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Cultivating Garden Style with Rochelle Greayer

Cultivating Garden Style with Rochelle Greayer

sunset in meadowWhat are those special ingredients that elevate a garden into a stylish and unforgettable space? What’s the best way to unleash your garden personality, and how can you create an outdoor place that’s uniquely your own?

Just in time for another gardening season, Seasonal Wisdom sat down with London-trained landscape designer Rochelle Greayer for ideas on developing personal style.

Photo copyright Adam Woodruff

pith and vigor newspapersIf you’re an avid gardener or reader, you may already know Rochelle Greayer. She was a graduate of the English Gardening School in London. She is the creator and editor of  the hip gardening newspaper Pith + Vigor. And she also writes regularly for Apartment Therapy. I’ve gotten to know her better, because we are both members of the Troy-Bilt Saturday6 national blogging team.

cultivating-garden-style-by-rochelle greayer

Rochelle is also the author of Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality (Timber Press). This hard cover book is packed with photography, design tips and advice on styles ranging from Playful Pop to Xeric Hacienda and Handsome Prairie.

Cutivating Garden Style

Whatever style you enjoy, you’ll find a wide variety of garden accessories – from modern umbrellas to retro fire pits to comfy loungers. There are literally hundreds of ideas to get your creativity flowing.

Cultivating garden style

This visually stunning book is designed to help you determine the look that’s right for your home. Along with lots of design ideas, there is The Little Green Book in the back with good garden resources. You’ll also find general gardening advice for everything from firescaping a yard to choosing the right tree. There are many  little gems in this jewel of a book.

Obviously, Rochelle is a good person to ask about garden design:

Garden with pebbled pathPhoto copyright Marianne Majerus

Q) How does someone cultivate “style” in the garden? 

Rochelle Graeyer: I think everyone has a personal style whether they know it or not.

Sometimes it is hard to find. But you can see personal style in the car they drive, the clothes they wear, the things they eat and the art they like. I think people are often afraid to embrace their style, particularly in the garden, because it can be so visible to everyone around them.

Finding your style is about finding what sings to you – the colors you love, the stories you like, the books you read, the images you are attracted to – and then learning how to translate that into a garden.

Pinterest is my favorite tool for people to use to find what they love. A fun activity is to go to Pinterest and perhaps go to someone else’s page that has a wide variety of boards.

The point is, expose yourself to a huge array of images. Then start liking — not pinning – but liking images.  Liking is super fast; you just click the heart in the corner on anything that looks interesting to you for any reason.   Let it come from your gut. The faster the better, so you aren’t over thinking or letting your critical thinking mind engage at all.

Don’t pin; that stops your freedom… it makes you organize and judge. The point is to turn that part of your mind off. Once you have done that, take a look at all the likes and see what patterns you find.  Did you like stuff with a particular color, style or element? What threads do you see? Sometimes a thread in your boards can be hard to find, but a friend can see it more easily. The threads are the beginnings of finding your personal style.

garden with fire pitPhoto copyright Hugh Main

Q) What are some common misconceptions about garden style?  

Rochelle: Style to me is very personal. It is not what the neighbor has down the street, although that may look great! Lots of people aim for what their neighbors have in the garden, but I think that only leads to a boring world (and boring neighborhoods).

Creating space around you that uniquely serves you, inspires you and comforts you is something that can only be done for you and by you.  Style isn’t universal – it is personal and unique.

Potager garden designBrooke Gianetti

Q) What have been some of your most important garden design inspirations?

Rochelle: Art and fashion are both hugely inspiring to me.  Both tell stories and when you are drawn to something (like art or fashion) you are drawn to some element of the story that it is telling.

Then, of course, there are other garden designers. From them, I am often more inspired by the technical elements – such as how they built something, or the plants they choose and how they put them together. If they are really thinking, then I can be very inspired by the stories they are telling. For example, I’m a fan of avant garde garden shows like Chaumont, because the whole point is to get away from “pretty” and more into an idea or concept.

Pretty is great – and of course pretty can carry the day in a garden – but just pretty can also be sort of a boring story.

espaliered treePhoto copyright Andrea Jones

Q) How would you recommend people deal with their “inner critic” and create their own garden style?  

Rochelle: Maybe thinking of it as “art” or “style” is too stressful and puts too much pressure on it?

Think more about what you love. Consider how you want to spoil and indulge yourself first. Then, once you know what is meaningful to you, it is easier to tell the inner critic to shut-up and go away. It’s all about you and whatever makes you happy. Who cares if that rhubarb plant is next to the mailbox, if it makes you happy?

checkerboard garden designPhoto copyright Jim Charlie

Q) Is there anything else you’d like to add?  

People always ask me, ‘What about my homeowners association?’ And to that I say, there is always the back yard.  Build a fence if you must. Then do what you love and what inspires you out there.

Thanks, Rochelle! Best of luck with your own garden this year.

This is not a sponsored post. I was provided a free copy of the book from the publisher, but I was not compensated in any way.


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Troy-Bilt Brush Cutter Makes Its Mark

Troy-Bilt Brush Cutter Makes Its Mark

Troy-Bilt brush cutter near a wall It could happen to anyone, really. Our friends came home from vacation to an overgrown backyard, where the grass had grown really tall. In some places, the lawn had grown nearly knee-high, and the yard needed more than just a normal lawn mower to cut it.

That’s when my husband decided to try out the Troy-Bilt brush cutter attachment on their backyard. We wanted to see if this tool could really stand up to thick, tall grass. Here’s what happened…

man in overgrown backyardNormally, our friends have a delightful backyard with lots of trees and flowers. But a long vacation trip, and several rainy days while they were gone, made their yard a real bear when they returned home.

My husband mentioned that Troy-Bilt had recently sent us the TrimmerPlus® Add-On Brushcutter to review. “If any backyard could use this tool, this is it,” he explained.

We decided this yard would make a good test spot, and our friends were happy to agree.

Troy-Bilt cordless starterThis tool uses Troy-Bilt’s JumpStart™ Lithium-Ion Engine Starter, which makes it quick and easy to turn on these tools.

troy-bilt cordless electric starter up closeThis starter works with all the TrimmerPlus attachments, and it’s one of my husband’s favorite aspects of the tool. Forget about pulling a cord to start this machine. This cordless electric starter gives you 25 starts without recharging it.

man with troy-bilt brush cutterIt quickly became apparent that this tool meant business, even though it was cutting thick grass and weeds.

close up of troy-bilt brush cutterThe brush cutter has an 8 inch steel reversible brush blade for heavy weeds and brush. It also has a pro-style straight shaft design that allows for easy trimming under shrubs and low branches.

brush cutter makes a path through grassHere, you can see how the brush cutter is making a path through the tall, dense grass.

man with brush cutterEven our friend wanted to try out the tool to see if it was easy to use. The J-style barrier bar and comfort should strap are included, and make the brush cutter simple to maneuver.

The entire lawn was cut back within an hour.

brush cutter near a fountain and rosesThe brush cutter isn’t a normal tool to use in cutting your grass. But on those rare times, when you need to quickly and easily cut back thick vegetation, it’s a great tool to use.

This brush cutter made short work out of tall grass. It paved the way for the lawn to be finished with the mower. And it won two impressed and loyal fans on a summer afternoon.


Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, and I am a Saturday6 garden blogger for Troy-Bilt. I was not, however, told what to write and my opinions are my own.


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Creating the Cocktail Hour Garden

Creating the Cocktail Hour Garden

Cocktail Hour Garden deck in early springHave you ever become so busy that you simply forgot how to unwind outdoors at the end of the day? Well, C.L. Fornari wants to change that. She wants you to create such a relaxing outdoor space that you can’t wait to watch the sun set and the evening begin in your garden – especially with good friends.

So, make a toast to enjoyable cocktail hour gardens with these good tips from a popular garden educator and book author.

Cocktail-Hour-Garden-Fr-Cover-smallRecently, I had a chance to read the new book by C. L. Fornari, The Cocktail Hour Garden.  There’s a lot of helpful information on creating outdoor spaces conducive for “Green Hour” gatherings. Along with good general gardening advice, the book addresses how to attract nature to your gardens, as well as design elements that can bring the essences of air, fire, sound, water and scent to these spaces.

From plant suggestions to party-enhancing designs, this clever guide helps you think differently about your gardens.  And with any luck, you’ll find yourself spending more time outside in nature, watching the light change in your yard. Recently, C.L. Fornari agreed to give Seasonal Wisdom readers some tips for building your own cocktail hour garden.

Q) What inspired you to write the book?  

C.L. Fornari: I was inspired to write this book, because of my back deck. (Shown in the photo above) My husband and I work constantly, both for our professions (he’s a marine geologist and I’m a garden communicator) and in our gardens. We both love our work, but when we moved to Poison Ivy Acres nine years ago, we began to see the wisdom of stopping work in the evening before dinner, putting down garden tools and all digital devices, and pausing to reconnect with each other and the natural world.

Cocktail Hour Garden with yellow flowers and conifers

We sit on our back deck with snacks and beverages, and watch the birds, butterflies and other critters. We take the time to see how the light illuminates the plants, and to comment on the day. For at least a half-hour we enjoy what we’ve created and just relaxing in each other’s company and our surroundings. From this practice came the idea to do a book about this cocktail hour ritual.

Q) Why are late-afternoon and early-evening landscapes a worthwhile consideration for gardeners?

C.L. Fornari: Too often gardeners and home landscapers focus on the work of planting, mowing and maintaining…we forget to pause and appreciate what we’ve created. And these days we’re all so screen-connected that we need to almost force ourselves to put down our phones and computers and look at the miracles that are going on in our own backyards.

Most of us aren’t able to do this in the early morning or mid-day, so the cocktail hour is the perfect time to create this opportunity for relaxation.

Cocktail hour garden in veggie garden

Q) What are some common misconceptions about cocktail hour gardens?

C.L. Fornari: Many people think it’s only about an alcoholic beverage. One reviewer commented that there weren’t enough cocktail recipes! The book isn’t called “Garden Cocktails” but “The Cocktail Hour Garden” – in other words, it’s not the beverage that’s most important here, but the environment and creating a ritual to relax and enjoy it.

Misconceptions aside, one of the frequent “ah-ha!” moments people have when reading this book is the realization that we could be using our veggie gardens more completely during the evening hours. Those who grow vegetable gardens spend a great deal of time planting, weeding and harvesting, but often forget that we can also just hang out there and appreciate the garden visually. A foldable bistro table and chairs can instantly transform the veggie garden area into a cocktail hour garden…and the sugar snap peas or cherry tomatoes are instant snacks.

Sun teas for cocktail hour garden partiesQ) Anything you’d like to add?

I think that too often we who love gardening and plants talk so much about the process that we forget to stress the environment and experience that is created. Although garden communicators want to help people be successful by providing useful information, I think we can do more to paint the picture of what all the soil amending, planting and weeding is about.

It’s about creating flower beds where we pick “give away bouquets” to leave on co-workers’ desks or in the drawer in the drive-through banking windows. It’s about being able to pick the freshest, most flavorful food on earth thirty minutes before dinner. It’s about having colorful, fragrant plants surrounding our outdoor offices during the day and fire pits at night.

For me, this book is my way to encourage people to go out into their own yards and gardens frequently for a unique experience that sustains body and soul.

Thanks for your time! Hope you have many wonderful cocktail hours in your garden.

The Cocktail Hour Garden

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the author. I was not compensated to write the post, nor was I told what to write.


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Troy-Bilt Hedge Trimmer Powered by CORE

Troy-Bilt Hedge Trimmer Powered by CORE

Troy-Bilt Cordless Hedge TrimmerWhen it comes to garden chores, one of my husband’s least favorite jobs is trimming the 12-foot (often  higher) Cape honeysuckle growing in our backyard.  It’s a dirty, thankless job that needs to be done every few months so the plant doesn’t get out of control.

But a new innovative cordless, battery powered hedge trimmer by Troy-Bilt has made this chore much faster and easier. Check it out.

cape honeysuckle When we moved into this house in California, we inherited a huge ­­­­­cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) that covered the back fence of our property. Hardy in Zones 9 to 11, the cape honeysuckle is a colorful, carefree and drought tolerant plant. It’s also very attractive to hummingbirds and bees.  We consider it a good living privacy screen for the property.

But this plant grows so quickly that it can be a real pain in the neck in California. It’s a good idea to cut it back every few months, or even monthly to maintain the shape.

Troy-Bilt Hedge Trimmer Powered by CORESo, you can understand why my husband was rather eager to review the new Troy-Bilt cordless hedge trimmer, powered by CORE technology.

This beast of a plant needs serious tools to keep it under control.

Troy-Bilt Core Hedge TrimmerThe Troy-Bilt hedge trimmer is cordless, which makes it much easier to maneuver while on a ladder dealing with a monster plant.

“I’ve had corded trimmers before, and it’s so much easier to use this Troy-Bilt trimmer,” says my husband. “I really liked not having to worry about plugging it in or accidentally cutting the cord. It’s a lot more convenient for quick, spontaneous jobs too.”

He especially liked the way this hedge trimmer is powered with a new proprietary CORE technology that provides the kind of battery power that rivals gas engines.  “This trimmer cuts like a hot knife through butter,” he adds. “It’s got plenty of power to cut through those thicker branches.”

Basically, the patented motor has a new design. You won’t find the heavy copper coils you typically find on brushless motors. Instead, these CORE motors have a printed circuit board that operates together with magnetic rotors to deliver concentrated power when needed.

Here’s more about Troy-Bilt CORE technology

Troy-Bilt cordless hedge trimmer on cape honeysuckleBut my husband doesn’t really care about all that – he’s just happy to have a battery-powered trimmer that really can tackle this monster hedge. With 22-inch chrome-plated blades that move 3,000 strokes per minute, this tool works exceedingly well on this dense and tall hedge.

He’s also a big fan of the 40 volt lithium-ion battery, which can be used with any of the tools powered by the CORE system. Now that my husband has the battery and charger, he can use it with all the other CORE-powered tools and just buy the bare tools.

cape honeysuckle and troy-bilt hedge trimmer“I’ve owned corded and cordless trimmers in the past,” says my husband. “But this is the best trimmer I’ve ever used – corded or cordless. This is now my favorite garden tool in our shed. It’s the gold standard of trimmers.”

The Troy-Bilt hedge trimmer powered by CORE is the industry’s only motor with a limited lifetime warranty.

Disclosure:  This is a sponsored post. I am a Saturday6 blogger for Troy-Bilt this year. This tool was provided at no charge. But I was not told what to write, and my opinions are my own. My husband’s opinions are DEFINITELY his own. If he didn’t like something, believe me, he’d let us know.


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Seven Things I Learned About Food

Seven Things I Learned About Food gateIt’s been months since I’ve written in Seasonal Wisdom! My apologies and I’m about to remedy this situation. But one main reason is that I’ve been working on a full-time contract with the University of California’s Office of President to write about food and agriculture for its blog

Why in the world should you care? Well, I’ve learned quite a bit that I wanted to share, including edible gardening tips.  If you like food – and who doesn’t, really? – check out these delicious stories. Photo: Martijn de Valk.

But, first, a bit about UC Food Observer

The UC Food Observer is your daily serving of must-read news from the world of food. It includes interviews and analysis of influential agricultural and food people and trends. And it supports the University of California Global Food Initiative, which addresses one of the critical issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025.

I’m the assistant editor and work closely with Rose Hayden-Smith, who is renowned for her knowledge of sustainable agriculture and food history. You may remember these stories about her wartime garden research here and here. Rose is wonderfully talented, inspiring and knowledgeable. It’s been a delight, and I’ve learned a lot from her.

Seven Yummy Stories

Here are seven stories you might enjoy in no particular order:

Seed Savers Exchange

Photo: Seed Savers Exchange

1) Genetic Diversity is Key … And You Can Help

Learn how important open-pollinated heirloom seeds are towards saving heritage foods. See how many once-beloved foods are disappearing, and why gardeners can play an important role in protecting and increasing this genetic diversity.

“Participatory conservation is very important to our work. It’s not enough for us to have a seed bank and keep these seeds in a Fort Knox-like setting. We want these seeds to grow and be maintained in different gardens around the country and world.” John Torgrimson, Executive Director, Seed Savers Exchange

Read the story.

a syrphid (aka flower fly or hover fly) on tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii)

Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey

2) Pollinators are Beautiful

On most days, you’ll find Kathy Keatley Garvey outside finding, photographing and documenting insects, especially pollinators. This Communications Specialist for UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has received international recognition for her photos.

“I see the world through a viewfinder. The work that I do is about the diversity of pollinators, their importance in our food supply and ecosystem, the beauty and the awe, and how we can protect them. Bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat. They are crucial to our ecosystem.” Kathy Keatley Garvey

Read the story.

nea opera

Photo: Wormfarm Institute

3) Agri + Culture = A Good Idea

Nestled among the rolling hills of the unglaciated region of south central Wisconsin you’ll find the Wormfarm Institute, a 40-acre organic vegetable farm and creative hub that is winning applause for reconnecting the link between “agri-culture.”

“For thousands of years, farmers in cultures around the world interwove dance, music and art through rituals of planting and the harvest in celebration of the land and those who care for it.” Donna Neuwirth, co-founder of Wormfarm Institute

Read the story.

cattle ranching-final

4) Cattle Ranching has Ecological Benefits

Did you know livestock is California’s number-one land use? I certainly didn’t, and I’m not alone.

This complex connection of California ranching to food production is a mystery for many, according to Sheila Barry, Livestock Advisor and Director of Santa Clara County for University of California Cooperative Extension. She tells me:

“Working ranches occupy roughly 40 million acres in California. Whether these working ranches are public land or privately owned, many ranchers represent the fourth or fifth generations stewarding the land and their livestock.”

Read the story.

dotpolka - nopales

Photo: DotPolka

5) Mexican Food Deserves Another Look

Who told you Mexican food was unhealthy? It simply isn’t true, according to two professors in the San Francisco Bay Area, who co-authored “Decolonize Your Diet.”

Their research shows traditional, indigenous food from Mexico (available before the Spanish colonists arrived) is misunderstood and is actually among the world’s healthiest foods. Luz Calvo, Professor of Ethnic Studies at Cal State East Bay told me:

“The Latino/a Immigrant Paradox led us to look carefully at the health knowledge and practices that immigrants bring with them – especially knowledge about food, recipes, remedios (home remedies), and so forth.

The Latino/a Immigrant Paradox is powerful, because it shows that one does not need to be rich to have good health. But one does need to be connected to ancestral knowledge and culture.”

Read the story. and don’t miss the recipe!

6) Food Sovereignty with Native Americans

In Northwestern Washington, between Seattle and Tacoma, lives the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. This Indian tribe is composed of descendants of the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup people who inhabited Central Puget Sound for thousands of years before non-Indian settlement.

To learn more about the Muckleshoot people and food sovereignty with Native Americans, I spoke with Valerie Segrest. She is a Native nutrition educator who specializes in local and traditional foods. She serves her community as coordinator of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project and also works as Traditional Foods and Medicines Program Manager. She also is a storyteller and told me:

“Stories not only provide the knowledge we need to thrive in the world, but also solutions to the complex and major challenges we face in this modern world. There is cultural storytelling, and also just people stories; the stories people carry around on food traditions and how food has improved and changed their lives in positive or negative ways.”

Read the story.

Millets_4624_Millet diversity-small

Photo: The Millet Project

7) You Should Try Sorghum and Millets

Sorghum and millets are two ancient grains that have a bright future. For instance, sorghum is gluten free grain with high fiber and healthy nutrients. Millets also deserve a moment of your time.

Millets are a diverse family of grains. They are gluten-free and often contain lower carbohydrate content than rice, corn or wheat, as well as higher levels of protein, fiber and minerals, such calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and iron.

In these articles, you’ll find information on both types of grains, as well as recipe ideas and nutritional information.

Take a second for sorghum.

Millets are worth a minute.

Stay tuned for more gardening stories in upcoming weeks! Just in time for another gardening season. What are you looking forward to growing this year?


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Ventura Farm Day Connects the Community

Ventura Farm Day Connects the Community

kids-looking-at-lemonWhen was the last time you spent any time on a farm? Well, if you are like most people, it’s probably been quite a while … if ever. And that’s what a group of farmers about an hour north of Los Angeles want to change. More than 20 farmers in Ventura County, California are swinging open their barn doors and inviting the community to visit. Let’s take a look.

As readers of Seasonal Wisdom know, we’re big fans of family farmers and local foods. We enjoy farm-to-table meals and locavore dinner clubs.

So, imagine our delight to hear about the Fourth Annual Ventura Farm Day on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. There are tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at farms throughout the county. This free, popular event connects the community with its farming neighbors, and encourages them to visit the farms in their backyards, according to Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture (SEEAG), the nonprofit that organizes Farm Day.

“This year, we moved Farm Day from summer to fall,” says Mary Maranville, SEEAG Founder and Executive Director. “The weather will be cooler, plus, in keeping with the spirit of giving during November, it gives the public an opportunity to say ‘thanks’ to our hardworking farmers who grow the food we eat.”

Participating farms, museums and farming operations include:

–Houweling’s Tomatoes and McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo;

–Chivas Skin Care and Otto & Sons Nursery in Fillmore,

–Apricot Lane Farms in Moorpark;

–Friends Ranch, Earthtrine Farm, East End Eden Farm and Ojai Olive Oil in Ojai;

–AGQ Laboratory, Agromin, Deardorff Family Farms, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Gills Onions and San Miguel Produce in Oxnard;

–UC Hansen Ag Center, Calavo Growers and Ventura County Ag Museum in Santa Paula;

–Rancho Camulos Museum in Piru;

–Petty Ranch and Rincon Vitova Insectaries in Saticoy;

–Alpacas at Windy Hill in Somis;

–Diamond W Cattle Company and Salad Bar Farms at Balboa Middle School in Ventura.

Coldwater CanyonThere’s a farm-to-table barbeque at the Ventura County Fairgrounds (San Miguel Building) in Ventura. The barbeque is 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and features live country music by Coldwater Canyon and Friends, farm-fresh food prepared by Young Farmers & Ranchers and Dearmore BBQ Catering, locally-produced craft cocktails, beers from Institution Ale and wine from Summerland Winery. Lots of free kids’ activities are also planned. Barbeque tickets are $40 for adults and $15 for children under 12.

This year’s Ventura County Farm Day (November 5) will kick off a day early with its first Food and Farm Film Fest, Friday, November 4 at Mission Park in downtown Ventura. The free, family-friendly event will feature short films produced locally that tell the story of life (both human and animal) on the farm and the popular kids’ movie “Babe.”

“The films will be a real treat for those who are not familiar with daily farm life,” says SEEAG’s Maranville. “All the films are shot beautifully. It is the perfect introduction to what people will see and experience the following day at our local farms.”

Wherever you live, take some time this month to say thanks to the folks who grow your food everyday!


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Review: Troy-Bilt’s TB490 XP™ 4×4 Self-Propelled Mower

Review: Troy-Bilt’s TB490 XP™ 4×4 Self-Propelled Mower

mower in back yardWhether your garden is flat or hilly, this 4×4 Self-Propelled Mower by Troy-Bilt can handle the challenge. Come check out this product review and see a bit of my garden – along with a surprise visitor!Troy Bilt mower on patio

As many of you know, I’ve reviewed a number of products from Troy-Bilt in recent years. Recently, the company asked me to try out Troy-Bilt’s TB490 XP™ 4×4 Self-Propelled Mower in my garden. Here’s what I learned.

“Troy-Bilt’s TB490 XP™ 4×4 mower is the industry’s first four-wheel drive mower that lets you switch between front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive on the go,” says the website.

You can basically switch with one hand.

Now, I’m a bit of a gypsy. When many of you first met me, I was living in Boise, Idaho on a medium sized lot with several hills. Currently, I’m living in Southern California on a much smaller lot that’s completely flat. Who knows where I’ll end up next…

So, I like the idea that this machine is flexible. We need that feature around here.

motor oil in troy bilt lawn mowerMy lawn mower required about 15 minutes of assembly, although I would imagine that most people would buy their mower already assembled at the store.

This powerful machine has a 190cc* Honda® GCV series engine with Automatic Choke System (ACS) to prevent engine flooding.

adding gas to a troy bilt lawn mowerBe sure to use the motor oil provided by Troy-Bilt, along with clean, fresh gasoline. I also added some fuel stabilizer, because it keeps the mower’s fuel fresh for up to 24 months. And I want to keep things running well, especially when I’m not mowing as often.

IMG_7688There is a rear grass catcher that was easy to attach. But you might want to experiment with the side discharge chute.

By returning the grass clippings to your soil, you can save water and fertilizer. That’s because you are basically returning many of the nutrients back to the turf, while leaving behind a light mulch.

This works best when you can mow more frequently, so the layers aren’t too thick on your turf. My grass was rather long, and I kept the rear grass catcher on this time.

woman and troy bilt lawn mowerI found that the mower started right up. The self propelling mower really made it easier to cut the grass, and I could really feel the oomph when I put the mower in four-wheel drive.

I didn’t get a chance to try the machine on a hill, but maybe in our next home?

I liked the fact that it was easy to adjust the cutting length of the grass. I’m going to leave the grass a little longer, now that we’re coming into our drier season.

lady and troy bilt lawn mowerFrom this angle, you can see how the rear wheels are a bit larger than the front.

There’s also a deck wash that allows you to easily attach a nozzle to rinse grass clippings from the deck’s underside. I didn’t try this out yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to come in handy.

woman with dog and lawn mowerMeanwhile, look who photo bombed me! My hound dog Maggie, who always wants to be part of the story!

I recommend this self propelling motor for gardeners, who need a reliable system that is flexible for all kinds of terrains. It’s a bit like having three machines in one.

With some basic maintenance, this lawn mower should last me through all my future moves, regardless of where we land.

Disclosure: This blog post was sponsored by Troy-Bilt, who also supplied this lawn mower for me to review. I was not told what to write, and my opinion is all mine.


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A Garden Tour in Spring

A Garden Tour in Spring

Sage and vegetable gardenAfter a four year drought, California has finally had a rainy winter and spring. My small suburban garden has perked up quite a bit since we bought the property three years ago. So, I thought I would throw open my garden gate and invite you in for a little visit. Especially if you promise not to notice any weeds…

morning viewThere is nothing like opening the kitchen door and looking out on jasmine, scented geraniums, herbs and succulents on a spring day. Rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil and sage are close enough for flavoring dishes.

blue kitchen gardenEdibles like tomatoes, lettuces, peppers, eggplants and broccoli are mixed among ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia, pink lantana, roses and flowering herbs.

kitchen garden at nightI often combine flowers and food in some of my garden beds, because that allows me more growing space in my small garden. The flowers and flowering herbs attract pollinators like butterflies and bees for my edible plants. Plus, I don’t spray, so there’s no danger to the food plants.

rain barrels and lantanaEven with a rainy winter, we still have water issues in California. So, I’ve installed four rain barrels in my garden, which harvest rain from the gutters.

Did you know that just one inch of rain on a 1,500 square foot house can fill a 50 gallon rain barrel?

I’ve noticed my plants respond much better with rain water than from the tap. When I have four full rain barrels, I feel like a wealthy woman in Southern California.

The purple flowers are verbena, which attracts lots of butterflies and bees. Broccoli is planted underneath.

rosemary, thyme, sageRosemary, thyme, sage and marjoram are gathered in this sunny spot of my garden. They all like these Mediterranean growing conditions.

I let the thyme plants flower to attract bees. The flowers are edible, so when I prune them off, I add them to soups and casseroles.

borageThis borage self seeded itself, as they often do in Southern California. This annual grows best from seed, because it has a long tap root. That’s why I pull up any babies I don’t want, as they don’t transplant well.

The flowers are edible and taste a bit like cucumbers. Add them to salads and soups. Not only humans, but bees love them too. I always have a couple buzzing around in the mornings.

Here are eight edible flowers you can grow in your garden.

artichokesMeanwhile, artichokes thrive in Southern California and this was an excellent spring. I’ve left quite a few on the plant to turn into those luscious purple flowers.

Here’s more about growing artichokes.


And this roque squash self seeded itself in a quiet part of the garden, which surprised us all.

Hope you’re having a great spring. What’s growing in your garden?


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Five Fab Drought-Tolerant Plants

Five Fab Drought-Tolerant Plants

Noelle_Johnson_horticulturist_AZ_Plant_LadyThe current drought in large portions of the United States makes the need for water-wise gardens more important than ever. But that doesn’t mean our gardens can’t look attractive.

That’s why Seasonal Wisdom turned to Noelle Johnson for some drought-tolerant plant suggestions.  This talented horticulturist runs AZ Plant Lady landscape consulting in Chandler, Arizona and she spends her working hours  making low-water gardens beautiful.

Check out five of Noelle’s favorite drought-tolerant plants, and get her expert gardening tips for growing them.

All photos are copyright to Noelle Johnson.


In Noelle Johnson’s Own Words:

Many people have the mistaken impression that drought-tolerant plants are boring, but nothing can be further from the truth. Just because a plant thrives on little water, doesn’t mean a water-wise garden is devoid of interest. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. Countless plants add welcome beauty to the landscape while only needing deep, infrequent watering.

Drought-tolerant plants require well-drained soil, so before planting, amend the soil with 1 part compost to 1 part native soil.

Here are a few of my favorites:

remophila_hygrophana_Blue_Bells‘Blue Bells’ (Eremophila hygrophana) – This is a newer shrub, which is prized for its compact growth habit and low-pruning requirements. Vibrant violet flowers appear throughout the entire year above blue/gray foliage.

Size: 3 feet tall and wide; Attracts Hummingbirds

Hardy to zone 8; Full sun to light, filtered shade


‘Valentine Bush’ (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) – The dark green foliage of this Australian native transforms in winter with the appearance of hot pink to red, tubular blossoms, which add badly needed color to landscapes in winter on into early spring. Maintenance is low, with them only needing pruning once a year in late spring after flowering has finished.

Size: Up to 4 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide, although it can be maintained at a smaller size.

Hardy to zone 8. Full sun.

Justicia_spicigera_Mexican_HoneysuckleMexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) – This small shrub is an ideal choice for areas that receive light, filtered shade where it will produce narrow, orange tubular flowers all year long, much to the delight of hummingbirds. The bright green foliage adds a visually cooling element to the garden.

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide; Hardy to zone 8

Attracts hummingbirds; Filtered shade


Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) – Many different species of penstemon grow throughout the western U.S. and are appreciated for their beautiful flowering spikes. This particular penstemon has red/orange blossoms that appear in winter and last through spring, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. When not in bloom, it fades into the background while warm-season flowering plants take center stage.

Size: 1 to 2 feet wide, and 2 feet tall when in flower; Hardy to zone 5; Attracts hummingbirds; Full sun


Coral Fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) – The cascading, needle-like foliage of this shrubby perennial is attractive on its own, adding a tropical feel to the garden. However, the appearance of small, orange/red flowers adds stunning beauty wherever it’s planted. Hummingbirds can’t resist the flowers, which last spring through fall and even winter, in frost-free areas.

Size: 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide; Hardy to zone 8

Attracts hummingbirds; Full sun to light shade

Noelle’s Tip: Once established, water each plant deeply approximately 3-4 times a month in summer, 2-3 times a month in spring/fall, and every three weeks in winter.

More Garden Resources:

Growing container gardens? Don’t miss Noelle’s advice in this Associated Press article published in the Washington Post.

Want more drought tolerant tips? Check out this advice for a water-wise garden from expert Nell Foster.

Connect with  Noelle Johnson of AZ Plant Lady





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Review: Troy-Bilt CORE Blower and Giveaway!

Review: Troy-Bilt CORE Blower and Giveaway!

Kurt's Yard 6-2-17 042The Jacaranda trees are blooming in Southern California and spreading purple flowers all over the place. See how the Troy-Bilt CORE blower performs in cleaning them up, and enter to win a $100 Lowe’s gift card.

Plus, take a tour my friends’ new drought tolerant garden and learn more about Jacarandas trees.

Jacaranda treesEach spring and early summer in my Southern California neighborhood, the eye-popping Jacaranda trees bloom. These fast-growing, drought-tolerant trees reach 25 to 50 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide. It’s a lovely sight to see the streets lined in purple, but as the LA Times reports, you either love these trees or hate them.

Jacaranda messWhy? Because they make a serious mess when they bloom, which is why this pretty tree isn’t great planted near cars or houses. Many people on this street park their cars in the garage during this time to protect the paint.

Maggie in the messEven on Maggie’s daily walks, we have to clean her paws so she doesn’t track these pretty, but annoying flowers in the house.

more jacarandaThat’s why I thought these trees might be a good challenge for the Troy-Bilt CORE blower, which I was asked to review recently as a Troy-Bilt blogger. And I knew just where to go to try it out – my friends Kurt and Lynn’s house.

Kurt's Yard 6-2-17 010They inherited a Jacaranda tree when they bought their house, and the lovely tree makes a huge mess each year.

Kurt's Yard 6-2-17 015The Troy-Bilt blower has the industry’s only motor with a limited lifetime warranty. It also has variable speeds up to 545cfm/125 mph to lift these stubborn flowers off the walkway.

The blower is powered by a Lithium-ion battery, which can be swapped for any battery needed in the Troy-Bilt CORE system.

Kurt's Yard 6-2-17 044It did a great job of blowing away many of the flowers, as well as miscellaneous leaves and yard scraps.

You’ll find plenty of power to do various yard work and the battery seems quite long lasting. We easily did the entire yard without any problem.

drought tolerant california gardenMeanwhile, Kurt and Lynn have done a charming job of building a new garden with succulents and other drought-tolerant plants. In a shady spot they added two Adirondack chairs to enjoy the space.

yarrowThey’ve added lots of gorgeous stones that compliment the flowers. Groundcovers are slowly filling in the open spaces, and there is room for these plants to grow.

The rocks and plants match the midcentury style of the house and add a natural, rustic feel.

Kurt's Yard 6-2-17 040

It was a fine place to test the Troy-Bilt CORE blower and I can’t wait to see how the garden space develops in future years.

Win a Lowe’s Gift Card

Here’s your chance to win a Lowe’s gift card for $100 to use on whatever you want.

It’s easy to enter this random drawing. Just be sure to enter by midnight, July 2, 2017 and PLEASE include your email so we can alert you if you win. (This drawing is limited to the United States.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GOOD LUCK everyone!

Disclosure: This Troy-Bilt review was sponsored and a blower was provided to me at no cost. However, my opinions are always my own.




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