Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Craig’s List Score!

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I virtuously scan Craig’s List here in Fayetteville, hoping for the sort of deals I used to find in Chicago. This weekend, I finally scored. Boxes of screen and storm sash hangers were there for $3 a box (ten sets in each box or thirty cents a set). You’ll see from the click-through, screen-and-storm-sash-hangers.jpg, that the sets used to retail for 40 cents. These days, however, they sell for two or three dollars a set.

So, I got Don to contact the sellers, and he bought them out. Even better, he learned that they have other stuff in their warehouse, stuff which might be useful for us a little later. (I guess their family owned a windows and doors store for sixty years, and now they’re slowly closing their warehouse.) We now own 45 sets of sash hangers, which will come in handy if we ever when we build storms and screens.  Now to keep an eye out for number tacks to identify which storms go with which windows. Although $4.99 for twenty windows and twenty storms isn’t bad, I’d love some like Jeannie’s House In Progress number tacks which go past single digits. Kilian seems to have a better price of $3.99 for “110+” of assorted tacks. I’m jealous, though, of the old stock someone bought from them already. 

Hang on:  Can anyone tell me why map tacks wouldn’t work?  Look at these map tacks. 


You can buy them to go up to 50 (double digits on a single tack) and they seem legible and long enough.  Are they sturdy enough?  Too big? (The smalls are 7/32 in diameter.  The pins are 5/16″ long.)  Too expensive?  We would need three boxes: to label window, storm, and screen, or about $15 for the first twenty-five windows.  Plus s/h.  The large map tacks (5/16″ diameter) come in red, and go up to 100.

We do have some other pressing matters, like, oh, say, rebuilding the window frames (see photo below) swinging in the air without any contact to the glass that I can see, or filling the gap between the fifty-year-old addition and the old part of the house. (Not only can you see daylight, but there’s a brisk breeze when a front is blowing through, which it was at lunchtime Wednesday when the temperature dropped from 63F to 28F in two hours.)

Window frame (south side)

Or, this week’s urgent need, covering up the direct critter access into the basement Apartment 5 with some chicken wire. Don took out the basement kitchen cabinets Monday and discovered a hole, a big, long hole sized for roosters or snakes or five-year-olds to go lollygagging through. The stud wall is swinging from the ceiling and you can see daylight under the studs. I don’t know what is holding up the two stories of house above it. Static electricity, maybe.

Hole under house before exposure Hole under house after hardware cloth installation

The hole is at the base of the house under this deck. You can’t see it so well in this picture (left) so I stopped Tuesday morning and snapped a picture of it with the hardware cloth installed (right). What is that pipe? It goes into the former basement kitchen around the sink. Maybe a vent??
Rotten sill

The picture above of a really rotten sill predates our buying the house, but the others are from Wednesday. (The painters pulled the ivy off the house.)

In other news, work is crazy busy. The Little One has reached a charming stage, again, except that she is very tired. She fell asleep by 6 p.m. Sunday night, and slept until we got her up the next morning. Either she’s about to grow into fluent reading or she’s about to grow an inch.  Or some other landmark event is coming.  She’s home for a snow day today, and I’m watching the weather to see if I am getting snowed in, too.

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Our retaining wall (south of the house)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

We’re working on getting our retaining wall tuned up. It’s really a nice-looking wall running along the south border of our lot, made of native stone with flying buttresses and a stone patio.* Serene. The wall starts out at maybe 18 inches at the front of the lot, and then it growed like Topsy until it’s maybe twelve feet toward the back.  As a result, our lot is fairly level.  I think the patio (just off the kitchen) is even prettier than this pre-ownership picture shows.

Patio in summer

The only problem is that the wall is covered with ivy. Well, that, and the fact that once you pull off enough ivy to make five or six or ten ivy people**, you find big cracks and crumbling mortar.  And a definite tilt toward our lot.

Huge pile of ivy Typical fault line hiding behind the ivy

We had an appointment with our rock wall guy Monday.  He says the flying buttresses were probably added later and are helping to prevent the wall falling over, but we really need to build more wall at the base to push back against the tons of soil and water and put in holes to let the water out.  So we are.  Or rather, he and his crew will.  The first load of rock came Tuesday morning.  This weekend, Don and I hope to get more of my landscaping books out of storage so I can show our rock wall guy what I want. (Once I figure it out, of course.)  I picture some raised beds, some niches for rock garden plants in the walls, plenty of stone seating in front of the raised beds.  (Since the wall is facing north, I’m not sure if the heat sink attributes of a stone wall will make it a warmer microclimate than its surroundings, but I guess it might be a good place for more tender perennials.)  Also, low voltage lighting, a water feature, and maybe a fire pit, but probably not.  A fire pit, that is, due to local codes. 

Oh, and maybe a cold frame?  I saw a neat one in Washington State Park this fall.  It was original to the house (Greek Revival so early 1800s), and dug down six feet into the earth, so it only got noon sunlight, but never froze.  Ours couldn’t go down that deep due to rocks, but maybe we could build something that could go over one of the raised beds and attach to the stone bench in front.  Then, we could raise our own lettuce and tender perennials.  Daydreams, but fun to think about.

Sunday afternoon was beautiful.  Sunny and in the 60s.  The Little One and I made seven wreaths with ivy and nandina berries, which made no significant difference to the amount of ivy left, but delighted her.  Then I pulled as much of the ivy off the wall as I could so our rock wall guy would have a better idea of what he would be dealing with.

While making ivy wreaths, we watched a gang of small neighbor boys rampage through the yard and up the highest flying buttress on to the next yard.  All wearing hoodies, sneakers, and skateboards. We saw the touring version of Peter Pan this fall at the Walton Arts Center, and we’ve been reading Peter Pan this week, so I suggested to the Little One that they might be Lost Boys. She said, “No, Mom. I know one of them. He goes to my school.” (I don’t understand the barrier myself, since she is currently Peter Pan’s sister, but I guess I’m grown-up.)  I like living in a neighborhood with rampaging small boys.

Enough of that. Let’s look at more pictures. When we bought the place, it came with a really large container for holding trash cans. I think it held six big ones and it was just west of the patio. You might be able to see the flying buttress the Lost Boys scaled just behind it.  (Sorry for the terrible picture, but the container is gone now so I can’t improve on it.)

Big Trashcan Container

Don gave it to a utilities guy he met one of the three times we’ve had a meter replaced so far. Here’s the guy hauling it off. You can see it fills his trailer up.

Nice guys hauling off big trashcan container

Pictured below is the space behind the trashcan container and the Lost Boys’ flying buttress (at right). It was mostly ivy-free already, but I pulled a lot more out between the trashcan space and the patio (where the green, mossy area is). The bar growing through the redbud (I think it’s a redbud — see summer patio picture) is a clothesline remnant.

After trashcan container left

Below are better before-and-after pictures of what the ivy-covered wall looked like. These are just east of the patio, but I pulled ivy off the entire length of the wall.

Typical before ivy removal condition After ivy removal condition

Here’s our first load of rock. It’s really pretty stuff, with lots of lichens. And I am very glad that I don’t have to move it.

First load of rocks to fix the wall

*Our neighbors to the north tell us they used to watch drunken bashes at our house. Kegs and beer bottles flying out of the upstairs windows. Police calls all the time. One of the more recent tenants spent a lot of time picking the broken glass out of the patio area, for which I am grateful. I did find a pull tab in the ivy Sunday.

** I Googled Ivy People.  Would you believe it’s a Celtic astrology sign, more or less?  And that Don and I are Ivy People?  Weird what Google will tell you when asked.

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Building a heli-pad in the labyrinth, in my dad’s words

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Why do my parents have a helicopter landing pad?  Not because they are James Bond-types.  My dad has spinocerebellar ataxia, which affects his balance, among other things, so he does fall over and need emergency care with some frequency.  My folks live out in the country, at the end of a steep, curvy driveway that gets icy, so they have the potential need for emergency evacuation by helicopter. A helicopter pad needs a big flat space, with even flatter bits in the middle for the helicopter to land on.  Hence, the labyrinth.

The picture below is a satellite view of my parents’ modern house. To the right is the labyrinth. Wending around the house is the driveway on which my car was hit, causing nearly $6k in damage early this fall. Besides being curvy, it also has some steep shady parts, so it is easy to get iced in.   (Or out.  I got stuck on the driveway coming home one night last winter.)


I lifted many of these photos and the following text from my dad’s Christmas letter almost verbatim, although rearranged and with just a few more words for context.

big-flat-hole.jpg This was a low spot in the center of the labyrinth. There is a hardpan down about 45 centimeters. It was often wet and mushy, dried slowly, and things died of “wet feet.”

dry-well.jpg Don dug it down to hardpan and then dug dry wells through the hardpan in a couple of places to let the water through.

native-stones.jpg We started with about a tonne (1000 kg.) of flat rocks. They have now all been used.

gravel.jpg We also had 7,000 liters of gravel. [The gravel has not all been used.]
in-process.jpg  [In process.]

nearly-done.jpg [Almost done.]

Then we filled the dry wells and the excavation with gravel up to about fifteen centimeters from the surface followed by about ten centimeters of pulverized limestone. Then Don leveled things, cut the rock to size, and placed it.

finished-heli-pad.jpg This is essentially the finished product and I think it looks very good. Don says that we will need to work in some more pulverized limestone as that in the cracks settle.

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Arts and Crafts Gardens book report

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

A while ago, I made a list of Arts and Crafts garden books I’d like to read before planning my new garden. I got two for Christmas thanks to my mom, who faithfully clicks in every day to see if I’ve written anything. I have now read (or at least started): (1) Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement: Reality and Imagination, by Judith B. Tankard and (2) Gertrude Jekyll’s Lost Garden, by Rosamund Wallinger.

What I learned?

  • Jekyll rhymes with treacle.
  • Jekyll is known for her borders and drifts.
  • Jekyll kept an abbreviated set of her garden plans so that she could consult if need be.
    • Many of these abbreviated plans are in California.*
    • Translating her shorthand (often an illegible set of three letters) into a Latin species name is hard.
  • Other Arts and Crafts gardens were not planned by gardeners, but by architects, and were often impractical.
  • Most surprising to me, many of these gardens used lots of topiaries.
    • Because that’s what the 16th century gardeners did.
    • I was expecting a more “natural” approach, but instead I found a sculptured approach. At least so far. I’m only a third of the way through Tankard’s book.

As for the books themselves, Tankard’s book is densely written — which means trouble for a skimmer like myself. Ros’s book is charming, although she expects me to know more about her than I do. (I gather she has become famous for recreating Jekyll’s garden from almost nothing and lecturing about it.) Her pictures are lovely, too.

Thanks, Mother, I am enjoying them.  And my conclusion, for now, is that Arts and Crafts gardens can be whatever I want them to be.  I’ll probably wind up with borders and drifts instead of topiaries.  I have enough trouble keeping my hair cut.  (I may wind up with some box borders, though.)

*The plans wound up in California because of something to do with WWII, the Red Cross, and New England — maybe Vermont. Perhaps like the Von Trapp family?  We watched the Sound of Music Sunday night.  The Little One was appalled that Rolf joined the Nazis and was chasing the Von Trapps.  “But he was in love with Liesel!”  She also appreciated Greta being 5, “just like me.”

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Adventures in Salvaging, Part 4: Westwood Gardens Auction

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

When we thought we were about to buy a house in October, I saw an ad in the paper. The local big garden center was auctioning off its surplus plants. I made big plans to go and get a headstart on landscaping. As you can imagine, a house that has been rental apartments for fifty years (or eighty) doesn’t have a lot of landscaping, but it does have at least three huge dying trees that I hope can stay upright until spring. Anyway, we ran into a snag, and I didn’t have a house at the time of the auction. I went anyway, with our neighbor, who is, among other things, a master gardener.

Lacking a house, despite being an auction junkie, I managed not to buy too much — just two huge hydrangeas (Dooley’s, $8 each, currently parked in my mom’s labyrinth garden), four fly swatting chairs ($12.50 each), a pair of hypertufa/concrete birdbath like things with a definite Prairie style to them ($60+20), and a marble-looking planter with figures cast in it ($15). It still filled our truck up because the fly swatting chairs wouldn’t nestle.

Good thing we both had trucks because our neighbor filled up his truck with Japanese maples (some beautiful ones) and the like. (We took just his truck for the day — Don and the Little One came at the end to help load up my stuff when I realized that the chairs wouldn’t nest.)

Our stuff:


Of course, now that it looks like we’ll have a house after all, I’m wishing that I would have been able to buy for it. I’m thinking of an Asian-influenced garden (with 1950s flyswatting chairs), and need to, ahem, buy some books about Arts and Crafts gardens so I know what I’m doing. I think we’ll put a gingko in the parkway* — there aren’t any on our street, so that will add some diversity.

My prairie birdbaths have been installed at my parents’ modern house (where, unfortunately, they look very good – the gourds were grown by the Little One and my mom, and arranged by the Little One), but I bet I can make some hypertufa birdbaths in my copious spare time.

The flyswatting chairs have some surface rust, but should be just fine — and, at $12.50, they’re cheaper than the rustier originals we’ve seen at flea markets.

*Do you know where the parkway is? I didn’t, until I moved to Chicago. It is not the driveway. Nor is it the scenic road running along the Blue Ridge. Rather, it is the small bit of dirt between the sidewalk and the street. A useful term, but not in the answer dot com definitions.  (See my glossary for more.)

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My Arts and Crafts Garden Book List

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

While I have a good feel for what a Victorian garden could look like, I have not paid as much attention to Arts & Crafts gardens.  Now that I think we might have one next week, I want have to start my information gathering.  (Information gathering is a compulsion of mine.  However, once I have gathered enough information, I can make decisions fairly quickly.)  I’m especially looking to educate my eye as to what the good garden designers really did so that I can maybe avoid big missteps, while getting my garden started early this time.  (My motto: Buy small, grow big.)  Winter* is a good time for dreaming about gardens, so I’ve started my list:

  1. Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement: Reality and Imagination, by Judith B. Tankard.  (Go here for an interesting review of Tankard’s book.)
  2. The Gardens of William Morris, by Jill Douglas-Hamilton
  3. Arts and Crafts Gardens, by Gertrude Jekyll
  4. The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll, by Richard Bisgrove
  5. Gertrude Jekyll’s Lost Garden, by Rosamund Wallinger
  6. The Unknown Gertrude Jekyll, by Martin Wood
  7. The Gardens of Ellen Biddle Shipman, by Judith B. Tankard

Apparently I really want to know more about Gertrude Jekyll’s gardens and I hope that Tankard is a good writer — that takes care of six of the seven books on the list.  And who wouldn’t want to know what Morris’ gardens might have been like?  Any others that you particularly like?  Why?

*Of course, it isn’t really winter here.  It’s not even fall, with temperatures expected to reach the mid-70s today.  But, the days are shorter, and it’s cloudy today, so I exercised a little poetic license. 

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Chicago Gardens (Eye Candy)

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

When we lived on Howe, we liked to go to the Old Town Art Fair and Garden Walk. And the Dearborn Garden Walk. And the Sheffield Garden Walk. We loved seeing inside gardens we wouldn’t otherwise see, and we loved seeing what you could do with a small space. Here are some pictures of some of those gardens.


Flowered pot with flowers by fire escape ladder


Chicago Cow on Parade resting on balcony (aka Farm in the Zoo by Carol A. Sitzer)


Somebody’s jewel of a front yard


Front yard detail


Rooftop terrace (as seen from alley)


Gold Coast terraced backyard with neighboring wall of impatiens


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Our other houses, Part 2C (After North Howe roof deck)

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Please click through — these are some of my favorite pictures. (Except for the last one — not too flattering of me, I’m afraid, but feeding people on our deck was something we really enjoyed. Our last summer on Howe, we had a big crowd over for the Chicago Air & Water Show, and that was FUN. Only problem with roof deck entertaining was, if you forgot something in the kitchen, you had to go down 1.5 flights of stairs. And back. Maybe I’ll be able to track down those Air Show photos some time and post them — the planes whooshed right overhead. Don shot something like 6 rolls that day, and I lost my will to put them into albums. Which means that the Little One is sorely lacking in albums of her extreme youth.)


Our roof deck from the top of our stairs (the second summer)

roof-deck-at-dusk.jpgThe view from our shed looking east (and down), the first summer

looking-sw-on-roof-deck.jpgLooking southwest on roof deck

ne-corner-of-roof-deck.jpgLooking northeast

Roof deck dianthusRoof deck dianthus

mosquito-copper-sculpture-in-columbine.jpgColumbine and copper mosquito (garden art)

pots-near-center-chimney-on-roof-deck.jpgPots near center chimney

roof-deck-with-family.jpgFamily on deck (niece, father in law, me).

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Our other houses, Part 2B (Building the North Howe Roof Deck)

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

The roof deck was the thing I liked best about our townhouse. We were in the middle unit of a three-unit building, and we had the only roof deck. Very private despite being in the middle of the city. However, it was a big expanse of worn out decking surrounded by exceedingly dull benches; the roof leaked; and the sole water source was via a hose connected to a faucet 2.5 stories below in the “front yard.” (The “front yard” was maybe three feet deep by 12 feet wide. It had a pink dogwood and some tired ground cover. The dogwood was lovely, actually.)

Roof deck before

First we demolished the roof deck and replaced the roof.

This was complicated by our townhouse neighbor. He didn’t want our roofers to use the easy access side for moving roofing materials on or off the roof. He preferred that they haul the materials on the south side of the house — the side that was less than three feet from our neighbor’s house — the side that was so narrow that Don could climb up the house by placing his feet on our wall and his back on our neighbor’s house and shimmying up — chimney climbing. (He worried that they would damage the dogwood. He didn’t care so much about the three gas meters on the other side.)

He also objected to our roofers not speaking English. (In point of fact, they did speak English fairly fluently. To me. A ploy that I hope someday to be able to use somewhere, but probably won’t since I don’t have a second language.) The chief roofer called me about the problem, but I was in a meeting I couldn’t leave so I sent my secretary. (She was a good friend and tougher than I was, anyways. She was married to a cop and didn’t take any nonsense from anybody.) I’m not sure what was said, but the roofers continued to work and to use the sensible side for accessing the roof.

hanging-compressor.jpgAfter the roof was replaced, the deck guys came. They hung the air conditioning compressor from the rafters so they could install new decking. (When we bought the place, the compressor was inside a shed on the roof. Yes, inside. So, when it was blowing hot air, the hot air just stayed there. Forever. Or at least until winter. Periodically, the compressor would stop in protest. We improved the design by putting in decorative arbor-like rafters over it, which allowed it to be shaded and ventilated, and removing the front wall. Couldn’t do anything about the wall behind it or beside it.)

Roof deck with sleepers The deck guys put sleepers across the roof to nail the flooring to. (You can see the gap around the roof drain. They built a removable tile to cover the drain, yet allow us to access it for maintenance.)

Chimney framingThe deck builder was something of an artist. He suggested laying the cedar decking on an angle (or two angles so it was v-shaped). He routed the edges of each piece so they were slightly rounded. He sheathed the two chimneys in cedar, as well.

roof-deck-window-box.jpgHe was nervous about the height of the side walls, and suggested putting a fence on top of the walls. I suggested the window boxes. I think we both had good ideas.

As for the water supply, we had the handyman who did our bathrooms the next year run a supply up to the roof. Complete with a winter shut off valve, it was perfect for us. I had it split so I could have a permanent drip irrigation supplying my window boxes and pots, and still have a water source for hand washing or whatever. It was on an automatic timer, and watered the pots several times a day. (Repeated shallow watering was necessary because I was container gardening up on the exposed roof — I wouldn’t water that often if I had a reservoir of soil for the plants to hold the moisture.)

Next entry will be the after pictures.


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