I planted my very first vegetable garden this year. It’s not the first time I’ve grown vegetables, but it is the first time I’ve been responsible for the entire process of planning, planting, and feeding my own small vegetable garden. I’m having so much fun with it!

small cucumber on vine

Every morning I walk outside in pajama pants with bed head to water my gardens. And then two hours later I go out and stare at them. And then a few hours later I go out AGAIN and stare at them some more. I’m a bit obsessed, you can say.

cucumber blossom

I’ve really enjoyed not just the planning and planting, but watching how each flower turns into a tiny little baby vegetable that grows each day. Vegetable gardening can be a bit intimidating, but I’ve found myself learning so much just by trial and error. And the best part is popping a tomato into your mouth that is warm from the sun and bursting with fresh flavor. No store bought tomato will be better!

cherry tomatoes in hand

I picked my first cucumber this morning, and we’ve already had a few cherry tomatoes come in. We bought both of these as plants at Lowe’s. I didn’t want to start from seed for my first batch because I’m so impatient to see results. But I have a few more seedlings that I’m growing right now to plant for our fall season. Yes, zone 9 has multiple grow seasons. It’s amazing.

growing bell pepper

The bell peppers and jalapeno peppers are also coming in! They’re very small right now because both plants are slow growers compared to the cucumber and tomato. The bell is about half the size it needs to be, and the jalapeno are tiny little 1″ peppers right now.

If you’re interested in planting your own small vegetable garden, here are the details of mine:

I used a 4×4 raised garden bed kit of plastic boards from Lowe’s because wood rots so quickly here. I’m not a fan of it, but it will do for this first season until I decide where I want permanent beds. My husband and brother helped set it up, but it really could be done with one person. We just like hanging out in the dirt together.

I used a layering system to fill the bed, with cardboard as the bottom layer, enriched garden soil nearly to the top of the bed, and mulch as a top layer to retain moisture. The cardboard acts as a weed block, and it composts well as it ages. I chose vegetables that I use frequently, and I planted in a grid system of three squares in three rows.

Back row: Because the sun is south of the bed, I planted the tallest plants in the back. They are a Husky Cherry Red tomato, Bradley tomato (a gift from my dad), and a bell pepper.

Middle Row: In the middle row, I have a banana pepper, sweet basil, and then another bell pepper (planted a few weeks after the first to stagger the crop). I’m moving the basil into the front row this week because the tomato plant is growing over it and blocking the sun.

Front Row: In the front row, I have a jalapeno pepper, romaine (just harvested so I’ll put the basil here), and a watermelon vine. The watermelon vine won’t stay in the container. It will spill out into our yard for several feet, but the roots will be in the enriched soil and given a lot of water.

I wanted to try growing the cucumber on a trellis, so I planted my Bush Hybrid cucumber in my flower garden, against a trellis that also contains plumbago. But next time, I think I’ll plant it in my small vegetable garden and trellis it up the back. I also don’t have a lot of room between my trellis and fence, which makes it a bit difficult to squeeze back there and harvest or weed.

Lately, I’ve been pondering how to add a little bit of cottage style to our 70’s ranch. I know it seems an odd match, but I think it could work. Especially if I work in a few beachy accents. I’m using this little California cottage featured in Country Living as inspiration.

cottage style dining
Photos by Elizabeth Jenkins for Country Living.

What I love about this home is the variety of brown tones she’s used. It’s interesting to me that this dining room still feels cool in tone, thanks to the white walls, curtains, and slipcovered chairs. Too often, brown can make a room warm in tone. So it’s nice to see it used in a way that feels fresh and current. Although I would lighten up those floors a bit, raise the curtain height, and maybe put in cornices in over each of the windows.

cottage style pantry cottage style kitchen

The owner is a chef, and has maxed out her kitchen with tons of style and efficient use of space. Despite the tiny size, it feels like a kitchen that could still be used regularly. If you visit the original article, she also installed a chandelier (!) in the kitchen. I like the amount of bright white she’s used. It could be too much white, but the room feels grounded because of the baskets, black countertops and two-color tile. Although, I wonder what it would have looked like with butcher block countertops!

cottage rose garden cottage style porch

No cottage is complete without a garden full of roses, and this cottage garden is bang on! The wicker lounge in the garden looks like the perfect place to take a nap when the flowers are in bloom. And the porch is just adorable. The choice of furniture makes it feel like an outdoor room, rather than just a place to walk through. While this works in the dry California air, it’s not doable in Florida. It’s too humid!

For the complete article that contains more photos of this adorable cottage, including the kitchen with a chandelier (!), head over to Cottage Living.


I’m in full garden obsession down here in Tampa. I’m talking a Burpee catalog perusing, zone 9 studying, spending all my fun money, sun measuring, seed buying, Lowe’s garden center stalking, Pinterest image gathering level of obsession. It’s all I can think of.

The best part? I live in subtropical zone 9, where you can start your garden very early and harvesting won’t end until late-December. I gathered stalk after stalk of basil until January, and the tomato plant I put into the ground as an end-of-season tester is still bearing fruit, albeit one sad little cherry tomato at a time.

Which means it’s time to start spring garden planting!

When we moved in last fall, our 3 bed / 2 bath ranch style home had little to no landscaping. Over the last five months, I’ve slowly added in flowers as I find them or they are given to me. It’s a mish mash of everything from begonias to roses, petunias to gerbera daisies. It’s been great to learn what works in the sun v. shade, and what the soil needs for plants to thrive. Now it’s time to add in more formally planned sections each season.

I’ve started with a full sun bed against a southern facing fence line. This is what I’ve ordered so far for my zone 9 full-sun garden:

Zone 9 Full Sun Summer Garden

Zone 9 Full Sun Garden

lisianthus pink bouqet pink sunflower ms mars

Lisianthus Pink Bouquet Collection (left): Perennial, Zones 7-11. Blooms Spring to Fall. 12-14″ in height. 6-8″ in spread.

Sunflower Ms. Mars (right): Annual. Blooms in Summer. 2o-30″ in height. 18-24″ in spread.

I picked these two plants because they make fabulous cut flowers and are great bedding plants. I’ve never lived in a zone where Lisianthus can grow as a perennial, so it will be interesting to see how it grows in Tampa.

monarda fistulosa humdinger clematis diamond ball

Monarda Fistulosa: Perennial, Zones 6-9. Blooms late Summer. 3-4′ in height. 20-24″ in spread.

Clematis Diamond Ball: Perennial, Zones 4-9. Blooms in Summer. 6-7′ in height. 2-3′ in spread.

We had several types of Clematis growing in our Kilkenny house. I’m interested to see how this vine looks in this heat. Will it hold up in zone 9? And, I added in a plant the bees will enjoy. This is the only plant I’m not sure I’ll like, as it’s more of a “wildflower” looking plant than the traditional cottage garden plant. So, we’ll see how it looks with it!

claire austin rose blue freesia zone 9

Claire Austin Rose: Perennial, Zones 5-9. Blooms in Summer. 4-8′ in height. 3-4′ in spread.

Freesia: Perennial, Zones 9-11. Blooms in early Summer. 14-18″ in height. 12″ in spread.

I’m a huge fan of David Austin roses, and this rose named after his daughter just looks beautiful in person. It’s been a feature in several formal gardens I’ve visited, and I can’t wait to see how it grows in my own garden. As for the Freesia, do I even need to give a reason?


The lisianthus and Ms. Mars sunflowers did really well in the heat. I did plant the lisianthus in an area that didn’t get enough sun, so while they bloomed beautifully, they leaned forward towards the sun and didn’t look as pretty as I would have liked. But I’m definitely going to add them in the garden this year as well. The sunflowers are a keeper as well.

The fistulosa, clematis, and rose did not survive the summer heat and humidity. The freesia came in but didn’t bloom. However, we were too busy to take care of our lawn this year and a lot of it came up wild in the yard!


painted plaster ornaments

I have a collection of ornaments that I enjoy displaying every year: Baby’s First Christmas ball (mine), Santa shooting hoops (his), Nacatamales (ours). Some have been gifts from friends, and others have been knick knacks we’ve picked up along our travels. The ornaments tell a story, from the heart my mother-in-law gave us at our bridal shower, to the crystal snowflake made by my best friend.

Because I love this part of my holiday, each year I choose an ornament for our families. Sometimes they are handcrafted, other times I find the perfect ornament in a little shop. Between the two of us, we have eight siblings, four parents, and dozens of nieces and nephews. To keep it affordable, I usually stick with a $5 budget.

painted window ornament

This year, inspired by an ornament given to us in Ireland, I picked up plaster ornaments from Michael’s on sale along with a selection of Martha Stewart acrylic paints. If you want to create your own painted plaster ornaments, here are a few tips:

  • Michael’s carries an assortment of these ornaments every year, but you can also purchase from Etsy, eBay, or bulk suppliers.
  • Thin the paint a bit with water. This will prevent brushstrokes.
  • Use a variety of paint brushes. I picked up craft brushes from Lowe’s (they shed, a lot) and better quality oil brushes from Michael’s (the bristles are stiffer). The longer, softer brushes are good for thin stripes, and the shorter, stiffer brushes are good for really fine details.
  • Go slow! It’s worth it to take your time.
  • Paint the entire ornament with a background color (I used a soft white). It’s easier to clean up mistakes on a painted surface.
  • It helps to go from the inner part to the outer part because your hand won’t smudge the paint.
  • If you do make a mistake, take a clean brush, wet it slightly, and then use it to wipe up the paint. The water makes it much easier.
  • Use tweezers to remove any debris before the paint dries, use a damp cotton swab to blot up bigger mistakes.
  • Use a spray sealer to finish and seal the ornament.

I hope this helps you during your holiday crafting marathon sessions!


porcelain tealight house

Two of my nieces slept over on Thanksgiving night, and we spent the day putting up our tree and stocking up on lights. It’s the latest of a series of family sleepovers, involving both of our families. The older of the two, Rory, has been a bit upset over the way stores decorate before Thanksgiving is over, and how materialistic the Christmas holiday has become. She’s an old soul, if you can’t tell.

Her complaints made me examine my own traditions. For me, Christmas is so much more than a day where gifts are exchanged. It’s an entire season of sparkle and shine, parties, lights, crafts, baking, and gathering with loved ones. Christmas is shopping for a fresh-cut tree the day after Thanksgiving, hanging ornaments, pulling out my grandmother’s recipe for divinity, and searching for beautifully decorated homes.

This holiday season, we’ll be snowshoeing in Idaho, baking in Tampa, having Christmas breakfast in Birmingham, and setting off fireworks in Georgia for New Years. It’ll be a whirlwind month of time spent with family, where the focus isn’t so much on gifts, but quality time with each other.

I love seeing friend’s craft projects and holiday festivities, so to bring a little bit of my traditions to my friends, I’m trying a new December Daily project on Instagram. If you want to follow along, you can click here to see all of my #bekahbemerry posts. You can also follow my Winter board on Pinterest.

For my first post, I gathered clippings from our tree, added in cinnamon scentsicles, a porcelain tea light house, and wood snowflake cutouts. Because when it’s 80° F out, you need to bring winter in any form you can.

If you want your own porcelain tea light house (pictured above), you can find it at Michael’s. All holiday decor is 50% off (as of Dec. 2nd). Originally $7.98, I picked up this porcelain tealight house for $3.99.