A Spring Refresher on Ornamental Gardens

Spring is finally in full bloom and the good weather is upon us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already spent a few days basking in the sun, working on my spring cleanup, and getting ready to enjoy the outdoors.

Personally, I have quite a large garden. I don’t say that to brag, I just want you to know where I’m coming from. All in all I have just shy of ten flower and decorative plant beds and four large raised beds for vegetables and herbs. Needless to say, this time of year always means a lot of yard work is right around the corner. There is cleanup to be done, seeds to be sprouted, compost to be spread, seedlings to be planted, and so much more. It’s really a daunting task if I’m to take a step back and evaluate it all.

I realize though that with over three decades of gardening under my belt I have started to take certain things for granted. Younger gardeners often reach out to me with questions that, to me, seem to have quite obvious answers. For that reason I felt it might not hurt to give a quick run down of my gardening activities. For this article I’m going to focus on decorative gardens and landscaping.

Beautiful Landscaping Starts With A Vision

Before you get started digging and sweating, I really find that it’s important to have a concrete idea of what you’re working towards in mind. There have been so many times over the years where I’ve put a ton of effort into moving my garden a certain a certain way, only to find I’m not quite satisfied with how it looks or where it’s placed and end up doing all of the work over again.

If you’re brand new to this, I’d probably recommend following your favorite TV shows or writers on social media to get some inspiration. It’s amazing you can get from taking a look at some of the professionals’ gardening ideas and using them as the seeds for your own creativity. Of course, over time you’ll gain experience and have your own foundation to work with, and as you grow you’ll become more sophisticated and wise as to what will work best in any particular situation. Just think about your yard as a whole and how you would like it to look before you get started with any of the strenuous labor.

Place Your Plants in Order of Importance

With a vision in mind, it’s time for you to make it come to life. First things first though, you want to start by identifying and placing your largest and most important ornamental pieces first. The reason you do this is to ensure that you have space for everything once it has all been put in place. You can always move your flower beds around to conform with the balance of your landscaping, but moving larger species like trees and bushes can be much more challenging if not impossible without killing them.

Once you have your larger species in place, you can fill around as you see fit with smaller species. Keep in minds that some plants bloom at different times of the year than others, so you’ll want to try to group them by when they bloom. Over time you’ll have a pretty good handle on this and you can integrate your gardens such that something is blooming at pretty much any point in time.

When you’re all finished placing the plants you’ll want to cover up the ground with mulch and/or stones. This will not only look nice, but also keep weeds and stray species at bay.

Ongoing Maintenance

Aside from ongoing watering, which is essential to maintaining a beautiful ornamental garden, there are a few things you’ll want to do to make sure that your plants and flowers are happy for years to come.

With these types of plants there is no need to shy away from the usage of fertilizers, at least in my opinion. Since you won’t be eating them I feel it’s best to give them all of the nutrients they need. If you’re a hardcore organic gardener you can even find some organic nutrients that will get the job done, though they may be quite a bit more expensive.

You’re also going to want to make sure that you keep your gardens thin and free of weeds. Weeding is something that needs to be taken care of quite regularly, as foreign plants will detract nutrients, water, and other resources from the soil that your prized plants would otherwise feast upon. I’d recommend weeding thoroughly on a monthly basis at the very least.

It may seem counterintuitive, but over time you’ll want to thin out your ornamentals as well. They will get large and bushy when treated well, but they can begin to crowd each other which will not only inhibit their growth and their appearance, but can even lead to mold development on the leaves – a problem that can escalate quickly if not taken care of. Believe it or not, plants are completely happy being trimmed back. They tend to grow back stronger than ever. As long as you don’t kill them, you won’t go wrong.

So there you have it, my primer on building a beautiful garden. Hopefully you can put some of these tips into action and have your garden blooming better than ever!

Looking for a Home Espresso Machine? Read This First.

If you’re an avid coffee drinker like me, then you have likely taken a jump into the world of espresso and other alternative coffee drinks at one point or another. Maybe you’ve even developed a fiendish double espresso habit to help get you through the work day. Don’t worry, I won’t judge. I’m the exact same way.

There’s just something so satisfying about coffee as you wake up for the day and start taking care of business. There’s the warm, roasted smell that coaxes you out of your foggy mental state early in the morning. Then there’s the cleansing sensation in your stomach as you follow up a light breakfast with a cup. By the time you’ve sat down to work you’re already alert, and your body starts to tingle slightly with great anticipation for the day that is to come.

It’s nice to have a Starbucks or your local coffee shop to retreat to when you need a change of scene. There are plenty of times though when you have a hankering for a cappuccino but leaving your home or office just doesn’t make sense. Not to mention the fact that repeated visits to the coffee shop can rack up quite the tab.

For aficionados like us it really makes sense to look into our very own home espresso machines. It’s kind of insane how many different products you’ll encounter when you start to look around the internet, or even in stores. It’s enough to make your head spin. I’ve been through this a couple of times before, and I actually just purchased a new DeLonghi espresso machine for my home. I figured this would be a great opportunity to shed my thoughts on this buying process.

Define Your Budget

The very first thing that you’ll notice when you start looking at home espresso machines, and a main proponent of why this process is so mind-boggling, is that the prices range drastically. You can find products for under a hundred dollars and you can find products well into the thousands of dollars – even the tens of thousands of dollars for some of the super high-end models. What in the world is an espresso machine supposed to cost?

This is why it’s important to set your budget right from the get-go. This is especially true if you’re just buying your first home espresso machine, as you’re likely to find some features that aren’t your favorite in your first purchase. Set an amount of money that you’re willing to spend and be comfortable with before you even start looking seriously. That way, you can make sure things don’t get out of hand too fast. Once you’ve had some experience with your espresso maker you will have a better idea of what works best for you, and you could always buy a better one later on down the road.

Get Familiar With The Lingo

There are quite a few different designs that you’ll encounter when it comes to home espresso machines, and they have different functionalities. I want to give you a quick run-down of the important features to save you some digging and reading as you go on your search.

You’ll want to pay attention to how the espresso machine physically brews the espresso. You definitely want something that makes use of high pressure during the extraction, as this is one of the primary factors that truly separates espresso from a regular ol’ cup of joe. The most basic models are heated on a stovetop, and the steam passes through the grounds. These will work OK, and they’re probably what you’ve seen your Italian Nonna using. You can find much better espresso machines out there though.

Mechanical designs are the next step up. You create the pressure for the extraction manually by pulling a lever. These can certainly get a richer and creamier cup of espresso than the design we just discussed, but they’re still rather rudimentary. They allow for inconsistency due to human error – that is, how much pressure the person operating the machine uses during the extraction. Another large drawback is that they rarely, if ever, come with a steam wand.

Steam wands are essential if you want to make lattes, cappuccinos, or other coffee drinks that require frothed milk. You’ll start to find them on the more sophisticated espresso makers out there. The next steps up are the semi automatic and the super automatic espresso machines. I’m going to gloss right over the capsule based machines, as the big brands (I’m sure you’ve heard of them) have enough of a marketing budget to get the word out.

Semi automatic espresso makers are where most people end up when making their first purchase. They utilize an electric pump to create the pressure during the extraction, ensuring you have sufficient and consistent pressure for a repeatable cup of espresso, every time. The pump also allows them to have a steam wand on board. Because the components of these designs are still fairly simple, you’ll find them in the low hundred-dollar range.

If you’re really looking to take your espresso game to the next level then look no further than the super automatic espresso machines. They have all of the benefits of the semi automatic machines, and then some. They’ll take care of everything from grinding the beans, to tamping and brewing. All you have to do is select a recipe and press a button. The largest benefit comes in the customization. You can set extraction temperatures and pressures to really get the perfect brew from the beans your using. Don’t expect this to come cheap though, as many of these models come with a price tag in the thousand dollar range.

So how do you feel, are you ready to go find your perfect home espresso machine? By now you sure should be. One last word of warning before we sign off though – keep on the look out for cheap knock-offs. You might be able to save you a few bucks, but at the end of the day you’re going to get a product made from inferior components. You get what you pay for, and these simply won’t hold up to long periods of use. Espresso machine components see a lot of wear and tear. Good luck out there, and if you have any questions while you’re on your search please don’t hesitate to give me a shout.