LOOKING AHEAD TO A SUBTERRANEAN DIY PROJECT

First, let me start by saying that even though it's the end of the August and kids all over the country are already back in school, summer is not over. Not even close. Dammit.

Now repeat that until you really believe it. Because even thinking about fall and the miserable season that comes after it puts me in a foul mood.

But deep down, I know that my gardening days are numbered for 2015 and I've started cooking up plans for what to do with myself when it's too cold out to blissfully stare into the center of a gorgeous flower.

After a year off of house projects, things WILL be done this year. It's just a matter of what things we decide to tackle. As is the way with Murphy's Law, no sooner had we all but decided that we'd redo the first-floor bathroom this winter than Mr. Much More Patient's car started having serious issues and cutting into our renovation budget. That may still happen, but in the meantime I have some DIY urges that must be satisfied. So this season-that-comes-after-fall-that-shall-not-be-named I'm going to put some serious elbow grease into fixing up the finished side of the basement. I've decided the only way to make it not continually turn into a convenient dumping location is to make it nice enough that we don't want to do that.

Step one, of course, is to clean it out. I hate doing that. I hate having stuff that doesn't have a place (and sometimes a purpose) and have to do that do-we-need-it dance. I also struggle with how to get rid of it. How do you deal with stuff overload? Donate it all? Pick through it and sell what you can? A little money would be very nice but at the same time it is a time consuming and frustrating process. For instance, I sold a $20 area rug through a local Facebook rummage group but have spent two days trying to arrange a pick up with the buyer. Is it worth it for $20?


I do have a plan, though. I know they are all the rage right now so that probably means we'll all hate them in a year, but planked walls will be happening. I've looked up a few blog tutorials and I think I can plank all the walls for about $200 in plank materials (not counting nails, caulk, etc.). The whole thing will get a coat of paint to make it light and bright down there.


I think I'll pull up the ugly gray carpet on the stairs and paint them, but in the corner where I pulled up the rug, it appeared that the treads are particle board, which could complicate that plan.

In a perfect world, I'd like to use vinyl plank flooring to cover the pink and blue sheet vinyl that's down there, but this weekend I discovered that we needed about 400 square feet of flooring and even the least expensive vinyl planks add up to a pretty penny when you have that much floor to cover. So I'm looking into options and toying with the idea of painting it.


Since there's a "stuff" problem down there, storage also needs to happen. There is an awkward corner with a sump pump and the electrical box, both of which have been half covered up by a previous owner. I think that might be a good area to just build out with semi-built-in units as both a way to incorporate those necessities into the design and add storage.


A few other things will also happen including some lighting improvements (changing out the ceiling lights and maybe springing for an electrician to  put some sconces around the room) and removing the fireplace insert. The flue has been closed off so there's no reason for the insert which was once used to heat the room. I'd rather have an empty firebox with candles in it or whatever than the big, hulking insert.

But it all starts with a clean slate and I really want to know what you all do to deal with your stuff. Let me know!

FRIDAY FINDS

Did you follow the Gardenista design awards at all? I hate to say it, but I wasn't blown away by them this year, at least from a gardening standpoint. But this yard is downright cool. In fact, I'm sure I'm not cool enough to hang out in a place like that, but someone very cool is hanging there.

http://theprudentgarden.com/growing-backyard-figs/
The Prudent Garden photo

I wish I could grow figs. I'm not even sure I like figs, but I'd like to grow them. If you live somewhere warmer (probably at least zone 7), give them a try and report back! But first check out The Prudent Garden's great tips.

Do you have luck finding stuff on Craigslist? I gave up because I never saw anything interesting, but I always enjoy when Emily Henderson does virtual shopping trips on Craigslist. I never find stuff like this.

A few people asked me for tips on growing sweet peas and since this was the first year I've grown them, I didn't have a lot of advice other than to repeat what I did. Tanya did a good post on it here.

I love a good peek into someone's garden, and Angie's is looking amazing.


Don't forget to enter to win a set of Troy-Bilt garden tools!

Have a great weekend everyone! What's your plan?


A REVIEW + GIVEAWAY OF GARDEN TOOLS

I love garden tools. I can't get enough of them, really. Every tool has subtle differences and I live playing around with them to see what works best for me.

Troy-Bilt came out with a line of garden tools this year and I put them to the test. I noticed two things right off the bat: They felt light, but not cheap or lacking in sturdiness. I appreciate tools that have been designed to be light, so long as it doesn't sacrifice durability and while I can't say I've used these long enough to really test their durability, I didn't notice anything that made me think they'd be breaking any time soon.


Here's the other thing I'm liking about these tools: the pricepoint. I've written a lot about my favorite tools in the past and I'm not opposed to spending a lot of money on a great tool. For that reason, I'm sometimes reluctant to take my favorite tools outside of my yard. When I garden at one of our master gardener projects I practically bring a dog along to guard my stuff because when you have a dozen people working on one garden at the same time, stuff gets mixed up. These tools are good enough quality to do everything I need them to do but not so precious that I'd cry in my cocktail if I forgot one out in the rain.

Here's what I tested (and what you can win):

I'm not going to sit here and tell you these are the most amazing trowels the world has ever seen. They are nice, sturdy tools that feel good in your hand and serve their purpose admirably. I'm not sure I need anything else from a trowel. I like 'em and so did the other gardeners who used them at the public garden (I told you you have to guard your tools!).


I've never used a mini garden rake before and I can't imagine why. What a handy little tool this is! I used it for all kinds of things but my absolute favorite was for forking weeds out my gravel paths. It worked perfectly and it was so much easier than pinching them out with my fingers. Love it. I'd happily buy this at three times the price.

I'm going to preface my comments on the pruner and the lopper by pointing out that they were both anvil style, which is not my preference. A dull anvil blade can crush a tender stem, doing damage to a plant. Troy-Bilt also offers these tools in bypass styles.


I tell you what, after trying these, I can see why I need both anvil and bypass pruners in my kit. I sought out some woody, old stems and cut them with both the Comfort Classic Anvil Pruner and my favorite bypass pruner. The anvil pruner worked better. Beyond that, I was impressed with how comfortable the Troy-Bilt pruner was to hold. I have small hands and find a lot of pruners to be uncomfortable, but that wasn't the case here. It also has a rust-resistant coating and I purposely left it out in the rain overnight. Whereas other tools I have would have not been happy with that treatment, even in the short term, the Troy-Bilt pruner was no worse for the wear.

Newfoundland shown for scale only; he is not included in the giveaway nor did he test any garden tools.

The anvil lopper is huge. This thing will be able to go after some serious pruning tasks and because it opens so wide, you'll be able to fit it in some odd spaces. Wanna know just how wide it spreads? Good thing I had a Newfoundland handy for scale. 

So now it's your turn to try these babies out. One lucky winner will receive a set of Troy-Bilt tools like I tested. Just use the widget below to enter. Entries close at midnight Thursday, Sept. 3.




Disclosure: I was provided with a set of Troy-Bilt garden tools for review free of charge. All opinions are my own.





THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THIS YEAR'S GARDEN

I've put off an analysis of the this year's garden long enough. It's time for a little constructive criticism of my own work. At the same time, gardening is an imperfect art. Sometimes things do what you expect them to and sometimes they don't. Mother Nature often decides the design of the garden as much as the gardener. And I give myself a little break because, like most of us, I'm a part-time gardener. I'd love to be constantly tinkering in my garden, changing out what doesn't work in real time, but that's not my reality, so I take these lessons and make a plan for next year.

In general, it's been a good year in the garden. It's been relatively warm and we've had a nice amount of rain, but nothing like the amount we had last year that brought slugs in droves to my garden, where they decimated plant after plant. Most things are growing well, some too well. I think the garden probably requires a little editing as it's on the verge of being overcrowded.


I'm happy with how the new back/side yard garden is looking. It has grown in better than I anticipated. None of the clematis there (which now number six—three on the branch trellis I built and one each on the Arrowwood viburnums in the back) have bloomed yet, so hopefully that area will be more floriforous next year. The climbing hydrangea is taking it's own sweet time meeting the side of the garage, as they are wont to do, but I look forward to a few years down the road when that takes off and covers that side of the garage.


The Eupatorium (Joe Pye weed) is entirely too tall for this area so I'll move it somewhere more appropriate, but otherwise I think this garden is in maintenance mode.

'Stripe it Rich' and castor bean plant.

On the other side of the circle, I'm happy with what's happening there too. The upper part of the garden off the deck is looking a touch crowded, so next year I'll add in fewer annuals there. I'm absolutely thrilled with how the Hakonechloa 'Stripe it Rich' is doing in this sunny spot and I may divide the largest two clumps to spread the love around a little in spring. (Note: Although I remember buying this as 'Stripe it Rich,' I'm starting to wonder if it might be 'Albo-Striata' because that one is far more tolerant of the sun.)


The other side of that bed is not so good though. Although I love the Dahlia 'David Howard' there, it far surpassed the expected height (which I believe was 30 inches) and it has completely overwhelmed that area. You can't even see the Orangeola Japanese maple back there. Next year, David Howard will move to a different spot.

Although it doesn't look like much right now because I cut the nepeta along the path back about 10 days ago and it hasn't filled in yet, I'm happy with the location of the sweet peas and I think I'll put them there again next year. they were right at eye and nose level and I think it was a most inviting way to enter the patio if you were walking from the garage.


I'm also thrilled with new patio bed along the house. It's filled with mostly annuals and, although that's a really expensive way to fill a bed, I think it was money well spent. Next year I'll be more selective on which nasturtiums are planted there ('Vesuvius' and 'Caribbean Cocktail' are winners, but others got too rangy), but I think I'll do more of the same next year.


On the other side of the patio, the situation is not so nice. The front of the bed is nice as it is mostly planted with annuals to mimic the bed on the other side. But behind that, particularly from the middle of the bed over to the right by the boxwood, it's not good. The anemones are beautify but way too tall for that spot. The rudbeckia is a fabulous plant, but that gold has always been jarring to me in that location and looks horrible with the light pink of the anemones. There are some peach daylilies in the middle of that bed that not only are covered up, but aren't so special to begin with. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that that area is the first I planted here and it was filled mostly with passalong plants. It's time for a serious makeover, so in fall I'll move the daylilies, anemones and the rudbeckia (much of which as been transplanted elsewhere in previous years) and come up with an actual plan for that area, something I don't think I've ever done there. I'm excited about possibly finally hitting on something I like in that area, which has never been the case.


The shade garden is looking better than it has in the past. Other than having to deal with an persistent weed problem at the back of that bed, it's starting to look nice there and I think now it's mostly a matter of patience to let things grow in.


And now we come to my biggest disappointment of the year. The window box has been a big dud and I can't tell you how sad that makes me. Of all my containers, I love my window box the most and if I had to pick one to succeed, that would be it. I think a few things went wrong, including that once again I jammed too many plants in there (when will I ever stop doing that?). Beyond that, the beautiful Nicotiana alata, which I will definitely grow again because it looks great in the garden, was a poor choice for the window box. It flopped pretty early on and every attempt at staking it failed. Couple that with some poor watering practices, and it just wasn't a good fit. I'm actually going to seek out some annuals (hopefully not mums but I'll go there if I have to) and swap out the nicotiana and some other under performers in the box to freshen it up a little. I had such high hopes for the design this year and it just didn't work out. That's just how it goes sometimes.



UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

I spent most of Sunday in the garden, which was a real treat. It's fun to garden at this time of year, because most jobs fall under the "pottering" category. I spent a lot of time with my compost, sifting five wheelbarrows full and top-dressing parts of the garden with it. I still have about half a bin of finished compost to do and I couldn't be more thrilled. The sifting part is hard, but my whole composting operation was a real success this year.

This is the time of year when I naturally take stock of the garden. Most plants have peaked by now and it's easy to see where things have worked and where they haven't worked. I started taking some photos for a post on analyzing this year's garden and I realized that is a difficult thing to do. I don't like showing photos of the less attractive parts of the garden.

So I stopped and took a bunch of close up shots. These are a complete cop-out. Any gardener can find a few flowers that look great at any given time. But they are still interesting. So, while I work up the mental fortitude to show some of the less successful parts of my garden, I thought I'd just show some pretty pictures of pretty flowers.

Castor bean 'Impala'
Dahlia 'Gonzo Grape' (I think)
Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-pulpit)
Clematis 'Silver Moon' (grows in shade)
Gingko biloba 'Gnome'
Verbena bonareinsis

Echinops ritro (globe thistle)
Hydrangea 'Limelight'
Anemone robustissima 

Nasella tenuissima (Mexican feather grass)
Angelica gigas
Dahlia 'David Howard'

FRIDAY FINDS

In case you were wondering, I refuse to acknowledge that it is getting rather far into August. Please do not remind me.

One of these days I'm going to take on the enormous project of making my basement into something other than a storage space (half of it is finished space and there's a fireplace down there), and one of the daunting aspects is what to do with the vinyl flooring. This post has some ideas (it's actually about vinyl tile but I think it applies to sheet vinyl as well).

http://gardenmatter.com/diy-fragrant-firestarters/
Garden Matter photo

These fragrant firestarters are so cute look to be very easy to make.

At my day job, I've been interviewing candidates for a couple of positions lately and on a couple occasions I've been a bit taken aback by things applicants have said in interviews. Here's a list of things you should never say in an interview. My personal addition to this list would be to not criticize the product produced by the company you are interviewing with. Constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement are things you offer later, after you've proven that you know what you are doing and your opinion should be valued.

I want to get more into propagating plants because I always need more plants than I can afford. Here's a tutorial on propagating rosemary from cuttings.

If you loved the garden I showed you earlier this week, check out Linda's post on the Cleveland Botanical Garden, also awash with amazing conifers.

Theresa at Seasonal Wisdom is giving away a set of Troy-Bilt gardening tools. Go enter. And if you don't win, check back here next week because I might just be giving you a second chance.

Have a great weekend! What's on your agenda?



A RARE RUMMAGING FIND

I've been staying out of thrift stores for awhile now because I have instituted a rule of not buying something if I don't have an immediate use for it (and will fix it up within a reasonable amount of time). But I am in a few rummage-type Facebook groups in our area and every so often something pops up that really catches my eye.


So it was with this side table. It's got great mid-century styling and it has obviously been painted, but I like the color and the brass feet are intact. I brought it home and put it in the den/back room and it's absolutely perfect there. I love it to pieces.

Not only a shot of the table, but a rare look at one of the last walls in the house with the horrible texture still on it. Will this winter be the year it finally goes away? We can only hope.


The top has a piece of glass currently has a map under it (it came that way). I think I'll put in a section of a navigational chart in there for now, but I like the idea that you can really change up the look by putting different things under there.

I think I paid $40 for it. I probably should have haggled a bit, but honestly, I liked it enough that I knew I would have no problem paying that.

GARDEN TOUR: WHERE CONIFERS AND TEXTURE RULE

I have never toured a garden and not taken something away from it that I want to put into practice or plant in my own garden. If you ever feel like you're in a gardening rut, it is the single most inspirational thing you can do.



The garden I visited a few weeks ago was one of the most impressive private gardens I've visited. It was started in the mid-1970s when only three trees stood on the city property (it's about a third of an acre). The gardener, a lovely dedicated woman who told me she has spend most of her day in the garden from April to October for the last 40 years, discovered early on that the garden is on heavy clay soil. She became a great proponent of compost and makes copious amounts of the stuff, throwing it on anywhere she can.


In addition to a fascination with conifers as well as a few other additions to my must-have plant list, here are some of my take aways from this tour:

  1. Make every plant accessible. Every bit of the garden was accessible by paths or by being cut into sections with grass paths between. I think you probably could have reached every plant without stepping in a bed. 
  2. Hide the ugly stuff. Rather than be greedy and take as much space as possible for the garden, she did a double fence on the side of the property. One abuts her neighbor's yard. Another identical fence is located about 10 feet inside of the first and she hides all of the ugly bits in between. A huge composting area, collections of nursery pots, wheelbarrows, etc. 
  3. Have a beautiful enough garden and your house doesn't matter. Beyond recalling that it was a one-story house, I have no idea what the house looked like. 
Great use of lamina as a groundcover. 

Her brunnera were all huge. Unfortuantely I don't know the shrub. Anyone recognize it?

Another great plant combination: heliopsis and daylilies.

Pinus strobus 'Tiny Kurls'






The path to the front door is marked by her Rhapsody in Blue garden, full of blue plants.

Amsonia pops up again. It WILL be in my garden next year.


If this garden proves anything, it's one of the things that has taken me the longest to learn about garden design: Texture, perhaps more than anything, is so important. Of course there are many elements to garden design—size, structure, color, arrangement—but without texture, all of these fall flat.

There are so many lessons to take away from every garden, but this one was particularly inspirational. What a delight to be able to spend some time in it. 

FRIDAY FINDS

I'm on a really good streak with books. I'm reading Dear Friend and Gardener: Letters on Life and Gardening and although I'm only halfway through it (I'm taking my time with it, savoring every page), I just know this is going to be one of those books I go back to and may become one of my favorites. It is just letters between famous British gardeners Beth Chatto (who started the "Right plant in the right place" concept/movement) and Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter, but it is absolutely fascinating. It also makes me sad that such exchanges rarely happen. I'll tell you more about it in the future but I can't keep that one under my hat any longer.

On the completely opposite end of the spectrum I listened to Andy Weir's The Martian last weekend. This is not something that I'd normally gravitate to but this tale of an astronaut left behind on Mars and forced to survive was compelling and fascinating. There's a movie based on the book coming out in fall and I assume that's why the book, published in 2012, is having a revival. I haven't been so riveted by a book in a long time.

I'm also reviewing a great new coffee table gardening book right now, but I'll tell you about that soon once I've had a chance to really dig in. So far I love it.

In other places around the blogosphere:

New House New Home photo

Heather took a trip to the World Peace Rose Garden in Sacremento and it is gorgeous.

Remember those videos I worked on for Troy-Bilt? Here they are up.
Amend clay soil
Comfrey tea
Crop rotation

Linda has finished her amazing driveway project. Who would have thought a driveway could be this interesting?

I cut back the nepeta that lines the path for the second time this summer. It looks horrible now, but give it 10 days and there will be lovely little balls of new growth. 

Lynne is sharing a list of re-blooming perennials, using one of my favorite tricks. I'm on my second cutting of nepeta this summer and I may get it to bloom again!

Have a great weekend. I can't believe it's mid-August already. More savoring the summer on tap for me!