Fall Entry

Decorating for fall might strike some as a frivolous activity this year. It’s tempting to spiral into “what does anything matter” territory. We can’t have friends and family over. We can’t go anywhere. Let’s just hunker down and wait ’til it’s over. I was leaning that way myself.

I had figured the wreath from last year would suffice as my token acknowledgement of the upcoming season. And then, at the grocery store, I saw these mums and figured I may as well buy a couple. Well, you know how one thing leads to another. As I was putting the mums in the planters I suddenly realized the entire area was a mess. There were (real) spiderwebs overtaking the porch ceiling, bare spots by the porch, debris had blown into the sidewalk and on and on. A much overdue clean up took place and it was very satisfying. For a couple of hours I just concentrated on tidying up and rearranging. It’s surprising how much time a small entry area can consume.

Of course, I had to add a few pumpkins. This makes me think of the old adage, if you want to accomplish something just begin.

I guess we just have to keep doing what we can to pretty things up. Hopefully it gives a bit of cheer to the neighbors and the delivery people. I know I feel better.

Are you doing a little decorating this year?

Five Finds

Five Finds

When I feel stressed (like most days now) I distract myself in any way that I can. There are days I just have to find activities to take my mind off of it all. Maybe some of these comforts/distractions/activities will interest you. I’d love to hear how you are coping with 2020.

YouTube workout videos. The last place I want to be during this pandemic is the gym so I have been walking regularly. A few weeks ago our temperatures soared into the 90s so I looked for an indoor option. I already enjoyed Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube, so I turned to YouTube to see what I could find. Jenny McClendon offers Fit over Fifty and beginner classes that provide a workout very conducive to the home space. The same can be said for Team Body Project. Team Body Project shows variations during the workout so that no matter your fitness level you can follow along. Both programs have classes that fit your schedule so there’s really no excuse not to exercise often. Trust me, I am no fitness enthusiast but I want to be able to have a full life into old age. That’s really my goal.

Knit Pants. Even though you are working out, you still need some comfy yoga pants to lounge around in. I want pants I can wear on errands as well and look presentable. Remember Land’s End? I highly recommend their active yoga pant. They are good quality, wash well, and are not expensive. I just wish they had more colors.

Chicken Noodle Soup. This is something you can throw together using pantry staples and leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken. I like this recipe which I adapt to what I have on hand. Sauteeing the onions and celery (carrots too) in oil or butter adds so much taste. No chicken broth? Use water and a bullion cube or two.

The Gardener. This documentary will have you wanting to go visit not only this beautiful garden but any garden. There is something so soul restoring about the natural beauty of the world. Sink into this one. I can watch it again and again.

Jamie Oliver’s Ultimate Veg cookbook. There are many reasons to cut back on your meat intake and this cookbook makes it easy. The recipes are mostly simple and really delicious and satisfying. I’m working my way through it . The Summer Tagliatelle, is absolutely one of my favorites.

Let me know in the comments what is getting you through these crazy times.

Gardening Days

Gardening Days

I can’t tell you the number of times I have walked outside this past six months and felt grateful for my backyard. It’s far from perfect but just to have a private green space has lifted my spirits more than I can say. Today I thought we could walk around the garden and I can show you how we use the separate spaces.

There’s just something restorative about nature isn’t there? I’m one of those people who has always enjoyed puttering around in a garden so this is not news to me. My garden has always been my refuge. Not that you have to be a gardener to enjoy nature. Just walking in a park or on a trail can bring the same solace and peace. And how perfect is it that one of the safest places we can be is outside?

Back in March Mr. Bee and I took a closer look at our backyard, which has its challenges, as you will see.

Our initial project was to renovate a back corner of our yard, a project detailed here. For very little money, for the new furniture, a retreat was created. Any hour of the day or evening you will find one of us lounging around here. It’s somewhere “to go” when you can’t really go anywhere. Luckily, we have had a fairly mild summer in our part of Virginia. We also found mosquito coils that are quite good for controlling those little pests. In the past the mosquitoes and the humidity had caused us to avoid prolonged backyard time. We found that we can deal with those small annoyances.

There is more work to be done here. I think we need more large shrubbery and plan to install them when the weather cools. This area has brought us into our yard more than ever before.

Our next project was to purchase two more raised beds, to augment the existing bed.

We have the space for the raised beds on a large parking pad in the backyard. It’s one of those areas we could not settle on a solution to make it less ugly. Of all the options (decorative pavers, gravel, grass) the beds are the most cost effective and they are functional.

You can see what I’m talking about, can’t you? I would dearly love to jackhammer the whole thing up. But what then? I’ve gotten estimates for pavers and it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars. Yikes! For now, we are letting moss grow on the asphalt and enjoying our raised beds.

An herb garden and dahlias have been on my wish list for the longest time. Both require lots of direct sun which is in short supply in my yard, except right here. The beds have been a great solution. The herbs are in the bed closest to the camera, on the left side. As you can see they have spread into each other and really flourished. The dahlias are on the right side, where the big white blooms are thrusting upward. The dahlias were an experiment since I wasn’t sure if they would bloom in a raised bed.

Would I prefer having them as part of my landscaping? Yes I would. I love seeing my plants in the garden setting. But, since that really isn’t possible with such a shady yard, the raised beds are the next best thing. And dahlias are beautiful cut flowers for arrangements.

Honestly these little upgrades could have been made at any time. We are just so distracted by other activities we didn’t take the time to focus and make a decision.

With more time at home, Mr. Bee has been keeping the birdfeeders full and these guys love it. We have tried to identify the species with some new bird identifying books.

As I read over this post, I think how minor these projects seem. But sometimes that is all it takes to make a big difference.

Have you made any home improvements during the last six months?

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Rachel Carson

Water Feature

Water Feature

The best gardens are the ones that engage all of the senses: beautiful sights, lovely smells, smooth and scratchy textures and sounds, of nature and water and wind. Water fountains have been an important part of our garden for years. However, the last few years I have found them to be high maintenance and with mosquito borne illnesses in the news, it seemed they weren’t worth the trouble.

However, the garden is not the same without the sound of water. So, what about those mosquitoes? Mosquitoes will not lay eggs in running water. So as long as your fountain is functioning properly that is not an issue.

But keeping the fountain functioning does require effort. And don’t be lulled by sites that claim setting up a water fountain is easy. It is not easy but it is doable. Below are a few tips from my recent set up of our water fountain.

The first thing to do is figure out where the fountain will go. Keep in mind that you will need an electric outlet nearby to plug the pump into. I use an outdoor extension cord with mine. Once you have found the best place to hear and enjoy the sounds of trickling water, figure out what container you will use. The bottom container that the pump will be placed in should be solid enough to contain water, with no leaks. Since I want to use what I have I am using this old copper tub.

Next, you will need a water pump of sufficient power. I used this one. But it does not come with any extra spouts or tubing, which I will get to.

Now you have a container and a pump. The pump must be submerged in water at all times or the motor will burn out, part of the maintenance I was referring to. The water evaporates or pets may drink out of it. It’s a good idea to check on it every few days. The pump I ordered has a flow control valve on the side, which is very helpful. I also found it difficult to adjust easily. I tried to slightly turn it and it would not budge. Then I put some more pressure on it and got a shot of water in the face. I still have not found the perfect flow.

You may want something a little more decorative than a pump sitting in the bottom of a container. In that case you need tubing that fits on the pump nozzle and threads up into another container, this one with a hole in it. And how do you keep the tubing on the pump nozzle? This is the tricky part.

In this picture you can see a plastic tube sitting on the pump. The rigid plastic tube did not work. As soon as I plugged in the pump the tube shot across the patio into the bushes.

The pump came with three nozzles, 1/4″, 1/2″, and 3/4″. The 1/2″ tubing I had used in previous water fountains would not fit over the 1/4″ nozzle. I cut slits in it to make it fit. In normal times I would run to the hardware store and buy different tubing. But it’s working with the slits. You might want to order tubing to go with your pump. The iron plant stand was placed in the tub so that the more decorative elements would have a place to sit.

I placed the pump in a plant pot saucer to lessen the sound of the motor. Two larger rocks on either side of the pump keep it upright.

Again, using materials on hand, I looked around the house and in the garage for some object, jug or vase that water could flow out of. Said object needed a hole in the bottom for the tubing to go into. Finally, I settled on this pottery vase. It’s rustic look would work and I could try to put a hole in the bottom. It was quite easy. Using a screwdriver and a hammer, I tapped the bottom of the vase. The screwdriver slid in right away. I kept tapping around the edges of the hole until it was wide enough for the tube. I set the vase on the tube sticking out of the plant stand. Then I placed the stones around it.

There was not immediate success. I had to play with that valve control knob to keep the water from shooting out into the patio, or in my face. I also bought some spouts which are supposed to make the water flow more artistically. With a low flow the spout stays in the tube. As soon as the flow is adjusted to a higher level, the spout flies out into the yard. I’m still tinkering with this.

One more consideration for water flow is that the filter on your pump will get debris on it. This lessens the flow of water. By googling I found this ingenious solution which has worked really well for me.

My walks take me past a bamboo grove where there are usually dried stalks on the ground. I brought one home and decided to use it to disguise the cord to the water pump. Cutting it into shorter lengths was fairly easy.

By now you are probably thinking this sounds like way too much trouble. But every time I sit on my patio and hear the trickle of water, it’s just heaven.

A few more plants around the edges will help with anchoring the container to the setting. I’ll venture out in a few days. But for now I plan to just sit and enjoy the sound of water.

Have you tried adding a water fountain to your garden?

The Grotto

You may have seen my earlier post about a problem corner in our backyard. Basically it’s a damp, dank corner with poor soil and a lot of shade, a grotto, as Mr. Bee has named it.

With the demise of the table that used to sit here, we have come up with a new purpose for this leafy bower, a sanctuary. Sanctuaries are dark enclosed places, right? A sanctuary, just what is needed under present circumstances.

This area used to look like this.

With only about an hour of sunshine a day, this area has stymied us for years. What should its purpose be and how do we make it not an eyesore? Virginia summers are not conducive to outdoor entertaining, with the humid weather and swarms of mosquitoes. And, of course, budget is always a consideration.

First off, we knew we had to replace the fence. That was done last year.

This year we went all in and bought new patio furniture. This set is from Overstock. I assembled it by myself and it was not difficult. Too impatient to wait for Mr. Bee to finish his work day I just started and it was quite easy. The casual vibe is exactly right for this, shall we say, rustic patio. The set came with the white cushions. It’s all very comfortable too.

You might notice a few of the plants are in pots. That’s always an option when your soil is terrible.

We also bought two skip laurels, which are the hedge looking plants on each side. They are supposed to grow up to 6 or 7 feet tall and equally wide. I am amending the soil with compost and fertilizer to compensate for the compact clay conditions.

At the top of this photo you can get a sense of the dense shade canopy that surrounds the patio. On the other side the neighbor’s windows are visible. We like our neighbors and I’m not especially bothered by the lack of privacy.

There remain some bare spots to be dealt with. Skip laurels, seen between the chairs, are slow growers. It’s supposed to get wide, but what is the solution for today? Ideally, I would love for the entire patio to be enclosed by a wall of green. But the reality in a garden is, it’s better to pause and assess your next steps otherwise you can end up with a crowded, hodge-podge. I’m still tempted to head to the nursery. Mainly it’s social distancing that’s holding me back.

Every outdoor sanctuary needs a water feature. I will do a future post on this one. There’s nothing quite as relaxing as the sound of water trickling over stones.

The best part of my new retreat is being able to enjoy the view of the rest of the garden.

What problems areas are you contending with in your yard?

The Shady Garden Corner

Mr. Bee calls this corner of our back yard the grotto, and with good reason. It’s a dark, gloomy and damp place.

When we moved in, the pavers and existing shrubbery were completely covered in English ivy. At first it seemed like a good thing to uncover a hidden patio. This little nook was way down on the priority list sure. But, a few plants and some yard sale furniture could make it a charming, pleasant alcove. It wouldn’t take much to make it a nice little outdoor retreat.

This picture was taken on a good day before we replaced the fence. I’d cleaned off the glass tabletop (a chore!) and the chairs, that were indeed all from a yard sale. As you can see there isn’t much growing here beside the one straggly shrub in the corner.

I had tried to plant a few shrubs but every attempt to get something growing in the ground ended in failure. This Carolina jasmine gave me some hope before it, too, succumbed. Tired of throwing money away, I resigned myself to planting liriope which at least covered the moist clay soil with something green.

I did try to disguise the shadowy corners with bright pillows and table styling. This photo is clearly for the blog.

That was the accommodation until late last year when the table base deteriorated to the point of collapse . The rattan base was on its last legs so we took the glass off to avoid a potential mess of broken glass. There was no motivation to buy a new table since we so rarely used the old one. The table was removed just as winter set in and the retreat sat empty.

Having more time on my hands lately I was going through some old garden books. I happened to read an article that explained the difference between partial shade and full shade. It was one of those aha! moments.

I have full shade and was buying plants that could only take partial shade. The garden books were helpful in pointing out shrubs and other plants that favor full shade. With my new knowledge I called the garden center.

Hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile I had an empty grotto. This glider, was moved into the space temporarily while I wait for my plants to arrive.

I will be back later in the week with some big changes in the grotto.

Annual Rose Report

This is my current view outside the master bedroom window. Incredible isn’t it? The view is a happy accident really. For there is only one place in my shady yard that gets at least six hours of sun a day. And roses require sun, usually more than six hours.

I hemmed and hawed for years about the possibility of roses anywhere in my garden. Reality told me that I just didn’t get enough sun. Only one area was sunny for prolonged periods, and that was an awkward corner of the back yard.

My one sunny area sat neglected while I tried to decide on a solution to make this a beautiful focal point. As I was discussing ideas with a gardening friend one day she pointed out that I could try roses here. It wouldn’t cost very much so why not? That was the little push I needed.

However, I was pretty pessimistic about the prospects. Probably the roses would not make it, or if they lived, they certainly wouldn’t flourish. As I was poring over catalogs and articles I learned that there are a few roses that will grow with less than 8 hours of daily sun. Cecile Brunner and New Dawn are two such varieties so i ordered them.

They were planted in the fall and the next year we were rewarded with a beginning growth of beautiful blooms. Heartened but not quite convinced, I made little investment in their well-being.

The following year, they were still working to convince me they were here to stay.

The following year they really took off and the need for substantial support could no longer be ignored.

I turned to the company that had built our garden gate. This arbor was built two years ago.

Arbor construction took a toll on the bushes. The above picture was taken in August just after the arbor was erected. My poor bushes seem traumatized.

The first spring on the arbor they still seemed to be recovering. Would the earlier profusion of blooms ever return? I probably should have built the arbor then planted the roses.

Also, I had timidly attempted pruning the vines so that they would adapt to the arbor. But pruning tutorials differed and were not that easy to understand. Had I ruined them? This year I went online again and gave pruning another try. It seems to have worked out.

The blooms do not spill over the front side as much. They are chasing the sun that lasts longer on the back side. I’m not complaining, believe me. Every morning they greet me as I look out my bedroom window.

I am constantly relearning that gardening, a little like life, is an experiment. Some experiments work and some don’t. You can’t let the failures stop you. You just have to keep trying. And, boy, what a feeling when it does work!

Cleaning Metal Garden Furniture

Cleaning Metal Garden Furniture

It’s a given that with outdoor furniture, you have to pay the price of maintenance and upkeep. Without a covered porch our furniture is completely exposed to the elements for 8 months a year. Here in Virginia we have a good bit of rain and thunderstorms, not to mention blazing sun, which can leave your furniture very unappealing to sit on. Cleaning them was a chore, which meant I hardly ever relaxed in my garden. That is until I finally discovered the easiest cleaner that takes the grime away with a swipe.

I know this sounds like a commercial but I am not receiving any compensation when I rave about the great job the Magic Eraser did on my chairs. No elbow grease required; I just wiped them down while pondering how I would decorate my deck when I was done. Within 15 minutes two chairs were clean and sparkling.

Here’s the story on these chairs: they were purchased at a yard sale years ago, with the intention of sanding and spray painting to get them in better shape. I just loved their retro vibe and,typical of me, underestimated the amount of work it would take to make them presentable. After a couple of hours of sanding to no avail I threw in the towel. But a friend told me of a regional business that re-coats metal garden furniture with a professional coating that is solid and glossy and long lasting. It’s been a few years, but I think it cost around a thousand dollars for four chairs. So much for my bargain yard sale find! But completely worth it. And that was another factor in trying to get the chairs clean-I didn’t want to use anything too abrasive that would damage the finish. No worry about that with the Magic Eraser.

I’m excited knowing that with very little effort I have a place to sit and enjoy the backyard. And if ever there was a year I really want to enjoy my yard, this is it.

Our weather in Virginia just became warm enough that we can contemplate going out for flowers and other plants to add seasonal color. Luckily I have some perennials that help bridge the gap until I can get some annuals in my pots and hanging baskets.

I’m working on this corner to make it my zen retreat. Don’t we all need a zen retreat right now? I got my water feature going and moved some things around. Another blog post is coming soon.

Family Separations at the Holidays

Well Easter Sunday is certainly going to be different this year. If we can’t go to church and we can’t have an egg hunt or go out to brunch, why not just call the whole thing off? It is somewhat tempting to skip the decorating and fancy cooking when we can’t have the entire family together. I have been here before.

For this is not the first time in my life that I have had to rise to the occasion on a holiday. Our family has had Easters when Mr. Bee was deployed and other Easters when kids were in college and too far to come home. One year we had both those situations at the same time. Even so, it just wasn’t in me to make a frozen pizza and call it a day. I came up with the idea of small scale festivity for these situations. And I was always glad I made the effort.

What is small scale festivity you ask? You figure out what is important to you to celebrate the day. Coloring eggs maybe? Bringing in some spring flowers? Making a nicer than usual dinner? Or a special dessert? Little pleasures soothe the spirit in times of stress and loneliness I have found.

The challenge of this time is to figure out new rituals and celebrations amidst the restrictions of social distancing. Luckily we have technology to help us see and speak with our loved ones. We can gather some flowers and greenery from our garden. We can go to a little extra effort for a meal. These small measures are the bright spots in these fearful times.

We may not look back on Easter 2020 as our most fun. Maybe we will remember it as the Easter we made the best of a difficult time.

How will you celebrate the special occasions while social distancing is in effect?

Home For the Time Being

Are you prepared to be home for the duration, however long that is? What does it even mean to be prepared in this unprecedented situation? I can get groceries, and just about anything else, delivered, the library has e-books, we have wi-fi and thus access to entertainment and information. So what is all this hoarding about? Am I missing something?

Most of us are trying to weather the situation as best we can. For us that means staying home and not having contact with anyone, including our children and grandchildren and, especially, Mr. Bee’s 92 year old mother.

While I am home trying to figure out how to be as prepared as possible I have to admit that my emergency preparedness kit is not up to an average emergency. My present system is to have our supply of batteries and other essentials all over the house in various drawers and cabinets. Certainly Mr. Bee can’t find them and even I have trouble remembering where I stashed them. I’m pretty sure I can come up with something better. We need a place to have a week’s (a month’s?) worth of food and water, batteries, a first aid kit, all in one place. Clearing out a space is something I can do right now so that when toilet paper becomes available again, I have a place to put it.

On the creative side, I recently discovered art journaling. Ever since my first online course, I have been drawing and coloring and painting and gluing with abandon. There is no requirement to be good or show others and it has just been a wonderful way to meditate and to think through life’s challenges. An outgrowth of the art journaling has been to start a coronavirus journal to chronicle this extraordinary time we are living in. Perhaps someday my grandchildren will be interested to know how we lived through these days? I include a few headlines from the paper (yes, we still get a hard copy delivered) but this is not meant to be a factual account. I write a few lines about our daily activities, having lunch together, starting a puzzle, the weirdness of the toilet paper shortage/hoarding. That has been a creative and purposeful activity to focus on.

Being at home nonstop, without the distractions of shopping and errands, I see that there is plenty that needs doing. The garden needs tending, closets should be cleaned out and there’s a pile of sewing projects that have been languishing. Wouldn’t it be nice if my home were more tidy and organized when this is all over? Studies show that being productive helps with anxiety. Win-win.

How are you filling your days during this time at home?