The Clarington Forge Rubber Rake: The Coolest Tool You Never Knew You Needed

Wizard-rubber-rake.jpg

Sometimes you come across a tool that solves so many problems you wonder how you went so long without hearing about it. The Clarington Forge rubber rake is one of those tools.

“A rubber rake?” I hear you asking incredulously. “Really? WTF?”

I’ll forgive you for asking, because if you remember our review of the rubber rake from last year, Amy Stewart had the exact same reaction on first glance.

I’ll explain the advantages for the uninitiated:

Neighborly relations. Have you ever had a neighbor who wakes up the entire-freaking-neighborhood at 6AM on Sunday morning because they cannot wait to get out the rake and be industrious about the leaves coating their sidewalk? SCREEE! SCREEEE! I mean, all that activity comes from a nice place in their heart, but if anyone in the neighborhood has a hangover, or worse, a baby that has just gotten to sleep, that poor hardworking soul is in mortal danger of being impaled upon the very tool they are using to bring order to their world. If you are that person, I beg you, get yourself a rubber rake and you can enjoy raking at whisper-soft volume any time of day or night.

Decks and patios. What do you do if you have a beautifully-stained deck, or a flagstone patio with a clear coating on it to keep the color looking bright? Even plastic leaf rakes will scratch the stain off a deck when used with vigor. A rubber rake, by contrast, rakes just what it’s supposed to and leaves your hardscape alone.

Gen cleaning out a Blue Oat Grass with the rubber rakeOrnamental grasses. You know all those icky dead leaves that start to clog blue oat grass and others, and keep them from looking their best? You could spend for-freaking-ever running your hands through each individual grass to pull out all the dead blades, but some of us have Project Runway episodes to watch. I’d rather run the rubber rake over the grasses and get back to stalking Christian Siriano on Twitter that much faster.

Groundcovers. Whether they’re herbaceous or woody, groundcovers can be a challenge to rake. Every time I run a traditional rake over them, the tines catch on the stems and I end up ripping or displacing my plants. Yet if you’ve ever picked clumps of leaves off your groundcovers by hand, you know what an arduous task that is. Necessary so your groundcovers don’t smother, yes, but if I’m going to spend time outdoors in that fall chill, I’d rather be planting bulbs or harvesting apples or something. The rubber rake once again shines at removing the leaves quickly without hurting your plants.

Raking on mulch. The rubber rake is also good for more pedestrian raking tasks. Ever tried to rake trimmings or leaves off an area that’s got wood mulch on top? It’s kind of challenging to rake up all the detritus without raking up all your lovely mulch as well. The rubber rake’s a lot easier to control than the usual stiff leaf rakes, and makes cleanup a snap. It’s also extra-grippy on things like pine needles which like to stick to pavement.

wizard rubber rake  (21)No more whomping yourself on the ears. Have you ever pulled a smooth move in the garden by stepping on your rake when it’s sitting face-up and having it whack you in the head?

Every new employee likes to try this maneuver a few times in their first weeks, and it’s embarrassing for all involved. I mean, it really hurts. But it’s also really funny, and it’s very hard not to laugh when it happens, which creates poor relations between crew members. Save yourself the worry and stock your toolbox with a rubber rake. I personally tested this by jumping up and down on my rubber rake and was unable to make it hit me in the face. Score!

But don’t the tines wear out all the time?

The one concern I had when I first saw the rubber rake was the tines. I saw a great big cha-ching tattooed on those rubber tines and figured I’d be buying replacement tines every other month. Strangely, that hasn’t happened. My landscaping crew’s been using the rake for a full year now, and even with regular professional use (it’s really nice because we don’t disturb our clients when we clean up), the tines are holding up great. They still have quite a bit of life left in them, and I imagine for the average homeowner, the tines would last 5-10 years. (Need a tutorial on changing the tines? I created one here.)

The rubber rake from Clarington Forge comes in two sizes: the Wizard for raking large spaces, and the Merlin for raking in between shrubs. If you’re an urban gardener, you’ll probably want the Merlin, but if you have a large area, the Wizard’s ace for making cleanup fast.

Want one of your own? Enter here! Clarington Forge has offered up a choice of the Wizard (big) or Merlin (small) rake to one lucky reader. To enter, just leave a comment saying which one you want, and I’ll pick one lucky reader on October 24th. US only.

And for a second chance, head on over to Garden Rant, where Amy Stewart’s giving away another rubber rake. If you were lucky enough to win both, I guess you could give one to your noisiest neighbor and hope they get the hint. Good luck!

EDIT: Crystal S. is the winner! Congrats, Crystal, and enjoy your new rake!

Disclosure: Clarington Forge sent me some free stunt rakes so I could jump up and down on them and attempt to wear out the tines.  All opinions are my own.

Deep Dark Plants for Halloween and Beyond

nom.jpgPhoto at left: Mackerel showing his love of Phormium ‘Black Adder’ October always makes me want to curl up with my gardening books and highlight the deliciously wicked black plants found within. But you don’t need to limit black and dark plants to Halloween. They can fit into pretty much any garden scheme, from English cottage, Japanese, tropical, woodland, or any style of gardening you’ve got going on.
Acidanthera Helleborus Onyx Odyssey photo courtesy Terra Nova Nursery
Actaea 'Brunette' or Cimicifuga 'Brunette' Chambers (11)

Looking for some goth gardening inspiration?

[Read more...]

Fall Garden Tasks in the Pacific Northwest

IMG_8003.jpgThis time of year, my landscape maintenance company is busy as anything, pruning and helping all the gardens recover from months of wild blooming abandon. While a lot of what we’re doing right now is pruning to keep things at the right size in relation to their surroundings (we don’t want the plants leaning boorishly on their neighbors all winter long), we’re also starting to cut back a few plants that are finishing their blooms or going into dormancy. While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, here are a few of the most important tasks we’re doing right now:

Planting winter veggies:

Now’s the time to set out starts of broccoli, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and other winter veggies. If you aren’t sure what grows well for winter, Peaceful Valley has a great online calculator which gives suggestions for planting what when. Their suggestions are based around planting seeds, so if you’re using starts from the nursery you can plant a bit later. winter harvestOr, you can pick up this book, which is a spiral-bound week-by-week guide to what to plant when based on your anticipated frost dates. This was recommended to me recently by a garden magazine editor as one of the best new edible books of the year, and I have to agree – my copy’s already muddy from use (that’s how you know it’s good, right?). Another great book for winter veggie gardening is The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. All the people I know with envy-inducing crops in winter swear by this book.

Planting spring bulbs:

Yep, it’s that time again. Daffodils, crocus, hyacinth and grape hyacinth, Calochortus, Tulips (I’m partial to the lily-flowered ones), and more. Feeling impatient? You can force bulbs, or you can hurry up and plant my very favorite bulb ever, fall crocus. The glowing cornflower-purple ones make me so happy. If you have gophers but want to have bulbs in the ground, you can sink those flexible Smart Pots into the ground. While it’s possible the gophers will be smart enough to climb out of the ground and over the top of them to eat your delicious bulbs, the company has never heard of a gopher chewing through the pot, since it’s made of a synthetic polymer material that isn’t fun to eat. If the rain always knocks your tulips over, try planting them under eaves so they’ll have a chance to shine for you.

Planting shrubs, trees, and hardy perennials:

IMG_8673Yep, the nurseries are clearing out old stock and giving some great prices, just as the best time of the year to plant arrives. Fall planting is the best, even in gardens that use drip irrigation, because the dampness of the winter allows the plants to grow strong roots before trying to grow lots of foliage or bloom for you. And while drip irrigation is great for keeping plants alive, the fact that the tubing usually only soaks a small area around the plant means that it’s better for keeping established plants happy than for getting new plants going. The rain gets good coverage every time (well, except under the eaves). Here are some great things to plant this time of year: Golden conifers Winter interest ornamental grasses Unusual rhododendron varieties Heathers Winter annuals Perennials for winter

Aaaaaand… pruning. Lots and lots of fall pruning:

This is what most of our time is taken up by. Deadheading, shaping, small-ifying and making presentable all those sprawling beauties that have so lavishly decorated our summer gardens.
Hydrangealookforswollenbudsatleafbase_thumb Hydrangeafinishedcutabovebuds_thumb
  Here are tutorials, some with video, on what to prune now: Heaths and heathers How to deadhead Hydrangeas Alstroemeria Hardy cranesbills/ geraniums Mexican bush sage/ Salvia leucantha Summer-pruning exuberant Miscanthus Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ Cane berries and raspberries Astilbe And, here’s a list of frost-tender beauties that I take care NOT to prune right now! Phew! Well, I’m tuckered just thinking about all of that. In between all of that good gardening activity, be sure to take the time to enjoy the bounty of peaches, and kick back with a drink in the last days of summer. And in case you’re looking to cut a few corners in your garden maintenance, here is some food for thought on which fall garden tasks you might safely skip. What are you guys tackling now that fall is near? Let me know in the comments below.

Fall Leaf Raking: Finding the Middle Ground

Gottahavesomefunbeforegettingdowntoactuallyraking_thumb.jpgAll gardeners evolve. There is something about being outside and working hard in nature that inspires learning and growth. The issue of fall leaves is one I’ve been struggling with lately. Last year I wrote about why you shouldn’t let your fall leaves stay, and all of those reasons are still true, but… This year as I’ve learned more about the importance of insects in our ecosystem (they feed the birds, pollinate, eat other “bad” bugs, and generally play an important part in the natural cycles that keep our food growing and our world pleasant), I’ve also learned that many insects overwinter in our fallen leaves. If you use plants to attract birds, or put out a feeder, but you rake your leaves up, you are kind of sabotaging your efforts to care for wildlife, because the birdies love to eat bugs! In addition, leaves add nutrients and softness to the soil, and can be good protection from the frost in cold climates. The problem? Leaves can also rot perennials, shade out sections of lawn or groundcovers, and can overwinter BAD bugs too! Not to mention, the wilder aesthetic of leaving the leaves where they fall isn’t right for every garden. So what’s the conscientious gardener to do? I do think it’s possible to care for wildlife and the environment while still having a clean-looking garden and taking care of our ornamental plants. Here’s some of the middle ground I’m finding in the to-rake-or-not-to-rake debate: [Read more...]

Monday Miscellany: Pruners, Leaf Litter, and Attracting Pollinators

Misc.pngWas absolutely delighted to get this awesome comment from Heuchera on my Hand Pruner Showdown post comparing the different types of pruning shears:
Recently I lost my old Felcos and needed to find a new pair. I had owned a different model, so I decided to research the web to see if the No. 2?s were still considered the standard, as those were the ones I had really wanted way back. Then I came across your article. I was still a little apprehensive about trying a brand I never heard of so I ordered both the Felco No. 2?s and the Bahco PX-M2. I figured if I misplaced one I’d always have another to use. They arrived and we had some heavy pruning to do. My husband tried out the Bahcos and I used the Felcos. The next day I decided to try the Bahcos as he raved about them so much. What a difference! They cut with the greatest of ease and were a pleasure to use. They are now my choice of pruner and I’m afraid my new Felcos are sitting unused in my garden basket.
This was my experience as well, when I first tried my Bahcos. I got them as a gift from a dear landscaper friend, and reluctantly took them out for some apple tree pruning. In a couple minutes, I went from a snooty Felco evangelist to an oh-my-god-I’ve-been-fleeced-all-these-years, crazy Bahco fan. If you’re getting ready for some heavy fall and winter pruning, it might be a good time to read about the differences in each brand and possibly pick up some Bahcos.

The “to rake or not to rake” debate rages on….

Though the word rages might be the wrong word for such a mild-mannered and respectful discussion. Carole over at Ecosystem Gardening got me thinking about leaf litter here. Unbeknownst to me, she and Kylee over at Our Little Acre were having a discussion on Twitter (how did I miss that? Thank you delightful head cold!) about the pros and cons of raking, and each fleshed out their side of the argument on their own blogs. Here’s Kylee with The Problem with Leaves, and Carole with I am the Lorax, I Speak For the Leaves.

Regional guides for attracting pollinators

I usually feel like regional guides totally miss the plot – like they lump my rainy far Northern Cali climate with San Francisco’s or even LA’s warmer, drier temps. So I was completely shocked to discover these guides to attracting pollinators. They don’t suck! They’re actually, um – good! Go, get your own regional guide (it’s free), and then let me know if yours rocked your socks the way my guide rocked mine. See anything cool around the web this week? Let me know in the comments below.

Fall Leaves: Leave ‘Em and Weep

To read about why fall leaves are so beneficial to wildlife, and how to leave them in your garden without adverse effect, check out this article: Fall Leaf Raking: Finding the Middle Ground. Once upon a time some newbie garden writer thought it’d be a great idea to encourage people to leave their fall leaves on the ground. Hey, it’s got all the qualities of a great article for the masses; it tells folks what they want to hear (stay in your jammies on Saturday and don’t bother with all that raking!), and it sounds vaguely earth-friendly, which generally goes over well.

The problem with this well-intended advice? [Read more...]

How to Prune Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Video Tutorial)

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a true garden classic, especially paired with ornamental grasses, lavenders and colorful sages. It’s particularly great because during the summer when everything else is blooming, its greenish-white buds are getting bigger and bigger, creating a subtly beautiful show, then as everything else slows for the fall, ‘Autumn Joy’ bursts into bloom with a cheerful pink color that looks great with the fall colors on the other plants. [Read more...]

Your Gardening Body: How to Rake and Sweep Without Strain or Pain

Anne Asher, a movement specialist from The MOVE! Blog,  has been kind enough to answer some common questions about how professional and/or passionate gardeners can reduce the strain that comes from repetitive gardening tasks. Here’s this month’s installment: Dear Anne, By November, fall leaves are piling up around perennials and shrubs. I like to rake up my leaves and shred or compost them before re-using them in the garden so they don’t cause delicate perennials to rot. Do you have any tips for all the raking and sweeping that we do this time of year? Hi, Gen! Have you ever done Tai Chi?  If you have, you’re acquainted with the concepts of moving your whole body from the pelvis, and also weight shifting.  These skills are what you need for body-successful raking and sweeping. Raking and sweeping are much the same in that they require a tool with a long handle, and you are gathering the materials that are on the ground with the tool.  If you go about the work in a conscious way you can apply weight shifting and moving from the pelvis to each. Most of us approach this type of task with power arms – that is, a continual bending and flexing at the shoulders, and especially elbows, with a little upper body reach from time to time. But when you work this way, you have a lot of unused potential power in your pelvis. When it comes to efficient movement for repetitive tasks, the pelvis has a lot going for it: It is located in the physical center of your body, which promotes balanced action.  It’s circular, which like being in the center, helps to balance you as you work.  And, many muscles controlling posture and locomotion pass through this area, providing power and support for heavy chores. Think of your whole body action as though the pelvis were leading, or initiating it. Try this on for size and once that’s comfortable, focus more on letting the body follow as the pelvis leads. Try it in different directions and notice yourself.  (But don’t do this if it causes pain or strain.) Then take this idea into the raking/sweeping. [Read more...]

Delicate Flowers: What NOT to Plant in Fall

Recently I read an article on Sunset’s website, suggesting that we all rush out and buy those discounted perennials to plant for fall. We all know by now that fall planting is a great idea, but is fall really the best time to plant everything, even perennials? Many perennials don’t actually live all that long (I’m lookin’ at you, Gaura!), and some are sensitive to frost or the coastal Pacific Northwest’s rainy winters, so coddling them through the cold season can be an exercise in waiting and hoping, or if you really care about them, covering the tender ones in a protective frame of some kind. The article suggested planting Salvia leucantha/ Mexican Bush Sage, Aster x frikartii, Echinacea/ Coneflower, Gaura lindheimeri, Gaillardia, Rudbeckia/ Black-Eyed Susan, Salvia elegans/ Pineapple Sage, and Eryngium/ Sea Holly now – all of which can die in our winters even when well-established.
Frost-tender Salvia leucantha
Avoid planting this frost-tender Salvia leucantha/ Mexican Bush Sage now
Here’s the deal: Anything short-lived, frost-tender, or that molds in the rain is best planted after frost in spring, so the plant has time to develop a healthy root system before being asked to tolerate uncomfortable conditions. If their tops freeze next year, they’ll still have a year’s worth of root growth underground to spring back from.
Ceanothus and Cryptomeria
This golden Cryptomeria and blue Ceanothus are great to plant now

In the rainy/ chilly Maritime Pacific Northwest, DON’T plant these in fall:

Tibouchina urvilleana/Purple Princess Flower – frost-tender Citrus Trees – Lemons and Limes bear well in winter, but they often lose the outer two feet of foliage to frost damage each year. Loropetalum chinense/ Fringe Flower – frost-tender Tree Fern/ Dicksonia antarctica – frost-tender (usually survives first winter but looks sorry for itself!) Mallow/ Lavatera – frost-tender Coleonema/ Breath of Heaven – frost-tender
Daphne's a good choice for fall planting
Daphne's a good choice for fall planting
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’/ Purple Fountain Grass – frost-tender and doesn’t care for rain, so give it good drainage! Passiflora/ Passionflower Vines – frost-tender Salvia/ Sages of any kind – the culinary sages seem the most tolerant of winter, but all the ornamentals are tender enough it’s best to let them establish a year. If they grow big the first year, the outer foliage can protect the inner stems in case of a bad frost. Pelargoniums/ Grandma Geraniums (Hardy Cranesbills/ actual Geraniums are fine to plant now) – frost-tender Creeping Rosemary – they’ve been getting a disease which has been killing off selected branches in the wettest parts of winter, so I’d let them get large all summer first Fuchsias - frost-tender (I have had some luck in planting the tiny-flowered Fuchsia thymifolia under protected eaves for winter color, but I wouldn’t try that with the big froofy hybrids!) Abutilons/ Flowering Maples – frost-tender (once again, under a protected eave they can sometimes attract hummingbirds through the winter) Persicaria/ Fleeceflower – frost-tender Calla Lilies (the huge sturdy white ones that grow everywhere are fine (Zantedeschia aethiopica), but don’t bother with the fancypants hybrids right now) – frost-tender Cosmos atrosanguineus/ Chocolate Cosmos – frost-tender Agapanthus/ Lily of the Nile – frost-tender Scabiosa, Rudbeckia, Ginger, Delphineum, Gaillardia, Echinacea, Asters (great for a fall display, but may not live over), Coneflower, Sollya/ Australian Bluebell (hates wet), Gaura, Eryngium, Kangaroo Paw, Kniphofia/ Red Hot Poker, or any other flowering perennial or shrub which you suspect may be either sensitive or short-lived.
Heathers, ornamental grasses, and conifers are great fall-planting choices
Heathers, Ornamental Grasses, and Conifers are great to plant now

DO plant these:

Hardy trees and shrubs, including Grevillea, Red-Twig Dogwood, Hydrangea, Tea Tree, Rhododendrons, Star Magnolia, Ceanothus/ California Lilac, Japanese Maple, Camellia, Pieris, Daphne, Huckleberry, Spirea, Conifers Hardy edibles including bare-root fruit trees, Blueberry, cane-growing berries like Raspberry and Loganberry, CA native currant Ribes sanguineum (Bare-root plants arrive in January) Heaths and Heathers Most ornamental grasses including Miscanthus, Stipa arundinacea, Nassella tenuissima, Phormiums/ Flax, Chondropetalum, Hakonechloa/ Forest Grass, Acorus (Check out this article for winter-interest grasses) Bare-Root Roses (arrive in nurseries in December/ January) Sturdy perennials and small shrubs including Astilbe, Shasta Daisy, Lavender, Culinary Oregano, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Hellebore, Hardy Cranesbill/ Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and others, Nepeta faassenii/ Catmint, Euphorbia, Heuchera If you found this post helpful, check out these articles with my favorites to plant now: Unusual Rhododendrons for the Pacific Northwest Showy Trees for Winter Interest Trees to Attract Birds [print_link]

Fall Color Container Planting Idea

A client came up with this pretty container planting idea for summer and fall. The spiky Phormium/ Flax Grass makes a vivid centerpiece, then she used red Coleus and orange Impatiens to pick up on the Flax’s colored stripes. Last, she used some purple trailing Petunias to cool down the combination and spill over the edges. Halloween container idea - Phormium, Impatiens, etc. This is a textbook Thriller, Filler, Spiller combination – as Fern from Life on the Balcony explains it::
A thriller is a pretty self explanatory; it’s a gorgeous plant that is the focal point of the container. Fillers highlight or compliment the thrillers and fill up the pot so it doesn’t look bare. Spillers cascade over the side of the pot to add interest and soften the edges of the container.
Of course, everything but the Flax will die down for winter, so if you had this combo going through fall, you’d want to pop in some Paludosum Daisies, ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard, ‘Zeolights’ Calendula, or other winter annuals and greens to cheer up your Flax Grass as the flowers die back. Need more fall and winter container inspiration? Check out these ideas: Winter-Blooming Annuals for the Pacific Northwest Asian Vegetables for Cool-Season Gardening Small Accent Plants for Your Winter Garden [print_link]

Fall-Blooming Heathers for Autumn Color

Calluna vulgaris ‘Sister Anne’ In all the time I’ve been designing gardens, I have never had anyone tell me, “please, no heathers!”. Thank goodness, because heathers are my secret weapon for extending any season’s interest. By the end of summer many perennials have stopped blooming, but the winter bloomers and fall colors haven’t started in earnest to continue the show. If you’ve got some autumn bare spots in your garden, how about tucking a few heathers into the foreground? They even work in seaside or deer gardens.

Scotch Heather/ Calluna

Most of the Scotch Heathers are amazing from August to October, so if you need some late summer/ early fall interest, you can choose just about any Scotch Heather/ Calluna. [Read more...]