Peony flowers -

Enjoying May flowers – five tips for beautiful peony blooms

May is a wonderful month for many reasons.  May flowers are some of my favorite things.  This spring, the peony I planted a couple of years ago has its first blooms – and they are beautiful!

The fattest and  most scrumptious  of all flowers,  a rare fusion  of fluff and majesty,  the peony    is now coming  into bloom.    ~ Henry Mitchell,  American writer  (1923-93) - amerrymom.comThese lovely flowers were worth the wait over the past couple of years when the plant only had leaves on it.  It’s a good thing it has nice leaves.

When I planted it, I didn’t know much about peonies except that they are pretty.  I didn’t realize that they don’t bloom for a couple of years, so at first I thought my plant was a dud.  It was a happy day to finally see the first peony buds this spring!  They’re so lovely in full bloom.Peonies -

Five tips for growing garden peonies

Although I’m not a gardening expert, I’ve learned several helpful tips for growing peonies in my flower garden.

1.  Be patient.  Since peonies take a couple of years to become established and bloom, give them time.  Planting annuals near the peony, but not too close, can bring blooms to the area without creating deep roots that will compete with the peony.  The tall green foliage pairs nicely with many annuals.  Take care that any companion plants don’t block the peony’s sun.

2.  Pick the location wisely.  Because of the establishment period, peonies are not ideal for transplanting to a new location.  Know your gardening zone and the requirements for your specific variety of peony.  Find a spot with full sun and provide fertile, well-drained soil.  Plan for their mature height and width, usually about 2-3 feet.

3.  Provide support.  Peony flowers tend to droop and need support.  You can buy or make stakes or rings to prop them up.  I placed a slightly taller obelisk by the peony while it was bare to add interest to my flower garden.  Now it provides a nice support for the flowers.May peonies - amerrymom.com4.  Trim back foliage in the fall.  Peonies don’t need a lot of ongoing care, but cutting back the foliage in the fall can help avoid disease.  Light mulch may be applied in the autumn; mulch should be removed in the spring.

5.  Tolerate ants on the buds.  Ants are attracted to peony buds for the nectar.  The benefit is that ants help control other pests that damage buds.  They generally move on after the bud has opened, but take care that the ants are gone when bringing cut flowers indoors.

With just a little planning and minimal care, peonies are a beautiful addition to a flower garden!

What are your favorite May flowers?

Linked up at some of these link parties.

tres leche cake

Tres Leche Cake

It was love at first bite when I tasted tres leche cake last year.  Have you tried this cake?  It is so good!

It’s a sponge cake with a glaze of three types of milk (hence the name tres leche cake).  The glaze soaks in and makes the cake amazingly delicious.  Then it’s topped with a whipped cream frosting.  Yum!

Tres Leche Cake recipe

Since tres leche cake is from Latin America, it makes sense that I first tried it while I was away on a business trip in the southwest.  My immediate reaction was that I wanted to learn how to bake it for my family because they would love it too.  But I had my doubts about my ability to make it.  This cake was so good that I thought it was probably super complicated.

Fortunately, when I looked for a recipe, it appeared easier to make than I had imagined.  I landed on a recipe from the Food Network’s Alton Brown and decided to give it a try.

I’m so glad I can make this cake for my family now.  It quickly became my hubby’s favorite dessert.  He asked for it as his birthday cake this year.

I adapted the recipe from Alton Brown’s version since his measures the ingredients by weight (ounces), and I’m used to measuring by volume (cups).  Here’s the recipe I use.

Tres Leche Cake
For cake
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher (coarse-grained) salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 whole eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
For glaze
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half (or use whole milk)
For whipped cream topping
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Use a 13x9 pan and lightly oil and flour the bottom, then set aside.
  3. Combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside.
  4. Use a mixer (hand mixer or stand mixer) to beat the butter on medium speed until fluffy.
  5. Add the sugar for the cake gradually, mixing on low speed.
  6. Add the eggs, mixing them in one at a time.
  7. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  8. Add the flour mixture in three batches, just until combined.
  9. Spread the batter evenly in the cake pan. (It will appear to be a small amount of batter.)
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes on the middle rack of the oven. The cake should be lightly golden and should pass the toothpick test. (A toothpick inserted in the middle and pulled back out should not have batter on it when it's removed.)
  11. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then poke small holes all over the top of the cake using a toothpick, skewer, or fork.
  12. While the cake is cooling, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half-and-half. (Whisk together in a large measuring cup or bowl with a pour spout so the glaze is easy to pour onto the cake.)
  13. When the cake has cooled, but is still warm, pour the glaze over the cake and let it soak in. It's best to pour it over in a few batches, letting the glaze absorb before adding more. Stop adding the glaze when the cake stops absorbing it. (About ½ cup of glaze may be left - discard leftover glaze.)
  14. Make the whipped topping by mixing the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract together on low, then increasing to medium speed after it begins to form peaks. Continue mixing until thick. Spread the whipped topping on the cake after it has cooled completely.
  15. Serve after the cake has had several hours for the glaze to soak in. Use fresh fruit as a garnish on top if desired.
  16. Store the cake in the refrigerator.
This cake stays in the pan since it has a milk glaze that absorbs into the cake, and it must be stored in the refrigerator, so a cake pan with a lid is ideal.
When adding the glaze, the cake may seem soggy if all of the tres leches glaze mixture is used. Be sure to stop adding the glaze when the cake stops absorbing it. Don't force all of the glaze onto the cake.

Tres leche cake is a yummy dessert for any occasion.  It’s great with strawberries on top as a garnish.  Enjoy!

This tres leche cake recipe is linked up at some of these link parties.

Made by mom: A DIY paver stone basketball court

The answer is “Yes!”

A well-meaning mom with no experience can build a basketball area in the backyard for her kids using paver stones.DIY paver stone backyard basketball court -

As the mom of two boys, I spend a lot of time on sports-related things.  I really never thought I’d build a small basketball court in the backyard for them, but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do!

When we moved to our house, it had a lot going for it.  What it didn’t have was a place for my boys to play basketball.  And they love to shoot basketball.

Since our driveway slopes down to the street in the front, the backyard was the only option for a basketball goal.  Some friends from church gave us an almost-new goal after their daughter left for college.  The kids were happy to have it, but it’s hard to dribble on grass!

We debated a solution for a while.  Pouring a concrete basketball court would be a big investment.  My husband was busy at work and didn’t have time to take on a DIY project.

Finally I decided I could build a basketball area myself by laying paver stones that would connect to the existing covered patio.  My hubby thought I was crazy for volunteering for that job, but I finally I convinced him I should give it a try.

After he agreed, I started clearing the sod from the area.  I recruited the kids to help some.  It was a good arm workout for all of us!  I thought that would come in handy for lifting the 16-inch square paver stones and setting them into place.

Little did I know how much more arm strength I really needed!  My trip to Home Depot to buy the materials made me realize that I needed a new deal with my hubby: if he would buy all of the paver stones and sand for the underlayment and transport them to the backyard, I would do the rest.

He was sure I would be asking for more help and he would be spending all of his time off work laying pavers for me, but I was determined to get that part of the project done all by myself.  Somehow I made it happen!DIY basketball court from paver stones - AMerryMom.comI’m not gonna lie.  It was hard work, and it took me a long time to get it done.  The project did not follow the fast pace of some of the done-in-a-weekend tutorials I had read.  (If you need a full how-to tutorial for installing paver stones, I liked the ones at The Handmade Home, Better Homes and Gardens, and Lowes.  Yep, I read a bunch of tutorials before I got started.)

To complete my project, I worked on it a little at a time for weeks.  I worked carefully to make sure the base sand under the pavers was really smooth so the pavers would lay flat. 

Besides the physical weight of the pavers, my biggest challenge was getting the sand layer smoothed out just right so the court was totally flat.  I definitely didn’t want anyone tripping over the stones!

I finally finished laying the stones and sweeping sand between them before the cold weather arrived last fall.  When I got that last paver done, I was a very merry mom!  

The last stone was hard to install with stones on two sides and the edge forms on the other two sides. I had to kinda drop it in, which messed up the sand layer on my first few attempts.  I had to re-level the sand and try again until finally I got it in right.  Whew!  Getting everything level was a lot harder for me than it sounded before I started on this little endeavor.

I did a happy dance that it was all done!  Then I couldn’t wait to usher my kids outside to try it out when they got home from school that day.  They were thrilled to squeeze in some basketball time in the backyard when it wasn’t too cold.

As much as I wanted to show off my little basketball court, I didn’t post anything about it here last fall.  Since my work was not a by-the-book installation, I wasn’t sure it would hold up.  I thought the cold weather might make the stones heave up out of place over the winter.

Now that spring has arrived after our especially cold, harsh winter, I’m happy to report that the basketball area made it through the last five months intact!  My boys have been playing basketball on it all spring.

Today I’m finally declaring success building a DIY backyard basketball court from paver stones.  And if I can do it, anyone can!  :)

2016 update – A few people have asked if the pavers are holding up well over time since I originally installed them.  The answer is yes!  After going through a few winters with freezing and thawing, the pavers are still looking good.  We have to do some weed control between the pavers from time to time, but this basketball court has been maintenance free otherwise.  We did have to buy a new basketball goal, because our original, free goal rusted.  We bought the Lifetime 1221 pro-height adjustable basketball system from Amazon (affiliate link) and have been very happy with it.  It came with free home delivery, which was handy.  The setup took some time, but it’s a nice goal.

Space planning details for our DIY backyard basketball court

Due to the space constraints in our yard, I loosely based our basketball area on a free throw lane. It’s 16 feet long and 8 feet wide.

My reasoning was that the NCAA free throw line is 15 feet from the backboard, so making our court 16 feet long gave us a foot of space for standing to shoot free throws. That worked out to exactly 12 of the 16″ paver stones for the length of the basketball court. I added a border of single bricks around the paver stones to make the final size correspond to our existing covered patio space – and to gain a little more room for standing to shoot free throws.DIY backyard basketball court - 3 points for success -

Although the regulation free throw lane is 12 feet wide, our court is just 8 feet wide.

For us, the size decisions were based on space and budget. With this size, my kids can practice free throws, layups, and inside shots.

Our basketball court definitely would be better if it was large enough to give my kids room to practice 3-point shots, but I keep reminding them (and myself) that it’s better than nothing!

You could really make a court any size that works for your yard.  I measured and sketched our backyard basketball court on paper with a couple of size options, then marked it off in the yard before getting started.

Using 16″ square paver stones, I needed 72 pavers for our court (6 rows of 12).  I used 16-inch square paver stones with a brick basketweave pattern stamped onto them. 

Before buying the basketweave-patterned paver stones, I checked to make sure the basketball would bounce OK on it – and it does.  The brick lines in the pavers don’t seem to affect the bounce of the basketball at all.

DIY paver stone basketball court

Are you planning a paver stone basketball court in your own yard?  I’d love to hear about your DIY project!

This DIY basketball court project is linked up at some of these link parties.

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