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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Garden update

I live in a garden. When I open the front door, this is what confronts me. Sometimes I just stand there and breathe it all in. How lucky I am!

Since the last post, two weeks ago, the Siberian irises, baptisia, catmint, and roses have all started to bloom.

This is the sidewalk view now. Those gray-leaved things in the front are rose campion. They seed themselves all over, but particularly like growing next to concrete and brick. I usually move them around a little, making sure to have some clumps next to the brick fence posts.

This is also where the new rose garden is - the sunniest spot I could find.

The mock orange is in bloom, and the fragrance is wonderful! It is a little weedy, and I have less of it than I used to. But like so many other things, it's really not very interesting when it's not in bloom. Here it is in a narrow zone between the side of the garage and the neighbor's ugly chain link fence, along with some ferns, lily of the valley, and lacecap hydrangeas which will bloom later.

The sweetbay magnolias (two of them!) that I planted last summer are both covered with buds and starting to bloom. They are so gorgeous and fragrant!

But there is still work to be done. The self-imposed mowing reduction program continues. See where the curve of the hose is in the picture below? I'm going to continue the garden around to cover all that grass on the left, leaving just a nice little flat place in the middle - more like a "room". It would be better, I guess, if the room were in the BACK, but - oh well! There are pleasant spots there as well. The garden will just be more of the same easy stuff: hostas, boxwood, heuchera, cranesbill, sweet woodruff - maybe a few daylilies - all things that will fill in quickly and not be a lot of work. I think I'll be able to fill it all in using plants that I already have, for the most part. The new tree peony will be there - just to the left of the baptisia (the biggest plant in the foreground), allowing a little grass path for access to the "room" between the two.

And this is the mowing reduction back yard version. I rescued 3 small hollies from the depths of the plateau and put them here (hard to see in the photo, for some reason) and will continue the hosta border along the hose line. The wood stick marks the property line, more or less. The neighbors will now have to mow that part. Yay!

And here's another view of that problem area by the back door. Thank goodness for those big blue hostas! I found that clematis buried under a pile of leaves and helped it get started up the trellis. Maybe there is hope. The red cooler doesn't really need to be there.

For most of the year this spirea is just a big green blob and I wonder why I hang on to it. Then it does THIS, and I remember! I do like the way its form contrasts with the hosta.
But here's the big project of the last few days: the Japanese knotweed! With all the cool and rainy weather there haven't been any good Round-up days since the "helpers" were here. The ones we zapped then have stayed zapped, but in the meantime, there are serious six-to-eight footers in there. Lots of them. My MO is to cut them down now as I encounter them and go in later with the Round-up on a regular basis. Nasty, nasty stuff.

Sticks and screws

So I had been thinking about the IKEA workbench more and more, and decided I ought to get it. Daughter H was kind enough to come along and do the heavy lifting. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had been marked down by twenty dollars. Still - what did I say about ending up with a pile of sticks and screws? Actually it's almost all together now. Maybe I'll have a burst of energy and finish it up tonight. Or maybe H will come over in the morning to do it for me!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Shelves redux

Look what I forgot I had! These wire shelves from Target are exactly what I need, and I had two sets of them stashed away in the garage. I'm not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to put them together outside, except for wanting to enjoy BEING out there. I'll do the other one "on site".
Here it is in the hallway, en route to the basement. Hmmm. Maybe a good solution for the mail! (Just kidding, but not entirely....)

This is the worktable thing I was talking about. Still undecided, though feeling somewhat empowered after having had such an easy time assembling the shelves.

Monday, May 19, 2008


The demolition of the moldy storage room in the basement left me with a shortage of shelf space. And the garage door catastrophe left me without a handyman. As it stands, the old ping-pong table is groaning under the weight of all the stuff that was on the old shelves. I actually still HAVE the shelves themselves, and their brackets. Yes, I can get rid of a lot of the stuff - maybe even most of it - but I still need a few shelves down there.

My first thought was to just get a bunch of cement blocks and build some block-and-board shelves myself. That was before I went to Home Depot and tried to lift just ONE of those blocks.

My second thought was to look for a source of large used cans (like maybe the diner goes through a lot of big cans of tomatoes or something?) and fill them with sand or cement. But then I'd still have the problem of dragging heavy bags of sand or cement mix in and out of the car and down to the basement.

So then I thought of IKEA. Might as well check out the ready-mades. There were a few good options there. Once again, though, a lifting problem.

And, invariably, the trouble with IKEA is all the OTHER weird stuff you find yourself dragging home. Like this lamp, for instance:

Well, I was thinking it might be good in the art studio. The top part would add much needed overall light, and the little flexible bottom part could be directed wherever needed. Hey - it was only 9.95!

The other thing that caught my eye was an acacia workbench. I've been wanting something like this for the deck to double as a potting work surface and a serving table. Aside from the usual can't-lift-it problem, I could see that what I would actually be getting would be a pile of sticks and screws. And a cryptic little instruction booklet - in Swedish. Am I going to have the patience to tackle a project like that?

Somehow this adventure occupied almost the whole day. And the shelf problem is unresolved.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Garden photos - quite a lot of them

Even now, when the garden is looking just about as great as it ever has or will, it isn't that easy to get good pictures. But for those who are interested, these will give you some idea of what's happening.

This is the brick front walk, and the "herb" garden alongside. That's a fig tree in the pot. Because a lot of herbs are pretty weedy looking, this garden has a lot of "fake" herbs in it, such as the little gold spirea, blue fescue, small hostas, baptisia, coral bells, lady's mantle and candytuft. There are lettuces, parsley, sage, alpine strawberries, a neat sort of basil, chives, lavenders, pinks, germander. Can you see the little squares? It's all looking very cute right now. This is the only part of the garden that I fuss over in any way.

Here's a recent impulse buy. On the day that the garage door crashed I had to calm down by going to the garden store. This star magnolia somehow jumped into the car, and now needs to be planted.
This is the "sidewalk" garden. Boxwoods and hellebores alternate, and, at the moment, they're underplanted with English ivy- probably not the best solution. It doesn't understand it's supposed to stay on the OUTSIDE of the fence. There are two big clumps of blue siberian iris about to bloom, some climbing white roses and 3 kinds of clematis, one of which you can see in the foreground.

Here's the "plateau", in the back yard with its lush hosta border. Hostas have become sort of a theme, as might be apparent.

I have even been potting them up! What could be easier?

Here's the "plant ghetto"; new acquisitions in the driveway, waiting to be planted. I've really bought very little this year. I did find a tree peony I couldn't resist. Otherwise there are some blue salvia (2 kinds) and cosmos (pink and white), dahlias (which I have never grown - that's the thing that's blooming in the back), a patio tomato, and 3 new kinds of clematis.

This hosta got plunked in its big pot last summer (it was outgrowing its spot on the plateau) and it came right back up this spring with no special attention from me. My first hosta-in-pot. I think I might try tucking some spring bulbs in around it this fall.

Lilacs are on the way out, and peonies are full of buds. These grow together around the edge of the deck.

The back yard is bisected diagonally by a huge hill that I got tired of mowing. It's now planted with daylilies, and the main project is swapping out the boring Stella d'Oros for more interesting kinds.
Herb garden vignette: chives, spirea, germander.

This is the "east garden", along my neighbor's driveway. There used to be a huge oak there. It was struck by lightning about four years ago. More hostas! And a good crop of sweet woodruff in bloom. Later there will be hardy geraniums weaving throughout.

Planting these aliums to look as if they are growing out of the hosta was a first-time experiment. In the fall I think I'll add some of the really big aliums. I like the effect!

Another view of the herb garden. You can see the last of the pale pink "angelique" tulips in front, planted among the "blue cadet" hostas, and more of them next to the rhubarb, a little further back.

And here's the area that needs the most attention right now. It's right outside the back door. Two of the new clematis are earmarked for the trellis in the rear where I've tried roses in the past without great success (not enough sun). The "east garden" is just on the other side of the trellis, in case you don't completely have your bearings. The big round bush is a white spirea which will bloom any minute. There are two sickly rhododendrons against the house, as well as a huge version of the dreaded Japanese knotweed (how did that get there?). Well, as I said - this is where the work is most needed!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rain and garage door

We have had some days of heavy rain, much needed in the garden (and surely in the reservoirs) so I can't really complain. Well, maybe a little ... as it turns out I am taking an intensive 3-session landscape pastel class (same teacher as before) in lieu of the official continuation which was cancelled (not enough takers, in the end). The first session was last Friday, the day of the most torrential downpour, and the second class is this Friday, more rain predicted then as well.

And the handyman turned out to be a little less handy than previously advertised. After he departed, I suddenly realized I couldn't open the garage door. I figured he had either tried to "fix" it (it has never closed properly, but otherwise worked fine), or else he had FORCED it to close and something had "snapped", or whatever it is that garage door mechanisms do.

So I called and yelled at him to come and make it right. To his credit he came right away. He was strong enough to be able to get it open. But too strong, it seems. With one mighty push, he rolled it up and up and up and up ... yes, it just kept GOING, and the whole door crashed down INSIDE the garage!!!! What a noise it made!!! Astonishingly, nothing broken - not even a flower pot. But still....

More yelling ensued. Handyman was banished forthwith.

It was easier than I imagined to get it fixed properly. Turns out there are people who specialize in garage door repair, and mine wasn't anything unusual. The guy came within an hour, got it all rehung and working better than ever before. (It closes perfectly now.)

So today it's a glorious day and I spent all morning enjoying the garden, which looks better than it ever has, if I do say so. I must post some pictures... I will! I will!

But first... off to book club!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A hugely productive day

For quite some time I've had a few dreary household projects that seemed to be beyond any do-it-yourself abilities I might possess. There was a poorly ventilated storage room in the basement that needed to be dismantled, including disposing of the moldy old sheetrock, shelving and 2x4's. There was a problem with the garage roof. Was it a roof problem? A flashing issue? A gutter problem? A paint thing? All of the above? And there was the matter of the railings on the deck that needed to be repaired and replaced. Not to mention a leader that needed to be reattached, and some other minor paint touch-ups.

Astonishingly, these things are all suddenly DONE! A handyman I'd used in the past happened to be working next door yesterday, and happened to be available, along with two helpers, today, and PRESTO! Well, it's mostly done. He'll come back tomorrow to finish the painting, and there's still a mountain of debris piled in the driveway waiting for the "removal guy".

And don't think I was just idly twiddling my thumbs while this was all going on. I got the lawn mowed, front and back, using the "green" push mower which I so much prefer to its gas-eating cousin. Isn't walking, after all, the most recommended exercise for all ages? And isn't walking back and forth in my own garden infinitely preferable to walking around the neighborhood, or on a treadmill?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Did you think those Priority and Express mail boxes that the post office provides were "free"? Well, so did I, til I found out that I could save money by providing my own box. So I saved $1.50 yesterday, mailing the grandkids' forgotten items back to Boston. Not a big deal, but it's another way to recycle, and it could add up if you do a lot of package sending.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


There was a house tour today - an annual fundraiser for a local group. I'm not sure what prompted me to go, as I'd never done so before. I know there are beautiful houses in my town, because I've been in plenty of them. But these - I dunno - it was somehow all about "look what we bought!" All the state-of-the-art kitchens and expensive furniture leave me cold. Still, there were some high points:

I very much liked this simple kitchen. The big cupboard just inside the back door solves the "no mud room" problem. I loved the concrete countertops.

Just opposite this long table is the main working area. This is a room where a family could happily hang out in any number of comfortable scenarios.

I think the blackboard paint idea is a great one for a child's room. I understand that you can get the same paint now with built-in magnetic properties. What next?

This back yard's simple wood platform appealed to me. It was a part of the most modest house (by far) on the tour - but also the one with the most clever design ideas.

And I am always drawn to ponds - particularly simple ones like this. There was a small pumping action going, which meant there had to be electricity coming from somewhere, but I couldn't figure out from where, as it was in the most remote corner of the yard (as mine would/will be when I get to it, sooner or later....)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

May Day

Lots going on around town today.

I hit a couple of plant sales - first, the Master Gardeners in Edgemont Park, then the one at Van Vleck. Astonishingly I came away from both empty-handed, though I was tempted by a Chinese fringe tree (too exotic, I decided) and might have succumbed to a tree peony had the good ones not already been tagged and set aside. One thing good: I've come to the realization that I've finally reached a point where I don't actually need any more plants; if I find a bare space I can easily just dig up and move something around from another place.

Mostly I hung out at Art in the Park, an annual juried show held for the first time on the grounds of the Art Museum.

It's always a big draw for families and kids. There was juggling, face painting, tie-dying, beading, hatmaking and more.

Music, of course. And food.

But for me, the art was the main draw. Many of the exhibitors had come from quite a distance, and had put considerable effort and expense into their displays. Particular favorites for me were:
William McCarthy who does exquisite landscapes completely from memory and imagination. He showed me the tiny sketchbook he uses for the little black and white thumbnails that he uses as points of departure.
Linda Adato, a printmaker who makes beautiful and highly detailed colored etchings, many of which are quite small. She often combines multiple plates on a single page.
Deborah Colter, who creates mostly geometric abstract mixed media paintings and collages.
Claire Malloy, who showed some lovely pastels done on rice paper.
Donna Grande, also a pastel artist, who has a great color sense.
Carol Schepps, a fabric artist who makes gorgeous quilts and wall hangings. My favorites were the various "suns" - concentric fabric circles machine-appliqued to larger background squares.
It was a special pleasure to talk with all of these artists about their work and their techniques. They all have easy-to-find websites that are worth looking at.
It wasn't until I was ready to leave that I realized that the end-of-the-year show from the pastel classes had been hung in another part of the museum. That's mine, there, in the center. I griped about having to go to the quite considerable expense of framing something that I deemed less than perfect. Still, I'm pleased to have been asked to include a piece. So - ta-da!!!