Concrete leaf casting

29 05 2008

Debbi and I have been making these concrete leaf castings for several years now, and my Garden Club members have also tried their hand at it. There are many sites that show how to make them. This one has step-by-step instructions with photos:

Since most of the leaves we create are smaller, we don’t often do the chicken wire reinforcement. Larger elephant ears do require a bit of reinforcement, though, and we have made some of those (the larger they are, the more likely you’ll need two people to move it when it’s dry!). Most of the ones we have done are made with leaves from hostas, pokeweed, grape leaves, caladium leaves, and smaller elephant ears. Leaves that have nice, deep veins work best. If you want to hang your leaf on a fence or wall, insert a curved piece of clothes hanger or thick wire (formed into a loop) into the back before the leaf is cured.

Artists Little and Lewis ( suggest using powdered pigments to color your concrete before creating the leaves. Read more about their approach by going to . Do a search for “concrete leaf casting” to find the segment where Little & Lewis discuss leaf casting and list supplies.

We haven’t tried the “color-in-the-concrete” approach yet. We do ours in the natural color and then paint after curing is done. Our favorite style is to paint the front and back with black acrylic paint, then rub on powdered metallic powdered pigments (the type often used in Sculpey jewelry projects). We used the Pearl Ex powdered pigment series, and we find silver, gold, bronze, blues, greens, and purples work much better than the pastel colors. We only apply the additional coloring and metallic powder to the front. The back remains black only.

This is the product we use:

I buy my pigments from Michael’s or A.C. Moore Craft Store. They sell them in sets of 12 different colors, or you can buy a larger bottle of one color. It doesn’t take much to cover the leaf. We use a soft cloth to rub in the pigments, which are very concentrated and go a long way. It is necessary to paint the leaf black (or a dark brown) in order for the metallic pigments to be intense in color.

If you try this style, you’ll need to seal your leaf with an outdoor spray sealant to keep the pigment from rubbing off. The metallic pigments are stunning! Don’t expect them to hold up 100% in direct sunlight over a few years, though. The paint will chip a little but you can always paint over it and do it again to freshen it up. They still look good chipped and faded, though…sort of a shabby chic, relic-look! And you can try a new color scheme the next time around. If you hang or display yours indoors, you’ll still need to seal the pieces so they can be handled. And they certainly won’t fade as soon if they’re used as indoor art.

Here’s another posting I found that lists supplies, steps, and shows leaves painted with acrylic or latex paint.

The good news: supplies for this project are CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP and the results are incredible! The downside? Those bags of cement/quickrete, etc. are HEAVY!

UPDATE: Thanks to Kim, a fellow garden blogger, for this link to Craig Cramer’s blog, “Ellis Hollow.” Check out his advice here:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Then on to craft project #823

25 05 2008

Okay, I’m not really keeping track of how many craft projects I’ve done in my lifetime. This is my latest one for the garden—a “bell” tower wind chime, of sorts. You can get all of the supplies from your local craft store.

Step 1: Using cheap craft paint, I painted each miniature pot a different color. I recommend sealing the pots after painting with a spray on or brush on outdoor sealant to keep the paint from peeling or fading too soon. I haven’t sealed these yet.

Step 2: I measured out how long I wanted my tower/chime and cut a piece of rusty wire to fit. I threaded the wire through a rusty implement that had broken off an old wind chime (it’s a garden tool), thus forming the foundation or bottom of my bell tower.

Step 3: I threaded cheap multi-colored beads (from my brief jewelry-making phase) onto thick, flexible craft wire, followed by the first pot. I arranged them by color, grouping dark to light and warm to cool. I added more beads, then the next pot, and so on. I used the less colorful beads in the area inside each pot because those beads wouldn’t be visible. The prettiest beads were saved for the display area peeking out below each pot. Remember, if you’re using the thicker wire, you’ll need beads with larger openings for threading.

Step 4: When all the pots (I used eight in total) were threaded onto the wire, I finished off the top with a large loop. You can hang this on virtually anything: a trellis, from a tree branch, dangle from a shepherd’s hook, etc.

I also made simple “garden jewelry” (sans the little pots) with the same rusty craft wire, multi-colored beads, and another garden tool at the bottom. Both projects were cheap, easy, and fast to make—a great project for a garden club or summer project for kids.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

And now, back to those flowers…

25 05 2008

You should have known I wouldn’t stray away too far from the garden this time of the year, shouldn’t you?

I shot these Friday afternoon. Below: Rock Penstemon, Campanula ‘Wedding Bells’, Yellow Yarrow, Hot Pink Ice Plant, Rose Campion ‘Angel’s Blush’ (in bloom and foliage only photos), coral-colored Begonias (I think), unknown Allium (I think), Lamb’s Ear and Johnny-Jump-ups, and a yet identified Clematis.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Step away from the flowers…

25 05 2008

Garden lovers: lest you think I have no other life other than gardening (it would appear so), I do. See my main blog here:

Check it out from time to time—I post things other than gardening, believe it or not!

Here’s the latest posting on my main blog:

So I don’t completely overload my viewers with too many green things (what did you expect? I’m a gardener and we’re knee deep into the growing season right now!), I’ve prepared a few more images from the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN) “Inside Politics 2008” fundraiser I attended a few weeks ago at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (I do this to remind you all that I can and do shoot other subjects!)

To refresh your memory (in case you don’t recognize these prominent folks), the panel included journalist David Gregory (NBC News), David Brooks (author and columnist with The New York Times), Gwen Ifill (moderator and managing editor of Washington Week in Review on PBS), and author and journalist/anchorman Bob Schieffer (CBS Evening News). For more information about BCAN and bladder cancer, visit

Contrary to recent postings, I do find other subjects to shoot when I’m not being lured into the world of flowers!

For more information about the panelists, see this posting:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Duh…more plants, of course!

25 05 2008

Yesterday was so balmy/beautiful/blue-skied that Michael and I decided to hit Green Spring Gardens again to see if there were any (new) photographic opportunities. Here are my results from our hour+ adventure.

Green Spring Gardens:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Debbi’s garden

24 05 2008

…a profusion of purple, a smattering of orange, a touch of white, a swaft of blue, and green everywhere. But overwhelmingly and undeniably red, red, red—her favorite color.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Organized chaos vs. needs medication

24 05 2008

“Organized chaos,” was Michael’s response yesterday when I asked him to describe the front yard garden. I also asked him to guess what passersby might be thinking. I’m thinking they think I have too much time on my hands…or perhaps I have an illness that could be regulated with medication. I must say that when I’m in the kitchen, near the windows overlooking the two sides of the garden, and someone goes by—I try to catch their expressions and see how long their eyes linger over the garden. So many just pass by without even a glance to their right. How in the world can they do that? Those that take time to pause from their running, walking, jogging, baby-stroller-pushing, dog-walking jaunts get a silent stamp of approval from me. Aside from my own visual gratification, I create this “organized chaos” for them, too.

Recently my friend Gina spent an entire afternoon helping us clean up the backyard and plant those last few bulbs and impromptu plant purchases from the Green Springs Garden plant sale last weekend. I cajoled her into taking leftover bulbs, excess plants, garden ornaments, an old table, empty pots, etc…anything to just get my backyard looking like paradise again. She and Michael kept shaking their heads every time I came up with a statement like, “oh…um… I forgot about the free sundrops someone abandoned in the parking lot. Where should we (shove) those?” Or, “if we just stake up that bunch of plants, I’m sure we can find several inches of valuable real estate in which to plant these lily bulbs I forgot about.” Or, “we’re almost done, guys, just six more things to plant. Okay…I forgot about those, okay, eight more things, and then we’re definitely done.” I confess. I’ve never met a plant I didn’t like. I take great comfort in knowing that I am far from alone with my disease. I’m in such good company with other plantaholics!

The front part is about half in bloom. Right now, the penstemon, beard’s tongue, sweet william, catmint, yellow yarrow, sweet william, coreopsis, thyme, veronica, rose campion, salvia, ice plants, and sedums are in various stages of bloom. My ‘Purple sensation’ alliums are past their prime, now in their architecturally-interesting “koosh ball” stage. The multitude of lilies are just starting to form buds. Tiny blue forget-me-nots, a gift from Peggy’s garden, are still flowering. The bearded iris (a gift from my friend Karen’s garden several years ago) are almost done with their show. The false sunflower plant surrounding the iris is about halfway to its height and will reach 8-9 feet before bursting with small yellow flowers against the blue summer sky. (Insert amusing sidebar here: I bought this plant a few years ago when my friend Debbi took me onto base at Fort Belvoir. The tag on the plant read, “sun-loving perennial, reaches 4 ft., profusion of yellow flowers throughout summer.” The plant proceeded to reach “Jack-in-the-beanstalk” proportions—9 feet the first year—forming a swaying canopy over the steps before it finally spewed forth beautiful miniature sunflowers! Several friends asked if we were growing corn that year.)

The liatris, a favorite of bees, are just a quarter of the way to their height. A bank of lovely lamb’s ears, started with cuttings from Karen’s garden, offsets the other plants with their silvery green hue. The Autumn joy sedums are puffing out, waiting until everything else steps out of the spotlight for it to shine in the fall. Michael’s olfactory favorite, the moonflower, is slowly making its way up a trellis on the front of the house.

Yesterday, I planted mina lobata (firecracker vine/Spanish flag) in a pot at the bottom of the steps (just so I could get more photographs like this beautiful one I shot last summer: In front of the pot I planted three new coneflowers and another shasta daisy. We added another hellebore to the large bank (another offering from Karen) in the shade. On the front porch, there are two topiary frames planted with hyacinth vines. My beautiful (and very photogenic) stargazer lilies have returned, making their way upwards from a terracotta pot. Three baskets hang over the railing, filled with verbena, sweet potato vine, allysum, marigolds, and marguerite daisies.

Farther up, in front of the morning glory trellises, everything is verdant. When that area begins to peak this summer, there will be a profusion of lavender, multi colored lilies, silvery purple thistle, yellow black-eyed susans and sundrops, take-your-breath-away Heavenly Blue morning glories, red bee balm, deep pink butterfly bush blooms, blue-eyed grasses, shasta daisies, various other sedums, and white, purple and orange coneflowers….I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

I replied to Michael, “Organized chaos presumes I did not have a plan.” To which he countered, “There was a plan?” Of course there was a plan. My plan incorporates textures, scents, colors, varying heights, creepers, crawlers, climbers, and a botanical variation of Noah’s Ark—two of everything, please. How is that not a plan?

I’ll accept “organized chaos.” It’s preferable to “needs medication.”

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


18 05 2008

Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) is a beautiful Victorian garden annual blooming in soft shades of blue, pink, white, and lavender. Because its fern-like leaves look similiar to fennel, it has also been called fennel flower. This annual herbaceous plant is in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), readily self-seeds, and is common in old-fashioned cottage gardens. It grows in full sun to partial shade and blooms from late spring through fall. Nigella is short-lived, so for continuous bloom, repeat sowing every four weeks. You can cut and deadhead this plant to keep it flowering longer.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

A day of bliss

18 05 2008

More images from our day out at Green Spring Gardens…

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Glorious poppies

18 05 2008

This morning, Debbi and Regina and I went to the annual Green Spring Gardens Plant Sale. Since I have almost no spare room in my garden, my intent was not to buy plants. I did, of course, succumb to my obsession. I didn’t go too crazy with purchases, though. If you live in the D.C. area, this annual plant sale each May is a must for plantaholics. Be sure to bring a granny cart to carry your loot!

I did pick up the following:

Swamp milkweed:

Mina lobata (Firecracker vine or Spanish flag)

Two hyacinth bean vines:

I also bought an unusual hybrid of black-eyed susan (with skinnier petals than the usual black-eyed susan), a two-tone pink and yellow coneflower, a deep sunset orange coneflower, and two different liatris plants. See there? I can control myself! Put it this way, everything I bought fit into the car (with room for plants that Debbi and Regina bought, too). I spent most of my time flitting off to photograph one of the many hundreds of things flowering in the gardens.

Between the trip with Debbi and Regina this morning and the return trip later this afternoon with Michael, I shot almost 1000 images today! I shot exclusively with my new Nikon D300 and my 105 and 150 macro lenses. I’m loving the D300’s really bright viewfinder, huge screen, speed, tons of features, and the way it feels in my hands. Read Thom Hogan’s review here:

This is a series of poppy images I shot today. As beautiful as the crepe-paper-like unfurled flowers are, the curvy seed pod heads are just as lovely. I believe the red poppy is the Red Shirley Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) shown here.

Here’s a great site for ordering poppy seeds (and for identifying the ones I haven’t yet!):

Learn more about growing poppies here:

The Green Spring Gardens website has a great list of “Plant Information Sheets” in pdf format available for downloa here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

After the storm

10 05 2008

A Marguerite daisy in that magical “after the storm” sunlight.

See who almost kept me from going out to shoot this photo here:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

About a boy (and his blooms)

8 05 2008

About seven years ago, Michael planted a ‘Nelly Moser’ Clematis over our tiny pond in the backyard garden. Then we just sat back and ignored it (meaning we didn’t prune it, fertilize it, or attend to it other than watering during dry spells). It has been a prolific bloomer for us every year!

Today was a very damp day in Northern Virginia—with that perfect overcast lighting for photographing flowers. We took the ladder out back and I was able to get some overhead shots of the flowers growing on top of the fence. Michael counted 37 blooms (and that didn’t include the unopened buds). It’s such a beautiful sight—a cascade of big-as-your-hand intense pink blooms flowing down to the pond.

A Clematis plant likes to have its leaves and flowers in full sun, but its roots should be shaded and cool, in moist, well-draining soil. Ours is obviously planted in a perfect spot in our garden. A Bradford pear tree provides dappled sunlight, protecting the flowers during the heat of the day. ‘Nelly Moser’ is an heirloom hybrid that has been around since 1897. It was developed from Clematis lanuginosa, a species from China. The breeder was Marcel Moser from Versailles, France. It is easy to grow and blooms from May to late June for us. It can sometimes bloom again in mid-August, but the second bloom is less profuse. Because ours is planted in a more shady spot, the blossoms last for weeks.

The American Clematis Society has an elegantly designed and informative website: If you’re especially enamored with Clematis, join the Society for as low as $20 for an annual membership, which will give you access to more information on their site.

Growing tips:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Like a kid in a candy store…

6 05 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Curb appeal

6 05 2008

Every year I plant something new in the three wrought iron baskets hanging off the front porch railing. Every other year, I plant the “this is the summer I will learn to cook, so I must have an herb garden close by” combo planters. The next year I’ll sheepishly admit that while I enjoyed the greenery, I once again did not learn to cook and so the herbs were not utilized. Last year was the futile “learn to cook” scenario; this year I’ve reverted back to stuff that’s just plain purdy to look at. My color scheme this year is bright green, red, gold, white, and purple. Very graphic, very high contrast.

After a series of “why didn’t I measure the boxes before replacing the liner” repeat trips to the nursery, I finally got the right size (note to self: pretending to plant invisible plants in an insert at the nursery is not a good way to measure how wide an insert to buy; measure first!). I then planted the baskets with marguerite daisies, marigolds, red and white verbena, purple and green sweet potato vines, and white allysum. Note the shot of the baskets with the car going by—see the passenger looking up? It’s because I was making a spectacle of myself by straddling two pots planted with stargazer lilies, feet planted on two separate walls, leaning a bit over the railing…all just to get that perfect shot. Oh, the risks I take for my viewers!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Hardly seems fair winning my own prize…

6 05 2008

I remembered photographing this bug about two years ago and sharing it with my Garden Club members and a few friends. I went through my e-mail archives and found it this evening! Here’s the e-mail thread:

7/7/2006: Hey everyone…Remember when I mentioned that I thought that bug might be a bee? I was hesitant and apparently rightly so! Thanks to my friend Jeff, I have been enlightened on one of the differences between bees and flies…thanks, Jeff! Be sure to click on the link he sent…it matches my bug exactly! Here was his letter below. — Cindy


Cin, It is a type of fly, Order Diptera. Like all flies, it has two wings. Most other flying insects — bees, wasps, even most beetles, have four. I would say that your specimen is a Flower Fly or Hoverfly, family Syrphidae, species Toxomerus.

From my Dad 7/7/2006
Oh, I knew immediately that it was a Flower Fly of the order Diptera, and that it was of the family Syrphidae, but I was uncertain of the exact species so I just let it slide — your misclassification was harmless and, as you know, I dislike correcting people in such matters (whether bee, fly or flea, it was a gorgeous photo).


Great. Now everyone on two coasts knows I’m a nerd. A little bit of Mr. Science goes a long way. — Jeff

No, now everyone knows I have a terribly, terribly, TERRIBLY brilliant, curious, mentally acute, resourceful, wise, erudite friend and one is judged by the company one keeps….so it’s a win-win situation for me! And remember, it’s all about me! In fact, I put your entire name because there was another Jeff in the e-mail and although he is also very bright, I did not want to give him credit where credit was not due. The proper nerd has been publicly thanked. Remember, I’ve been educating these Weedettes for over two years on everything I know and everything I research…..they’re used to MY nerdiness….I just brought company with me this time! — Cindy


I photographed this same fly (okay, not THIS same fly, but a distant relative) last summer. I knew it looked familiar. Here are the closeup photos I got of one on a coneflower. Learn more about this beneficial insect here:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Identify this insect and win a prize!

5 05 2008

Yes, it’s another Bearded Iris (deal with it!). But this time, Mother Nature has added another element—a unidentified fly-thingie (a prize to the first person to identify it correctly–with proof of your research, of course). I’m fairly certain I’ve posted a photo awhile back of this same bug (at first glance, I don’t see it). I even think I successfully identified it back then. Stay tuned for further information…

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Yet another Bearded Iris

5 05 2008

This one was blooming in my friend Rob’s garden this weekend. In my research to identify this particular Iris (I’m still stumped!), I came across this site below. Take a look at all their gorgeous Bearded Irises!

Their main site is:

Growing tips:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Bearded Iris

3 05 2008

Several years ago, my friend Karen generously shared a huge box of bearded iris with us. We put the majority of the plants around our small pond in the backyard (I think they need dividing this year!) and the remainder in the front garden. I shot these images late this afternoon.

Learn about growing irises here:

There’s even a “Tall Bearded Iris Society” in Texas:

Check out the varieties this company sells:

I feel compelled to buy this one!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


2 05 2008

My friend Micheline and her husband downsized from a larger home to a condo a few years ago. My friend Gina introduced me to Micheline as she was preparing to move. The new homeowners were not gardeners and she wasn’t sure if the garden she had tended for so many years would prosper. She invited us over to take some plants for our gardens. She had a gorgeous bank of lemon drops and lily-of-the-valley plants and some from both areas have been thriving in my garden ever since. I photographed this lily-of-the-valley this afternoon.

Learn more about Lily-of-the-Valley here:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Hungry baby Robins

2 05 2008

I shot this photo of baby Robins last spring. The nest was in the crabapple tree just outside our kitchen window. Robin eggs are the most beautiful shade of pale blue green, one of my favorite colors.

Here’s an excellent website with FAQs about the American Robin:

A day-to-day journal of baby robins here:

Here’s a really great video of a robin baby hatching:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Sweet William!

1 05 2008

Why the exclamation mark? Here’s the story: Last week Michael was helping me in the garden and when I handed him two of these to plant, he asked me what they were. When I told him they were called “Sweet William,” he decided that “Sweet William!” would be his new expletive. For the rest of the day, he would say something like, “Sweet William, I’m hungry!” or “Sweet William, we have a lot of plants!” etc. You can just imagine how soon that became an irritant.

This old-fashioned biennial is a favorite in cottage gardens and happily self-seeds with the right conditions. Also known as “Dianthus barbatus,” it blooms best in cool weather. Sweet Williams are ancient flowers that symbolize friendship. The Greeks classified them as ‘dianthus,” from ‘dios’ (divine) and ‘anthos’ (flower). The flowers have a mild flavor and can be used as a garnish for salads, desserts, and drinks.

How to grow Sweet William:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.