Posts Tagged ‘garden design’

Every once in a while the phrase “It’s like Grand Central Station around here” passes my lips.  There was a while, back when the economy crashed, when it was more like a crossroads in  the middle of nowhere, but those times have passed.

Last week really seemed to epitomize the sort of busy-ness that brings that  feeling to the fore.   As fearless readers of this blog are aware, we are in the midst of getting our place prepared for installation of a solar array.   There is a seemingly infinite regression in jobs like this.   The very first thing we had to do was move the big rocks out of the terraces on the root cellar.   That was so we could have the mountain range dirt pile placed on it.    Before the dirt could be moved, we had to buy and install landscape retaining bricks so the dirt would stay where we wanted it to.   And so forth and so on.

The next part of the job is to get Jim’s shop arranged in such a way that the inverters (and ultimately our back-up batteries) will have a safe, secure and weather proof spot to live.    Over the years, the barn has begun to severely show its age, and Jim’s shop was far from being any of those things.   In point of fact, last year the door of the shop devolved into such decrepitude that it could not even be closed, much less bear any resemblance to an actual door.  At any rate, we have people working to remedy the situation.

The shop has been radically changed.    This is how it looked before Jim started cleaning it out.


Outside the barn, once the clearing up was begun, looked like this.  Notice the “door”.



After all the gear and detritus was cleared out, the workers came it and removed the sheetrock and 1/2″ styrofoam board insulation from the outside walls and ceiling.   At that point it became obvious that the previous owners’ idea that cardboard and 1/2″ masonite would be adequate barriers to keep varmints out of the space between the floor of the barn loft and the ceiling of the shop area was ridiculous.   As our poor workmen began to tear down the interior, they were showered with sticks, nuts, sunflower seeds, straw, and sundry bird and rodent leavings.   The squirrels and starlings and rats and who knows what else had found that six inch space to be a delightful place to live.

At any rate, after deconstruction and cleaning, the space looks like this.


Outside, the barn looks like this now.


Right now we are waiting for the electrician to come and do his magic.   When he is done, there will be proper wiring in the shop, including 220V and several circuits WITH circuit breakers.   Additionally, the origin of the  electrical service to the barn out by the meter pole will also have a circuit breaker box and a couple of proper outlets so we can run our pool and concrete mixer in more safety.   Granted, that box “does” have fuses, but we would like something more updated.  After the electrician, the insulation contractor will do his thing.   Then the actual windows, doors and sheetrock can be installed.

So, in addition to having workers in and out of the yard and barn, we have electricians and insulation contractors knocking at the front door so they can make their measurements and estimates.   Of course, my regular procession of clients proceeds through as well.

Did I mention that we have a young man working for us two days a week?   We do.   He is the epitome of youthful strength and enthusiasm, and was instrumental in the moving of rocks listed above.   He has also helped us split wood, move dirt, build rock wall, and I don’t know what all else.   Observe the transformation in the back area of the property.



To add to the list of jobs going on, our lovely tenant was taking his wife and family to Walmart when his spouse informed him that she had forgotten her list and they needed to go back and get it.   For some reason, this infuriated him; not that Walmart is that far from here (less than 2 miles), and not that they had gotten that far (to the end of the block).   He drove around the block and pulled into their carport, yelling and carrying on.    She hopped out of their van and ran into the house to get her list while he sat impatiently in the van with his foot on the brake, muttering imprecations.  She got back in the vehicle, at which point, still yelling at her, he stepped on the gas and promptly drove the van into the side of the house, since he had neglected to put the thing in park while he waited and had forgotten he was in “Drive” rather than “Reverse”.

So we have had the insurance people ringing the doorbell and the phone, as well as the contractor who repaired the damage:   one exterior door and 7 studs in the wall with all the associated  demolition to siding and interior that that entails.

Are you surprised to know that on Saturday morning, when things were all quiet, I was not all that polite to the hapless Jehovah’s Witness who rang my doorbell, disturbing my peace?

However, things are getting along.   The wood fired oven platform/barbecue pit area is now walled.   We finished that yesterday, except for the coping stones around the top.   I think it looks rather splendid, actually.   When there is actually an oven it will be really cool.



For the first time in years, the path along the back of the house is a path, rather than a repository for rock designated for the wall.


Lest you think all is perfection here, there is a project at the end of the path that has been put on indeterminate hold.   The sewer line at that corner was dug up and then promptly reburied when winter arrived.   There is a need for the entire line along the back of the house to be dug and replaced without the dip in the middle and with a proper drop so that the drains will remain clear.   I have no idea when that will get done.


We have a couple of other projects going on.   The fence line marking the north border of the Stroll Garden will be changed.    We are rotating it 90 degrees to extend towards the vegetable garden.   That will make the pond area part of the Stroll Garden.  Tomorrow, our worker will dig the post holes for the new line, and the fence will be built shortly thereafter.


Just to the north of that is the garden fence, with the raspberry bed in front of it.   In short order, I am going to dig out a path next to that raspberry bed, and then Jim is going to build a bird cage over the raspberry patch.   At the far end I will install a small blueberry patch.    The cage will also keep out the rabbits and the squirrels and the groundhogs, so I believe that we will be the benefactors of the berry bushes rather than all the wildlife.


Another project that will be completed PDQ is the pouring of a concrete slab on which to keep the compost piles.   Here again you can see a transformation in the area.



It was while I was trying to find a good picture of the mess sort of indicated in the first picture above that I discovered how very very good I am at framing photographs in such a way the big messy areas of the yard do not show up!

Meanwhile, the Petite Prairie is absolutely beautiful.   The culmination of the Stroll Garden proves how very worth while all the improvements around here really are.



For those of you who have been following the saga of the mouse in the house, I can report that all the attempts Impy was making to catch that mouse that fell from the attic were unfruitful.   She, however, was.   And so now we have her and her litter of progeny disporting themselves about the house.   The young mice are about an inch long and very very cute.   Also, they are very very fast and very very light, so the cats are not catching them and neither are the mouse traps.

Now.   I have a few hours before my first client, so I intend to go work on the rain garden, which needs some severe curbing on its enthusiasm.

And rain.   We need rain.

Talk to you later.


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Sweet potatoes

We are basking in the humidity left behind after the remnants of hurricane Isaac passed through our area.   We were blessed by 2 1/2 inches of badly needed rain.  The soil is soft, the grass is growing.  The Texas blue sage is blooming out in the Petite Prairie.   The honey bees are visiting it right now.

Out in the garden, one can hardly tell how stressful the weeks of drought and heat were.  The real evidence of that was my $150+ water bill….

You can tell there was stress when you get close up to the beans and the tomatoes.  If I wasn’t involved in watching the Giants play the Cubs, I’d be out there pulling the beans out.  They were pretty much a bust this year.   I may try bush beans next year, they seem to tolerate heat and drought better than pole beans.

However, the bed right in the front of that picture is where the potato patch that the ants decimated used to be.  I planted it to a green manure crop of buckwheat, which is ready to be turned in.  I’m not doing that just yet because the blooming buckwheat is a food resource for my honeybees, who haven’t had a lot of great nectar and pollen sources available lately.   Right at the very front is the sweet potato bed, which apparently is not nearly so attractive to the ants, as it is doing quite well.   Or one of the patches, I should say.   I sort of stick them in wherever there is space, so in addition to having them in the bed by the gate, there are three plants stuck in behind the carrots and beets.  In the photo they are hiding behind the asparagus patch.  In addition to not being ant food, at least not yet, the sweet potatoes are very heat and drought tolerant, probably because they really are a tropical plant, native to Central and South America.

If you go over behind the asparagus, you discover that the vines have gotten large enough and old enough that they are blooming.   Sweet potatoes are members of the genus Ipomoea, which is also the family that contains morning glories.   You can really tell they are related when you look at the blossom.

The vegetable garden is not the only place that I have sweet potatoes planted.   I also have them in the whiskey barrels next to the pergola.  Rather than plant the ornamental sweet potato vines sold at the garden centers, I prefer to have something that will also provide me with something to eat.  I find the “plain” sweet potatos to be quite ornamental as they drape themselves over the edge of the barrels.   They share that space with a purple hyacinth bean, which climbs the pergola and disports itself amongst the wisteria vines, much to the joy of the hummingbirds, who seem to prefer the bean blossoms above everything else except possibly the canna lilies.

It makes a great view from my kitchen sink, where I spend a certain amount of time washing dishes now that I have relegated my dishwasher to the status of under-counter storage.   Of course, that is another story for another time.


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Daisy fleabane —   Erigeron annuus:

This wild flower got its name because back in the old days, people would pick the flowers, dry them, and then strew them around the house to chase the fleas out of the straw that kept the stone and dirt floors from being cold in the winter.  This met with varying degrees of success.  Culpepper says, “The juice makes an excellent pectoral tonic, although unpleasant to take.  The decoction, or infusion, may be sweetened and used with success in consumptive cases.”  He also mentions that fleabane  is useful as a diuretic as well as a treatment for diarrhoea, kidney stones, and as a treatment for bleeding in the lungs or colon.

I thought about titling this post “Give it an inch and it will take over,” which would be  so descriptive of what fleabane does.  But many of the common flowers around here do exactly the same thing, so I didn’t think it would be fair to single fleabane out.  Joining fleabane in plant thuggery taking over gardens are goldenrod, mint, vinca, dock, violets, the common buttercup, sweet autumn clematis, and others too numerous to mention.  I will just say here that all of the above are found duking it out mingling  in my day lily  bed, much to the dismay of the Hemerocallis.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, weeding the fleabane out of the day lily bed was on my list of things that had to get done.   I finally got around to starting the project after I finished clearing the vinca and goldenrod out of the small bed by the back door.    By the way, I did finish that job, and it looks very nice now.   And just in case the need arises, Jim will be able to find the sewer clean out caps, which are under the flat rock you can see in the gravel path.

So, that business concluded, I arrayed myself in long pants, long sleeved white shirt, hat, gloves, doused myself with pennyroyal (in an attempt to dissuade the mosquitoes from feasting on me), and took my cobra head weeder, a spade, the wheel barrow and a lot of grit and determination out to the day lilies.

The bed looked like this.

There are day lilies in there somewhere, blooming beautfiully.

What happened!!??? you might ask.   The short answer is, “Life happened.”  The long answer is a lot of people died, a relationship blew up, I got depressed, my energy levels dropped, the events of the last year intervened…  and the fleabane, dock, goldenrod, violets and other thug plants wild flowers of the region took full advantage of my distraction.

I worked out there for about three hours the first day I assailed the mess.   The following day I spent another two hours on the job, and  I’m still not finished.   I thought about working on it yesterday, but after two days with the vinca and the two sessions in the day lilies, my hands were actually very sore.   Since I really need them in order to do my job, I thought I’d give them the day off from weeding.

Besides.   It looks much better now.

Fleabane was just one of the problems out there.    There was yellow dock as well.   It gets as tall as I am and has the most amazing root system, which is why I really needed the shovel for the job.

I tolerate it out behind the pond and in the labyrinth because it makes an impressive amount of seeds.  The seed eating birds love them, but believe me, the dock has plenty to spare and freely reseeds itself.   It is quite the colonizer, and since it is a perennial, once it gets established it just keeps coming back unless you dig the roots out.

Another little friend that loves to colonize is goldenrod, genus Solidago.  There are approximately 125 species of goldenrod, and I have no idea which kind is infesting enjoying my yard.  It could be Showy Goldenrod, or Rough-stemmed Goldenrod, or Stiff Goldenrod.  (I’m pretty sure it is NOT Seaside Goldenrod since we are nowhere near a brackish marsh, nor is this a sandy site)  At any rate, it also gets as tall or taller than I am.

Please note the root system.  This plant is one year old, and is all cocked and primed to take over everything in the general vicinity.   The white parts of the root system are rhizomes, which can and do travel many feet out from the mother plant, entwining around the roots of other plants along the way and strangling them from below while the plant effectively blocks out the light the victimized plants need to prosper from above.

Again, this is a plant that I actively encourage in the wild parts of the yard because it provides habitat for butterflies, an important fall pollen source for the honeybees, and a source of winter food for the birds.   However, it is definitely something that I don’t really like in the more domesticated parts of the garden because of its invasive habit.  A gardener would do well to learn to identify this one and pull it out when it is very small.

This is where things like goldenrod and fleabane and dock belong:  in the Petite Prairie.

It’s really not very good garden design that the Petite Prairie is right across the path from the Daylily Garden.   It makes it all too easy for the weeds wild flowers mentioned above to colonize the tamer garden.

But gosh, I don’t have enough to do around here.   I really need an ongoing project to occupy my time.


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Madeira is an island off the coast of Africa which is owned by Portugal, which settled it in 1424.  The capital of Madeira is Funchal, a beautiful city built on terraces that step up the side of the volcano that formed the island.

Madeira enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and because of it grows crops like bananas, grapes, mangos.   It also has extensive flower farms which export flowers to Europe for their floral market.

We visited Funchal on our last cruise.  You can read about that trip here.  That was our first time in Funchal, and so we put ourselves into the hands of the ship’s tour director and went on a quite satisfying day trip through the city.    This time, however, we decided to walk around on our own and find a nice cafe to have lunch in.

There were three other very large cruise ships in port, each one of them carrying well over 3500 passengers, so we knew that the tour routes were bound to be crowded.   We are really not that enamored of crowds of gabbling tourists, so we opted to avoid the hordes and explore on our own.   After all, no matter where you got to in Funchal, you could clearly see your way back to the harbor, so how lost could we get?

Also, I have developed a craving for some of the embroidered linens that Madeira is famous for, and we thought we would see if we could find some to purchase.

As it turns out, we didn’t get the slightest bit lost.  As we left the ship, we admired a place that was up on the bluff overlooking the harbor.   They had gardeners there that day, they were pruning the dead fronds off that huge palm tree that is by the house.

Just off to the right of that place there is a public park, and there are stairs up to it.   We decided to go up there and explore a bit.

There were many lizards enjoying the sun-warmed rocks that formed the stairs.

When we got to the top of the stairs, we discovered a beautiful park, complete with the requisite swans on the lake.

In the area where we were standing there was a little restaurant, and off to the side a large child care facility with lots of what looked to be quite fun playground equipment.   The park was obviously meant to be enjoyed by all sorts of people.   We were intrigued by a garden area with paved pathways, and after a while we figured out that this was a place for skateboarders and in-line skaters to use.   We liked the fact that there were lanes marked, complete with directional arrows, yield signs and stop signs.   Have fun, but don’t hurt each other!

The panoramic view is rather skewed, the pathway in the foreground is actually straight.

We walked along the edge of the park, headed towards the city center.  There was a very beautiful wrought iron gazebo, which when we got close to it turned out to be the lawnmower storage facility.

The tree just to the right and above the gazebo has some interesting seed pods on it.   We took a closer look.

Turns out it is a kapok tree.  I can actually remember life jackets our family had for canoeing when I was a kid that were stuffed with kapok.   Now it’s all polyester all the time.

There was also a very happy plumeria.

We have tried growing them indoors on occasion, but I have a pretty good idea of why they weren’t that happy in the environment we were providing.   I don’t think they had enough space.

We walked down some more stairs into town.  They were occupied too.

When we got down there, we wandered around, looking for a good place to buy some Madeira wine.  We happened across Blandy’s, and decided to take their 10 euro tour of the facility.  It was quite worth it, especially since the price of the tour included tasting.

This is the room where they have their vintage Madeiras stored.   You can taste them — for a price.   You can buy them too, and some of them are 100 years old and cost ten times that per bottle.

The place is not just a wine production facility, it is also a museum, and has several wine presses.

During the tour, we got to see the large barrels that the Madeira was aging in.  These are oak barrels, and interestingly enough some of the more modern ones were actually built in my town at Independent Stave Company.

Once the wine has gotten enough oak character, it is pumped into large barrels for further aging.   These barrels have a 6000 liter capacity and are made of brazilian satinwood.

After we were suitably impressed by the wine lodge, we visited the museum upstairs where they had a lot of historical items.  My favorite was a Roman wine press.

You have to admire the hand carved wooden screw that operated the press.

After the tour and tasting, we purchased a couple of bottles of Madeira, one to drink on the ship during the crossing and one to bring home.   Then we wandered into the shopping area, and did actually look at genuine Madeira linens.   They were absolutely gorgeous.   I started talking to one shop owner, and asked about care instructions.   Hand wash cold water only.   I’m thinking to myself, “This is a table cloth.   If you have a meal on it, how are you supposed to ever get it and the napkins clean?”

Actually, I think you aren’t really supposed to USE these things, only look at them.   And my God, they were VERY proud of the stuff.   I’m surprised they let you come into the shop without washing your hands or putting on white gloves before you shopped.   Anyway, the day I part with $1000+ for a small table cloth and 6 napkins that all I can do is look at is far in the future.  Vanishingly far…

We decided to go have lunch instead.

Down by the waterfront, we found a nice restaurant, sat out in the sun and had the “blue plate special”.   During lunch, the sun made rainbows through my wine on my melon.

After lunch, we walked back to the ship, admiring the beautiful Cunard liner “Queen Victoria”.

We stowed our wine in our cabin, and went up on deck in time to see the replica caravel take off for her daily whale watching expedition.  She motors out of the harbor.

Take a close look at that ship.   Imagine Vasco da Gama exploring the coast of Africa, Magellan going around the Horn, Christopher Columbus crossing the Atlantic to the Americas.    Think about it.   They were all sailing in ships of similar size and design to the one in these photos.

Once she got outside the breakwater, she turned off the motors and set sail.

Along about that time, it was our turn to set off for our voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Florida.  Since there were three other cruise ships in the small harbor, quarters were a little tight.   We backed out of our “parking slot”, slowly proceeding past the other liners, which were still awaiting the return of their passengers.

First we went past the Aida “Sol”, then the Thorson “Dream”.

As we left our slip, our captain sounded the ship’s horn.   This is an old tradition, dates way back to the heyday of cruising, but not many captains do it any more.   To our surprise, and pleasure, one by one the other liners responded to our salute.   Our ship’s horn has a pleasing tenor sound.  The Aida “Sol” and the Thorson “Dream”  spoke back to us as we slowly backed past them.  They were both equipped with beautiful baritone horns.

We weren’t really sure that the Cunard’s “Queen Victoria” would deign to speak to us, but indeed she did.   Her voice is a basso profundo that echoed all around the hills of Funchal when she sounded it.   No wonder her voice is so deep.   Look at the size of her horns.  They are up at the top of that stack in the following shot.

Actually, this was an extremely cool thing to have happen, and not all that common.   I was talking to the bridge lecturer as we were leaving port, and she was thrilled.   She said, “I’ve been doing this for over ten years, I don’t know how many ports I have sailed away from and this is the first time the horns have sounded.   This never happened before.”

I wonder what made our captain decided to start the greetings?   I don’t know, but in my mind’s ear I still hear the impressive note of the “Queen Victoria” echoing around the harbor and Funchal.

And so we sailed away, the island fading into the afternoon mists behind us.

Bon voyage!   Indeed it was.


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We’ve been terribly busy here at The Havens.

This was taken a few weeks ago.

This is the stroll garden now.

Doesn’t the new mulch on the paths look great?

We were galvanized into action by the fact that a wedding has been planned to occur here at the end of May.   I know I mentioned this in passing before, but I wasn’t sure if the participants were wanting it discussed.   However, I am not prepared to be secretive any longer.  They would be our son  and the young person (and I emphasize the young) he has been with.

We thought one of our friends, who is an ordained Universal Life Minister, would be happy to officiate at the wedding.   But when I called him to ask, he very reasonably told me he doesn’t do weddings any more because people just kept breaking up.   And he doesn’t really believe in the institution of marriage any more.   Funny, even though I am happily engaged in one, and I enjoy the legal protections it brings, I don’t really either.

The change to the stroll garden paths has been talked about and planned since the end of last summer when we killed the grass on the paths.   Now all the new weed seedlings have been burned off with the weed torch, landscape fabric spread and tacked down, and 5 1/2 cubic yards of cedar mulch spread.  The mulch will mean we no longer have to mow and weed eat those paths, which turned out to be MUCH more difficult than I envisioned when I initially planned the garden with grass paths.   Also, the grass paths were simply a vector for weeds to the garden, and we have plenty of weed seeds being distributed by the birds and wind, we don’t need another source.

The reason I call this post Christmas in April is because for Christmas last year The Son gave us a gift card from the local emporium which was selling mulch in bulk in order to help us out with the costs of the project.   It was a huge help, it wound up basically being a matching funds grant.  We aren’t broke, but gosh, we don’t make that much money and everything just keeps getting more and more expensive, so it was nice to have to only pay for half the costs.

There will be more Christmas in April at the end of the month when I go to Kansas City for the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s native plant sale and my niece treats me to $100 worth of plants for the new project out front.

The place seems to be decorating for the holidays too.   The wisteria is in full beautiful bloom

Out in the Rose Garden, the miniature daffodils and the species tulips are combining with the ajuga to celebrate the primary colors.

Too bad those early spring flowers will be gone soon.   But not to worry.  The iris and poppies are already blooming, so the season proceeds on apace.

The hen and chicks are propagating.   Nothing very surprising about this, except that it is useful when viewing the next two shots to realize that the gravel in this bed is about 1 cm in diameter.   Then, all of a sudden the little chicks that the tiny hens are producing seem nothing short of miraculous.

For some reason, I just couldn’t sleep last night. That makes no sense at all since I spent most of the afternoon pruninging the yew and removing english ivy from the planter by the carport, and basically wore myself out and then did three massages.   Maybe it was because I was sore, but sleep eluded me until finally about 2:30 a.m. I dozed off.  Of course the alarm went off at 4:30 to awaken us for the beginning of the day, and I got up and made coffee and got Jim’s lunch together, then did my crossword and now it will soon be time for my first client to arrive.

Oh, I am tired.   Bone weary.  Perhaps that accounts for my feelings of discouragement and foreboding.

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