FRIDAY FINDS

It feels like it has been a long time since there's been a Friday Finds post here. I can't even tell you how busy this month has been and amazingly I feel like I'm already behind on gardening. There are seeds and dahlia tubers to be ordered and I've not done anything about formulating a plan yet!

But there will be time for that soon (and if not, I'll make time). For now, let's check out some of the goodies the Internet has been dishing up lately.

Margaret Roach's podcast of Q&As with Ken Druse is great. I love the question about decyphering degrees of shade. I wonder if in our quest to simplify plant labels we haven't gone too far.

http://www.flowerpatchfarmhouse.com/ten-rose-care-myths-debunked/
Flower Patch Farmhouse photo
I mentioned that I haven't ordered seeds yet but back in fall I ordered eight David Austin roses. Eight.  You may recall it was just a few years ago that I swore off roses. I'm a sucker. But there's an excellent rose care article over at Flower Patch Farmhouse that I'll be hanging on to.

One of the things I'm hoping to do in 2017 is increase the number of garden conferences and events I attend. Here's a great roundup of several excellent ones to consider.

http://www.theimpatientgardener.com/2017/01/garden-trends-for-2017.html

Did you catch my predictions for gardening trends for the coming year? Tell it to me straight: Do you think I'm on the right track?

And lastly, I just wanted to take a moment to toot my own horn a tad. I was thrilled to find out last week that I was named to two great blog lists.


I was named to Lawnstarter's Top 50 Garden Bloggers list (aka the Golden Trowel awards).


And I was also named to Toolversed's Top 10 Gardening Bloggers list.

In both cases I'm delighted to be in the company of some of my favorite bloggers. Check out their blogs at the links above.

There's lots on the agenda for this weekend. More work on the basement, a Green Bay Packers game, maybe some quality time with plant catalogs and a bit of birthday celebrating (such as it is when you get to be my age). What are you plans?

GARDEN TRENDS FOR 2017

What will gardens look like in 2017? It's a question I asked about about the same time last year and I loved everyone's thoughts on the topic. The caveat with making predictions about gardens is that they are more insulated from trends than fashion or home decor simply by the fact that it takes so long for a garden to develop that it's not practical or possible for them to follow trends as easily. But I believe that gardens that are created or renovated in 2017 may very well follow these trends.




1. POLLINATOR GARDENS


Pollinator-friendly gardens will be hot, hot, hot, and thank goodness for that. Gardeners, both casual and serious have embraced their part in the important fight to promote the health of pollinators. The Perennial Plant Association has even named Ascelpias tuberosa—butterfly weed—its perennial of the year. From home gardens and school gardens to public gardens and even containers, more and more gardens will be planned with an eye toward inviting in pollinators and beneficial insects.



2. SMALL GARDENS


As more and more people choose to rent instead of buy and people find themselves with less time to dedicate (or perhaps less time they choose to dedicate) to home and garden maintenance, gardens continue to get smaller. For some this means a small vegetable patch, for others it's a grouping of containers on a balcony. Vertical gardening will be of interest as gardeners look to pack in more plants in a smaller space. I also think that gardeners are learning about all new ways of gardening that work in 5 square feet or 5 acres.



3. EDIBLE EVERYWHERE


In last year's garden trends predictions, I said that edible gardens would continue to be popular but that they would become more decorative. I'm pretty sure I was wrong and I'm actually going to go the other direction on that this year. I think many gardeners, and particularly people new to gardening, will focus on edible gardening, but the goal will be producing, not necessarily pretty. DIY containers and raised beds will continue to be popular and gardeners will focus more on growing interesting varieties of vegetables and fruit than how they look while they are growing.


4. THE RETURN OF COLOR



This is another departure from my 2016 predictions when I said that white gardens would be hot. I still think there is a population of gardeners who will love all white gardens. But I think these are advanced-level garden design. A good white garden requires a host of design factors, including choosing plants for blooms all season, a variety of greens to compliment white flowers and, perhaps most importantly, the right combination of varied textures.


Pantone's Color of the Year—"Greenery"—is, I think, reflective of a move away from the muted palettes that have dominated home decor in recent years. I feel like there is a pent-up desire for vibrant, although tasteful, color, and new gardens are more likely to reflect that.


5. OUTBUILDINGS ARE COOL


First there was the man room. Now there is the she shed. And before any of that there were a whole bunch of fantastic sheds, writing rooms, greenhouses and other outdoor spaces across the pond, where a lot of garden trends come from. Living spaces are getting smaller (see No. 2 above) but that doesn't mean that people don't crave a private retreat. Slowly but surely I think we're going to see beautiful and more elaborate multipurpose buildings outside the house. These will be far more than a place to hang your shovel or park the mower; they'll be hangouts and zen spaces that can be customized to an individual's specific and uncompromising tastes.


So how did I do last year (check out the original post here)? Let's review.

1. Edible gardens will get prettier: I already addressed this a bit, but I'm going to give myself a grade of C on this one. I didn't see a huge shift in this direction, but I do think the popularity of edible gardens means that more gardeners were looking to do interesting things with edible gardens one way or another.

2. Gardens will get more formal: Looking at new garden designs and perusing sites like Houzz and Pinterest, I'd say this was pretty close to right on. I think they'll fall out of popularity because people who maintain their own gardens will realize formal gardens are an incredible amount of work. Grade: B.

3. White gardens will be hot: I think I a lot of people loved looking at these but not a lot of people took the plunge. Grade: C.

4. Succulents are on their way out: I took a lot of well-deserved heat on this because as several astute readers pointed out, succulents will never go out of style in the places where water conservation and drought are a concern. I don't see people doing as many ridiculous crafty things with them as they once were, but succulents still pop up in bouquets and containers. Grade: D

5. Grasses are back in: Thanks to the prairie style, naturalized plantings popping up in public gardens everywhere and plant breeders introducing all kinds of great new grasses, this one was right on. Grade: A

I think that puts me at about a C+ for last year. Maybe this year will be better.

What garden trends do you think will pop up in 2017? And what garden predictions did you have last year that you were right (or wrong) about? Tell me all about it in the comments.


A BASEMENT BEFORE TO MAKE YOU CRINGE

I've alluded to changes and projects quite a bit here so it's well past time I fill you in on exactly what's happening. Mr. Much More Patient is starting his own business and needs an office here. So, we're making an office.

We already have a den/office type of room, but we both very much like using that room (which started as the original first-floor master bedroom) as a den and since Mr. MMP will require a fairly large desk, most of the things that make the den the cozy spot we like would have to go away. Similarly, the guest bedroom isn't really big enough for both a bed and a desk setup. So that means the office is heading underground to the finished half of the basement.

I'm certain I've written about the basement here before and I may have even written up grand plans for sprucing that space up, but for the first time things are actually happening down there.

This is the epitome of a "warts and all" before picture. The terrible red wall is my doing. But you can also see the pink vinyl floor. Behind the curtained wall is a storage are that actually works pretty well but needs some cleaning out.
Half of the basement was finished by a previous owner. Everything was clearly done as cheaply as possible. Fiberboard was used instead of drywall and furring strips were put over seams instead of taping and mudding. A cheap and exceptionally ugly pink and blue vinyl floor was glued to the concrete. The trim was just flat pine boards straight from the lumber yard. Three lights run down the middle of the room. I'm sad to say that when the current owners took over (um, that would be me), the atrocities got worse. Let's just say there were some bad paint color choices involved. In my defense, it was literally the first room I'd ever painted in my life and after years in beige apartments I was desperate for color. Hey, at least I did it in the basement and not the living room.

There is a shining star though, and that's the fireplace that extends from the one upstairs. A previous owner had the flue for it closed off so it no longer functions, but last year we removed the really ugly insert from it so at least it looks ok.

Time is of the essence with this project (and painting is underway) so I'm going into this with far less of a plan than I usually approach these projects with. And the budget is small so we're tackling the necessities and the cosmetics more than anything. Lighting upgrades, more insulation and even another heat vent (there is one that comes in the room but it's inadequate for the size of the space) would be very practical upgrades, but they are both time consuming and expensive so none of those is happening. Instead, we're working with what we have for the most part.

The fireplace is a nice focal point and the wicker chairs came with the place and I love them, but I'll need to make new cushions for them.

That starts with paint. We're painting everything—ceiling, walls, trim—the same color (Benjamin Moore Mascarpone, which is the trim color in the majority of the house and also the wall color in the living room) to both lighten it up down there and hopefully visually raise the height of the ceiling. I might have picked a different color but we had a lot of Mascarpone around so we went with that. I'll pick up new fixtures for the ceiling, hopefully ones that put out a bit more light than what's there.

This corner will be the office space. The wood box on the wall hides the electrical panel and the tall wood box to the right covers a sump pump.

The stairs are across from the wall above. Yes, I painted it blue and red. Don't judge. Actually, do judge. I deserve it.  On the far left of the photo you can see the doors that lead to the unfinished portion of the basement.

We absolutely must do something about the floor and not just because it's ugly. It is also very cold, so we need to cover it with something maybe layer area rugs on top of that. Unfortunately since it's a larger space, there is no truly inexpensive solution. We're still weighing the options for that.

I made a trip to Ikea to pick up a desk and a Besta credenza a couple weekends ago and we have plenty of other furniture for the rest of the room.

Here's a better view of the larger space. 

The lighting is just three ceiling lights, all of which will be replaced. About a year ago I got a quote of about $1,100 to add more lights to the room, so rather than do that, we'll supplement the lighting with strategically placed lamps. The bump outs on the right for the air ducts are really low. At 5 feet 2 inches tall, that's not an issue for me, but Mr. Much More Patient has to duck a little to get under them. Hopefully painting everything the same color will make that less noticeable.

I'll show you our progress as it happens. No matter what, I think it can only get better.

Do you have a finished area in your basement? If so, do you really use it?

HOW WE DITCHED CABLE (AND ARE SAVING $$$$)

We are free of cable television. I feel like shouting it from the rooftops. The cord is officially cut.

This is a move that we've been seriously contemplating for at least two years. Every month the cable bill would come and I'd shake my head at how much we were spending for television. Or worse, I'd avoiding looking at it and just pay the bill and try not to think about it. A few months ago I really studied the bill and I'm embarrassed to say we were paying $190 for cable, premium channels, broadband internet and telephone service and that put me over the edge. It was way too much.



The premium channels snuck in there. In fact we weren't even watching anything other than HBO because we didn't realize we had it. At one point Time-Warner Cable (now Spectrum, apparently) gave us three free months of premium channels. I distinctly remember calling and saying I didn't want their "free" offer if it would automatically added on to my bill at the end of the promotional period but the cable company will tell you that never happened. Anyway, we'd been paying for them for a handful of months without even realizing it (because I was in denial and never studied the bills).

So I canceled the premium channels, bringing our bill down to $158 a month. And then I started preparing to dump cable all together. It took a little research and a few purchases but here's how we did it. (Some affiliate links may follow. Thanks for supporting this blog!)

1. We switched our home phone service (our cellphones do not get reliable service at our house so we need to keep a "landline") from the cable company to Vonage. They had a Black Friday sale for a year of service for $9.99/month (although after taxes and fees that goes up to about $18), plus a $100 Amazon gift card (a similar offer is available now with a $100 Visa card) and $24 cash back through Ebates. That took our phone service down to $92 for the year (including taxes, including the gift card and cash back). We were paying $28 a month getting our phone service from cable. Net savings for the next year: $244.

2. Because the ability to record shows and have a guide (the thing that shows you what's playing when) is important to us, we ordered a Tivo Roamio OTA. I learned that most Tivos require a monthly service fee of about $15. That wasn't going to fly. The point of this exercise was to save money (and stop giving it to the evil cable company). The Roamio OTA only works with an over-the-air antenna (so it will never work with cable like other Tivos) but has no monthly fee. The upfront cost can be high, about $400. Fortunately Black Friday came through again. Tivo had a sale on refurbished Roamia OTAs with 500 gigabytes of storage (about 75 high definition shows) for $200 and I picked one up at that price. I found this 1-terabyte version for $314. The Roamio also allows us to access Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Now and other streaming sites. We have an Apple TV that we use for some of that, but we wouldn't need that with the Tivo.

3. We bought an antenna. Thankfully television antennas have come a long way since the giant metal things you used to see on people's rooftops. As far as I can tell, you should choose an antenna based on the distance from the signal and the amount of interference. Although we're only about 35 miles from the towers where most of our signals originate, we're in a rural-ish area with a lot of trees, so we got one with a 60-mile range. In general the longer the range, the bigger the antenna but it's still no big deal, and certainly nothing like the enormous metal pokey-looking antennas of my youth that were on top of every house. We mounted it on the pergola near where the cable line come in the house under the deck and ran the coaxial cable in the same hole. The antenna cost $100.

We get 57 channels with the antenna and, as you might the imagine, the vast majority are garbage, but there are a solid 20 channels with some value including several PBS channels we never saw through cable.

Can you see the antenna? No?

Now you can. It's the two black circles with the rods sticking out mounted on the back of the pergola. I was concerned about an unsightly antenna on the roof but I actually had to look for it to take this picture. 


4. We're taking advantage of streaming services. If you're considering cutting the cord you may want to also consider sharing with family or friends. (I think this is all legit, but if it is bending the rules a little, let's call this a theoretical conversation.) You could, for instance, pick up the tab for Amazon Prime and your streaming buddy could pay for Netflix and you could share. I'm shocked by how much I'm finding on Amazon Prime (here's a 30-day free trial) that I'm really enjoying. (I highly recommend "Mozart in the Jungle.") We've always had these services but never really used them much.

5. We did keep our broadband Internet service from the cable company, but I argued with them to extend the promotional price that is supposedly only offered to new customers. This was not easy to accomplish (nothing is, when it comes to the cable company) but we're getting the super high speed Internet (50mbps) for $65/month. We might have been able to slow down to 30mbps but since I knew we'd be doing more streaming I thought we better leave it at the higher level.

After all that we took our bill from $190 a month a few months ago to $83 a month (broadband internet and Vonage phone service), a savings of $107 a month. We spent $300 on equipment (antenna and Tivo) to make the switch, so in less than three months we'll have recouped the "startup" costs, and by the end of the year we'll save $984 (and that doesn't include the $100 Amazon gift card from the Vonage deal). Honestly, it's not huge money, but when you look at it as money that just doesn't need to be spent it is a nice chunk of change. Save it for two years and it's a pretty decent vacation (or two trips to a really good nursery).

So how's it going? Pretty darn well. Yes, I miss some shows. I would really love to watch this season of "Top Chef" but I can't. And you know what? I'm living. I don't miss it enough to justify that huge cable bill. The hardest parts for me have been cracking my HGTV addiction (although some shows are available on the HGTV app even without a cable provider) and not having access to streaming live television on my iPad. We've used our iPads as second televisions for awhile now, and until we got rid of cable I would watch morning news shows while I was getting ready in the morning. That's no longer an option and that's been a difficult change.

One unexpected benefit has been the improved picture quality. Believe it or not, we get a much better high definition picture through the antenna than we did through cable. I read somewhere that the cable signal can degrade (for various reasons that I don't know enough about to repeat), and apparently ours did because the difference is astonishing. The day before we cancelled the cable service, we had both cable and the antenna coming in to the television, so we could flip back and forth between the two to the same channel and it was clear the image was much crisper with the antenna.

I don't think cutting the cord would be as simple for a family that watches a lot of sports. Our sports watching is mostly limited to the Packers and the Badgers and I couldn't watch my Badgers win the Cotton Bowl, which was a drag. But it's a good excuse to go to a bar for a game or, um, drop in on a friend. We will probably add on a few months of HBO Now for $15 a month when some of our favorite shows come back on there, but that's easy to turn on and turn off as we need it.

Bonus to cord cutting: Down to two remotes!

Everyone cord-cutter I consulted with before we did this told me they had no regrets, other than not doing it sooner. If you're on the fence, what I would suggest is just saving some money in the interim and calling your cable company and asking them to look at your package. Better yet, tell them you want to cancel. There is a ridiculous cat-and-mouse game that you have to play with the cable company, but in the process of trying to cancel our service they offered me increasingly better deals. Deals that were good enough that if we hadn't already been full committed to cutting the cord I might have stayed after all. But I'm glad we didn't. We're watching less television in general (this is a very good thing, in my mind) and we're saving money. And honestly, it felt so good to tell the cable company that we no longer required their television services.

Have you thought about cutting the cable cord? Or if you've done it already, are you happy with the decision?