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Brand New! Outdoor Hour Challenge: Sage Herb Nature Study

Brand New! Outdoor Hour Challenge

Sage Herb Nature Study

  • Sage is a common medicinal and culinary herb in the mint family. It is attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds. Sage is a wonderful addition to your garden and is easy to grow for even beginning gardeners.
  • Sage is a drought tolerant evergreen plant or shrub that grows approximately 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It can become a woody shrub if you don’t keep it trimmed. You can grow sage in well-drained areas of your garden that have lots of sun.

Here are a few ideas for observations to get you started in your sage study:

  • What is the height of the sage stem? Feel the shape, color, and thickness of the stem. Note the arrangement of the leaves on the stem.
  • Look at the sage leaves and observe the shape, color, and size.  What is the texture of the leaf?  Taste a few of the fresh leaves if possible. Crush a few of the sage leaves in the palm of your hand to bring out the aroma.

Outdoor Hour Challenge sage nature study

Remember that the rest of the challenge is available to Ultimate and Journey level members here on the Handbook of Nature Study.

You will need to sign into your Ultimate or Journey level membership to see the herb ebook download.

Herb Nature Study ebook cover graphic

Once you download your ebook, you will have complete access to the challenge. This includes additional links, resources, study ideas, and printables.

Outdoor Hour Challenge-Herb Ebook: Download the cilantro sample here.



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Brand New! Outdoor Hour Challenge Big Sagebrush Nature Study

The sagebrush habitat is filled with interesting plants and animals, least of which is this week’s subject, the big sagebrush. Looking out over a sea of sagebrush gives the impression of it being an empty, dry wasteland. But upon closer inspection, it becomes a richly interconnected collection of living things all coexisting in a harsh landscape. Sagebrush is the thread that holds it all together.

You may wish to view my picks for resources to learn about the sagebrush habitat in this entry: High Desert Resources.

Big Sagebrush Shrub Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge

Use these ideas to get you started with your sagebrush study:

  • Choose your resource for learning about big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).  You can use one of the resources listed on page 5 of the High Desert ebook. Or if you prefer, look for resources at your public library, perhaps a field guide for wildflowers or shrubs.
  • In addition, look up these online resources for facts and a range map:  USDA Forest Service or USDA printable.

Note that an alternate study this week could be done for rabbitbrush (found in the Forest Fun ebook).

Please note that I will not be posting the complete challenge here on the blog, but you will find the detailed challenge in the High Desert ebook that’s available both in the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level memberships. Sign into your account and download the ebook for the details, more links, and notebook pages.

High Desert Ebook cover graphic

If you don’t have a membership yet, you can click the graphic above and join today for immediate access to the 25 ebooks and so much more! Remember that all levels, even the Discovery level membership, include access to all of the archived newsletters!

Topics in this ebook include:

  • Bitterbrush
  • Sagebrush
  • Greater sage-grouse
  • Succulents
  • Mountain Lion
  • Coyote
  • Pocket Gopher
  • Bristlecone Pine
  • Elk
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Juniper
  • Snowberry
  • Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel
  • River Otter


Join Us Ultimate Naturalist January 2020

Use the discount code SPRINGTOGETHER to receive $10 off an Ultimate Naturalist Library membership!



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High Desert Habitat Resources and Ebook

High Desert Ebook cover graphic
Ultimate and Journey Level members can click this graphic to go directly to the library to download a copy of this new ebook. Make sure you are logged in and if you’re having trouble with your password, please leave me a comment or send me a direct email to receive my assistance. Email:

New Ebook is Now Available to Members!

The High Desert ebook is now ready for you to download and use with your family. This ebook has been a labor of love on my part because it is filled with some of my favorite topics and things I have in my own habitat. I have been anxious to share these subjects with you my blog readers for a long time!

I have included many links and resources for nature journal pages for your family to use in your nature study.

We will be working our way through this ebook in a few months so get ready to follow along. Please note that even though this ebook is titled “high desert”, many of the the topics can be found in other habitats. In most cases, I have suggested an alternative nature study idea to supplement or substitute for the ebook topic. I encourage you to give it a try!

2019 to 2020 plan graphic with ebook covers 2

There are 14 brand new Outdoor Hour Challenges for you to complete as part of your nature study lessons with your children. These Challenges are not based on information in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. You’ll be using internet links and field guides to glean information about each topic. See the bottom of this post for book and resource ideas you may wish to have as a supplement to this High Desert ebook.

  • This 63 page digital ebook has 14 challenges and supplemental activities
  • There are multiple custom notebooking pages for each of the topics. You can choose from simple notebook pages or more advanced notebooking pages.
  • There are 12 coloring pages.
  • Sample: High Desert Ebook Sample

Here are the specific topics included in this ebook:

  • Bitterbrush
  • Sagebrush
  • Greater Sage-grouse
  • Succulents
  • Mountain Lion
  • Coyote
  • Pocket Gopher
  • Bristlecone Pine
  • Elk
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Juniper
  • Snowberry
  • Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel
  • River Otter


How do you get the new High Desert ebook?

Members of the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey levels have access to the new ebook in their library. You need to click the “Members Area” button at the top of the website, sign into your account, and the ebook is there to download and save for your family to use when desired.

Join Us Ultimate Naturalist January 2020

If you don’t have a membership yet, I’m offering a $5 off discount code that will be good towards your Ultimate Naturalist membership.

Discount Code: OHC10


Here are my favorite resources that I use all of the time in my own study of the High Desert habitat.

The Nature of Bend

Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

Sagebrush Country-A Wildflower Sactuary
There is also a printable guide to plants of the High Desert found at this link:

Xeriscaping in the High Desert.

I have this printed out and I use it to plan my garden. It may be helpful as a supplement to your learning about this unique high desert landscape.

Please note the links above are Amazon affiliate links to books I own and love.



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Lovely Lavender Days and Lavender Nature Study

I love all things lavender! It is the predominant plant and the predominant color in my front yard. Just about everyone who visits my house comments on the lovely fragrance of lavender as they walk up the front walk.

Lavender #1 (which we always call English lavender): Fragrant light lavender with silvery-green stem that is stiff and woody. This is the lavender I harvest and make potpourri for sachets from because it smells just like perfume.The large plants have grown over part of the walkway so when you brush by them you are treated to a perfumy delight.

I have missed the prime time for harvesting this summer because of travel but I will still go out early in the morning in the next few days and cut the blossoms to dry for a big batch of fragrant potpourri to have on hand.

Lavender along the walkway (sage in the background)

Lavender #2 (which we always call Spanish lavender): Spicy lavender scent with feathery soft leaves and petals that look like wings on the top. The leaves when rubbed are just as fragrant as the actual flower. We learned to prune this lavender last fall and it came back with a growth spurt I couldn’t believe was possible. I am pruning it way back again this year.

Lavender with “wings” on top and fern-like leaves

Are you interested in learning more about lavender? My daughter and I created a Hearts and Trees Kit that features lavender nature study and a lavender sachet sewing project. The lavender nature study is in the form of an Outdoor Hour Challenge and I wrote a narrative that mimics the style of Anna Botsford Comstock in the Handbook of Nature Study. You will really enjoy this study and your children will learn a lot about lavender.

I am pleased to announce that for the next ten days you can purchase a Hearts and Trees Kit featuring lavender nature study and a lavender sachet craft and receive FREE SHIPPING.

You must use the buttons below to receive the special discount.
For the lavender focused part of this kit, your child will create a dried lavender sachet. The fabric, thread, needle yarn and dried lavender and instructions are included. ***PLEASE NOTE: If you or your child is allergic to lavender just let us know and we will not send the dried lavender!***
There is also an eight page nature journal focusing on lavender. Your child will assemble the nature journal using the cover, pages and a length of twine. A sample lavender flower is provided for you to study. The cardboard, rubber bands and link to instructions are provided so that you can make a flower press. Waxed paper and instructions are also included to make a waxed paper pouch to mount the pressed lavender into the nature journal.

There is more to the kit! Each one includes:
  • 2 sewing projects
  • 2 handicraft projects
  • 1 painting project
  • 1 drawing project
  • 1 nature study collection of projects focusing on lavender
  • 1 artist study collection of notebooking pages with art print

These kits were gathered with children ages 6-12 in mind. Parents may need to help their students, especially younger children, with some aspects of this kit. (Please note you will need to supply some common art supplies to complete these projects such as scissors, paintbrush and markers. A list of common supplies you will need is included with the kit.)

Hearts and Trees Lavender and Bubbles Kit 

Hearts and Trees Bubbles and Lavender Kit–FREE SHIPPING

 If you have any questions,  email me or my daughter (

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Garden Flowers Close to Home – And More

This month our Outdoor Hour Challenge focus is on garden flowers and crop plants. There will be no lack of subjects to study this month right outside our front and back doors. As the spring weather warms up and we have abundant sunshine, I am eager to get out and start digging in the dirt. It was easy to check off a few of the Garden Grid Study ideas as went worked in the yard this weekend.

So I will give you a tour of some of the interesting garden flowers, crops, grasses, and bushes we have in our yard right now. Enjoy!

Heart shaped leaves…

My latest garden acquisition is this lovely, lovely lilac bush. If only you could smell the delicate fragrance of the flowers! I am hoping this is a winner in my sunny backyard. We planted it where it will have plenty of sunshine and room to grow.

We had this spot already prepared from last summer when it was part of my experimental veggie garden expansion…we weren’t all that successful so I decided that my beloved lilac would find a home here.

More heart-shaped leaves…

Here is my latest experiment….hydrangeas on the shady side of my house. I decided to leave them in pots to see if they survive and if they look like they are liking it here then I will plant them in the ground. The birdfeeder has now been moved to the other part of the garden where the squirrels might not find it for a bit.

Watched the bees in the flowers…

The backyard lavender is blooming now and the bees are busy already. You can never have too much lavender….or at least I think so.

Disneyland Rose

This is definitely the year of the rose in our area. All my roses are blooming and this one is my favorite…the Disneyland Rose. It has a spicy perfume fragrance and the blooms are peachy-pink. I cut this all the way to the ground last fall because it was an odd shape. I wasn’t sure if it would bloom well this spring but I have to say that I may just cut it all the way down every fall if this is the results. Awesome!

Look at those leaves!

This is another new arrival in the back garden. We have a super sunny hot spot up next to my backyard retreat. Nothing has been very successful here except the Jerusalem Sage. I am taking a chance with the Moonshine Yarrow and it has probably doubled in size since we planted it. I am hopeful that it will do well here.

These leaves are fuzzy and soft.

This is our Jerusalem Sage…I looked it up and it grows to be about 48″ wide. It needs very little water and it blooms long into the autumn season. I watered it three times a week last summer (the first summer) but now I am going to be only watering it twice a week and see how it goes. It looks like it is pretty well established. Where I live in Northern California, we get very little rain from June to November. Our first significant rain last fall was November 27th. Now you know why I use lots of drought tolerant plants in my yard.

So here is my surprise squash plant that is growing in the cutting flower garden box. I am not sure where it came from but I am going to let it grow since it seems so happy where it is. I did not have squash growing anywhere near this box last year so we will be surprised when it matures to see what it is exactly.

I had to include an image of my clover since we are focusing on Garden Flowers and Crop Plants this month for the Outdoor Hour Challenge. Clover is included in the Handbook of Nature Study so if you have some in your yard…take advantage of the nature study opportunity.

Our Smoke bush is so very pretty right now with its airy little blossoms that make it look like it has smoke. This has doubled in size since we planted it two years ago and I love the way it looks right now.

See the tiny little flowers? This is what makes it look like “smoke”. Later in the autumn the leaves turn a deep purple…love it!

One last image of our sage that is growing like crazy with our warmer temperatures and sunshine. This will be covered in delicate purple flowers during the summer…loads of bees visit these bushes in our front yard during the summer.

There you go… a visit to my garden, a few new things, and some close observation as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge. My boys helped me finish preparing the garden boxes and we planted seeds this weekend too so there will be lots more to come as the seasons flow by.

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Up-Close Insect Observations and a Relaxed Form of Nature Study

This past month saw a return of the Outdoor Hour Challenge to a more topical approach as opposed to a seasonal approach. For our family, it breathed new life into our time outdoors and although we had a focus we were much more open to letting things just happen.

As we gardened, sat outside for our dinners, and traveled to various local locations, the insect topics came to us and we worked on paying close attention to the opportunities. This truly is the kind of nature study that interweaves itself into your everyday life, the kind you can do just about every day.

We were trimming lavender when we noticed this foamy white globs on many of the plants. We knew right away that it was some sort of insect that was creating these globs but we were not sure which insect. When we were back inside, I Googled “white foam on lavender” and right away we could easily see this was a common search. There were many resources that all pointed to the Spittlebug.

After doing some reading online, we found that it is many times found on rosemary plants too so we went out to look. Yes! There it was on our rosemary plants.

  • They are related to aphids.
  • They feed by extracting plant sap.
  • Nymphs cover themselves with a frothy mass that provides protection from predators.
  • There can be more than one nymph in a glob.
  • Oh, and the “spittle” is not spittle at all and actually comes from the other end of the insect. 🙂

Although they can do minimal damage to plants (according to most sources we read online), we decided to take the advice of most and just wash the globs off with the hose. Easy enough.

We have had a huge increase in the number of flying insects in the front garden. The sage, the butterfly bushes, and the lavender are all still in bloom and each day there are hundreds of flying creatures that come to enjoy the flowery goodness. The fiery skipper above is the most common butterfly we have in our garden at this time of year. Isn’t it amazing to see all the parts up close? Can you see the probiscus?

The bees are thick and it makes me realize how easy it is to provide a healthy bee habitat. Plant bee friendly plants and provide even the smallest amount of water and they find you. We had a visitor the other day ask if we were afraid of bee stings and I honestly answered that even though we are in close contact with the bees, they avoid us more than we avoid them.

The flying insect we do have trouble with is the yellow jacket. We had to put up a trap for them because they were stinging my son…..who somehow seems to attract them. Every evening when we sit outside to eat our dinner, one or two of the pesky little insects come to buzz around us and our plates of food. They are very persistent this year for some reason. I think this is the fourth time we have had to rebait our yellow jacket trap. This style has been very successful for us and it is very economical to use since you just buy little packets to bait the trap after it gets full. (You can buy them on Amazon: Rescue WHYTR-BB8 Wasp Hornet Yellow Jacket Trap Reusable.)

I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between native plants, non-native plants, and insects since reading a book on this topic. Bringing Nature Home is another one of the books I received from Timber Press to review and share with you in a post. This book goes more deeply into how introducing non-native plants into our habitats creates an environment that can make life harder for native insects and plants.

It is far more in-depth than I could grasp on the first time through reading it but it has given me lots to think about. It is a book that makes me wish I was staring over with choosing plants for our whole yard but since I can’t do that, I can look forward and make better choices in the future.

If you are interested in reading and learning about how plants and insects (and other creatures), both native and non-native, thrive or die because of choices we humans make….this is the book for you. I am going to read it through again once I have some time to think and meditate on my responsibility as a garden owner.

We are still experiencing temperatures far above normal and the abundance of sunshine has drawn us out into the garden just about every day this week. We did lots of pruning and composting but we are still delaying our actual autumn garden clean-up until we see a change in the weather. The birds and insects and I suspect a skunk and raccoon are still frequenting our garden and enjoying the food source.


Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Frontyard Garden – Surprise Yard Art Sunflower

So….when Mr. A was spending all that time down in the shop over the past few weeks I thought he was working on his mini bike. Turns out he was creating a surprise for this garden loving mama.

Sunflower Yard Art (3)

We have a spot in the front yard that I have been saving for some garden art but so far I hadn’t found anything I liked. Using his welding skills, his amazing creative eye, and a lot of hard work, Mr. A designed and then made this sunflower art and then while I was out for a walk, placed it in the garden. (Mr. A is my eighteen year old son….in case you are new to the blog.)

Sunflower Yard Art (7)
It is about five feet tall and is now securing situated in the rock garden area on the top terrace of my front yard. I can see it from my living room window which is really the best angle for seeing it. Didn’t he do an amazing job?

6 11 12 Front Yard (7)
The rest of the front yard has become an amazing palette of color and every corner is now filling in with living things. The hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies are always flying here and there among the blossoms. The bees are even up in the blossoming tulip poplar tree.

Sage (2)
I am enjoying the sage this year…I think it is the shape and the delicate flowers. Or maybe it is the scent of sage that sort of lingers in the air after you walk by.

We haven’t added anything new this week to the garden but the Lamb’s Ear that I am trying in the rock garden is growing and filling in the space I have. My friend warned me that it will take over but I am confident that the rocks will contain it or in the end I can thin it as needed. You can see the poppies in this image too…they are being left until they go to seed so we can have a bumper crop of springtime poppies next year.

Our time this week in the garden was spent trimming bushes on the side of the house, cutting back the neighbor’s blackberry vines from the fence line, and a bit of weeding around the bottoms of the bird feeders.

Now is such an exciting time in the garden. My focus this year has shifted from veggies to flowers since we have an amazing Farmer’s Market where I can glean as much fresh stuff as our family needs without all the fussing. I may go back to growing lots of veggies in the future but for now it is nice just to enjoy the colors and shapes of the flowers. (I do have a few staples in the back square foot garden but not much more than herbs, zucchini, okra, and a tomato.)

Sigh…I love this time of year.

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

6 11 12 Front Yard (7)

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Garden Color and Fragrance – Early June Delights

Daisies June 2012

My garden is full of promise…the promise of beautiful things to look at and delicious things to eat.

The daisies are filling in a big spot in the back cutting garden and we are anxious to study them as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge later in the summer. There are coneflowers, sunflowers, and zinnias as well that have buds so stay tuned for some updates on those in a few weeks.

Star Jasmine
Some things are already smelling like heaven…the star jasmine is in full bloom and already needed a trimming back from the sidewalk. The cats lay under these plants since they make wonderful shade in the afternoon sun. Wouldn’t that be delightful?

Disneyland Roses June 2012
Last week when I was working with the window open I could smell this rose on the gentle afternoon breeze. It is a Disneyland Rose and it has been a faithful bloomer these past few years. It is loaded with pink/peach flowers. This rose is what I imagine the perfect rose fragrance would be…a signature scent.

Hydrangeas (1)
The hydrangeas are bursting open this week and the delicate color of the flowers on this particular bush is one of my favorites.

Hydrangea Nature Journal - with watercolor pencils
A few years ago, I used my watercolor pencils to capture the pastel colors of this lovely flower and then used a fine tip marker to outline it a bit. Keeping track of my favorite garden flowers in my journal is a wonderful way to pass an afternoon.

Jerusalem Sage
This is something new in the backyard this year and it is really taking off. We added this Jerusalem Sage to a spot that gets super hot and dry in the afternoons up against the house. So far it is thriving…I did put it on the drip system until it is established and then I think I can back off with the water. The texture of the leaves is soft and fuzzy which adds a nice layer of interest to this side of the garden.

Purple Butterfly Bush
The front yard has been joined by the blooming purple butterfly bush! The hummingbirds have been seen enjoying this particular bush…actually fighting over it in the early evening hours. My cat friend Cocoa is like my garden shadow these days. She seems to pop up wherever I go. You can see my sage growing in two spots in the background of this photo. It is just starting to bloom.

Red Hot Pokers June 2012
Another favorite of the hummingbirds is the Red Hot Poker plant. This is Mr. A’s favorite plant in the garden and he has been eagerly waiting for it to bloom. It looks good this year and I may end up dividing up the plant in the late fall to fill in a few spaces in the front garden.

Apples - June 2012
We have started to see quite a bit of growth in our backyard fruit. The apples are looking like apples! Not too many apples on the limbs but enough for each of us to enjoy a crisp apple come the end of the summer.

Someone asked in a comment a few weeks ago whether we had any lawn left in our yard. The answer is yes and you can see it in this photo. We have a small plot of grass left in the backyard, mostly for the dog to enjoy. We use it as her ball throwing spot and she loves to lay in the shady grass on the hot afternoons. Since it gets so hot here and there is very little rain during the summer months, we do have to water this part of the yard. I have it set on a timer and it waters five minutes a day and so far that is enough to keep it green. (I need to write a post showing how we have cut our water usage to a fraction of what it was two years ago and still enjoy a lush green garden.)

Figs on the Tree
Of course the figs are loaded as usual….this is not my favorite fruit but we eat a bit and then leave the rest for the birds and other critters. We have tried several times to eliminate this tree but every time we cut it down it comes back full and loaded with fruit within a year.

Blackberries - Early June
I do LOVE blackberries and we have our little patch just loaded with blossoms right now. This is exciting and it really seems like summer now that the berries are maturing. My blueberries are still all plant and no signs of blossoms or berries. I hope to get a bit of fruit from them this year. We shall see.

We have rain today so the garden is getting well watered but tomorrow we are going to see the end of the rain and be back to our warm temperatures. I am grateful for the rain but I am ready for the summer heat.

The June (Ocean Beach) edition of the Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletter has published. You must be subscribed to the blog in order to receive the download link. It is a beautiful and informative edition that I know you are going to want to have in your collection. You can subscribe on the sidebar of my blog.

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Planning a Garden and Watching it Grow

6 27 11 Garden Potted Hydrangeas

So as I walked through my garden this week I realized that having a garden is like watching an awakening of a new life. When we plant a seed, we know in our head that it will produce a particular kind of plant. After a period of time we know that it will grow into a flower or veggie. But have you stopped lately to consider just why it does that? That life comes from somewhere…it is not mere mechanics. I choose to give all the glory to the Master Gardener in heaven. Here are some of His creations that have come to life in my yard.

6 27 11 Sage

Sometimes I choose a plant because of its color, sometimes its fragrance, and sometimes its texture. My new Sage has it all…another bee loving plant in our remodeled frontyard. I love this plant and I hope it continues to grow right where it is in the middle of my walk-way plantings.

6 27 11 Red Hot Poker

This plant is Mr. A’s favorite and he asked if we could add it to the front yard when we were planning the new beds. This Red Hot Poker is a favorite of the hummingbirds. I actually thought it was dead this past winter because it didn’t look at all like it had any life left in it but here it is….glorious. You can see my English Lavender in the background as it is bursting with blossoms and bees.

6 27 11 Grapes on the Vine

Our grapes coming along strong. In fact, we had to cut them back already because they were overwhelming the corner of the garden where we sit in their shade. We have a couple varieties planted but I am pretty sure these are the Thompson seedless…good eating grapes.

6 27 11 Garden Sunflowers

Sunflowers by the dozens are all starting to form in our bee garden. Wake up sunflowers!

6 27 11 Tomatoes

Tomatoes are green but hold the promise of being sweet juicy morsels soon.

6 27 11 Pumpkins!

Pumpkins in the Three Sisters Garden are growing by the minute. We had a few days of hot hot weather and they loved it. I am thrilled they are looking so great!

6 27 11 Coneflowers

We have coneflowers that are almost taller than I am this year.I think the buds are almost as pretty as the flowers but the bees are waiting on the real thing.

6 27 11 Green Beans on the Pole
Our pole beans are holding on tight and climbing towards the summer sky. I swear I put the poles in and the next day they were already half way up….I need to do a time lapse. My morning glories are doing the same thing out in the other garden.

6 27 11 Butterfly Bush Purple

The Butterfly bush is going to be in full bloom soon. We planted three new bushes this year and I love the graceful way they grow. I am not a tidy gardener so it is fine with me that they sort of grow as they wish. My garden this year is by far the most free-flowing of all gardens. I decided it is more fun not to try to control everything.

6 27 11 Garden Hydrangeas

One last hydrangea image….especially for my hydrangea loving friend Tricia.

Hope you enjoyed your stroll through our gardens this week. We had two inches of rain last night so I am glad that I got out and took the photos a few days ago. We never get that much rain in June so it continues to be an unusual year here in Northern California.

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!