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!


The Zone 4 and 5 Gardener’s To Do List for August/September

Looking for a way to refresh your September garden? Here’s a few easy steps you can take to rejuvenate your outdoor green space!


The Zone 4 and 5 Gardener’s To Do List for August/September

As you are about to see, late August/September is all about cutting back.

1. Remove Dead Flower Stalks from Perennials As Daylilies and Irises begin to die back, you can yank out the brown flower stalks, just give them a tug and they should pop right out.

2. Daylilies and Irises: Remove dead and dying leaves with brown tips. With both, you can just grab the leaves at the base of the plant and give a downward and outward tug, and they will come right off. If it’s the end of August, and you can’t stand the way they look anymore, you can remove all or most of the leaves, as these plants are beginning their dormancy anyway. I just removed all the leaves from some of my day lilies 2 weeks ago, Aug 18, and they are…

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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!


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…

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How to Root Curly Willow Branches in Water and When to Plant them in Soil

Some curly willow branches that I rooted in water, and then planted in a terra cotta container.

In May of 2018, my mom and I hosted our 4th #diggingfordiabetes plant sale to raise money for Type 1 Diabetes research.  The sale was a success, and curly willow branches were one of our biggest sellers!

Mom and I divide up perennials from our gardens for the sale, with 100% of the proceeds going to JDRF.  This normally works really well, but this year, spring seemed to take FOR….EEEEEVER to, well, spring!  With a looming deadline of May 3 to have all of our plants ready to sell, we were really sweating it.

So this year, my husband, the other horticulturist in the family, helped me prune back our two curly willow trees, and I saved some of the curliest branches, bundled them, and put them in a bucket of water.  I posted the pictures on Facebook for the plant sale, and had a lot of interest!  I was so thankful, as my perennials were taking their time emerging, and were not as sales worthy as they were for past plant sales.

It’s been about 5 weeks since I cut those branches.  I saved some for myself, just to play around with, and make sure that they do root well.  They did root, and finally, last Memorial Weekend, I was able to shoot this video and plant the branches in one of my favorite terra- cotta containers on my front porch.


If you purchased some branches from us at the plant sale, I hope you had good luck getting yours to root!

By now, they should be ready to plant in some soil. To plant them without damaging their delicate new roots:

  1. Suspend the branches in the middle of the pot, not quite touching the bottom.
  2. Then pour potting soil in with your free hand, gently filling in around the roots.
  3. Once the container is filled with soil, gently apply pressure to firm the soil around the branches so they are well supported and won’t fall over in the pot.
  4. You can plant the branches as deep as you need to in order to get them to stand up securely, as they will eventually root any place that has surface contact with the soil.
  5. Water in the branches thoroughly, and maintain even moisture for a week or so, until the branches are adjusted to their new home.
  6. Once they are acclimated to the pot, just water it to keep the soil evenly moist, or whenever you water your other annual flower containers.
  7. These branches can over winter in their container if you keep the container in the garage or a protected area outside.  My mom had some that were left out in a small courtyard all winter 2017/18….a very cold one…..and they still survived!
  8. Side note:  If you choose to plant them in the ground be sure to give them enough space to grow into a big tree!  They grow very quickly…to maturity in less than 10 years.  Mine are about 25 feet tall with multiple branches that spread about 15 feet.
  9. When they get older, they are known to drop lots of little branches, so it’s best to thin them out each year by removing 2 -5 of the larger branches.

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


How to Keep Flower Bouquets Fresh

©Marie Stephens 2005
So this was me, back in 2005. My husband Tim and I were cut flower growers for about 7 years, and sold them at the downtown Des Moines Farmers Market. We grew, harvested, designed and delivered fresh bouquets all over southern Iowa and Des Moines for about 7 years! So I guess you could say, we know a thing or two about how to keep bouquets fresh!

Valentines Day has come and gone, but you might still be hanging on to a few fresh flowers from your special someone!  ” What’s the trick to making my fresh flower bouquet last longer?”, is a question I used to get from lots of clients at the Farmers Market, so many years ago.

The Big V-Day Surprise

This surprise, from my Tim, is what got me on the whole subject of keeping your bouquets fresher longer.  He got me something tall, black, sleek and slender and shiny with wheels!  Care to make a guess as to what it is?  He also bought me some fresh flowers that he found on sale at Aldi.  That wasn’t the surprise, but they did need some sprucing up, which led to this article.

So What are You Supposed to Do With Fresh Flowers?

Before You Put the Flowers Into Your Vase

  1. Remove dead leaves
  2. Remove all leaves that will be below the water when you put the flowers in your vase
  3. Wash your vase with soap and water
  4. Put the floral preservative powder in the vase
  5. Add a little warm water in the bottom and swirl to dissolve the powder
  6. Add the rest of the warm water
  7. Cut the stems to the length you prefer UNDER RUNNING WATER
  8. Place freshly cut stems in the vase!

Flowers can now be purchased and shipped directly to you from flower farms all over the country!  If you order flowers in this way, it is very important that you cut at least 1 or 2 inches from the stems under running water prior to arranging them.   This will allow them to more quickly absorb water and last longer in the vase

Throughout the Week

  1. Make sure no leaves are in the water (doing this will prevent that stinky sewer smell, which is a result of decaying leaves)
  2. rinse out the vase to remove dead debris(prevents bacterial growth)
  3. Change the water once every 2 or 3 days (prevents bacterial growth that can clog up stems and prevent them from being able to absorb water)
  4. Re-cut the stems under running water once every 2 or 3 days so your stems can more easily slurp up water to stay hydrated and fresh)
  5. Trim away dead flowers and buds
  6. remove yellowing leaves
  7. Make it a goal to throw out before the water gets stinky, and it will make it easier for others to buy flowers for you!  It’s ok to let them go!  I have a hard time letting my cut flowers go too.  But over the years, I am getting better.  If there are still one or 2 good flowers left, I will cut them from the bouquet, throw the rest out, and put the short stemmed survivors in a shot glass or a bud vase.


  • Some flowers just have shorter vase life than others, so it’s ok to throw them out before the rest (roses do not last nearly as long as carnations)
  • Some flowers can last up to a month in the vase!
  • Keep flowers away from fresh fruit to help them last longer(fruit releases ethylene gas as it ripens, which makes flowers ripen or age more quickly)
  • keeping your bouquet out of direct sunlight will increase vase life
  • keeping your bouquet in a cool spot in your house will increase vase life
  • keeping your bouquet away from heat sources will increase vase life

So What was my Big Surprise?

Something every flower loving girl needs!  A new bouquet rack on wheels!  It holds 6 french style black flower buckets, and can be easily set up anywhere.  It’s something I always wished we had when we sold flowers at the farmers market, but they were so expensive!  We were driving home from church a few weeks ago, and I saw the rack at the resale shop on the way home from church!  I was joking around about buying it, as we drove by.  I never did because I thought Tim would blow a gasket for sure, if I came home with something like that!  To say that I was surprised he bought it is quite an understatement!


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.