Friday, December 30, 2016

Merry Holiday Season!

Hope you're all simply having a wonderful Christmastime!
The question of late is "How did you get that tree in the house?"  It took all my strength.  I thought I had lost strength due to aging because I've never had a tree that was so heavy.  I think I paid $45 at Johnny Appleseed's.  It's a very thick balsam fir.

My decorating this year is somewhat scaled down.  I don't have bows and ribbons.  As you can see I can't commit to either colored or white.  I'm just impressed that this year the tree was up the second week in December.  Last year I think I got a tree on the 23rd.  Choices are greatly diminished by then.

I hosted Christmas dinner.  I guess my sister told us six months ago or so that she had to work (she started a new job), as if we would remember.  So I scrambled everything together at the last minute.  I've been baking a lot - homemade caramels, turtle candies and toffee.  Also a lot of pies.  I've regained my ability to make a proper crust.  When it's the right consistency you can make fancy lattice tops like so:
Outside I went with a blue theme.  I credit my friend Tina, who's a style icon around these parts.  She had this pretty net lights, but they don't twinkle like mine do!
With flash.

Without flash.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Happy Halloween!

I've gone pumpkin-crazy this year to make up for all the years I didn't buy them.  Plus there are such beautiful, funky, colorful ones available now!
I took this with my new I-phone.  In the urns are ornamental cabbage and kale.  My pumpkins are already rotting.  I've never been able to keep them until Thanksgiving like I want to.  Maybe it's the extraordinarily warm weather we've been having.  Oh.  Except for two inches of snow we got last Thursday, almost on the anniversary of the dreadful October Noreaster.

Whew, I have so much left to do - paint the house above the deck, paint the porch lattice, plant 100 daffodils (what was I thinking?), get new gutters for the porch and back of house, put away gardening and yard stuff.  Better get busy!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Always Remember

 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13 (New International Version)

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Gardener Changes

I think my gardening style has grown up.  I initially loved cottage gardens, with their many colors, and crammed-in, higgledy-piggledy look.  Now I want more calm, more order, less chaos.  I've never liked plants that look tropical or flop over.  I also want to stay away from invasives or those that self-seed too readily.  I pulled out the beautiful obedient plant last year (it's actually way not obedient).  This year the phlox have seeded everywhere and I need to keep an eye on it.  I suppose I should deadhead it right away, but who can keep up with that?

As I get older I am concerned about the high-maintenance roses I have.  They require a lot of pruning, watering, deadheading and fertilizing.  I suppose I could just keep the knockouts and other shrub roses that don't really need a lot of fussing over.  For the past two years I've had five roses out back that barely flower, if at all.  Three of these are from the beginning, in 2006.  Maybe they're just worn out.  I don't know.  I'd like to pull them out and replace them with Lady Elsie May, which is an Energizer bunny of a rose, and huge.

Then I remember this:

The other problem is that because the side yard slopes severely, I can't easily bring mulch to the shade and back gardens.
That's little Lucy last year.
In concert with my new streamlined approach, I prefer the look of cedar mulch rather than leaf mold.  Hopefully, as the new gardens mature the plants will cover most of the ground.  In the original garden I now have four groundcovers - thyme, myrtle, ivy and plumbago.  This was my mother's sage advice because I wouldn't be able to maintain this large garden without them.

I've also become interested in extending the gardening season from its peak in mid-July.  I used to get a third flush of roses but not in recent years.  This year I've worked on the "bones" that will enhance the winter garden - the "transplanted" arbor and new boxwood.  I also decided to plant the new garden in front of the front porch (see below) as a winter and early spring garden, with a (transplanted) dwarf blue spruce, Alberta spruce, redtwig dogwood, possibly boxwood, and spring bulbs.
My favorite plants continue to be roses, hydrangeas, cranesbills, oriental ilies, hostas, barberries, peonies and foxgloves.  I tolerate the drooping peonies because who doesn't love their over-the-top beauty?  This year I actually staked them all in time, but alas, the April snowstorms took a toll on their blooms.

Gardening Changes Part II

I've been spending a lot of time in the backyard this summer while contemplating and implementing changes to my first garden.  As a result I decided I could no longer abide the 12-foot barberry next to the deck.  I chopped it all down (after waiting for the baby catbirds to leave the nest).  It had morphed into five separate "trees."  What was left was a stone wall and planting area below that I thought might look cute.

I have been enjoying sitting on the previously rarely used patio ever since I planted the shade garden on the north side of the house.  I really wanted to plant a tree or shrub on top of the stone wall, something smallish like a redbud, witch hazel or viburnum.  But there's really not enough room.  I could plant something below the wall, in the lawn, but that would close in my small yard.  So I decided on a row of four Green Mountain boxwood, with a Countess de Bouchard clematis climbing the deck post, and plants below the wall.

I transplanted a Graham Thomas rose, dwarf Hameln ornamental grass and daylilies from the front Heritage Garden.  They had all been crowded out.  I'm not sure what colors the daylilies are; the pieces got mixed up so it could be a combination of yellow, burgundy and orangey-red.  I'll probably have to move things around next summer.  I also transplanted pale yellow foxglove from the back garden.  I love them and it'll be a nice clump, next to the rose, which is a warm pale yellow.  I also transplanted a big clump of Shasta daisies from the back garden.  I did buy a Montauk daisy and Concorde Japanese barberry on sale.

Yellow foxgloves are on the lower left.
The grass had become even more dwarf due to crowding.
I had asked the neighbors to give me their bags of leaves, with the intent of shredding them with my new machine. Well, I never got around to it, but that's OK because when I opened the bags, I found they had mostly composted. I spread them over the garden, and it looks great. I think next year this will be the way to go with all my gardens. I can only imagine how huge all the plants will be.

Here are the sad looking plants post-planting.  You can see the circle created by the former barberry, with hostas surrounding it.

A before shot during a misguided "blue house" period.  I had chopped this bush down previously a few years ago when my co-worker, who had been laid off, thought he would build me stairs off the deck.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sad Spring and Sad Summer

My mother and I came down with pneumonia around St. Patrick's Day.  I was sicker than she; I missed about 2 1/2 weeks of work.  It was a disaster going back; who knew I was that essential?

In April while sick we watched as two icy snowstorms hit our area.  It ruined the roses, azaleas, hydrangeas and possibly butterfly bushes.  So depressing because we wait all year for our lovely spring and summer, only to have our hopes dashed.  Now the drought is ruining plants; it's just too difficult to water everything every day.

I had to put down my beautiful baby girl Lucy two weeks ago.  The full impact is just hitting me because I am so very sad now.  Last week I went on vacation to Maine so this pain was slightly delayed.  She was 16 on April 19th and had just started to slow down this spring.  She was my great hunter and outdoorswoman, but she stopped wanting to go out and hadn't killed anything in awhile.  I think that's why I have so many chipmunks now.

Lucy was named for Lucille Ball, being that she was a redhead and all.  She was such a beautiful, affectionate, loving little girl.  She liked to sleep on my head or near my face and loved, nay, demanded, to be petted.  I'm pretty sure she had a really good life with me.  I got her when she was three from a no-kill shelter in North Haven.  I hadn't wanted another kitty after my previous little guy had been put down.  But two years later I decided I wanted an orange tabby girl.  I think it was because I was hanging out with people who loved cats, one of whom had seven.  My friend looked all over Connecticut for me.  We went to the shelter and saw Lucy (previously Jupiter), with her sister Carly (previously Snickers).  She was so affectionate, as was her chubby sister.  There was subtle pressure to not split them up, but I didn't want two kitties.  However, they won me over by their loving attention, even when I accidentally dropped Carly taking her out of the cage (I misjudged her girth; her weight has been harder to control than my own).  I brought them into my tiny condo and they promptly hid under my bed - for two days.  I remember telling my friend that my cats hated me!  Finally Lucy came out to see me in the living room.

Lucy was a scaredy-cat.  She would hide when people came over, except when she was super hungry.  I remember when I first moved to my house, my sister opened the front door, scared her and she went flying onto the deck and lept off two stories (she wasn't hurt)!  I was afraid at first to let them outside so I would only let them on the deck.  Well  . . . Miss Lucy figured out a way to climb down the side on the posts and would escape regularly.  They enjoyed being outside so much I relented and let them out.  The girls pretty much stayed in the yard and were terrified of people and cars so they would hide when either would approach.

Lucy liked her privacy more than Carly, who rarely leaves my side.  Lucy liked to sleep on cold days in one of two baskets I lined with quilts and placed near the radiator.  Sometimes she would lie on top of the radiator, I guess to warm her belly.  She loved to sleep and slept very deeply.

Now I'm so paranoid about Carly.  She cries all night.  I don't think she's in pain, maybe it's just dementia.  I'm taking her to the vet's tomorrow.
Lucy loved to garden - and ruin my catmint.
All tuckered out after hunting.
Always very fastidious, if not ladylike.
Taking a nap on the road!
The sisters.
Such a beautiful little face.
Always on the lookout for predators.
The girls hanging out in the front.
Streeeetching out on the front porch.
Guarding the backyard atop the stone wall.

OK, I'll stop boring you with my pretty kitty pictures. Our pets are so near and dear to us, aren't they? They really don't ask for much, and give so much in return. I try not to anthropomorphize them, but it's hard, you know? I don't have children so they definitely fulfill some of that for me. Do you think we will see pets in heaven? I know it's not biblical but just wonder sometimes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Back Garden Renovation

We're in a drought, since spring.  Minimal snow in the winter didn't help.  It's made life difficult because I decided to renovate the back garden, my very first garden.

My initial idea ten years ago was to have roses for bouquets and hydrangeas for beautiful blue color.  There was no design or thought given to the overall landscape.  I am now obsessed with landscape design, although still find it extremely difficult to execute well.  There are so many elements to consider - color, shape, soil type, light conditions, availability and appropriateness of plant material.

So now I feel like I did everything wrong.  It's an odd space, with the main garden atop a stone wall that gets higher as you head farther back.  I might have planted a row of arborvitae in that "alleyway" to block the neighbors and provide a backdrop for the garden.  I don't know.  That might have messed with light conditions and seemed too dark and closed in.  Instead I made it a shrub border using plants from my mother's former cottage garden.  Here it is with the spirea and hydrangea in bloom.  Ignore the plastic bags filled with leaves, please.  And the neighbor's dog cage, which they don't use.

So I've planted four Winter Gem boxwood behind the row of roses to the right of the clematis tuteur.  (Who knew what a tuteur was until Martha Stewart?)

They're soooo tiny. 

Then I decided that the back garden didn't have enough all-season interest so I transplanted beebalm and phlox and relocated some daisies to the end of the boxwood row near the pink azalea.  That necessitated moving hostas and a peach daylily.  That worked out well because (1) I'm determined to get all my poor hostas out of the blazing sun and (2) the peach daylily is an odd color that doesn't really go with my predominant color scheme of purple, pink and bright yellow.  I put it near the bright orange butterfly weed and it looks great.

I also thought I should repeat the yellow coreopsis on the other side of the garden for balance.  And I moved the dark pink peony to be near the other ones because I suspect it doesn't get enough sun (it gets much fewer blooms than the others).  Unfortunately I mangled it in the process and it may take awhile for it to recover.

The color issue really befuddled me for quite awhile.  I thought the pale pink Fairy rose clashed with the marigold yellow Stella D'Oro daylily.  I bought a red beebalm for stronger color to coordinate with the dark purple butterfly bush.  I thought I'd work with the marigold yellow heliopsis that I had in that area, but apparently I got sick of the aphids that attacked it nearly every year and must have ripped it out.  Oh well, no aphids.  Instead I bought an extremely fragrant Hansa rugosa rose.  It will produce large hips for fall interest as well.

I've wanted to proceed with one of my last dream projects for awhile - stairs for the back deck.  However I've come to realize that (1) decks are usually ugly, (2) two-story stairs are particularly ugly, and (3) they would take up a lot of real estate in the backyard

So I'm toying with the idea of hiring a landscape company whose work I admire to give me some ideas.  I could no longer stand the overgrown, 12-foot barberry that grew next to the deck so I cut it down.  It self-seeds everywhere.  This monstrosity was really five bushes in one.

Started cutting on the left but a catbird was roosting in a nest.
Underneath all that mass of branches was a cute area with a stone wall next to the patio.  I'm envisioning a small ornamental tree at the top with perennials underneath.  The existing hostas and pachysandra are already starting to fry in the sun.

There's a shed under the deck, with lattice I found in the shed, and a thermometer.

I still have to shuffle plants around - some hostas that are getting burnt, a baptisia not getting enough sun, maybe move some daisies to the new planting area.  I'd like to transplant two wisteria seedlings from the front somewhere.  I had to kill the two large wisteria due to the front porch rebuild but found a couple seedlings.

I've gone a little hosta-crazy.  I bought Jimmy Crack Corn, Old Glory, Francee, Frances Williams, and Dream Weaver.  I've started landscaping the wooded area with hostas.  Next year I'll get a Little Honey oakleaf hydrangea and maybe some other larger ones.  Plus I have more "baby" hydrangeas to cut off the mother plant.  Gardening is so darn much fun!

I finally reinstalled the arbor from the front.  It's been two years!  I think I procrastinated thinking it was a big deal.  I had to reattach all the vertical and horizontal slats, none of which had been lost, miraculously.  I did this during the awful heat of the July 4th weekend.  I called my brother-in-law at the last minute because I was unable to balance the arbor over the holes and straighten it at the same time.  It took him practically no time to pour the concrete, which is good because he was called into work during the process.  He told me I didn't have enough bags of concrete (thanks, Home Depot) and filled it in with some rocks.  Then he simply dumped out the bags and poured water in it.  Voila!

It's a little crooked from having the wisteria on it, but like my brother-in-law said, I'll have so much stuff on it no one will notice.

One last thing - this beauty showed up without being planted!

Also, I got rid of all the iris except some by the butterfly weed and right side of the arbor.  I miss it but it's high maintenance.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Anniversary, one day late.

Eleven years ago yesterday I took ownership of my home.  It was a Tuesday and brutally hot and humid.  My sister and brother helped me move.  We loaded the U-Haul I had rented.  It was easy to back it right up to the porch, but dragging stuff up the narrow stairway was not fun.  My sister was right on when she told me it's the little things that are such a pain on moving day - the lamps, etc.  I think it took me another two days to bring all that junk out of my condo.  Fortunately I moved only two miles away, into the next town.  It brought me that much closer to my sister's house, even though we were now no longer in the same town.

My dad had been diagnosed with thrombocytopenia the previous October and was dying.  That Friday night he really went downhill, and died three days later.  I think I started obsessing about looking for a house that winter in order to distract me from the incredible sadness in watching him suffer and slip away.

He was too weak to see the house, but I showed him pictures from the real estate listing.  I told him my concern was there was no bathroom upstairs.  He said he'd get me a chamber pot.  He was a very funny guy.  His main concern was whether my brother-in-law had checked it out.  He had, and liked it.

I got my love of old houses, and history, from my dad.  His dream had always been to find an old colonial (18th century) to renovate.  The only good grade I got in art was in seventh grade when I sketched a house he had seriously thought about buying in Chester, Massachusetts.  Somewhere along the way I decided I preferred Victorians.  Maybe it's the high ceilings and porches.  They're more romantic than colonials.

When I was younger (and had so much more energy and good nights' sleep) I used to walk for an hour in the morning before work.  I would walk all around the beautiful village of Rockville, which was a bustling, modern mill town in the late 19th century.  I remember looking up at some of the grand houses, one street over from where I live now, and being in complete awe.  Who lived in these houses?  I don't remember being on the street where I now live, probably because I didn't want to climb the huge hill!

And now, eleven years later I have learned so very much.  I had such dreams for my first house.  I wanted to someday take off the asbestos siding, restore the railings on the porch, and build stairs off the back deck.  In 2008 I started, one side a year, removing the shingles and repairing, scraping, priming and painting the clapboards underneath.  It went very well.  There was a bit of rot on the western side, which I replaced.

Last year I hired someone to repair the front porch.  The railings really add a lot to the look.  I haven't built stairs off the deck and am not sure I will.  It might encroach on my garden and I'm not sure I could bear that.

Speaking of the garden, who knew back then that I would have done so much landscaping?  I waited a year to buy any permanent plants and then indulged my love of roses.  I didn't think about design or aesthetics; I just wanted pretty roses to bring inside the house.  Now I am in the midst of some major rearranging of that original garden.  I'm pretty satisfied with the front yard, however; just a few tweaks are needed.

It had been such a desire of my heart to own a home and have a little garden.  God blessed me beyond my expectations and I am truly grateful.  I have no plans to go live anywhere else.  Sure, sometimes I dream about a bigger, fancier house, or a yard with no hills and more area, but I'm truly satisfied with what I have in the end.

The only project inside I'd like to work on is a bathroom upstairs.  That'll be quite expensive so I have to save up for that.  I got a new kitchen in 2010 after my oven and dishwasher died.  Right now I'm gradually repainting the rooms.  When I moved in I wanted bright pastels for a cottage-y look but now I think that palette is really for a warmer part of the country, or a place on the water.

I do like the new look of the living room.  My new couch arrived in April.

Now there's room for my great-aunt's piecrust table.
Beautiful peonies from the garden.
Don't worry; I've taken down the Christmas wreath!  I came down with a nasty case of pneumonia around St. Patrick's Day and it really set me back with spring preparations.  Now I've gone slightly nuts buying plants because I've paid off the porch.  I'll be back soon with pretty garden pictures, but spring has been so delayed here.  In fact, I'm wearing a coat inside the house tonight typing this because it turned freezing cold.  I've had a lot of damage to hydrangeas, roses, azaleas, etc. due to the two spring snowstorms in April.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Living Room Re-Do

This spring I finally repainted the living room - Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray.  I also patched the walls and ceiling (painted the same white as the kitchen and bathroom).  I wanted to go more neutral and calmer.  I like taupe, sage green and a blue-green like Benjamin Moore Wythe Blue (which is in the bathroom).  I decided to use coral as an accent, but not super-bright.  I tried to go with those bright pops of color so popular now, but it just didn't look right.  The large picture is one my best friend gave me, which I've been afraid to hang on the plaster walls because it's so heavy.

I also rearranged the furniture to the only way it really fits.  This room has a large opening to the "hallway"/stairs and dining room, two windows, a front door, and an arch to the adjacent parlor.

I still have to reglaze the windows, which is why the curtains are closed.
Have to remove the door, strip and repaint.

I just bought a new couch from Ethan Allen, the Oxford:
Oxford Sofa
I ordered the 76-inch-wide one because the space is so tight in this room. The fabric is brushed velvet in Kent Surf:

I'm going for a more sophisticated look. Here's the before: