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!


As I enjoy these last few weeks in my garden, I am reminded of this poem I wrote in 2013. Much has changed in my life since then, but the way I enjoy my flowers the most at this stage in the season, remains unchanged.

Hope you enjoy the little floral photo shoot I did this morning instead of organizing my house after a few busy weeks here at casa de Stephens!  How can one not ignore chores when there is such beauty to behold right at her fingertips?

I was so excited to see my 4’Oclocks, blooming!  They are the Morning Glory shaped flowers that are blue with the yellow and white throat pictured below.

I started them late, like, in June or later, from seed, and they had a rough beginning, and were almost devoured by caterpillars, suffered drought, extreme heat, and neglect while we were on vacation, but they persevered!  So excited to see these colors together!


©Marie Stephens 2014  All rights reserved. ©Marie Stephens 2014 All rights reserved.


Always behind

Never caught up

The more work you get done.

The more work you make up.









Where did the time go?

Where was it spent?

Tree leaves are falling

On my cement.

Zinnias are gorgeous.

Morning Glories are glorious

One Glory survived,

Now we’re victorious!

The one that survived

and beat all the odds:

Vine chewing rabbits

Seed eating birds

Sprout stomping dogs

My childrens’ feet

Not one of these were able to defeat.

Could not defeat this defiant Morning Glory

This lovely blue flower

That gives me satisfaction and power.

The power to see

That all this work:

The planting

The waiting

The rejuvenating

The digging

The pinching

The pruning

The trimming





That all this work is never done.

That all this work can be quite fun

That all…

View original post 125 more words

The Basil 🌿 has Sprouted!


Italian Genovese Basil Sprouts © 2018 Marie Stephens
It took less than a week! We planted the seeds last Tuesday afternoon, and the seeds were beginning to sprout by Saturday morning! It’s now Monday morning and the sprouts have formed cotyledons(the first set of baby leaf forms), and are beginning to green up!

Now What?????

If you have made it this far, you might be wondering what to do next to keep your basil babies alive.  Here’s a short list of things to do to keep them going.

  1. Remove your seedlings from the top of the fridge once they begin to sprout
  2. Reduce the number of times you spritz your seedlings to once a day, and gradually taper down to every other day, and then just start watering them with a watering can as the soil starts to dry on the surface. Why?Seeds need to be kept moist constantly until they sprout, then you want to gradually reduce the amount of water you give them to avoid causing them to rot or suffocate. This could be another separate article!
  3. Take the set up to a warm, sunny room, away from heat vents(at least 5 feet away) I have mine sitting on the top shelf of a bakers rack that sits in my sunny foyer.
  4. Begin removing the clear lid from the seedlings. Why?
  • To prevent your seedlings from getting to long and spindly (leggy)
  • To prevent mold from growing that can cause a disease called (dampening off) that causes your seedlings to die off right at the base of the stem.
  • To begin getting your seedlings acclimated to air movement. (air movement will ultimately help your seedlings get stronger, sturdier stems.

If you ordered seeds this winter, this poem is for you!

How to Start Your Own Basil

Marie’s Favorite Kinds of Basil

Day 8 Seedlings are growing. Now what?

  1. Rotate your seedlings once a day to prevent them from bending too much in one direction towards the sunlight.
  2. You can now leave the clear dome off permanently
  3. Reduce watering to once every 2 or 3 days. Just make sure that you water deeply so the soil gets wet all the way to the bottom of the container to stimulate deep rooting down into the soil.
  4. At this point you can still water with a mister, but you can adjust the nozzle from mist to more of a heavy spray and eventually a small stream.
  5. Avoid blasting the delicate seedlings with hard streams of water.
  6. Teach little ones to wet the soil surface rather than aiming directly at the seedlings.
  7. Teach little ones that the seedlings will get their water from their roots which are buried in the soil. This is why we aim at the soil instead of the leaves.
  8. You could even gently pull one seedling out and show your kids the little white root! Tell them that the root is kind of like a paper straw! It can suck up water through the tip and can absorb through the sides kind of like a wick.
  9. If you use a magnifying glass, you will also see root hairs which also help your plants get a drink.
  10. Make sure your container is not standing in a saucer full of water. Standing water causes the roots to be deprived of air and will cause suffocation and rot which ultimately results in death of your seedling.

Seed Starting Basics

We Planted Our Basil!

This is a mister that is about the same size as the one we have.  It’s small enough for little hands to hold and still be able to squeeze the trigger.  It is also BPA free, and has 3 different spray settings. We keep ours in the kitchen cupboard to use for spritzing seedlings, and also to tame crazy hair in the mornings as we head out the door to school!  It’s a life saver for moms of boys!

We Did It!

Finally, after talking about it, we made some time to plant a few basil seeds.  It’s so easy to put it off, and then 3 weeks have passed by and still no seeds planted!  I try not to stress too much about it, because I know I can always buy a plant at the garden center if I get behind.  The point of all of this is to have fun and learn something anyway right?

The Case of the Missing Basil Seed

So I was all ready to get started.  I went to the basement, found the wooden box that we keep all of our seed packets in.  I began digging, and digging…..and digging some more. I am now the proverbial squirrel in search of the nut! No luck.  No basil seed to be found!  “I could have sworn I still had some of that basil seed!”  I did find about 3 packages of Arugula seed, and a bazillion packages of Zinnias and other garden flowers, tomato, pepper, and other seeds, but no basil.  And this is how a gardener ends up with an entire box of seeds with multiple packages of the same kind!  It’s the squirrel syndrome!

I picked up Harrison from school, and we headed over to Wallace’s Garden Center to buy some seed.  It was so dreary yesterday, so seeing some green life forms was good for all of us.  My boys love to look at all the cute little cacti and succulents in the tiny pots there.

I was quite proud of myself, as I only spent $7 on seeds.  I purchased some Italian Genovese Basil and some Thai Basil.  The first packet cost $5!  I thought that seemed a little high, but then I looked at the seed count on the packet.  There were about 1000 seeds in the packet, compared to about 200 in the others that cost around $2.  Since I am planning to replant the basil more than once, as I am going to use it more as a microgreen and get a shorter lifespan out of it.

We got home, and settled in, and a light bulb went on in my mind. The spice cabinet!  “I think I saved some seed heads in a baggy and put them in the spice cabinet!”  Sure enough, there was the suspicious baggy.  A bunch of dried up leaves that smelled like basil!  I noted there were a few seed heads in the bag, so I decided to try to collect a few seeds from them.  It took some time and patience, and now I realize why seeds cost what they cost!  It’s all about the time it takes!  If you want to learn how and maybe work in a little life lesson for your kids with during the seed collecting activity, click the link below to see!

Collecting Your Own Basil Seed From Dried Flower Stems


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.


When Should I Start Tomato Seeds?

This is one of my favorites! Pink flesh with hardly any seeds in it, low acidity, and huge! To order on Amazon, click the pic.

When DOES one start tomato seeds?

That’s a good question!  I have had many people ask me about this, especially momma friends who would like to do this as a project with their kids.

Roma Tomatoes are a great for making sauces, and canning because they produce a ton of fruit and the fruit is very meaty, resulting in thick delicious sauces. Click the pic to order from Amazon.

When should I buy tomato seeds?

Usually, the best time to buy them is in January of the year that you plant to grow the tomatoes.  That’s when the seed catalogs start rolling out, and garden centers start putting out the seed racks.  I would recommend taking your kids to the garden center to help you select seeds they think would be fun to try!  But if you would rather just order on line, I have provided a few links for you.

This is the Hillbilly Potato Leaf Heirloom Tomato. It has beautiful flamey striations in the fruit and is a delicious blend of flavor between a zesty red and a milder yellow tomato. Click the pick to order seed from Amazon.


How long does it take to grow a tomato plant from seed?

To get a tomato plant that is big enough to grow outside, similar in size to a plant that might come in a 4pack at the garden center…..8-12 weeks

Growing Time Depends on what variety of Tomato You Grow,

so look at the back of the tomato seed packet, and the directions will tell you how many weeks to start indoors before you plan to plant the tomatoes outside.

When Should I plant my Tomato Seeds?

This answer depends on where you live.

  1. Look at the  back of the seed packet
  2. find out how many weeks your tomato seeds take to grow 
  3. Find out when the FROST FREE DATE is in your area
  4. pick a date that you plan to plant your tomatoes outside (WHEN THERE IS NO MORE DANGER OF FROST)
  5. Count backwards from your outdoor planting date, the number of weeks it says on the packet.
  6. VOILA! That’s when you should plant the tomato seeds!

If you live where I do, in Iowa, the date you start your seeds will be later than someone who wants to start seeds down in Kansas City.  The reasoning is because of FROST!

Tomatoes are weenies when it comes to frost!  Nothing is worse than to nurture a crop of baby plants for weeks and then to set them out too early only to be destroyed by a late frost!  It’s devastating!  Be wary of planting your baby plants out on the first nice day we get in the spring.  They need to be acclimated, or hardened off to their new outdoor environment.

In horticulture, we use a term called THE FROST FREE DATE:  the date after which your area should no longer have chances of frost that could kill all of your seedlings.


Frost Free Date for the Quad Cities:  May 10th ish:  It’s always iffy, I usually wait until around the 15th or 20th just to be safe, unless if I have a plan to cover my seedlings in the event that we do get a late frost.


I buy a packet of seed that says to start seeds indoors 8 weeks before the frost free date in my area.  My frost free date is May 10th.  So I count backwards 8 weeks from May 10th and I get March 10th.  I should start my seeds on or around March 10th.  If I would like to have a larger tomato plant when it comes time to plant outside, then I would want to start my seeds a few weeks earlier.

What kind of pot do I need to start tomato seeds in?

I have tried lots of things, and failed at lots of things in this department.  I have had the most success with peat pellets by Jiffy.  They are compressed discs of peat moss with a little hole in the center where you can just drop the seed in!  Then you put them in a saucer, or an old clear salad box that you get from the grocery store, you know, the ones with the lid on them, and the whole box is clear?  They make a perfect miniature greenhouse for your tomato plants.

1.You set the discs in the salad box,

2.pour about an inch or 2 of water in the bottom,

3.and they will expand to about 4 times their size.

4.Then you can drop your seeds in the hole in the center of the disc,

5.close the lid to the box, and you have your very own growing chamber!

These are what the Jiffy peat pellets look like before they get wet. Click the pick if you want to order online.


I Garden Because I Can….Pun Intended

This post is about gardening, and why I love it, why I hate it, and why gardening will always be a part of my life!

I garden because I can!

There’s no place I’d rather be.

In this place, treasures abound,

when searching around,

hunting on bended knee.


My arms are getting itchy,

The bugs are beginning to bite!

Yet still,

I feel,

A calm respite.


My buns are sweating, 

My back is breaking, 


I should be staking!

Muscles I never knew I had,

soon will be aching!


Weeds are tall,

My patience is shrinking!

My boobs are sweating!

My armpits are stinking!

And then I start thinking:


How I would love to fall into a pool

But then I look at my haul,

and I begin to drool!


My shirt is stained

My body is drained

My thirst needs quenched

My clothes are drenched




My mind is clear

My soul is cheered

My heart is full

along with my bucket!


My bucket is full

of gardeners’ loot.

I’ve hit the jackpot

in multiple pounds of delicious fruit!


My garden may not be perfect,

after all, it’s full of weeds,

but still it remains

an escape for me.


Not to be alone,

but to live in community

with birds and bees…….

and those stinking rabbits,

the snakes that give me the shivers,

the caterpillars,

other creepy critters

and let’s not forget the coons!

Yes they have a right to be here too,

so I guess I could spare them a tomato or two.

©Marie Stephens 2018

Are You Ready?

If after reading this poem, which is almost a disclaimer stating that gardening is not glam, you still want to give it a try this year, then I found a collection of seed at a decent price to get you started!  I read a little bit about the company, and it warmed my heart!  Take a peek and see for yourself when you click the pic!

The “I Garden Because I Can” Gift Collection, by Marie Stephens Art

Below, is a link to a small collection of “I Garden Because I Can” items that I created as gifts for gardeners and home grown food preservation fanatics!  They can all be personalized and shipped directly to you or to the person you’d like to send the gift to!

So far, I have designed a

  • kitchen floor mat with funny canning puns and phrases,
  • a tshirt that can be ordered in multiple styles and colors,
  • an apron,
  • a bandana to hold your hair back on canning day,
  • and a mason jar mug with the graphics I designed to make your fellow gardener/canner smile, especially if they hate bunnies…even though they really are so cute!

I hope you will get a chuckle, and if you do order something, thanks so very much!  I earn a royalty for the items purchased with my art on them!

Canning and Gardening

Starting Basil Indoors

How to Start Basil In Your Kitchen

I just got a question from Shaina about how to start basil so she could have fresh herbs in her kitchen.  Basil is an easy one to germinate, or start from seed.  And fresh basil tastes wonderful in so many dishes.  So this one is for you, Shaina, hope this helps:)

First and foremost, you’ll need some seeds!  Below are links to where you can order some of my favorite varieties!  And there are tons of different kinds of Basil!

As I was hunting for links for Basil seeds and looking at pictures of this delicious herb, I began smelling Basil!  I told my family, “Man, all of this talk about Basil is making me so hungry, I am starting to smell it!!!”  Then I walked into the kitchen and realized that my son, Harrison, was eating his breakfast, leftover angel hair pasta with basil pesto mixed in!

This is Italian Genovese Basil. If you sprinkle it right on top of the soil and give it a pat, several little seedlings will pop up, and make a nice green stand of basil babies! Kinda like a Chia pet, but with larger leaves.

This is Spicy Globe Basil. It is the cutest, in my opinion of all the basils. It has tiny leaves and makes a cute little ball that you can clip and sprinkle on everything. The flavor is less licorice “y” than other basils and more spicy sweet. Click the pic to order from Amazon.

If you can’t decide on which variety to try, many companies offer collections of seed, like this one that features Dark Opal Basil, Thai Basil, Lemon Basil, Lime Basil, Italian Genovese Basil, Sweet Basil, Spicy Globe Basil, and Cinnamon Basil. Click the pic to order via Amazon.

This is a set of 5 pots from Ceramo, a company I used to order pottery from when I had my flower shop.  The size is 4.25 inches.  You can also order clay saucers from them. I prefer using a pretty plate and then putting 2 or three pots on the same plate.


You will need a basic potting mix to start your basil seeds in.  There are hundreds of brands and recipes out there.  I have always found Miracle grow to be a good basic mix to start with. Click the pic if you want to order some from Amazon.

Getting Started

Potting Soil Prep:  

One thing that nobody seems to tell you is that potting mix is hard to moisten in the beginning.  It usually has peat moss in it, which can hold a ton of water….but because of that, it takes a while to soak up!  I would advise that prior to planting any seeds………

  1. grab an old bucket
  2. grab an old large spoon or trowel
  3. pour the amount of soil you need into the bucket
  4. turn on some warm water in your kitchen sink
  5. turn the spray nozzle on
  6. gently spray some water into the bucket, being careful not to spray directly onto the soil, because if it’s really dried out, the soil particles might poof into your face and make you sneeze:)
  7. start mixing the soil, to work in the water
  8. add squirts of water until the soil feels moist, and will clump together when you squeeze it…kind of like shortbread cookie dough, or pie crust…still crumbly, but will hold together if you squeeze it.
  9. Once it has enough water, put the soil in the pot
  10. You are now ready to plant your yummy Basil seeds!
  11. Doing this soil prep will make it much easier to water in your seeds after you plant them. Why?  Really dry potting mix tends to float and repel water at first.  If you are trying to get the soil to soak up the water after you have already planted the seeds….think flash flooding of baby seeds and drowning and suffocation of baby seeds…not good:)

What if you Don’t have time for soil prep as described above?

  1. Here’s a cheat.  In plant nerd terms, we call this process capillary action.  Just set the pot that you planted your seed in, in a saucer and fill the saucer with water
  2. Let the water soak in from the bottom, up through the soil, from the drainage hole in the pot.
  3. refill the saucer until the soil appears to be moist on top.  This may take a few hours.

Planting the Basil Seeds

1.  Find a small 4 inch pot.  I prefer clay pots, because they are cute, and because they allow the soil to dry out faster, which helps me to avoid rotting my seedlings from overwatering.

2.  Get your favorite variety of Basil seed

3.  Sprinkle the Basil seeds right on top of the soil

4.  Gently scratch the soil surface to let the Basil seeds fall into place

5.  Water in the Basil seeds with a gentle shower from your kitchen sprayer

6.  Make a mini greenhouse environment for your newly sown basil seeds by

     a. covering the soil with a clear baggy dome, or

     b. you could set the whole pot inside one of those clear plastic lidded spinach

         boxes from the grocery store that acts as a saucer to catch the drips and

         keeps the air humid which will make the seeds germinate faster.

7.  Place your mini greenhouse with your newly sown basil seeds on the top of your      refrigerator, as the bottom heating of the soil from the fridge will stimulate them to sprout.

8.  After they sprout, take the baggy off  or remove the salad container lid and keep them in a bright place.  Away from heat vents and scorching sunlight.  A foot or 2 away from a sunny window would be good to start out.

9.  Once the sprouts get 4 leaves, pinch off the top 2 to get the plant to branch, each place you pinch, you should get 2 new branches right below the pinch. Once those get big enough, pinch and use for cooking, and you’ll then have 4, then 8 then 16 branches and so on. Feed at least once or twice/month and don’t let it flower, so you can get more greens off it. mmmm, now I want to try it!  I think I will be trying spicy globe basil, because it branches so easily and is a nice looking plant, plus, it should have great flavor too.

After all of this talk about planting seeds, I think I am ready to start some of my own for this year.  It seems quite appropriate given this weeks weather of snow, snow and more snow!  Thank goodness we don’t have to wait until spring to start gardening!!!  Check back for updates and maybe even some pics of our planting day. Or follow along on @gardenshapers on Instagram!

Learn How to Plant Basil Seeds from a 7 year old!