Get in the mood for gardening

Spring really is right around the corner, well that's what people tell me anyway. It doesn't feel a lot like spring since I'm looking out on a foot of snow covering everything, but I know things start warming up quickly.

Next weekend, though, is going to feel a LOT like spring, because I'm heading off to the Proven Winners outdoor living extravaganza in Chicago! I'm so excited. There is a line-up of great speakers (I'm particularly excited about hearing Tim Wood from Spring Meadows Nursery because I know he'll spend some time discussing some of the great new hydrangeas that are out now) and I'm thinking there will be a sneak peek at all the great new plants Proven Winners is introducing.

Proven winners does an amazing job of finding creative people who do wonderful things with plants. Check out some of their container ideas here.

If you are planning to attend the Chicago event, please leave a message. I'd love to meet you. And if you aren't near Chicago, check out one of the events in your neck of the woods. Everything I've heard about the outdoor living extravaganza leads me to believe it's awesome.

Proven Winners photo

Re-doing the kitchen: Part 3

W ith the table finally the right length (but not yet finished), it was time to turn my attention to the area on the other side of the door, aka, the dumping ground. As I've mentioned before, we have no proper entryways into our house and neither door to the outside has a closet within less than 30 feet and two rooms away from it.


I set up a wicker and iron shelf by the door when we moved in that I planned to use for an always-too-large cookbook collection and a place to set mail. Well, you probably know what happened over the course of the next several years: dumping ground city. We had all manner of clutter collecting there. The bucket of change (we collect all our spare change and any random bills found while doing laundry and turn it in about every year or 18 months that allows us to splurge on something. Most recently we got a snowblower and half of a lawnmower out of all that spare change), gardening gloves, my good pruners, various dog accessories, random keys (I have no idea what some of them open but I kept them because some day I'm sure I'll need them), and a bunch of other junk.

Then we had a coat tree so filled with jackets that it occasionally fell over. And in the middle of all of that are the raised dog feeding dishes.

With all the new storage space I gained in the banquette I was able to move all my cookbooks (the lesser used ones went in behind the sliding doors, which will require a crawling under the table to access and the ones I use more often went in the bottom open shelf built into the banquette) and the various doggy-related items (all in the drawer by the door for easy access).

Remember this box?

Well, I gave glazing a try by mixing a whole bunch of glaze with some blue (the first blue I bought for the buffet turned bookcase that was painted over when I decided it wasn't turquoise enough) and slapping it on with a foam brush after wearing down some of the sharper edges with a good sanding. I also sanded over the words a little bit, attempting to achieve an "old box" look. I went back and used a little brown glaze on the corners and edges to "dirty it up" a little bit. Looking at it now I might have gone too far, but I'll just sand it a little more and try again if I decide I can't stand it.

Then I gave a similar treatment to a piece of wood I picked up at the hardware store in the sale bin. It was already routered on the edges so it was perfect.

I picked up some really cool hooks that are supposed to keep coats from getting "hook marks" in them. They are pretty modern compared to everything else that it going on there, but I like the eclectic look of it all.

We mounted it all on the wall, making sure the coat hook board was mounted into two studs because I can see that loading up quite a bit. The box is the perfect place for our keys (there's a divided area on one side to keep smaller items contained), gloves and hats.

The difference is unbelievable. Clearing out the cluttered bookcase shelves-turned-clutter collector certainly helped, but the biggest difference came when we moved that coat tree out of the way. We gained a whole window back! The kitchen looks so much bigger and the whole feeling is just much more calm.

See for yourself what a difference a few changes made. And just imagine what a little paint on the walls will do to improve the situation even further.

Want to see where this mini kitchen makeover started? Click here and here.

Re-doing the kitchen: Part 2

R  emember how I got this slightly damaged table for a great deal at the Restoration Hardware outlet? Well, it's been hanging out in our basement waiting for the kitchen project to get on track.

We brought it upstairs and set it up.

You might not be able to tell from this picture (ignore the green tape), but there's one little problem: It's too long. You can't easily get in and out of the banquette on the left side. Of course we knew from the beginning that we'd have to cut some of it off because we purchased it with one smushed in corner (and since it's a maple veneer on top of MDF, there's no fixing that).
So you might think, as I did, oh, simple fix ... just cut equally from each end. But alas, you would be, as I was, sorrily mistaken. Because you see, the ends are really great places to sit. There is one foot of table overhang beyond the legs. And the second you make that measurement smaller, your legs are crammed against the table and you lose two places to eat. Isn't this the way all projects go? Any time you start thinking they are simple, be prepared for a big ol' wrench to be thrown in your plan.

This wrench required that "stretcher bar" part of the trestle to be shortened 9 inches, which my hubby did. Don't ask me to tell you how it did it because all I know is that he took up to his dad's workshop and used a variety of tools including a table saw, drill press and something call a forstner bit (which I like to call a forceps bit just to irritate him). 

We then had to cut the table off. I was really nervous about this because if you've ever tried to cut one of those particle board shelf boards, you know how much they tend to chip. We got the finest blade our el cheapo circular saw could handle. Unforunately that was only 40 teeth (everything we read online suggested 60 or 80 teeth), but the guy at the hardware store thought it would be fine. He did give us one good tip though: cut the table upside down because of the way the saw turns.

We measured about 10 times (forget the adage measure twice, cut once, we were going to measure until we are DARN sure we had it right), then clamped on a metal ruler straight edge thing (I'm sure there's a real name for this tool, but couldn't tell you what it was) to serve as a guide for the saw. Then we cut off half the amount we needed. Because we had to move one leg in, we just cut from one side of the table, but we only cut half the amount to make sure the blade was going to work. And it did! There was one tiny little chip at the end though, so on our second cut—the REAL cut—we taped the area where the veneer would be cut. It worked like a charm ... a perfect cut!


We'll still have to re-veneer the cut but we have to find some edge banding first. Stay tuned for that part of the project.

Here's the freshly cut end (on the still upside-down tabletop).

The new length of the table is great. You can now comfortably get in and out of either side of the banquette and we figure we can fit seven adults and even more if we're squeezing or you throw a few kiddos in the mix.

There, isn't that better?

The chairs are leftover from the old table but I think they'll work out just fine, because as you might have guessed ... I'm not done with this table yet. Stay tuned.

If you want to see where this little mini kitchen re-do began, click here.

The lazy gardener's guide to seed selection

A   lot of gardeners have been blogging about ordering their seeds lately. Some of them take a strategic approach to the whole thing. Margaret at A Way to Garden orders from about a half-dozen companies. Carol at May Dreams Gardens ordered so many seeds she couldn't keep track of them. I'm sure both of these women, and many other gardeners, put a lot of effort into researching the varieties they will plant this year.

I wish I could say the same, but the fact of the matter is that I usually try to place my small seed order in one shot, with one company. I quickly read through the descriptions of the varieties, sometimes Googling them, and make my decision. I do not pore over catalogs for months before deciding. In fact, I figured out my whole seed order during my lunch hour Friday. And I still had time to eat my spinach cheese pie.

In addition to the onions, which I've already told you about, I'll plant the following things from seed (ordered from Territorial Seed) this year:

Boro Beets (a really dark red beet that's supposed to be good for roasting, which is the only way I like them)

Cannellini Lingot Beans (I've recently become enamored with Cannellini beans)

Mcpick cucumbers (a pickling cuke, but I love them fresh on salads)

Nickel Bean (a French green been)

Red Beard Onion (these are green onions or scallions)

 Super Gourmet Blend Lettuce (this is a blend of Slobolt, Buttercrunch, Red Sails, Salad Bowl, and Valmaine)

Super Sugar Snap Peas

In addition to these, I'll grow lots of tomatoes, herbs and zucchini from plants. I think I will skip the peppers and the carrots as I found them to take up too much space in my small garden for their yield.

I might still pick up a seed package here or there if I think if something I'd like to add or I realize that one of the varieties I purchased really isn't going to perform during my short growing season.

One more gardening chore checked off the list. Now we wait for the snow to melt.

Re-doing the kitchen: Part 1

I  t's official: I am the worst person in the world when it comes to taking "before" pictures. I get halfway through a project and think, "Oh shoot, I should have taken a picture." So about halfway through I take a photo. Or worse yet, it's too late and I have to look through all my old pictures for something that sort of resembles a before.

And wouldn't you know I'd do it with one of the biggest projects we've taken on? Our small kitchen (of course it's small ... the whole house is small!) is divided into two parts, the entry/eat-in area and the working part of the kitchen. When we bought the house as first-time homeowners we were lucky that the previous owner left quite a bit of furniture behind. (Moving day was a total fiasco ... her moving truck was late and small, and we had one day off of work to move in, so at some point we started moving our stuff in the basement while her stuff went out the front door. Her truck was filled and she just left ... leaving lots of furniture behind, which was a blessing because we had very little in the way of furnishings). Among those thing were the kitchen table and chairs. I love the table: round with a lazy susan in the middle. Unfortunately it only sat four people (and that makes it real hard to entertain when you don't have a dining room) and the round shape really wasn't right for the room. I always felt like I was walking in the back door right into the table. Couple that with the lack of a coat closet anywhere near the door and we ended up with a cramped entry area.

Anyway, the best picture I have of the before is the one I took to sell the old table, which doesn't really give you an idea of what the eating area looked like before at all ... but squint or something. We had to angle it so that the chair wouldn't be directly in the path of the door and we had to sort of squish it in the corner unless we had people over.

The banquette has been a work in progress for awhile.  Here's what it looked right after it was installed. There are sliding doors with oodles of storage underneath and a large drawer that pulls out the other end.


And here it is now, painted and with its new microsuede cushions I had made by a local upholsterer. (To read more about the paint I used, click here.) And already cluttered up on the shelf, but that's only because we were working on projects today ... I swear!


My mom is helping me out by making a number of throw pillows for the back. So stay tuned for more!

Onions are ordered!

T   here's hope that winter may end after all. I just placed my order with Dixondale Farms for onion starts. I was so happy with their long-day sweet sampler last year that I ordered it again, although this year they've changed up some of the varieties they include in it. I'll miss the Walla Wallas, which were wonderful last year, but they've included a Spanish yellow and you can't go wrong with those either.

Last year was my first experience with growing onions, and given that the veggie garden was still being built last spring they got in late (April 25 according to this post). This year they'll go in by mid-April which will be a great way to kick off the vegetable garden season. April ... that's not too far away. I might just make it through this winter after all.

In need of an intervention

Is it possible to request your own intervention? Because I need it. Perhaps it has become clear through some of my posts, but I have a tendency to get hung up on things. Like REALLY hung up. Once I set my mind to solving some issue, I become obsessed with it. All free time is spent thinking about it, researching it, pondering on it and generally getting bored with myself for not being able to think about anything else.

This happened a couple months ago with lights for my kitchen. The lights I was obsessing over finally came and you know what? They are great, but they aren't like the holy grail of lights or anything like that. But that was one of those things where I scoured the Internet for weeks until I found something I liked, and then I kept looking to make sure I didn't like anything more. It also happens annually with Japanese maple trees.

So today's obsession, I'm sad to report, is one I'm revisiting. You'll recall my question for the "perfect" white (by the way ... stop looking. It doesn't exist. A pretty good white or a usually good white is about as good as it's gonna get so save yourself some therapy and just use it) here. Thinking I had solved this earth-shattering mystery, I chose Benjamin Moore's Cotton Balls. Then I painted the back door with it (after buying a full gallon, of course). And when I was finished I stepped back and thought hmm ... well that's quite bright, but I have grown tired of my current gray-undertoned trim and I figured it was just brightening things up. Then I painted the new banquette the same color. And wow, that was REALLY white. Like uncomfortably white.

But after all that work, was it so bad that I couldn't stand it? Not really, but it was just something I knew would bother me forever so better I deal with it now before I start hitting the trim in the house and eventually the cabinets.

And that's when it started getting really bad. The hours I've logged on the Internet searching for specific paint colors would be enough to get some sort of master's degree in color theory. I keep paint samples in my purse and took them ON VACATION. I notice white everywhere I go. Today I fought the urge to take my paint samples up to the trim of a random house I passed to see what what they used. My house is starting to resemble a patchwork quilt as I test colors all over (at last count I had them in four rooms, plus the stairwell and on a large piece of drywall). Larry, the paint guy at the local True Value store (my favorite store) that sells Benjamin Moore paint now knows my name and asked me today how the Bavarian Cream sample I bought Friday worked out. When I told him it was a bust even HE told me I was overthinking this white thing (the same thing my husband and mother told me earlier in the day). I have enough tester pints of different whites that when it comes time to paint my new closet (which will be the world's smallest walk-in closet, but probably will end up being the perfect white) I could put on 20 coats if I wanted to.

A few of the places I have samples of paint in my house (and this isn't all of them):

Part of my problem is that I'm way too influenced by other people's comments on color or by the name of colors. One color I'm considering is called Mascarpone but someone commented that it was "very creamy" and now I'm worried that it's too creamy. I looked for awhile at a color called Pointing by Farrow & Ball (which has no stores in my state) because so many people declared it "perfect" but then realized it's way more creamy than I want. Designer Sarah Richardson uses ICI Natural White in every house she does and I seriously almost just ordered a can of it because I figured it must be perfect. Well, I doubt it is. None of them are.

Even photos don't help. I'll look at a picture of a kitchen online or in a magazine and decide "it's perfect" then I find out what color was used and I realize I've already sampled that color and I don't like it. Whites are fickle: they photograph horribly and are entirely dependent on white and the other colors in the room.

What I want is a color that does not read as "cream" or "white white." When someone looks at it I want them to say "oh that's white" not "oh, I love your cream trim" even if they do. And it needs to look equally good in my light-filled, eastern-and-southern exposure kitchen as it does my rather dim living room.

I narrowed it down to two: Cloud White and Mascarpone. Cloud white seems not off-white enough and Mascarpone seems possibly too yellow. I jumped out of bed at 7 a.m. this morning as inspiration struck: I'll just mix them together and have the perfect color. And you know what, it might be perfect, or at least pretty good. And then my husband reminded me of how this journey all started: I wanted a "named" color so that I would never have to worry about keeping track of custom mix or about paints from different brands not matching (I'm planning to buy a higher quality paint for my cabinetry). 

I might still try Sherwin Williams Dover White but unless inspiration strikes with that color, I'm thinking Mascarpone is the way to go. Maybe.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

I  t's rather shocking that it's February and I actually have something for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, held on the 15th of the month by Carol at May Dream Gardens.

I guess getting a late start on the amaryllis bulbs paid off in at least one respect. (To see the other amaryllis I kept, which showed off a couple weeks ago, click here.)

This beautiful pink bloom is so big it's threatening to keel over, but I love that it's just as pretty on the back as it is on the front.

Blogging from 25,000 feet

The Impatient Gardener needs a bit of inspiration so I'm heading south to find it. And while I have nothing exciting to talk about I just thought it was pretty wild that I can actually do a blog post at cruising altitude thanks to onboard wifi. Crazy stuff.

Be prepared though ... after a week of looking at GREEN again I'm going to come home rarin' to go on the gardening front, not to mention the ongoing home improvement battle.

Checking in on the amaryllis

Y   ou may recall that I started the amaryllis bulbs a little late this year (making up for starting them way to early the year before).
In mid-December they looked like this:

I gave most of them away as Christmas presents. The one (well two, actually) that I gave my mom (in the galvanized container in front) was the most amazing dark orange double with a thin white stripe. It was astonishing.

This is one of two I saved for myself. It's call Moonlight and in its pot it stands about 30 inches tall. I love how the petals are irridescent. Amaryllis are really wonderful bulbs. Very easy (at least the first year) to grow and so much look. I really like this creamy white with the bright green centers, especially since I screwed up on the timing. The last thing I want to look at right now is something overly Christmassy but this is just so sophisticated.