Garden Projects for You

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Become a Trough Gardener

Although “trough” is one of the weirder one-syllable words in the English language — shouldn’t it be spelled tr-aw-ff ? — troughs are not tough to put together and can endure many years as garden focal points. Like miniature landscapes, they feature an array of compatible tiny plants — usually succulents, evergreens, or other rock garden plants — arranged with small rocks and top-dressed with fine gravel.

GCA flower shows often have succulent and mixed-container categories with rules like this: “A collection of three or more shade-loving perennials exhibited in a trough 12″ or less made of hypertufa, cement, or a natural material. Minimum of six months ownership.” (That means the plants must be grown in your  garden for six months or more; you can’t run out and buy and plant them a day or two before the show.)

Several GCI members met at horticulture co-chair Renee Shamosh’s patio to plant a trough of grow shade-loving perennials. Here are step-by-step instructions:


1 EmptyTrough

1. First, prepare the trough and the soil, which must be free-draining. Recommended is a layer of fine gravel topped by planting mix with a generous amount of Perlite added. This is Renee’s 12″ cement trough:


2 Plants

2. Next, line up all the plants you’re considering. In this case, four members contributed small rooted offshoots of tiarella, astilbe, heuchera, sweet woodruff, miniature hosta, and ferns.


3 Arrangingfrom Above

3. Start arranging plants the trough, moving them around until it looks like a natural miniature landscape with a pleasing blend of leaf shapes, colors, and textures.


4 Arrange with Hands

4. Get in there to make sure the roots are planted. Proper tools are a tiny shovel and nimble fingers. Small scissors are used to trim any brown edges or errant stems.


5 finished trough

5. Rinse the arrangement off with a gentle shower from a garden hose, touch up (we used clumps of moss), and admire. Let the plants settle in a protected location.



Renee made this beautiful, larger cement trough with succulents from Oliver Nurseries, now marked with botanical names and top-dressed with fine gravel.



Horticulture co-chair Ellen Shapiro planted her compositions in small molded plaster containers and Mexican pots. When working with Semperivum tectorum (hens and chicks), we learned during a field trip to Oliver Nurseries in Fairfield, CT, the  “chicks” can be gently removed from the “hen” and planted separately. Thus, one $6.98 plant, most of which is in the “tree-trunk” planter at left, yielded babies for all the containers shown below.

Lots more information is available on the website of the North American Rock Garden Society.


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Make Your Garden More Bird-Friendly

by Nora Galland

The birdhouse shown here has an opening of 1-1/8 inch, which is attractive to small cavity nesting birds including wrens, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, finches, and downy woodpeckers.


Birdhouses simulate tree cavities and are sometimes also called nest boxes. Many birds that nest in tree cavities will nest inside wooden birdhouses if the boxes are mounted at the height appropriate for the species’ habitats and their entrance holes meet the dimensions favored by the species.

Here are some tips for a successful birdhouse project:

• The size of the hole and the size of a birdhouse will determine which birds are attracted to it. Here is a handy chart:

• To protect the birdhouse from the elements and make it an even more charming garden focal point, paint it with weatherproof paint or stain. You can decorate with twigs, bark, and other natural materials. Do not paint the inside.

• Locate your birdhouse in a shadier, rather than sunnier, spot, and hang or mount it at the correct height in order to attract the bird for which the house was designed.

• Placing a water source (birdbath) and/or a food source (birdfeeder) nearby will help attract an occupant.

• When the birdhouse is occupied, don’t get too close. Never touch the nest or eggs, or the nest may be abandoned.

• With a little luck, a mated pair mated pair of birds will enter your birdhouse and gather articles to construct their nest. They are in constant motion, taking the materials into the nest box. Soon you notice that the activity has stopped. Now you only see one of the parents come out of the nest box at a time. They are caring for their eggs. A few days later you hear high-pitched chirping. The eggs have hatched! Now the fun is waiting to see the hatchlings emerge from the nest box. There are few backyard birding experiences as satisfying as this one.

• Nest boxes should be monitored — pests and predators must be detoured.

• At the end of the season, remove the nesting materials. Birds do not re-use them. Clean out the box and leave it in place—you never know when they may come back.

• Good luck. and enjoy the birds and the garden!

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