s a snake in the couch!”  He stared blankly at me in disbelief, as if I had gone mad.  So I repeated myself and swore I was not hallucinating, although, as sleep deprived as I had been, hallucinations were quite possible.

To humor me, Tim grabbed a flashlight and headed up the stairs while I scampered around to find some weapons:  a broomstick and a tennis racket, perfect tools for the task at hand.  I stealthily climbed back up to the living room, ready to pounce on anything that decided to jump out of that couch.

Tim, being the level headed force of the Stephens’ household, calmly and smoothly approached the couch with his flashlight and peaked in between the cushions to see what all the fuss was about.  Seconds later, he turned around and said matter of factly, “Yep.  There’s definitely a snake in there.”  Once again, hands went up in the air, and one of us began running in circles.

Have you ever seen a movie where a husband and wife have an entire conversation without ever saying a word?  Where looks are exchanged, eyes widen and narrow, and information passes telepathically?  That is exactly how the following conversation went down.  Imagine two tired adults forced to solve the impossible:  how to get rid of a snake in a couch without waking their three month old baby.

Me, eyes wide with snake phobia, ” How in the heck are we gonna get that thing out of the couch without letting it get loose in the house?  I am not touching that thing!”

Tim, dumbfounded, ” How in the heck am I supposed to know?”

Me,  eyebrows raised,”I got an idea.  Lets just pick up the whole couch and set it out on the deck, and then try to get the snake out.”

Tim, “Hmmm that could work.  Let’s go for it.”

So we pick up the couch, thinking we have a quick fix.  We head for the slider door, ready to set the couch on our deck.  As we approach the door, me: “This isn’t gonna work.  It’s not gonna fit!”

Tim, “Crap, even if we tilt it up on end, the snake might fall out and get away.”

Me, discouraged,” Now what?”

I’m sure by now, you are probably thinking, “Why didn’t they just take the cushions off and grab the snake?”  Unfortunately, this is a couch from which one cannot simply remove the seat cushions, or any of the cushions, for that matter.  Oh no, we specifically bought this couch because the cushions could NOT be removed!

Tim, ” Ok, here’s what we do.  You hold the flashlight.  I’m gonna pin the snake down with this stick.  Then, with my hand inside of this grocery bag, I’m gonna stick my hand in there, grab the snake, and then turn the bag inside out.  As soon as I get the snake, you open the door, and I’ll take him outside and take care of the rest.”

Me, ” Fine.  As long as I don’t have to touch it.  I’ll go get the broomstick and tennis racket ready just in case he escapes.”

Tim, “Ready?”

Me, “No, but go ahead anyway.”

In a matter of seconds, it was all over. My superman of a husband pinned the snake with his left hand, grabbed it with his bagged right hand, turned the bag inside out as the snake tried to wriggle itself free from Tim’s tight grip, and headed out the door in a flash, before the snake could escape.

I hadn’t felt that much relief since the morning after I gave birth to that three month old babe sleeping soundly in the nursery right above the scene of the couch snake extraction.  I don’t know what exactly happened to that poor little snake, nor do I care to know what happened.  He was gone, and that was that.

Over the last 8 years, we have shared so many giggles while telling that story to our children.  I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve told, and retold it as a bedtime story after infinite requests from my son. We have told that story from my point of view, from the snake’s point of view, and Tim does an excellent job of telling the tale from his point of view…with a few embellishments here and there.  I can here his gruff and tough story telling voice now, ” Why, if that snake was a foot long, he was a mile!  I grabbed the beast with my bare hands, and he began to thrash so violently, I had to wrestle him to the ground.  The snake was angry that day, my friends!”  Even as I was trying to remember the details of the story last night, he and I had so many laughs as we tried to lay out the scene.

Just the other day, Tim came home from leading our son’s Cub Scouts meeting to tell me that the snake in the couch story had resurfaced.  The theme of the den meeting was, “Tall Tales”, and one of our son’s classmates remembered Harrison telling the story a year ago to their second grade class!  If only that poor little snake knew how popular he had become.  Thank you, Mr. Snake, for making a brief pitstop into my life.  My family has a richer folklore all because of you and your memory shall live on forever!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, snakes are great, as long as they stay in their environment and leave me alone in mine.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this brief encounter into my past.  Stop back again, you never know what you might find.  At Marie Stephens Gardening, life is a garden, and you never know where inspiration will strike.  Maybe even in the crack of a couch.

©Marie Stephens 2014 All rights reserved

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  97. I think I blew the deadline, but…… | dcms2
  98. Weekly Writing Challenge – Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes | CC
  99. The Invisible Wall | A Lethbridgian View