Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Best Gifts

I hardly recall the dinner I had with a college friend the first Christmas after I had graduated. I remember we ate at Bob Evans. I vaguely remember snippets of the conversation. The one vivid memory of that evening was the gift that he gave me. He was still in college and was, as most college students are, rather short on cash. I did not expect anything from him at all. We were just meant to meet for dinner while he was in town visiting family. I remember what he gave me, though, because it has always been the symbol of what makes a gift really special to me. 

He pushed the gift bag across the table, apologizing for its meager contents. Inside was a box of tea, and in 1995, it likely cost him less than $4. But it was also so much more than just a simple box of tea. You see, I had studied abroad for a semester the year before in Salzburg, Austria, and he knew how much my time there meant to me. He had gone to an international market in his hometown and spent quite a while, he said, looking for something that might trigger those fond memories. What he had given me, in fact, was fruit tea from Germany, and everything printed on the box was in German. I was touched by the sentiment, and the time and care he took in choosing the gift considerably increased its value  to me. I think it was the first time I recognized that there is a real art in gift-giving.

Happily, I have been more aware of such things since that incident so many years ago. I have been the lucky recipient of presents that span a full range of costs but convey the much more valuable idea that someone has really thought of me--who I am and what makes me tick. I hope I have done the same for others. It does mean so much. In fact, I opened an unexpected gift two days ago to find something that struck a similar chord. As I looked at it, I imagined my friend coming upon this mug and actually thinking of me--of me, and I was touched. 

How perfect a gift is this?

I was sipping tea out of my new mug yesterday afternoon when another gift was generously being bestowed on me. We finally enjoyed the most substantial rainfall we've had since we moved here in June. It continued into the evening, and I fell asleep last night like a little kid on Christmas Eve, wondering just how much I would find in the morning under the trees surrounding the pond. I wanted to be the first up to record the change. Apparently, I've been very good this year, and I'm feeling quite grateful. 

It's a pond again!

So today I wish you all a very happy Christmas filled with the invaluable gifts this life has to offer us every day and, more importantly, the eyes to see them and the heart to give them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hatching Plans

Every new garden needs attention throughout the year. Even though no flowers are in bloom, even though many things have been shriveled by the freezing temperatures at night, much work remains around here. Now that the semester is over, Turfman and I have been spending a good hour each day planting the remaining spring bulbs we have. I just returned from the hardware store with enough lumber, screws, and olive oil (for the wood preservative I make) to build two more raised planter beds. Once those are finished, we'll still need to build seven more to complete the garden layout. And then there's the fence that we'll have to build around it. As I said, there's much work to do.

On the colder mornings, though, I've been spending time working out a garden design for the front yard. I can spend most of my time in the warmth of the house with my colored pencils and drawing template and only dash outside periodically to confirm a measurement. I can spread copies of Gardens Illustrated out in front of me and dream. I sift through my packets of seeds to see what I have to work with (and occasionally to have a little bit of a panic over just how many seed packets I have). These are the times when everything is possible and I begin to wonder (with great anticipation) just how it will all turn out.

I am painfully aware that by sitting here and drawing out my dreams I'm also creating more work for myself, but it's the kind of work that keeps me going. So watch that space in the photo. It will figure prominently in the story of this place during the next few months and hopefully in the years to come.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Settling Down

Once again, I've been away from the blog for longer than I had hoped. It is all my fault, a simple case of poor time management. The first semester back teaching full time after many years away was a little overwhelming. Now that I've successfully navigated it, I'm focusing my efforts on getting everything else back in order.

It's nice to be in a colder climate under such circumstances. In Florida, I would likely have been  fretting over lettuces and carrots and other such things. I'd probably even be mapping out my seed starting schedule so that I could be ready for the early spring planting season there. But I've been waking up to freezing temperatures here lately, and that forces me to take things a little more slowly. Though some lettuces, kale, mustard, and carrots are still putting on growth (albeit really slow growth), the vegetable garden is relatively quiet. Only the garlic is still hard at work underneath its mulch blanket. As for the ornamental side of things, everything is silent.

The garlic, kissed with frost, is snuggled under 6" of mulch

And so it is that I now wake up to find unique treasures outside each morning. The pond has been freezing along the margins for the most part, but the shards extended further this morning. I had been lamenting lately that the scene here has become so monochromatic, but the view from the front porch this morning proves I needed a change in perspective. 

The pond & bridge in the morning light

The beautiful icy filigree on the pond surface

Viewed through the lens this morning, the world seemed upside down, but I think it finally made me see things differently. The trees reflected beautifully in the water's smooth surface, and the sun set their branches alight. 

A new way of seeing things

Soon I'll be building additional planters for the vegetable garden in preparation for next spring. For this week, though, I think I'll bask in the warm feeling that I really don't need to do anything at all and everything is as it should be.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bare Bones

After surviving three nights below freezing, the trees here are either completely bare or are sporting crunchy, brown leaves that resemble frisee. The house, which is surrounded by trees, is normally shrouded in green. For the first few months we've been here, I had never seen the whole of the house as I made my way up the driveway until I reached the clearing that appears just in front of the house. Everything seems so skeletal now, so exposed. There are benefits to such exposure, though. Lately, the evening sky has been aflame, and the bare trees afford me a full view from our back windows.

Few green things remain around here. I've rescued my container herbs on several evenings by carrying their crate to the garage, but they're starting to get a little leggy, a sure sign of their desperate need for a little more sun.

Soon I will have to surrender to the season and retreat to the indoors. That just ensures that I'll be drawing up more garden designs. It will also give me plenty of time to start opening the massive pile of seed envelopes I recently ordered and imagining a garden brimming with flowers next year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Season of Mists

My disappearances from the blog in the last few months may seem inexplicable, but if I shared my course syllabi (and the fact that I have 120 students) with everyone, the reason for my absences would become perfectly clear. The gaps coincide with due dates for essays. Under the heavy reading load, I find it challenging to keep up with other things. Assignments waiting for my grading pen seem to be falling from the sky in constant succession. Just as I sweep a pile of them off of my desk, others quickly cover the empty spaces all over again. That's just how it goes in the fall.

As the papers seemingly arrive in wind gusts, so too are the trees quickly shedding their leaves. Just before they do, though, they are putting on quite a show. In fact, the Japanese maples, are simply showing off. This one below normally sports lime green leaves with red stems, but once they started turning, they have been acid green, then yellow, then copper, then orange. It's incredible.

We wake most mornings now to a world shrouded in mist and varying hues of gold. I've been whispering the opening line of John Keats's "To Autumn" to myself lately, and for good reason. 

I get to enjoy these magnificent trees putting on their autumn color for weeks, even while they litter the property with those glorious leaves. I rake once a week to collect the leaves, and within a day, the area I've cleared is covered once again. It feels like an endless task, but it is completely unlike grading papers. In a year from now, they'll make the most incredible leaf mould, which just might be garden gold for someone who needs to change the structure of her soil. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Infinite Possibilities of Space

When we lived in Michigan, our plot of land was tiny. The house was a mere 1400 square feet, and the property line extended just four feet from one side of the house and 10 feet on the other. The front and back yards were so confined that I actually purchased a reel mower and could complete the entire job in 15 minutes. When it came to gardening, I had to consider space carefully. I squeezed things into the tightest spots and wished, like all gardeners do, that I had more space. That was my primary focus when we went house-hunting in Florida. 

The lot in Orlando was decidedly bigger, but it never felt big enough. I wanted apple trees but had to limit myself to espaliering them. I bought a fig tree and worried it would outgrow the space. I wanted other fruit trees but realized that if I gave in to my desires, we would have no yard at all. 

And now we're here on five acres. I've always known that five acres is a sizable piece of land, especially after living on property so small it had to be measured in square feet, but the understanding of how much space I now have just hit me this afternoon. I was a little awe-struck, if not a little giddy, too.

New residents on the farm

This bolt of comprehension struck when I walked up to the garden today to check on the recent additions I made this weekend. I now have two fig trees, two plum trees, and three blueberry bushes, all appropriately spaced from one another. I was admiring how nice they made the area look when my eyes wandered to the vast open space beyond this new grove. I no longer have to restrict myself based on space. The only concern that can dissuade me from adding something else is whether a particular fruit tree is susceptible to blight or requires chemical spraying for any real success. It's all very exciting, but it comes with great responsibility, too. I've lost one censor that kept me from going a little wild, so I must tread carefully.

The same is true for the rest of the property and flowers. I cast my eyes upon a space, and suddenly I see the turf removed and a massive flower bed in its place. I assure myself that Turfman won't oppose me since there would still be so much grass left for him to fret over. I really can hardly contain myself, so I must focus on areas that are already cultivated to keep from taking these flights of fancy.

Here are just a couple of spots that are coming on quite nicely. Hopefully they will keep you occupied you and keep me away from the nursery and out of trouble.

The front flower beds are filling in

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of sugar snap peas

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Decline that Promises Something New

October is my favorite month of the year. I've been inclined to think that good things come in October, largely because it's the month that saw the birth of my brother, one of my stepsons, and one of my nieces. It also has signaled a clear shift in seasons, a reprieve, no matter where I have lived. In Florida, where seasons bleed into one another, making it difficult to determine when one has ended and other has begun, October was the month when we could finally open the doors and welcome the fresh, cooler air of outdoors. It saw the harvesting of vegetables that I couldn't grow through the summer, such as peppers, tomatoes, and corn. In cooler climes, we looked forward to the colorful cloak that the trees put on in October, an incredible mix of red, orange, and yellow, before the leaves fell to the ground and made a crunch underfoot.

I love the grey sky days of fall, the bite of cooler air, the spices that I seem to smell in the kitchen, a reminder of celebrations to come. I love the middle of the semester, after mistakes have been made but before the final sentence has been passed and when the proverbial ship can still be righted. I love the promise of October.

We finally got rain this week--real rain. It wasn't the pathetic little showers that lasted for five or ten minutes in summer, that brought raindrops which merely smacked the hard Georgia clay, never penetrating the ground but always evaporating in the heat. The rain on Monday night and Tuesday lasted 12 hours or more. It was a heavy, consistent, nourishing rain. It made the pond look a little less desperate. I don't have any photos of the pond at its worst. I couldn't bring myself to chronicle its demise. I hope that saying it was no more than two inches deep will suffice. The new photos, however, are encouraging. The pond has expanded its margins by at least five feet on all sides, swallowing most of the opportunistic sedge grass that grew as the pond declined.

Before it looked like a mud pit. Now it looks like a flooded

But it's a pretty flooded area.

As the leaves fall, I run around the property with rake in hand, scooping up the leaves and filling bags and trash cans (with appropriate drain holes) to make leaf mould. I walked down the driveway today with the wheelbarrow and rake to collect a huge pile of fallen pine needles which provided the six inches of mulch I needed to cover the garlic I planted a few days ago.

Free mulch!

October may begin the season of decline, but it is already producing the promise of future growth.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Listening to the Garden

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
                                             --T. S. Eliot, "Four Quartets"

I sent my students outside today with their notebooks and pens. I too often find them checking their smart phones for texts or hear them coming into class, their music blaring from their earphones, announcing their arrival well before they pass through the doorway. So many of them seem on edge, desperate for any kind of distraction at every second. In response to my asking, "What would happen if you turned off your phone for 40 minutes?" some have replied that they would likely have 30 increasingly insistent text messages from their mothers demanding that they account for their whereabouts and lack of immediate response. It all seems like a life of not-so-quiet desperation. They miss things, even though they believe that their technology keeps them completely informed.

So I sent them outside. Their instructions were to find a place to sit and observe the details of their surroundings, to record what they experienced using a thesis that I supplied for them. The results were rather surprising. One student, upon returning to the classroom, said, "I didn't even know there were birds on campus." Several remarked on the very fine smell of freshly-cut grass. One of my favorite responses was from a student who heard the repetitive thwack of flip-flops smacking against the feet of a student hurrying into the building. Most agreed that they had discovered things they never noticed in their time on campus.

I've been terribly busy lately, the kind of busy that makes the days melt into one another until I can barely recall any part of my schedule, past or future. So when I came home today, I gave myself the same assignment. I went outside and sat in the vegetable garden. I didn't pull weeds or consider where the next planter bed should go. I just sat down. I heard the quiet hiss of the water flowing from the drip irrigation. I admired the widely varied leaf forms of radishes and carrots, of beets and peas and lettuce. I felt the hot, dusty, dry clay beneath my hands as I leaned against a planter bed. I heard the neighbor working in his barn, a shuffling noise in the distance. In short, I wasted time, and it was delicious.

The beet leaves are absolutely stunning

Peas, radishes, carrots, and beets, all growing together
in harmony

The first small fruits of our labor,
'French Breakfast' radishes

Link to My Podcast Debut

I was recently invited to take part in an episode of the gardening podcast "Back to My Garden." It was quite a flattering invitation, and I had a lovely time chatting with the creator and host, Dave Ledoux. You can find our conversation here:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rain Dance

We finally got rain three nights ago. I know this only because when I opened the laundry room door to take the girls for their morning walk on Monday, I was surprised to find the walkway around the porch wet. It took a moment or two for this register in my mind as an indicator of precipitation. It's been so long since we've had any measurable rain that I felt a bit as if I were in a dream. When the reality sank in, I shouted to Turfman as if someone had left us a pile of cash outside our door.  We quickly began investigating other areas of the property to get some idea of just how much it had rained, a little disappointed at having slept so soundly through the night and missing the big event. All indicators suggested that we had gotten a reasonable amount. It wasn't until I returned home from work to find the ground in the vegetable garden still wet that I realized we could consider it a substantial downpour. The rain finally arriving was a surprise at first, but having had some time to consider the situation, I'm pretty sure I know what brought the rain.

I've always held the belief that if I didn't want it to rain, I just have to carry an umbrella with me. If I'm prepared for it, not a drop will fall. Very recently I had come to the conclusion that it may never rain here again. To that end, I spent a day this past weekend installing a drip irrigation system for the vegetable garden. If the rain refused to come, I would bring the water to my garden. I could no longer handle running around, as Alan Titchmarsh once put it in his gardening show, "like a scalded cat," trying to keep everything from withering in the parched soil. I had to make a big purchase of a splitter for the outdoor spigot, a two zone timer, and a 75' garden hose to reach the front edge of the garden. That's where I began hooking up the brilliant system components that DIG Corporation sent me a while ago when I won a contest they sponsored. (The drip irrigation system is something else I packed up and brought with me from the Orlando garden.) I laid the main 1/2" poly tubing around the perimeter of the garden where the "wall" will eventually be (lots to look forward to) and then cut a line across to the first planter bed. As I drop each new planter in, I'll splice into the perimeter water line to install another drip line. In fact, I'll be doing that tomorrow night since I just finished another planter in time for the seedlings I've been growing in modules to be planted out.

The new drip line in place

The first planter now has a twin…whose wood needs to
age a bit.

When I surveyed my work, I felt justifiably smug. "Ha!," I thought. "Who needs you, stinking rain? I can take care of everything myself!"And so the timer opened the valve every six hours to deliver 10 minutes of gently dripping water to my little seedlings. By Sunday night, the ground finally looked like garden soil instead of the hideous dust that I had been handling.

And then it rained. It rained enough so that the garden was still damp on Monday night. I had to turn off the spigot to avoid drowning my seedlings. It rained Tuesday night, but a little lighter. I didn't have to open the water valve again until this evening. 

Just like carrying an umbrella--reverse rain psychology.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Signs of Progress

I have a grand vision for the vegetable garden. I drew it out on graph paper almost two months ago. When it was finally finished, I wondered if I were even capable of bringing it to life. It requires careful measuring and marking, quite a lot of lumber, and a significant amount of physical labor. Normally, I am undaunted by such projects, but there's something that makes this particular project especially difficult--I have a full-time job now.

I am grateful for the job. After all, it gives me the ability to buy the lumber and soil necessary for building the garden, but it slows my progress almost more than I can bear. For the first two weeks after our neighbor had plowed the area for the garden, I really didn't want to see it. It felt too much like an indictment, a testament of my inability to manage my time wisely. I found it difficult to get started with the building, knowing that my incredibly slow pace would keep me from completing the project until next spring. But I reminded myself in a sort of persistent pep talk last week that it has to start at some point. So I picked up the lumber necessary to build one planter bed.

Here she is, Planter Bed #1.

I built it using untreated 2"x 6" lumber for the sides and capping it with 2" x 4" boards. Before anyone raises a big fuss, I do understand that untreated lumber will not last as long as pressure-treated. I'm an organic gardener, and I just don't want the chemicals from pressure-treated lumber in my garden. Instead, I treated it with a homemade olive oil and beeswax wood preservative. It's a bit of an experiment, but it's worth a try.

The bed is pretty large, considering the size of my planters in Orlando. At 4' x 10', it's more than double the size of anything I had previously built, but in the larger space, it looks really small. That just spurs me to build another planter this weekend to give this first one a mate and to balance out what is becoming the garden. 

One lonely planter in a very large field

The other problem that is driving me to build another bed so soon is that I already need more planting space. After we filled the first bed with a good mix of the garden's soil and some manure, bone meal, and kelp meal, I quickly went to work planting seeds for beets, sugar snap peas, radishes, and carrots. Now it's full.

The first radishes are peeking through already

A whole seed module tray is planted up, too, and with those seedlings starting to put on their first full set of leaves, they'll be needing a permanent home soon. That's why the second planter is first on the priority list this weekend. Well, that and the fact that a shipment of seed garlic is due to arrive next week. Things are getting a little urgent around here. 

Young seedlings in the market for a new home

So we may be moving along really slowly, but there are definite signs of progress in the garden. I'm sure that a year from now, I'll look at what we've built and be amazed.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Good Tractors Make Good Neighbors

Our new neighbor from the property behind us likes that I like to talk manure. He says it's a rare thing to find someone who knows the true value of horse manure. When I first drove up to bring them homemade bread and introduce myself, he asked me about my plans for a productive garden. Then he looked me square in the face and said, "You're going to mark out where you want this garden. Then I'll come down with my tractor and plow, and I'll plow under the field for you. And then we're going to do what neighbors hardly ever do anymore but should: we're going to garden together." Every good relationship should begin with manure and gardening, I say.

A couple of weeks ago, that's just what he did. We removed all the hunks of grass that had been torn out by the plow. He came back a few days after that with a tiller attached to the tractor, and he tilled the plowed soil.  We removed as many rocks as we could. He tilled again a few days after that.

The garden begins with Zoey inspecting
the work. (Photo courtesy of Turfman.)

As much as we love Cisco, our neighbor horse, we doubted his ability to produce the amount of manure that we need for the new garden. So we drove a little way one Sunday to pick up horse manure from a facility that boards and trains horses. It was absolutely amazing just how quickly our truck bed filled with manure when the owner used his Bobcat to load us up. We covered the pile with our tarp as best as we could, but I was a little worried about the drive home. I fretted the whole way that we were flinging poo on everyone down I-75. Imagine my extreme horror when I looked in my side mirror and saw a State Trooper. "Slow down," I said. "We can't fling poo on an officer." Thankfully, we arrived home with just about every scrap of poo in place.

Tippy and I are now officially knee deep in poo

Now the area is ready for a garden to be built around it. I had carefully drawn out a design for the garden on my graph paper, but something has been nagging at me a bit. I've been questioning whether we all need to spend so much money on building our vegetable gardens. Then I came across this article about our obsession with raised vegetable planters, and I feel a little stuck. I'm not sure how I will proceed with the design now. The original plan calls for a number of raised beds built from 2x8s. I considered dropping down to 2x6s, but I'm not sure that accomplishes much. I've been perusing photos of the walled kitchen garden at Prince Charles's Highgrove Estate for inspiration. I have to make a decision soon since I have a whole bunch of seedlings peeking their heads out of their little greenhouse beds and hoards more seeds arriving in the mail this week. I shudder when I think about the garlic that will arrive a few days later. Something must be done this weekend. It's getting a little urgent here.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mesmerized by a Little Devil

I pillaged my Orlando garden before we left, as my regular readers already know. I tried to keep it quiet, but the ever-growing cluster of plants in plastic pots started to give away the secret. By the time the neighbors started coming over to dig up a little bit of my garden for themselves, Turfman was getting a worried. He thought we might be openly flaunting the removal of plants, but I convinced myself that even though we had taken quite a lot, the holes were barely visible. In the last week, my decision to take and give away as much as I did has been vindicated. Horrified neighbors have been texting me photos of our former front garden. Nearly everything that was left behind was dug up and thrown away and replaced with low-maintenance (or, as Christopher Lloyd always called them, "low braintenance") plants.

Nearly everything that I took away with me is now thriving in the Georgia garden, but one cluster of plants, in particular, is putting on an amazing display right now. When I think of what the new owners of the former house don't get to enjoy, I am filled with wicked glee. I can sometimes be found these days bent over the flowers cackling and whispering, "Mine! They're all mine!"

And so I give you all the incredible process of a Crocosmia in bloom. This variety is called 'Lucifer,' and he makes me so very glad that I stole him. In fact, you can't make me feel guilty for my crime. Really, it was just a liberation. He was mine to begin with, and he would be dead now if not for my greed.

The flower spike initially looks a little like the head of wheat

The individual buds begins spreading away from one another

And then they just start showing off

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The State of the Pond

In the words of the band Garbage, these days, "I'm only happy when it rains." The problem is that since we moved, it really hasn't rained much at all, which means my happiness levels are draining quickly, a bit like a certain body of water on my property. Previously, when we found ourselves in the midst of a drought (and believe me, in Florida, one is frequently in the midst of drought), I would fret a bit about the dwindling water supply in my rain barrels, but I wouldn't work myself up into a nervous wreck. Now that I have a pond, it's a completely different story.

The water level in the pond is something I now monitor throughout the day. It has receded at least two feet from where it stood around the edges just two months ago, and it was already low then. If I hike around the pond, I can clearly see its former levels, and I can say with certainty that it has fallen by three feet of depth. The fish, turtles, and other creatures that call the pond their home are weighing on my mind.

That's a dock of sorts, now very far from the water's edge

I've become obsessed with the weather. I check the radar several times a day in desperate hope. When I hear of flooding in Detroit and Phoenix, I feel for the residents, and then I curse the skies. 

I would be capable of finding a silver lining in rain clouds. As it stands, I have to grasp at something positive in this situation. Here's all I've come up with: with the water level so low, I can focus on pond clean-up since the pond is yet another area that has been neglected for years. Now I have much easier access to the things growing out of control. All I lack is a punt to reach the center of the pond.

The jungle

One of many strange, plastic ducks is hidden in these weeds

I can clear out the wild growth in my wellies and a raincoat, though. I want some rain. I want "When it rains, it pours" to be more than silly, complaining sentiment. I want it to be literal. I want it now.

And wouldn't you know, it just started to rain here. It just needs to continue for several days.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Starting Over

Seven years ago, I stepped away from a full-time position as an Assistant Professor of English. The reason was quite simple. Turfman got promoted and relocated, and I preferred being with him. In addition, we both preferred his salary and likely always will. I had desperately hoped that I would quickly find a new tenure-track position near our new home. I did not. In fact, though I found a great part-time position at another university, it became pretty clear that my decision to walk away from my first job was a red flag for other institutions. I despaired for quite some time about my derailed career, but I eventually got over it and decided that I could make a new path for myself, and so I did.

Then we moved here, and I quickly got a full-time professor position. Sometimes, it seems, life is just a constant stream of revisions to the plans we make for ourselves. Tomorrow, after another major revision, I begin again. I've had to search frantically for electronic files of all my teaching materials, long ago set aside and nearly forgotten. I had to assess my wardrobe again after a long period of creating a new, decidedly more casual one since I've spent more time gardening and writing than ever before. The Wellies I recently purchased for mucking about the pond and the future veg patch will get less wear than I expected. But I'm looking forward to the challenges and the rewards that this new chapter will present. I'm looking forward to the potential of it all.

The front garden presents the need for similar revisions and the possibility of something beautiful. I had hoped we could salvage the unloved shrubs, but as you've seen in previous posts, they were far too gone. After I cut them all down, Turfman went to war with the extensive roots. I think he lost 10 pounds getting them out. But then we had a clean slate and thinner waistlines and could start fresh, which is exactly what we did this weekend, thanks to the help of a super sister-in-law.

The new "bones" for the garden

And the mirror image on the right. The speckles in the
photos are from photographing in the rain.

The view today is so different from the one we saw when we arrived here. The garden still requires a lot of work, a lot of perennials to fill in the gaps. The plants are small, but in time, they will grow and fill the space. Some elements of the plan will work, and others will require revision. There will be triumphs and disappointments. In the end, though, it should be all the better for the work put in, which is essentially true for just about everything in life.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Insider's View

Have you ever considered the outdoor views from within your own house? I never gave it much thought until I realized that our Orlando house really never afforded us a good view of the gardens I had created there. If I wanted to see the work I had done, I would have to walk straight up to a window and peer out, turning my back to all the furniture. It was an inward-looking house. I don't know what to think about the architect who designed such a space. Perhaps he didn't think at all about how furniture would have to be placed in that house, didn't realize that the windows were in bad positions. Or perhaps he was a hater of the outside world. I have no idea, but I'm inclined not to like him.

The new house is entirely different. Views figure prominently in every room. It makes me imagine the architect of this house as an outdoorsman, a lover of nature. I think he's a kindred spirit. I want a house that reminds me at every turn that the world outside is a magical place. I think houses should make us feel warm and safe but should also beckon us outside. That's what this place does. I cannot walk by a window without feeling the outdoors tug at me. I can barely sit down to watch television without being distracted by the view. It's an outward-looking house, which makes it more comfortable by far.

One of the family room views

The view from the bedroom

The view from my desk

What our guests see from one bedroom

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Matter of Time

Although the bulk of my time is spent indoors these days in a desperate attempt to make the kitchen more user friendly, the gardens are still persistently on my mind. Occasionally, after hours of deconstructing and reconstructing cabinets have given my nerves a hair trigger, I have to get outside and make some progress somewhere. In the interest of keeping my unfinished projects to a minimum, I have been focusing my efforts on the horribly overgrown vegetation around the front porch. After a particularly frustrating day in the kitchen, I did this.

A clean slate

If you don't recall what it looked like before, the right side of the steps, which currently remains untouched, should provide ample contrast.

Much left to remove

What I cut down filled the back of my truck completely for the haul to the county composting site. It looks like I'll have to take at least three trips to remove everything from the front that got out of control. With the space empty, though, I am better able to see the space I have. I'll be drawing up some planting plans in the next week or so and taking them to my fabulous local nursery, Mill Pond Gardens, to see what plants they have that will fit the plans.

I'm also keeping the future productive garden in my mind, and I've finished drawing out the design plan for that. This weekend, I'll pick up some stakes and some twine so that I can mark out the garden in its entirety so that I can get a good sense of how it will feel and make any changes that seem necessary.

In the meantime, I spent a little time in other areas today with my camera, just enjoying the floral show. I'm not very good at taking it easy, slowing down and breaking the work down into manageable chunks, but I'm a work in progress, just like the garden. Eventually, we'll both be in much better shape.

Love seeing the sky sparkle through the leaves

I grew this salvia from a cutting! (Okay, I'm a little proud.)

The Crape Myrtle corner

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I have always wanted a larger piece of land for my garden. I had grown tired of carving out little spaces for my vegetables in an already small space. I'm not sure that I had intended to own 5 acres, though. Now that I have them, I'm beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. I suspect that I wouldn't feel quite so daunted by the task ahead of me if the previous owners had given their land proper care. As it stands, I can't really work on laying the foundation for the vegetable garden until I get other pressing issues cleaned up.

The front of the house needs a lot of attention. It just seems so plain to me. I thought that the two blue planters that accented the entryway at the Orlando house might give it a little punch, but they seem terribly small now at the base of the massive steps.

The planters are lost in the overgrowth and steps

I decided that I would just go for immediate pleasure on my second try by pulling out all of my hanging baskets and planting them with colorful flowers. They've basically had the same effect. 

Where are the hanging baskets?

Basically, I can only enjoy the fruits of my labor when I stand on the porch and look out. Even when I try to enjoy the nice addition of the hanging baskets, though, I can see the foundation plantings screaming for my attention. They are officially the elephant in the garden. The front of the house will never look right until I rip out most of the overgrown plants and replace them. But that's a major project.

The baskets lead to the overgrown Loropetalum climbing
through the railing
With so much to do, it's hard to decide where to start. For a person who wants everything done at once, it is pure torture. I'm painfully aware of a cooler planting season on the horizon, so I would love to skip the front porch issues and move on to getting the vegetable garden structures in place. 

That area presents another major problem. The previous owners left me two large piles of debris right in the middle of the space. We first thought that we could just burn the piles, but a closer inspection revealed that they are filled with scrap metal and plastic, along with wood and weeds and who knows what else. I have to clear them before I lay the clear plastic to solarize the soil. And I have to do that before I till the soil and build the structures. Like I said, it's all a bit overwhelming. 

The future vegetable garden

In the meantime, I ordered 150 bulbs for planting in the fall. Because, you know, planting so many bulbs in Georgia clay is a lot less challenging. 

I might have to develop a 10-year plan for this place.