Marilyn's Musings

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Chocolate Eclair Cake

It’s been a while. In fact, quite a while! Life happens, sometime. So, I’m here to come back by plunging right in! Here is a recipe from our family recipe book by my sister-in-law. Simple to make, and with a major WOW! Factor.

Light, fluffy, and great for a crowd:


Chocolate Eclair Cake

Chocolate Eclair Cake

2 small pkgs. instant vanilla pudding
3-1/2 c. milk
1 (9 oz) container of Cool Whip
1 lb. pkg. graham crackers.


2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 tsp. light corn syrup
2 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. margarine, softened
1-1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
3 Tbsp. milk

Butter bottom of a 9 x 13 in. pan and line with whole graham crackers.

Prepare pudding with milk. Beat at medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add thawed Cool Whip and gently fold in.

Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over graham crackers.

Add another layer of crackers.

Pour remaining pudding.

Cover with crackers and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Prepare Frosting:

Melt chocolate and butter together over double boiler. Mix in rest of ingredients and beat until smooth.

Pour over cake and smooth it until it covers the entire cake.

Refrigerate until served.
16-24 servings


Organic Plant Foods

Organic Plant Foods

tomatoesGardening the organic way is a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. After years of reaching for the synthetic fertilizers, dusts, and spray bottles, it is very hard to break the habit of running to the garage or shed for the trusty chemicals. It does take time and effort to discover and use alternative and more holistic gardening methods for problems that arise.

Let’s start with some information about the benefits of organic fertilizers:

Benefits of Organic Fertilizers

  • Organic fertilizers, while they do release more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, offer a steadier release of nutrients to plants.
  • Many organic plant foods supply micronutrients not supplied by chemical foods.
  • Some are good soil conditioners. They often supply extra organic material to soil that aids in the tilth and friability of the soil.
  • There is little harm to the soil with organic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers will often cause a build-up of inorganic salts over time. These insoluble salts will affect soil life, soil condition, and plant health. Microbial and beneficial soil insect populations will drop. All of this will affect the growth and performance of plants over time, while there is no build-up of salts to the soil when using organic fertilizers.
  • Organic foods help to increase soil microbial activity and beneficial soil insect activity.
  • There is a greater margin for error if a bit too much organic fertilizer is applied. Synthetic fertilizers can burn plants if too much is applied. Because they release more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, there is less chance of plant damage if a bit too much organic food is applied.

Here are some organic fertilizers that can be used as alternatives to inorganic or synthetic fertilizers. Some of them are readily available locally, while others can be found through mail order and online sources:

A List Of Commonly Used Organic Fertilizers & Plant Foods
Type Analysis (N-P-K) Comments
Blood Meal 12-1-1 Provides medium to rapid availability of nutrients, mainly nitrogen (N). Often used in combination with other organic fertilizers for a more complete blend. Also used in composting as starter or accelerator .
Fish Emulsion 5-2-2 Medium to rapid availability of nutrients, mainly nitrogen. Good for foliar feeding. Also used in composting as starter or accelerator. Often used with seaweed or kelp for liquid fertilizer.
Liquid Kelp 0.1-0.1-1 Medium availability of nutrients, mainly potassium. Has many micro-nutrients. Plant growth stimulant. Aids in protecting plants against stress. Improves plant health and immunity to diseases. Often used with fish emulsion.
Steamed Bone Meal 1-11-0 Slow to medium availability. Primary nutrient is Phosphorus (P). Promotes root growth and seed development. Often used in dry organic fertilizer blends. Used when planting bulbs as a booster.
Composted Cattle Manure 1-1-1 Slow to medium availability. Soil conditioner. Also used in composting as starter or accelerator.
Cottonseed Meal 7-2-2 Slow to medium availability. Primary nutrient is Nitrogen (N). Often used in organic fertilizer blends. Will acidify soil. Good for use around Rhododendrons, azaleas, and other acid-loving plants.
Alfalfa Meal 3-1-2 Medium availability. Good rose food. Supplies micronutrients and horrmonal growth promoter or regulator. Generates heat as it breaks down. Also used in composting as starter or accelerator.
Greensand 0-2-5 Medium availability. Primary nutrient is Potassium (K). Helps promote beneficial microbial activity. More absorbent than sand (silica), but of similar consistency. Good soil conditioner and for correcting potassium deficiencies.

So, now we have a list of commonly used fertilizers. You and I can blend our own equivalents of various synthetic fertilizers by choosing the right proportions of several of the listed fertilizers. Here are several recipes for organic fertilizers for use in the home garden. All of these are applied at the rate of 5 pounds per 1000 square feet:

5-10-15 Fertilizer # 1:

2.0 lbs. blood meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
15.0 lbs. greensand     

5-10-15 Fertilizer # 2:

8.25 lbs. alfalfa meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
15.0 lbs. greensand

10-10-10 Fertilizer # 1:

4.25 lbs. blood meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
10 lbs. greensand

10-10-10 Fertilizer # 2:

16.75 lbs. alfalfa meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
10.0 lbs. greensand

Fertilizer for acid-loving plants, 5-10-15:

4.25 lbs. cottonseed meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
15.0 lbs. greensand     

Rose Fertilizer, 15-30-30:

25.0 lbs. alfalfa meal
13.5 lbs. bone meal
30.0 lbs. greensand

Thoughts about today: 12-14-12…

Thoughts about today: 12-14-12…

The tragedy that occurred today in Sandy Hook Elementary School has resonated throughout the country and beyond. Innocent children and the adults who were entrusted with their care and safety were maimed and killed. So much carnage, so much senseless violence.

The killer had to have an agenda.  I don’t believe he did this on the spur, went unhinged and let it fly. I think this was well-planned, a type of suicide but with a willful purpose to take as many people out as he could in the process.

I say this because this happened at a school where the killer’s mother, who was also a victim, taught. I imagine that even with locked doors and access by approval, he was probably familiar to staff because his mother worked there.

I also say this because he maximized the pain and grief that the victims’ families would experience by executing mass murder less than two weeks before the Christmas holidays. And Christmas is really about children for most people–whether one is a person of Faith or not, the focus on the holidays is generally around families and children in particular as we celebrate Christ’s birth or the season or both. While it really wouldn’t have mattered what time of the year he chose to go on this killing spree, it has the heightened effect of forever ensuring for the loved ones left behind that not another Christmas or holiday season will go by that isn’t in some way darkened even more by the the timing of this tragedy–just before the holidays.

I am at a loss for words to adequately describe how I feel. I have no relatives or connection with the victims or their families. Yet, I know that, as is the case for many of us right now, I feel great pain and sorrow that these innocents lost their lives in this manner. My heart aches for the loved ones left behind with the task of burying their children, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters at a time when we should be celebrating the fellowship of mankind, Peace on Earth, and Goodwill.

With all the hatred, wars, and senseless violence going on, it is easy to believe that evil is taking over the world and that what goodness that does exist is being snuffed out. It is easy to believe that ultimately, there is no hope for the world. It’s a little harder to believe in the notion of good always triumphs over evil at a time like this.

But, I refuse to accept this or go down that road. To do so is to allow evil to triumph in the end.

Easy Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

Easy Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

These are my husband’s favorite, and it’s easy to see why!

These are made with a no-cook fondant–much easier than the made-from-scratch, cooked kind and far better than the store-bought fondant one finds in craft or baking shop supplies.

Scrumptious Chocolate Covered Cherries

Scrumptious Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries!


For the No-Cook Fondant:

3 TBSP unsalted butter at room temperature (don’t use margarine!)
2 to 2-1/2 cups of powdered/confectioner’s sugar
2 TBSP of light corn syrup
1/4 tsp of almond extract

Number of Cherries:

About 60 maraschino cherries. If you can find them with the stems, fine; if not, that’s OK, too.

For Dipping:

Dark (or Milk) Chocolate candy coating—use a good brand on these!


Drain the cherries well and place them between layers of paper towels for about two hours to dry. They can’t be moist for the coating to stick well.

Mix the butter, corn syrup, extract, and sugar together until blended. Knead with a little additional powdered sugar until smooth and pliable.

Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Wrap about a teaspoon of the fondant around each cherry. Place on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and put in the freezer for about 5 to 10 minutes while preparing the chocolate coating.

Melt the chocolate coating according to directions. If using cherries with a stem, dip each coated cherry into the melted chocolate coating and place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet. If the cherries don’t have a stem, use a toothpick to dip the cherries into the chocolate coating, place on wax paper and immediately add a dot of melted chocolate coating over the hole where the toothpick was.

After they set up, check for any uncovered spots on the cherries–bottoms in particular–and seal them with a little more melted chocolate coating.

After these set up, place them in containers in layers separated by wax paper or in paper candy cups of the appropriate size–they will be quite big by the time the fondant and coating are applied. Again, separate the layers with wax paper.

Set aside in a cool, dry place for two to four weeks before eating–the longer they mellow, the better they get. The liquid center takes a few weeks to form.

Reflections on the Day After the Election, 2012

I am not a political animal. At least not outwardly. I am not a coward, however, and I want to make that clear from the outset. But, like discussing religious differences, politics does not usually mix well with friendships and in everyday conversation. I tend to discretely disengage myself from  most people over political discussions and from revealing my own personal thoughts about politics, candidates, and all that supporting one candidate over another entails. At most I will generally say that I am one who votes for the candidate and the issues, not the party. I tend to split my ticket. I also consider myself to be what some political types may look down at with disgust as being one of the namby-pamby, wishy-washy,  fence-sitting middle-of-the-road crowd.

However, I do know that roughly 50% of the country woke up ready to wear sackcloth and ashes while the other 50% of the country woke up in a celebratory mood. It is what it is with elections: There is only one winner. It can’t be any other way, and that is the process and it has always been this way, except this year it seems.

I am concerned about the deep divide in this country.

After reading the comments here and there online and after assessing the reactions of both the winning and the losing sides in this election, I am troubled that we have hit an impasse that will take years if ever to overcome.

When did we become such absolutists about our positions? When did Bipartisanship and compromise take on such a negative connotation?

We have who we have as our elected officials, like it or not. We have a House of Representatives dominated by the Republican Party, a Senate dominated by the Democrats, and a sitting second-term Democrat President.

What we need now, more than ever, is a coming together and hard work on both sides to address the issues facing this country, and there are plenty.

If anything is going to get accomplished, absolutism is going to have to go by the wayside. Both parties in Congress and the President and his advisers are going to have to meet in the middle. Both are going to have to modify their positions on key issues and find a common ground for the good of this country and its people.

They will need to lead by example. We cannot have one set of rules for the citizens, another set of rules for those making the laws and regulations. Both parties need to get back in touch with their constituents.

We are at a crucial, critical point in the history of our country. However the next four years play out is going to affect the future long after those currently in office are gone.

We need to start the process of working together again. Otherwise, I fear for the future of America.

Cornell Chicken Updated

Cornell Chicken Updated

Cornell Chicken

Long a staple and tradition at fairs and festivals in Western New York, Cornell Chicken is simply one of the most flavorful ways to prepare grilled chicken. Even if you do not live in New York State, I’m sure you may have eaten that wonderful grilled chicken at fundraisers or festivals in your area, not knowing that it is Cornell Chicken.

This uses a non-tomato based barbecue sauce, but you won’t miss it a bit! And while the original uses 3 Tbsp. of salt, none of the flavor is lost with this reduced sodium version.

Cornell Chicken

1 egg
1 c. cider vinegar
2 tsp. poultry seasoning–store bought or homemade (recipe follows)
up to 5 lb. chicken pieces, or 2 to 4 large fryers, cut in half or quartered
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 – 1 Tbsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly-ground pepper

Adjust the quantity of salt to meet individual health needs and taste. Barbecued chicken basted frequently during cooking will be saltier than chicken that has been lightly basted.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg. Add the oil and whisk until the mixture gets thick, homogenous, and a bright yellow, approximately 2 minutes. Whisk in the cider vinegar, salt, poultry seasoning, and pepper. At this point, you can save the marinade in a jar and refrigerate. Will keep for a week.

In a large resealable plastic bag, place the chicken pieces of your choice, pierce the skin. Pour the prepared sauce over the chicken and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours (the longer you marinate, the better).

Place chicken over indirect heat–hot coals with an aluminum disposable pan with water to the side or hot gas grill and water pan with vents open. Turn frequently (about every ten to 12 minutes) and baste with additional leftover basting sauce, each turn. Cooking for about 30 to 45 minutes or until the internal temperature of each part is 150F or the juices run clear. Stop basting. Move the pieces over to the hot direct heat side of the grill, and be sure to place the pieces skin side down. Crisp the chicken for about ten minutes–watch carefully to keep it from burning, you only want to crisp the skin. Turn and heat for five minutes more.

Don’t forget to do that last step to crisp the chicken. It is important to finish the cooking and crisp the skins. Discard leftover used marinade.

Homemade Poultry Seasoning–Much better than store blends!

If you want to try your hand at a homemade poultry seasoning blend, try this one:

Poultry Seasoning

4 Tbsp. ground sage
2-1/2 Tbsp. ground thyme
1-1/2 Tbsp. ground marjoram
1-1/2 Tbsp. ground rosemary
3 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp. ground black pepper

Place in blender and blend to mix. Store in a jar in a dark, cool place.

Forcing The Issue

Forcing The Issue

If you have a firm case of the winter doldrums, here is a little antidote for your blues: Force a few branches of flowering shrubs and trees into bloom!

Plum Blossoms

Many different types of woody plants can be coaxed into an early floral display by cutting them and bringing them indoors.

Pussy willows are perhaps the easiest to force. Trim a few branches, plop them into a vase of tepid water, and Presto! Instant spring! Others are a bit more challenging and take a little more prep work to trick them into flowering. But, don’t let that discourage you. Just read on a little more to learn how to successfully force branches into bloom.

Most buds are set on woody plants during the fall of the previous year. After a period of winter cold dormancy, they will flower the following spring. One rule of thumb is to harvest cuttings closer to the plant’s normal bloom season for quicker and easier forcing. For example, if you cut the branches of a lilac in January, chances are you will have a difficult, if not impossible, chance of forcing this early May bloomer into flowering. However, if you cut the branches of early-blooming forsythia in February, your chances of successfully forcing the buds into flowering will significantly increase.

Mid to late winter is an ideal time for taking branches for forcing. This is when many of those who garden in the four seasons areas of the country tackle pruning chores. Instead of taking those clippings to the compost pile, take the thinned cuttings of fruit trees, shrubs, and ornamentals indoors to force. Here is the general technique that works for most of these branches:

  1. Prune during the warmest part of the day and on a day when the temps are above freezing. Force these branches no earlier than about six to eight weeks before their normal bloom period. For example, if forsythia normally blooms for you by late March, then wait until very late January on to harvest the branches.
  2. Cut and prune just above a bud or node. Take care to prune using good technique and sharp pruners to avoid injury to your plant. About 12 inches is a good length for your cuttings.
  3. Avoid withered-appearing cuttings or those with dried buds. Flower buds should be firm to the touch. These are generally larger, plumper, and more rounded in appearance than leaf buds. Once again, the closer to normal bloom time, the quicker and easier the branches will be to force.
  4. Once indoors, recut the stems, about a half-inch, under warm water. You can also hammer the ends of the branches to splay them open to receive water. Immerse them in 3 to 4 inches of very warm water for about 1/2 hour. Place in a vase. Fill with warm water and add a few drops of household bleach or hydrogen peroxide to to prevent bacterial contamination. Plan on replacing the water with more of the same solution every two days
  5. Keep the branches in average warmth but away from bright light. Mist the stems to prevent excessive moisture loss. It might take between one week and a month for them to respond, depending upon the type of cutting and when it was harvested. Continue to follow this routine and they should break dormancy and bloom!
  6. Once the buds are swollen and they begin to break, move them into bright, indirect sunlight. Enjoy the preview!


A Timetable For Forcing Branches For Indoor Bloom
Plant When To Take Cuttings
Forsythia Harvest cuttings from late January on
Plum and
Pussy Willow
Harvest cuttings from early February on
Witch Hazel Harvest from early February on
for winter or spring flowering varieties only
Viburnum Depending upon species, cultivar: Late February to early March
Rhododendron and
Harvest cuttings from late February on
Apricot and Peach Harvest cuttings from last week of February on
Redbud and
Flowering Almond
Harvest cuttings from last week of February on
Pear, Apple, or Crabapple Harvest cuttings from early March on
Dogwood and
Harvest cuttings from early March on


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Companion Plants

Companion Plants

About fifteen or so years ago, companion planting was all the rage. Numerous books were written on the subject: Don’t plant onions near beans, squash grows well with corn, etc. It was all so scientific and mind boggling! At times, it was enough to make a gardener throw in the towel in frustration!

Companion Plants

While it is true that some plants make better “marriages” together than others do, the art of companion planting doesn’t have to be complicated at all.

Companion planting can be defined in two different ways: First of all, there are those plants that enhance each other’s growth or add protection to one or the other plant by being planted together. Secondly, there are those plants that make great partners simply because they look good together. Let’s look a little into each of these concepts:

For two examples of the first definition: Plant garlic near roses. Pests such as aphids are repelled by the scent of the garlic. Native American culture that was passed along to the first settlers included the practice of planting the “Three Sisters” together: Corn, beans, and squash. In a symbiotic relationship, beans fix nitrogen in the soil, allowing it to be made available to the corn. In turn, the corn provides support and shade for the climbing vines of the beans and squash.

Herbs are a group of plants that also assist in helping their companions. One of the most classic examples of plant combinations is the pairing of tomatoes and basil. Since most herbs are aromatic, their essences attracts or repels insects, both beneficial and pests.

For a short list of what to grow and what not to grow together:

Hyssop is an herb that will attract white cabbage butterflies. It is a companion to the cole crops, and acts as a trap crop for the cabbage butterfly.

Cabbage and cole crops in general do well in the presence of onions, cucumbers, potatoes, marigolds, beets and bush beans. Interestingly, the cole family resents being planted near pole beans. Strawberries are also a bad combination with the cole crops.

Beets do well with cabbage, onions, radishes, and bush beans.

Basil is a great companion for peppers and tomatoes. Think Italian! Along with cabbage, pole beans aren’t very happy with beets or onions.

The vegetable kingdom loves lovage! It gets along well with just about everybody. About the only plant it has a “rhubarb” with is rhubarb!

Peppers will sulk in the presence of onions.

In addition to garlic, roses also do well around onions and tomatoes.

Artemisia helps to keep aphids off of roses.

Speaking of tomatoes: Don’t locate tomatoes next to corn. They feud.

Slip some chives around your apple trees, including crab apples, to deter apple scab. Other plants protected by chives are roses and carrots.

Garlic will help to prevent borers when planted around fruit trees and raspberries.

Marigolds repel many insect pests and are appreciated by most flowers and vegetables. They also act somewhat as a weed deterrent.

These are just a few of the companions and enemies of some of our commonly grown plants. There are many others, and there are many resources out there, some easy to understand, others more complicated. A good rule of thumb is experience. If you have ever grown peppers next to onions, you will have discovered that the performance of the peppers is less than spectacular. You will not be very likely to grow them together again.

The second concept of companion planting is not so much that it is for the function of a partnership as it is for the good looks in combination.

Roses are usually tops in anyone’s ornamental garden. The problem with roses is that while the tops of the plants are pretty, the bottoms of the plant can be somewhat sparse and leggy. Try to under plant roses with other plants that hide their bottoms. Lavender, catmint, and some of the taller growing dianthus are good companion plants for this purpose. For your taller growing or climbing roses, interplant with clematis. They look good together, and both will benefit from the application of rose food. Parsley is not only good looking and great for hiding the legs of roses, it also acts as a deterrent to insects.

When growing spring flowering bulbs, especially daffodils, add daylilies to the site. As the foliage of the bulbs starts to die down, the foliage of the daylilies will sprout up and hide the yellowing foliage of the bulbs.

Hostas and ferns are classics together in the shade garden. Ditto for hostas, ferns, astilbe, and Japanese Forest Grass, or Hakonechloa.

‘Silver Mound’ artemesia, with its feather-soft silver foliage, lends its naturally rounded form as a softening effect in the garden. Pair it with the exclamation points of ‘Sunny Border Blue’ veronica.

Many people plant rhododendrons, but shy away from planting other companions with them. Hostas, Dwarf mountain laurel, and ferns all make wonderful companions.

Monarda and feverfew are wonderful together. The red upright flowers of monarda blends well with the tiny, white, daisylike flowers of feverfew.

The blue of a German or bearded iris is stunning when planted with the bright orange of the Oriental poppy. Not only is the color combination spectacular, but the contrast in foliage form and color is also complementary, as well. The swordlike green of the iris pairs wonderfully with the feathery soft green foliage of the poppies.

There are many other plants that work well together. Whether grown together as beneficial partners or for artistic effect, try out a few of them. Not only will your plants thank you, but you can show off your green thumb and make your neighbors green with envy!

The Cutting Garden

The Cutting Garden

Mention a cutting garden, and perhaps the vision of orderly rows of flowers in a corner of the vegetable patch spring to mind. Certainly, this is how cutting gardens originated, but cutting gardens can easily be incorporated into an existing perennial bed or border.

The Cutting Garden

Flowers for the cutting garden

The plants used in a cutting garden are lovely to behold, and the flowers used offer double-duty both in the display bed and in the vase.

You probably are already growing many plants that work well in arrangements. Shasta daisy, tall coreopsis, and garden phlox are a few examples of plants that many of us grow that work well in flower arrangements. No surprise, peonies and lilacs can also double as extras in the cutting garden.

The principles are the same as when planning any garden site: Prepare the soil, add tons of organic matter and compost, use a balanced organic fertilizer, water, and mulch.

When harvesting flowers from the cutting garden, or areas of your perennial bed that have flowers you are going to harvest for arrangements, remember to cut blooms during the coolest part of the day, in the early morning. Keep a bucket of lukewarm water handy to plunge the cut ends of the stems in the water immediately. Some flowers begin to seal over the cut almost immediately, which will definitely shorten the lifespan of the flower in the vase. You don’t need to add a floral preservative at this point, just keep the stem ends immersed in water until you get back inside to arrange them in the vase.

Here are a few plants to consider for the cutting garden:

Ammi, Bishop’s Flower Asters Astilbe
Achillea, Yarrow Bells of Ireland Bachelor’s Buttons
Celosia plumosa Celosia, Cockscomb Carnations
Coreopsis, taller types Cosmos Calla lilies (tender bulb)
Garden mums Campanula, Bellflowers Digitalis, Foxgloves
Delphiniums Daisies Dianthus, Taller pinks
Echinops Echinaceas, Coneflowers Gypsophila
Gladiolus (Tender Bulb) Gaillardia Helichrysum
Heuchera, Coral Bells Heliopsis Lilies
Larkspur Liatris Lavender
Nicotiana Nigella Peonies
Snapdragons Statice Scabiosa
Sunflowers Sweet Peas Salvias, Taller Types
Tulips Tithonia Zinnias

A few things to keep in mind when selecting plants for a cutting garden: Choose plants that are taller varieties. For example, if a label states a snapdragon is a good bedding plant, it might be a smaller or shorter form. Tall varieties are what we are generally looking for. Another thing is to plant a large grouping of a particular plant. It is better to grow only three or four particular plants for cutting in a larger mass than a little bit of this and that!

Try adding a few annuals to the border that are also good for cutting. When spring comes, sow seeds of some zinnias, annual bachelor’s buttons, and other flowers for cutting among your perennials. Not only will they be there for your indoor bouquets, they will also help to carry over the color show as the different perennials finish their bloom cycles.

Once you have your flowers indoors, cut another quarter inch of stem off and plunge them into a 50:50 solution of lemon-lime soda and water with one or two drops of bleach to the gallon. This same solution can be used to feed the flowers in the vase, and will keep well in the refrigerator. Change water daily, and be sure no leaves or flower buds are left underwater in the vase to decay.

Grow your own flowers for arrangements! Cutting gardens are a great way to enjoy your flowers in the home as well as outdoors, so share your place and space with a few flowers for cutting!