Posts Tagged Garden Coaching

New Year’s Day – Here are my “I’m Gonnas” – Sharing With You My 10 Garden Resolutions


Here at Helen’s Haven, we take every chance to have new beginnings. In the world of gardening, everyday offers  a new beginning; most, sadly, are not necessarily planned.

On New Year’s day, we have an opportunity to plan some resolutions and then hope for the best.  As someone profound once said, “if you don’t have any goals, how do you know when you got there”, or some such talk.  So I have goals for the garden…drumroll, please.  Here are my I’m gonna’s:

10.  I’m gonna stop waking up in the morning and going straight to the window to see if the boxwood hedge in the back connected during the night. The Best and Hardest Thing to Give Your Garden is Time

9.  I’m gonna deadhead like I should.

8.  I’m gonna grow more plants from seed.

7.  I’m gonna sow poppy and larkspur seeds again, even though I know I will fail.

6.  I’m gonna reduce even more lawn. Lawn Reform Coalition

5.  I’m gonna add more native plantings to the garden. North Carolina Native Plant Society

4.  I’m gonna take a series of monthly images at predetermined stops in the garden so I can slide show the beds annual pattern with monthly performance.

3.  I’m gonna stop worrying about where my garden gnomes go. Six Places Your Garden Gnomes May Go

2.  I’m gonna read plant labels and then I’m gonna factor 25% to whatever number they print. What do You Want to Know About a Plant?

1.  I’m gonna kick zonal denial in the butt.  Only plants with a zone wrapped around my zone 7b garden will be allowed in Helen’s Haven…unless it’s for the south side and I can’t help myself.

Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening with Confidence™

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenYoest and her facebook friend’s page, Helen Yoest or Gardening With Confidence™ Face Book Fan Page.

Helen also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum

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Garden feng shui and a new garden path

february-14-2009-41While I’m not necessarily a practitioner of feng shui, I do recognize good qi and bad qi (a.k.a chi or energy) when I see/feel it. I don’t need a Bagua* to know when good qi has gone bad.

After 11 years of recognizing the need for substantial steps in my mixed border, I finally had them installed. Money needed to meet need before it could happen as well. When we first bought the home, my gardening budget went to building borders, paths and plants.

Up to now, the path was made up of puny stepping stones that served no purpose other than to direct traffic from the house to the upper gardens. Now the steps also serve as a work of art, a rock garden AND to direct traffic from the house to the upper gardens.

For what I wanted, there was no other person to do the project than Phil Hathcock of Natural Stone Sculptures, in Cary, NC. He knows how to work with the land to make it look natural – as if the stones were a naturally occurring outcropping in my hill.  As an added bonus, all the stone was unearthed from Phil’s property.  new-mixed-borders-steps-2

According to the principles of feng shui, the best place to sight your home is believed to be near the dragon’s lair. No doubt I have had some critter issues in the past, but I can say without hesitation, I have never had a problem with dragons. And yet, I could have also said that before a deer showed up for dinner last summer. So, never say never.

The best location is to be near, but not too near, the dragon’s lair. Where can one find a dragon’s lair? Well, it is generally halfway between the top of the hill and the valley. Specifically, with the back of the house cradled by the hill. As luck would have it, that is exactly how my house is placed in the garden.

My house is smack dab in the middle of our lot, with the back gardens rising and the front gardens sloping down towards valley – in this case the road. Phil’s interpretation for why this was the best location, confirmed feng shui principles, again, without the need for a Bauga.

february-24-2009-0261His input was this, “The best gardens are when you can see the land out the back going up. This way, gardens can be made to view from the inside or outside the door. If the gardens in the back sloped down, you would not necessarily see the garden. The garden sloping downward in the front is also best because the best view is meant to be seen from the street and a hill maximizes this view.” Phil went on to say that, like all good feng shui, there are ways to get around bad land or energy.

We used plants that I had on hand; mainly from the porchscape of conifers in containers.  Some of these will work in the short term to make it appealing, at the same time, stabilizing the dirt.

Ta da!


I keep taking photos of it.  Very much like when my kids were babies.  I guess this is my new baby.  Let’s hope we don’t peak the interest of the dragon.

*Bagua is an eight-sided picture or object that contains a trigram in each of its eight sides with an image of the yin/yang symbol in the center. Each trigram corresponds to a particular compass direction and aspiration area.

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Garden Coaching – Digging a hole for planting a tree or a shrub




As the maintenance team from the Raleigh Garden Club was working in the Viburnum Garden at the JC Raulston Arboretum, Mark Weathington, Assistant Director and Curator of Collections reminds us not to plant too deep.  He recognized he was speaking to a group of experienced gardeners, but felt the need to remind us anyway – and justly so.  It is one of THE most common mistakes in planting plants.




It is recommended to dig a hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the diameter of the root ball.  This space gives roots a place to develop.  It’s tempting to dig out less, but don’t.  The good news though, is the depth only needs to be at or below the level in the pot, exposing the root ball. 


To the native soil piled around the perimeter of the hole, add composted manure, composted leaves or bark, or in clay soil, add a permanent soil amender such as PermiTill.  Take the shovel and chopped through the soil to mix in the soil amenders.



Remove the plant from the pot.  Check the root system.  The roots of container grown plants can grow in a circle.  If the roots continue to grow this way, girdling can occur, often times killing the plant.  Tease the roots to loosen them.  This makes it easier for the roots to grow into the new soil. 


Plant balled and burlapped, B & B plants, such that the crown of the plant (at the base of the trunk) is a little bit higher than the outer edge.  Handle the plant by the B & B, not the trunk.  I’m often guilty of this.  Handling it by the trunk, puts pressure on the roots since B & B plants are very heavy., pulling down on the root system causing stress.


Position the plant to your liking.  As with any plant, there’s always a better looking face.  Rotate the plant until it is facing in the direction to present the best exposure.

Back-fill with lightly amended soil or the native soil.  Don’t overly compass the soil by pressing on it with your foot.  Just lightly compact the soil to remove large air pockets.  Soil that is too compacted may prevent water from reaching roots.  Water well to remove air pockets.  Add 2 – 3 inches of mulch, but be mindful not to put the mulch too close to the trunk.

Watch your new planting over the winter.  In the absence of or in low rainfall, remember to water.   Fertilizer once you observe new growth in the spring.

Helen Yoest

Gardening with Confidence 

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Garden Coaching at the Garden Hut in Fuquay-Varina

november-15-2008-013How it went from giving a garden coaching seminar with Carol Stein at the Garden Hut in Fuquay-Varina, to this is still unclear, but it happened none-the-less.

Carol asked if I’d be her guest designer for her November garden forum at the Garden Hut.   “Of course,” I said.  She had limited the class to 24 thinking only 10 would show.  When she realized all 24 seats were reserved, she asked for a little help.  Good thing too.  She would probably still be there.

It was great fun.  Homeowners brought in photos of a problem area in the garden they wanted addressed.  We saw everything from a bed around a patio or drive way, to whole front yards, some a blank slate, others a natural forest.  It was sort of like speed dating (or so I hear), this was  – speed gardening.  In about 10 minutes, we would found out their sun, water, soil, use, style.  Then we gave design suggestions. 

Ever since though, I keep thinging back on  a particular photo and wished I mentioned this or that.  When I do garden coaching for a client, I usually spend a couple of hours on site and do a summary to follow in about a week.  During this time, I’m milling over many new ideas for the site in my head.  This speed gardening approach didn’t allow for this.  However, we were able to give the homeowners things to think about.  Knowing what you want and what you have to work are very beneficial and should never be underestimated.

When Carol asked me to participate, she said, “Oh, by the way, we get paid in hugs.”  I told her no problem, I work hugs.  The reason I agreed to this freebee was because of the owner of the Garden Hut, Nelsa Cox.  

It wasn’t because Nelsa, is a plant nut, although she is very knowledgeable about plants.  Nelsa also has a very nice retail nursery.  I did it because of what Nelsa does for the community, Nelsa is an integral part of the Fuquay-Varina community, as well as, neighboring cities of Holly Springs, Cary, Raleigh, Garner, and Clayton.  She really cares.  I thought it was the least I could do for all she does.

While I was there, Nelsa greeted everyone with a friendly hello and knew most of her customers by name.  It comes easy to someone who really cares. 

As Carol and I were working our way through our dozen gardens, our friend Lisa Treadaway stopped by.  Lisa owns the Little Herb House up the street.  Lisa was there to give a how-to decorating class making a basket arrangement that also allowed participants to take home goodies to transform it from it’s Thanksgiving theme to a Christmas theme whenever they felt it appropriate.  She asked Carol and me to sit with the group and make our own creation.

Carol thought her creation would work as well as a hat as it would a center piece.  I think she was on to something.

When I was putting mine together, I saw a turkey.  I decided to go with it.  I wasn’t encouraged to do so; Lisa tried to gently guide me in a more traditional direction.  But hey, if Carol can wear hers as a hat, I can make mine into a turkey. 

Maybe Lisa was right, but I like my turkey and better yet, when I got it home my kids recognized it as one!

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


The Garden Hut is located at

1004 Old Honeycutt Road

Fuguay-Varina, NC

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Thinking outside the Ilex

Before the housing market crash and subsequent bale-out, developments were popping up like a bad million dollars…that cliche use to reference a penny but, well, need I say more?

With this mass development, came mass market and appeal…they were building, because people were buying, and they will build again.  This happens.  But do the gardens all have to look alike?  I think not.

Gardening With Confidence was called in to help with this:

The problem

The problem

There are 15 hollies spaced every 3 feet…I couldn’t get them all in the photo.  Imagine the creativity involved in creating this space.  I shouldn’t joke; this is bad enough as it is.  But it got worse when my client tells the whole story.  She tells me that she was the first to buy this house; even before it was complete allowing her to have some input inside and out.  When it came to the huge side, she was at a loss as to what to suggest.  So, she told the landscaper to, “Use their creativity and design something with broad appeal.”

She learned a lesson that day, one man’s creativity, is this womens row of identical Ilex.

All tidy in a neat row. That's my truck, Cosmos, at the top

All tidy in a neat row. That my truck, Cosmo, at the top

My job is to make this row of hollies more interesting, but I can’t go outside the lines or cover the window, and she wants input in the plant selection.  Can you blame her?

Once we sort this out, I will show you a post photo of the redo.  I’m afraid, it wouldn’t be what I could do with this space.  She is a little afraid to rock the boat with anything too interesting.  She has a point, anything interesting will not go unnoticed since near as I can tell, 90% of this entire half million plus dollar per home develeopment has a choice of 3 hollies.

If only she called me in from the beginning…


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Sunday November 2, 2008 Puttering in Helen’s Haven

Ugh, the end of daylight savings time!

We had a frost this week, but not a killing frost.  At least not for the masses.  The very tender, yes, others no.  The Elephant Ears (Colocasia) got bit, as well as, the basils. 

Raleigh’s 90% first frost date is October 31.  But it has been years since that happened.  This year we were right on schedule.  I can remember living in Oakwood (the historic district downtown Raleigh) and having to take down my hanging porch ferns in order to decorate for Christmas!

And yesterday and today, the weather was fine.  If only Mr. Frost didn’t come yet, my garden would still be in it’s full fall glory.

 So I decided to tidy up some.  This Sunday’s fun included:

  • Planting the 50 or so N. jonquilla simplex my friend KK gave me. 
  • Planting 2 Tiger Lilies also from my friend KK.  I like that my friend KK is so knowledable about plants, that he gives me plants and also teaches me about them.
  • Trimmed back the beautyberry that I transplanted last week.  I also watered it; it’s looking puny.
  • Same with the Salvia I moved last Sunday.
  • Cut back the basils.
  • Pulled what annuals I had (other than herbs) which only consisted of dragon winged begonias.
  • Planted panseys in the back porch winter pots.
Back Porch Winter Pot with Leyland, Panseys, and Ivy
Back Porch Winter Pot with Leyland, Panseys, and Ivy
  • Watered the transplanted box.  The ones in the sun are suffering.
  • Picked up more chestnuts.
  • Covered the to-the-ground stump left after TD took his chainsaw to the Ligustrum
  • I have a photo shoot on Tuesday for Living in Style magazine for a how-to on decorating 3 mantels using greenery, berries, cones, pods, etc gathered from the garden, friends, and agreeable neighbors.  Still need to get Magnolia.
  • Watered holding area.

It was a light duty day. 


Radius Garden tools sent me some nifty “Advanced Ergonomic Design” tools including a Trowel, Transplanter, Weeder, and Cultivator.  I like the chartreuse green handles. 

Each of the tools demonstrated a good balance when I held it in my hand.  I tested the Cultivator.  This is a tool I use most often. I don’t call it a Cultivator though, I refer to it as a scratcher or hand tiller.

The handle is curvy.  I’m guessing that somehow lends itself to the ergonomics part.  I found that when I needed to dig deeply, I could easily and comfortably put my left hand over my right (I’m right handed) and apply pressure.  Other tools, don’t give the surface area to apply pressure like Radius does.  However, I found the curved handle awkward when using the Cultivator to just tease the surface.  Fortunately, I’m more often applying force than just scratching the surface.  If the curvy arch alone is what makes it ergonomic, then it didn’t work for me.  If the curvey arch makes it easier to use it as a two handed tool, which was how I tested it, then it worked great.  Would I recommend it?  I wouldn’t turn it down as a gift.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008, Hanna hath no fury, but a lot of rain

Saturday, September 06, 2008 Hanna hath no fury, but a lot of rain

…at least in Raleigh.

Hurricanes fascinate me. Not from the standpoint of a pending disaster, but rather from what it must have been like in the day before weather pundits. With knowledge of a pending disaster, the good citizens of Raleigh went to the market before the storm to buy hurricane French toast ingredients (eggs, milk, bread.) We must be prepared.

Often times, I imagine what it was like 100 years or so ago on a similarly beautiful late summer day with no sign of a much anticipated storm. Then – bam – the wind and the rain. They had no time to prepare. I suppose they were making bread anyway and getting their eggs and milk daily, so a special trip to the market wasn’t necessary. Auntie Em calling for Dorothy before a tornado comes to mind. If they had Doppler 5000, perhaps Dorothy could have save herself from a knock on the head!

Perhaps ignorance is bliss. They didn’t fret the week away wondering either. Was it going to hit us? Will it loose strength? Gain strength? Will it come at all? My new neighbors, renovating their new homestead, paid close attention to the pundits this week. Never in my life did I see a three gabled roof go up so fast!

Steve Bender, senior garden writer for Southern Living magazine and I relied on these weather pundits to help us make decisions of his pending visit to see some great Raleigh gardens, visit the JC Raulston Arboretum, and attend the Raleigh Garden Club induction into the Raleigh Hall of Fame. Knowing it was only a tropical storm and gone by Saturday afternoon we felt he could sandwich the trip in just in time between Hanna and Ike. Ike is looking a bit more threatening. Hopefully, he will hold off until Steve gets safely home on Thursday afternoon.

Measuring 4.8 inches of rain in less than 24 hours – I’m fulfilled, as is Falls Lake – again. We needed this rain – particularly, our ground water needed recharging. In anticipation of so much rain, I emptied my 250 gallon rain harvester. I also left the bottom spigot open so as not to collect all that was anticipated. I have four drain spouts, but one harvester. With a roof my size I calculated that drain spout would service 1,000 gallons of water. I really, really, really wanted to guarantee it was flowing away from the house.

When I got up this morning, Hanna was still raining on us, but the worse was over. As such, I wondered outside to close off the valve so that I could harvest 250 gallons or so. It didn’t rain enough to fill 250 gallons, but with nearly 5 inches, I doubted I would need this water for anything until the next predicted event.

Last year this time through February of this year, I was our annoying area weather pundit. I have no means to machines to make forecasts. I don’t even own a farmers almanac. I do have confidence in statistics. Armed with 100 years of data, I realized it was improbably that we would have a severe drought 2 years in a row. This stat gave me confidence allowing me to pump up fellow gardeners. Still, as gardeners were fretting over gardening as we know it, wanting to cancel long held traditions of plant sales and generally wanting to lift their skirts and go home, I preached that when the rains returned and they will, we need to be the example to the community. Success! Plant sales went on, people still gardened.

While I had some success here, I failed in communicating the other truth the stats provided. I did preach it, but since it was unfathomable to even consider not having a drought the following year, knowing we could have an exceptionally wet year was even a more ridiculous thought.

So to justify their going forward with their plant sale, the Raleigh Garden Club decided to add a heavier education aspect to the plant sale. This was admirable. The slant however, was drought tolerant plants. Now I wonder how many losses occurred due to too much water for 2008. Oh well…someday, we will go back to old fashion gardening with prudent waterwise designs. It is how I garden and what I design for others. These designs make since. Gardens should be designed for the area rain fall – selecting plants with a wide range of tolerance. Sticking to just drought tolerant plants will put your garden in as much disarray as sticking to just oasis loving plants. Gardening at the extremes can be challenging too…unless you live in an extreme areas. We do not. We average around 44 inches a year. We are just as likely to get 50% more rain than we are to get 50% less. Plant a garden that can sustain itself. As a minimum, design a garden that can sustain with harvested water – not relying on the city or a well to make your garden grow.

The plant choices available to make for a lush life are vast. Learn a little, plan and plant a lot.

Helen Yoest (Philbrook)

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