Saturday, October 15, 2016

The New Additions

I have wanted chickens since I started watching Alys Fowler's BBC series The Edible Garden on a fall day in 2011. When she brought two chickens, named Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, into her garden and sang their praises, I was hooked. There was only one problem--I lived in Orlando, and chickens weren't allowed there.

When we planned our move back to Georgia, chickens became part of the plan. A friend gave me a book on chicken keeping as a farewell gift. Neighbors asked me to send photos of the chickens as soon as we got them. When the reality set in that I could have them, though, I began to worry about whether I was making the right choice. So the chickens, oddly enough, became like the story of my tattoo. I had an initial desire, worried about the decision, and waited three years to finally get one. The only difference is that the chicken decision only took two years to make. Well, two years from when I could get them. Five years total.

Ultimately, I made the decision on a whim. I had been trolling a Facebook list for people selling livestock for more than a year. When a friend at work asked me in August why I just couldn't get the chickens already, I looked at the list that evening, saw a post for week old chicks, and picked three up the next day. The trick was that I hadn't made any preparations for them.

Virginia, Vita, and Vanessa on their first day
with their family

Enclosing the left bay on the barn and building a chicken coop had been on my list of projects for the summer, but the list was long and the coop at the end of it. As the summer wore on, I fretted about spending too much money on accomplishing all of my goals. The estimate on the coop design plans I had was $600, and with the other things I needed to enclose the run, I figured the total cost would be $1,000. I couldn't justify such a significant expense.

But one day, as I was walking the property, I thought about the many structures that the previous owner had built and I hated. Maybe instead of demolishing all of those things, I could reuse or repurpose them. That's when the hideous archery shack started to look a little more appealing to me.

That? Really?

The target inside (which was filled with old
clothes when we dismantled it...ick)

A side view of the hideousness

The measurements were perfect for a coop, and I figured that I could use the planks on our ugly covered bridge to enclose it. That would save me both money and time. It took me forever to get the target out, but once it was, I had a nice pile of wood and trim from it to use on the coop. The only issue left to deal with was that this enormous thing was cemented in. I attached temporary legs to it, and as Turfman braced it, I took the ripsaw to the 4x4 posts that it stood on. Then we removed the temporary front legs, climbed inside, carefully tilted it forward, and began to drag/carry it into the barn bay. I built a new base for it, and then we stood it up again and put it in its final position. We worked on the coop every free moment we had, and the chicks grew on in the large box in the garage as the weeks went by.

Friends came one Saturday in September to help install the framing for the run and hang the hardware cloth, which moved us a lot further along and made the work more enjoyable.

Here's our crew!
We buried the hardware cloth around the entire perimeter to discourage any critters from trying to get in, and we prepped and painted day after day until I thought I might break. But then we made it, and the girls got to move into their new home.

Nearly every part of the coop is repurposed from the archery target and the bridge. Even the ramp into the coop is built from the frame of the target. My dear friend Maureen (pictured in the center of my crew) gave me her old French patio doors that she replaced with sliding doors a few months ago (don't worry, she's getting eggs). We used white paint that the previous owners left behind, and the blue paint was left over from painting the doors to my vegetable garden. All of it saved me a lot of money. The big expense was the huge roll of hardware cloth and the lumber to enclose the run, but after all of that, my expenses came in under $400 for a very lovely coop and a 20'x30' run for the ladies. In the end, I think they love it, and I'm pretty chuffed at the result. Now the rest of you can judge for yourselves.

Welcome home!

Announcing the residents
(sign from reused bridge parts)

Not sure if I'll enclose the bottom for
storage. The girls like to hang out there.

The ramp that was an archery target

I had to buy plywood for the back and
nesting boxes.

The inside, which is dusty. I use a sand bed, and the
girls like to take dust baths in it.

Enjoying their jungle gym

Virginia on her throne

They seem pretty happy

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The State of the Pond, Fall 2016

Turfman loves watching the weather report. A hush must fall over the house so that he can hear every word uttered. He's most often listening for words like "rain" and "high chance." Most forecasts this summer have ended with him being dejected.

I, too, would love to hear those words, but I have come to loathe the weather report, not just for the lack of rain in the forecast but for a curious and disturbing narrative that the reporter invariably delivers. I don't know exactly who the local news stations consider their most important audience, but I'm guessing it's tourists who hope that we don't get rain while they're here. Otherwise, it's locals who have no idea or concern that we need rain in order to have--well, you know--water.

Here are the two basic forecasts one might hear (and I suspect this is true all over the country):

  1. "Well, folks, I have some bad news. We have a 40% chance of rain today, which will make the commute a soggy one."
  2. "It's going to be a great stretch of days. We have almost no chance of rain in the next 7 days, so get out there and enjoy the sunny weather."
Rain is the enemy.

For those who don't garden, it is likely pretty easy to become unaware of how much or how little rain has fallen in a given month. Sometimes a gardener, too, thanks to the aid of drip irrigation, might be less attuned to precipitation levels. But a pond is an unmistakable indicator of rain patterns. I'll demonstrate just how much by sharing a series of photos. 

On Christmas Eve, the pond and its series of draining canals had succumbed to four days of deluge. 

The canals are no longer to be seen

And neither is the driveway

Over the course of the winter, our driveway washed away four times.

The level settled a bit (and we had some pretty flurries)

And over it went again
We were hopeful for a summer of consistent rain, but it virtually disappeared by May. Although we occasionally had rain, it clearly wasn't enough in the face of far too many 90 degree days. It rained yesterday while I took the photo below, so the water level was a little higher than it has been, but the scene is shocking.

That's all the water left. The bridge is just beyond.

The soil is cracked, and sedge has taken over in most spots

Rain in one season does nothing for us in in the next, especially when we have a pond that we don't want to be a serious eyesore. And whatever we see happening above ground, we can be sure is going on below ground in really important areas like aquifers. I hope we all keep that in mind the next time we watch the local forecast and listen intently for a promise only of sunny days. Rain really is one of our dearest friends.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Surprised by Joy

I am, of course, not the first to use this phrase. Wordsworth used it as the title of a poem in which he describes being struck by something wonderful and turning to share it with his daughter, who unfortunately, had died long before. The rest of the poem is a lament on her loss.

C.S. Lewis, too, used it as a title. It was for his autobiography, primarily about his search for the moment at which longing has been satisfied. Curiously enough, after he published the manuscript he met and married a woman named Joy, and his friends claimed that he had, indeed, been surprised by Joy.

I have to borrow their words for what happened to me today on two separate occasions. I had been working in the vegetable garden, harvesting the last of my first potato sowing. As is my habit, I loaded them into a container that had drainage holes and headed back to the house to rinse them with the hose. I placed the colander on the back porch, and when I turned to reach for the hose, my eyes alighted on the rusty red daylilies blooming in a small bed at the family room chimney and then on to the Zebra grass and Japanese maple beyond. It may seem strange for people to read this, but I suddenly drew breath and felt like I might cry. The beauty of the scene was overwhelming. I thought about how strange it was, wondered if anyone else would feel the same way or merely ask what was so special about the view. But the feeling did not leave me. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I felt as if I had touched (or had been touched by) the miracle of existence. I felt privileged to have had some hand in the making of such a view.

Maybe it's not so overwhelming to anyone
else, but there it is

Once I had rinsed all of the dirt off of the potatoes, I headed to one of the front flower beds to deadhead. Again, in the midst of this, I was struck by another beautiful moment. A small moth was devouring the nectar provided by a Gaura 'Lindheimerei' flower.

He sat so patiently

As I tried to find the best perspective for the camera, I caught another amazing sight in the viewfinder. A ladybug was scrambling up a nearby shoot. Again, I was surprised by an overwhelming feeling of awe to have been witness to this.

There she is, just to the right of the moth

Some may call me altogether too easily impressed, but this is what happens when you tend a garden. You notice the little things that suggest you're part of something so much bigger and miraculous than you ever imagined.

And in case anyone is wondering, I do, indeed, walk around with my camera thrown across my torso. I never know when I might be surprised by joy.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pergola Garden Revival

Since we bought this property two years ago, I have wanted to give it a name. This all started with a trip to the Cotswolds in 2013. So many properties we visited or walked past had lovely wooden signs announcing their identity, and they had nothing having to do with the owners' names. They were descriptors of the places, and I thought they gave them additional character. 

Here's an example

For a while, I was lobbying for Dixter Grange because Great Dixter is my favorite garden, and the word grange seemed to describe our property quite well (a country house with farm buildings attached). We have buildings and structures aplenty around here. While I have always loved the barn, the rest of the structures have been a little less pleasing. They have potential, but they look so tired, largely from their grey wash stain. The pergola is one such structure that has bothered me a bit.

Here's the sad pergola sitting in an overgrown mess

Once we had cleared the lower tier of the garden next to the pergola last year, I started planting the area and creating a relaxing shade garden. Its tidied appearance drew me out on a few days this spring. I stretched out on the small bench to grade portfolios and enjoy the beautiful weather. That made me wish I had an even better, more comfortable space, so I set about creating one. That, my friends, proved to be a very slippery slope. 

It began with changing the color of the pergola stain. That made the pergola look better but the slab beneath all the more tired. So I stained the slab. Then the abandoned lanterns bothered me, so I scrubbed them clean, painted them copper, and moved them to the inside of the posts, along with two of my own lanterns that I cleaned and painted to match. Then I deemed the bench too small. So I built an enormous bench, 6.5 feet long by 2.5 feet wide. I modified a design by Ana White so that I could have more of a daybed, and I used 2x6s for the main frame so that I could put a lid on the seat and make a storage area for the cushions. It cost $170, which is $20 over my budget, but after much building, staining, and sewing, I really am pleased with the transformation. It's now a comfortable, inviting place to find some shade during the day.

It barely resembles its former self

The fountain makes this a really relaxing space
And at night, it has a whole other atmosphere. I wrapped the sphere in the center with solar lights. Although I would prefer a warmer color to the lights, I do like what they add to the space. 

There's a little someone who clearly approves the changes,
probably because the cushions are so comfortable

Now all we have to do is clear the upper tier of the garden, which will take some doing since there's poison ivy running throughout, and we're both terribly allergic. It's a job that needs to be done this summer, though.

And we still need to come up with a good name for the property.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three Days of Selective Harvesting

The heat is making me wilt these days. Luckily, things in the veg patch seem to be getting along just fine. Here's a brief pictorial update of what I'm starting to harvest. Looks like I'm having roasted root vegetables for dinner tonight.

Tuesday: The last of the garlic

Wednesday: First of the Purple Viking
and Rose Finn Apple fingerling potatoes

Thursday: Root Veg Melange (with one
carrot that must have hit a hard spot)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Teetering on the Edge

I have been worrying lately that I make gardening seem like it's all sunshine and butterflies. It often is that, but I don't want to give the impression that there aren't some disappointments and sacrifices. Beautiful low-maintenance gardens may exist, but I'm not personally aware of them. In fact, I tend to subscribe to the legendary Christopher Lloyd's maxim that "low maintenance is low braintenance." A garden needs attention--sometimes a great deal of attention. In the last few weeks, for example, we've been coping with yet another drought. While we watch the margins of the pond recede rapidly yet again, I carefully monitor how dry the soil is around the plants. I watch for signs that they are under stress as a means of minimizing any damage they might suffer. Pests and diseases most often attack plants that are struggling.

Even under all of my fussing and care, the garden has begun announcing that it is under siege, and I am now springing into action. The first worrying signs appeared on my purple verbena and my thyme. They seemed to be bleaching in the sun, their leaves lighter and spotty. Leaning in for a closer look, I discovered the culprit--spider mites. For the organic gardener, the only thing to do is reach for the Neem oil.

Study the leaves carefully, and you'll see that the one in the
center is showing the signs of spider mites

Luckily, the damage is not catastrophic just yet, and armed with my sprayer of Neem oil and water, I will be doing battle with those dreaded mites. 

The lower leaves may be damaged, but I'm encouraged by
the condition of the new leaves

The other pest that is attacking a wide array of plants is the loathsome Japanese beetle. When I first saw them on my David Austin rose 'Olivia,' I picked them off and stepped on them. This was when there were just a few. Now they are absolutely rampant. 

Here's 'Olivia' with her unwanted guests tucked away within
her petals

It's turned into a dirty Japanese beetle condo!

They, too, will get an evening spray of Neem oil, but as there are so many of them, I have to employ a two-pronged attack this year. In the mornings, I go out with a jar of soapy water, pick off the beetles, and drop them into their sudsy, watery grave...with great satisfaction.

One seems to be a little heavy...

Since I don't want to struggle for years to come, I will be spreading beneficial nematodes and an inoculation of milky spore. They proved very helpful when we had this problem before, which was when we lived in this area 10 years ago.

It's not all bad news this week, though. As I carefully comb over the garden for the unwanted pests, I have found so many other wonderful creatures.

A tiny frog rests amid the Hydrangea 'Limelight' foliage

I love watching the flowers of Gaura 'lindheimerei' bending and bouncing as a bumblebee grabs on for a taste of nectar.

These fellas are hard to capture on camera

Even though the garden is teetering on the edge of greatness or disaster at present, I'm feeling like we're still leaning toward greatness. The first blooms of Leucanthemum 'Becky' and the wonderful, showy heads of Allium sphaerocephalon are keeping my hopes up and encouraging me to fighting the good fight.

Hello, 'Becky'!

As soon as these opened, I ordered a
bunch more!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Bloom Update

A number of somewhat sizeable projects in the garden are keeping me really busy lately. I'll reveal those as I complete each one, but I wanted to share a few photos of what's happening in the garden right now.

First is the surprise of my Clematis 'Avant Garde', which grows 9-10 feet tall. It has small reddish-pink flowers with a burst of white anthers in the center. I was interested in this Clematis when I lived in Orlando, but I didn't want to risk killing it in the Florida heat. So when Brushwood Nursery sent me an email announcing a sale just one month before we moved to Georgia, I considered it a sign that this plant should end up in my new garden. When it arrived, I planted it promptly, and then I waited until the next season to see those precious little flowers. Well, precious and little described the flowers exactly. They were tiny and bore no resemblance to what I had seen in photos. I intended to take a photo and send it to the folks at Brushwood to ask if they knew what it actually was, but I got busy, as I so often do, and I forgot about it.

Last week, I walked past the trellis that 'Avant Garde' (or "whatever it is," as I had begun calling it) and found that it had transformed itself into the very Clematis whose photos had first captured my attention. I don't know what caused the insignificant flowers the year before, but I'm so thrilled with the change.

Here she is, blooming like mad

The flowers are no more than 2" across

In the beds surrounding the front porch, many plants are beginning to put on buds, but a few are already beginning to flower. One is my beautiful red lily, which is putting on double the buds it did last year. 

What a stunner

This morning, as soon as I woke up, I went outside to check on the lily and one of my David Austin roses, a climber called 'Graham Thomas'. He has had buds on for about a week now, so I've been monitoring their progress rather closely. Two of the buds had started to open this morning. Those are some gorgeous flowers.

He has a lovely, musky scent

I haven't yet built the trellis for Graham and the Clematis 'Rebecca' that is growing with him, so Graham has been lolling all over the place. The trellis is on my list of projects to complete this week, but I sort of enjoyed seeing the rich yellow roses peeking from behind the lily. 

'Graham Thomas' is vying for attention

I have a feeling that it's going to be an amazing summer in the garden.