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  • Tammie Marsh

Wile away winter with activities to make your spring garden pop with personality and color

Updated: Feb 2

My husband dashed out of the house this afternoon to meet the US Postal Service worker and came back inside with three packages and an accusatory expression on his face. "He told me I needed to have a talk with you," he said, half-joking. He put the packages on the dining room table and scanned each label. "For me? No. Is this one for me? No. Don't you have any explanation about what these are?"

I knew what the packages contained and really wanted to tear into them at that moment, but he wouldn't leave. Finally, Daniel walked into another room and I opened one box. Carefully unrolling the bubble wrap from the figurine it was protecting, I unveiled a German-made nutcracker. I had taken a chance, ordering from an individual instead of a company this time, and I had been concerned I might have gambled and lost. The nutcracker was gleaming in its perfection -- a little dusty, perhaps, but not a dent or scrape was in sight. "Win!" I almost pumped my fist in victory.

Delighted, I held it up for my husband -- who was now peeking around the corner -- to view. His eyes glistened in response to my happiness but the lower part of his face scowled. "What do we have that for?" he asked. He knew full well that this nutcracker was intended to become part of our son's collection. "It's for Christmas," I exclaimed. Yes, it was January, and yes, I had already started shopping for the Christmas 11 months away. He rolled his eyes and walked back to the bedroom.

It wasn't until later in the evening that I opened the remaining packages Daniel had left on the table. These were supplies I had ordered for gardening projects -- small crafts that would fill my gray winter days with something productive to do while dreaming of how the ornaments would look tucked among colorful flowers in the sunshine.

My plan is to make "fairy wands." My version of the craft involves threading glass beads onto tall, skinny bolts and topping the bolts with cut-glass drawer pulls. If you arrange the decorative stakes into flower beds or pots, you can add color, height and structure to your arrangements. If you are lucky, you also benefit from refracted light as sunlight hits the glass. It will be a relatively easy craft, and one that I can complete with more or less the same professional look as any I've seen available for purchase.

I've also copied other garden crafts, with less success at making them look professional. Just because they didn't turn out to be worthy of marketing in a retail space doesn't mean I'm any less proud of them, though. Here are a few ideas that, like the "fairy wands," you can make yourself if you so desire:

Birdbath/Fountain -- For this project, I found a large ceramic patio pot that was in a shape which inspired me. I filled the bottom drainage hole with a silicon caulk and allowed it to dry, then filled the pot with water. I had purchased an inexpensive round solar water pump/fountain which floated on top of the water and, as soon as the sun hit the solar panels, began spouting water into the air. After adjusting the water flow to the design I wanted (following directions which came with the fountain), I placed some attractive rocks along the bottom edge of the pot, well aware that the water was deep enough that a chipmunk or mouse might not be able to escape from the pot if it toppled in while taking a drink. I wanted any little critters who went for a swim to be able to climb out because having a drowned animal in my creation would take the joy out of it for sure. As the days went by, I decided to add some plants in small pots to the fountain. I settled them on the rocks so that the top of each pot was above the surface of the water. At first, I put four pots of different types of plants in the water, but most did not survive the waterlogged state. I was surprised that a type of creeping sedum transplanted from my daughter's garden flourished in the fountain. Next year, I plan to try water plants. That will be an exciting experiment.

Garden Posts -- For years I've seen slipcovers designed to go over 4x4 posts. They are a laminate material and have been printed with designs printed from some that were originally hand-painted in bright, primary colors. The slipcovers come in a variety of heights and have various sayings and designs on them. I have liked them for a long time and have wondered whether the price was worth sacrificing a year of plants or a season of mulch in order to have one for my garden. One day, however, I realized that I didn't have to purchase a premade post. Browsing at a local hardware store, I saw that a single fence post could be purchased for less than $20 and I convinced my husband to help me get one home. A can of spray paint for the base coat (rich red, my favorite color!) and then my young-adult daughters' collection of acrylic paints made the rest of the task easy. I painted flowers and birds and quotations on each side of my post, then let everything dry. Next I applied several coats of polyurethane spray and set the post aside for installation in my garden this spring. I will be the first to admit that it looks hand-made, and it's not as pretty as the laminate slipcovers. However, I made it, and I like it, and it didn't cost me $200. Good deal.

Wagon Gardens -- With three children, we had lots of toys around to entertain. I'm a bit nostalgic, so we bought the children wood and metal toys rather than plastic when it made sense to, so we had a line of Radio Flyer wagons of all types and sizes, as well as wheelbarrows and bicycles. It didn't take too long for the children to have all outgrown the wagons, unfortunately. My husband drilled drainage holes in the bottom of one of our Radio Flyers and I filled it with dirt and flowers. It was a lovely addition to our front yard landscaping for a while. It's an easy project and, in fact, if you have one of the wagons with the wood siding on them, you might forgo drilling drainage holes and just fill the wagon with potted plants in various sizes. You might find yourself having to dump water out after a heavy rainfall, but if you don't mind it, I imagine it would work out okay.

Birdhouse Decor -- A fun winter project, to me, is to purchase inexpensive wooden birdhouses from a craft store like Michael's or Hobby Lobby. You can also find unfinished birdhouses on Facebook Marketplace and sometimes I've found birdhouse kits from various stores and individual craftspeople. Wherever you get your structure, it can be fun to decorate it with acrylic paints or even leftover house paint. After your structure is dry, and when the temperature is warm enough, seal your creation with polyurethane. Spend the rest of the winter planning where you're going to hang them! I have mounted painted birdhouses on trees, a utility pole and my children's old playhouse in our backyard. Houses for birds, bees and butterflies that I have collected and left natural wood tones adorn my picket-style fence, one per panel, and look charming when grape vines, iris, lilies and morning glories raise their tendrils toward them.

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