Wednesday, April 27, 2016

March / April updates and May goals

I don’t know why the monthly goals blog is so hard to write.  Perhaps it is because I don’t think that I have done enough or the fact that projects don’t seem to ever be done.  I would love a neat and tidy list with bright shiny stars checking off each line signifying that everything was completed.  Instead I have a list that may or may not match the actual projects done during the month.  New things get added, others not even attempted or put off and the dreaded messy middle. Things were started but are far from done.  Such is life and I am TRYING to learn to see the progress rather than the lack of bright shiny stars.  I, however, am stubborn and this is a grumpy learning curve.

Not grumpy daffodils.  These are part of the group I planted last fall by the food beds.
The variety makes me smile.

I went back to see what last month’s goals were and realized that it was written on the first day of March and reviewed February and planned for the month of March.   I didn’t even do one for April’s goals.  SOOOO… this is a check in for all of March and April….  Well, I can say we did stuff.   The last list made included finishing painting the guest bedroom, seed orders, starting seeds, going to Fredrick Meijer Gardens and breaking.. er.. CUTTING glass.  Well, a couple of those got done and I even blogged about it.  Yay me, a couple of bright shiny stars!  As for the rest, we’re in a messy middle.

Bright Shiny Star list first though.  I got the guest bedroom spackled and painted.  I used a partial can of paint leftover from our bedroom’s makeover several years ago.  I do like the color and it looks nice with the wood and carpet.

Before pictures can be seen here.

South facing window with a date palm and scented pelargonium (used to be called a geranium until the botanists changed its family a couple of years ago – I guess they were bored.)
North side of room with a big walk in closet currently housing extra food and supplies.

About three minutes after the walls dried, T emptied the big room and moved all the stuff into the guest room to start the next project of ripping up carpet to make my plant corner.  He and my dad have already been in cahoots to make my potting bench and we have purchased racks to hold my plant and potting paraphernalia.  All this moving stuff around has made me very aware that I have a LOT of stuff.  I hope that when everything gets put in its “home” that I will be able to see what needs to be pared down.

I read a book on organizing (okay, I read a lot of books on organizing because I don’t think that I am very organized most times) and the author suggested a new way to visualize your clutter.  Many organizers suggest going room by room or section by section of your space to declutter.  She suggested decluttering by objects.  For example when she was decluttering office supplies, she gathered every single pen in her home and made a big pile.  This allowed her to see just how many pens she had and made it easier to let go of a few.

I am a bit horrified of the pile of pens I think I would have if I did such a thing.  The pile would be HUGE and not just because I am an artist and like to handwrite notes, but because I am always in search of the perfect pen.  Granted I have found a few that meet my “perfect” requirements, but there are a lot of pens that annoy me or I discard in search of a better pen but do not get rid of simply because one can always use a working pen.  This does not even start to include my “art” pens.  Anyway, the very fact that I am reluctant to try this method probably means that I should.

Neat and tidy room for a moment…

We decided that we would remove all the carpet in the hallway and half of the carpet in the big room.  The carpet in the hallway was starting to fray and come up in some spots from wear and tear. Having the painted cement floor would allow me to drip water in the hallway on the way to the potting bench without getting on the carpet.  We were already planning on me being messy.  Water and soil inside are always messy, no matter how neat I try to be.

We used string and a sharpie to mark the line which I eyeballed.  Not to brag but I am usually within an eighth of an inch when I double check my “eyeballing” with a ruler.  I think it is because I am a perfectionist.   I do know how to draw a straight line.
This can be both a blessing and a curse.
Deconstruction begins..  T’s favorite part.
T managed to remove the carpet edging strip with minimal chipping of the tiles.
No going back now…  T used a scissors to cut the carpet which gave him a big blister and swollen fingers.  The things he does for me because he loves me…  He is a good man.
Hallway clear, and working on detaching the padding from all the glue.
Padding rolled up and ready to go.  Why yes, I do like butterflies… what gave you the hint?

Shout out to the former owners of our house on a job well done in installing the carpet.  That sucker was VERY well stuck down.  Removing the carpet tack strips left small craters every 8 inches or so and wow was there a lot of adhesive.  Bonus: the carpet did not move a bit in the last 14 years that we have lived here.  Not bonus:  that’s a lot of scraping and cement patching to do.

Currently the project is stuck on adhesive removal.  (punny, I know)  I started with a one inch putty knife blade and after an hour or so decided that this was not fun and went hunting on Google for another solution.  Chemicals, boiling water or heat were recommended.  I tried my iron with a bit of success but it was still really slow going so we decided to try chemicals.  I know, crunchy veggie anti chemical girl was willing to risk some VOCs in exchange for less painful wrists and shoulders and a completed project sometime in this decade.  Seriously, my wrists and hands ACHED and my shoulders were so tight that I had a hard time at volleyball that night.  OW!

First attempt with an eco-friendly chemical was a failure so we went back and purchased a big four inch razor knife and heavier duty (still supposedly eco-friendly but it will kill you if ingested and the warning label is a bit scary) chemical.  I haven’t had time to try it yet as we interrupted ourselves with a couple of other projects.

One project was the removal of my pond about which I will blog later.

The other project is a new garage door that we had delivered and will attempt to install ourselves.  T has already removed all the hardware and prepped for a long day.  The instructions suggest that it will take nine to twelve hours to install.  I am assuming that this is the amount of time a competent handyman would take so I have no idea how long it will take T and I.  Good thing I am good at reading instructions and T is extremely handy.  This will probably be blogged about too.

Other bright shiny stars go to my completion of the seed orders and receiving of said presents.  A slightly bent, tarnished and bedraggled star goes to the starting of those seeds.  I got some in soil but not all. I don’t seem to have the motivation to begin and I couldn’t tell you why.  Perhaps it is because there isn’t a real deadline like with food seeds?  These, for the most part, are flowers and so it doesn’t matter if they are started or not with the exception of what I need for a class I’m teaching on edible flowers in June at our local library.  Maybe the fact that all my seed stuff is disorganized and difficult to get to although, a determined person would make short work of gathering it all as it isn’t on the moon.  So lots of excuses but this one is heading towards a bright red flashing warning sign of a deadline approaching shouting, “Don’t even bother now cause it is too late”.  This week, they gotta go in.

So for May the list of projects to complete include getting all the seeds started, planting all the tender bulbs, corms and roots, completing the scraping of the floor, patching and etching it along with painting it, and figuring out what to do with the hole in the middle of my circle bed where the pond used to be.  Other non-garden projects include helping plan my little brother’s wedding, doing wedding dress alterations which includes putting in bustling for the train, wedding decorations and favors, a bridal shower party, helping another friend organize and work at her wedding, preparing for two garden classes, preparing for a trip to Iowa in early June where I will give dance classes and lead dance worship at a Shavuot gathering, and Tulip Time along with all the “normal” chores and tasks I need to do.

I need to be very very organized with my time and prioritize my lists.  One month…

May I be as busy and intentional as a bee…

Our new bee house for native bees to lay eggs.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Spring Clean-up: How and when to cut down grasses. (And other miscellaneous stuff.)

I love my grasses.  I think they are beautiful most of the year, with the exception of just after getting their crew cut, but then since they look neat and tidy, they are forgiven for being boring because they will soon be regrowing.  I have several varieties of grasses, both native and non-native, short and tall.  I do like to intentionally add native plants to my gardens, but I will not pass up a pleasing, non-invasive plant either.  I believe moderation is good in everything, much to the dismay of fellow friends who are loudly proud native only gardeners.  Technically, I may not be considered native either but I figure if I am a good steward of my space, I will be welcomed to stay.  I have kicked out a grass or two who were not good neighbors and one of them was a native.

Winter beauty

Many landscape companies cut down all the grasses during their fall clean-up.  I assume because it is easier to manage then and is one less thing to do in the spring when it is busier.   I leave them up all winter when they are golden blond and add a welcome bit of color to our mostly grey, black and white theme of dreary.  Late winter or early spring is when I cut them down.   The timing is mainly up to the weather.  A nice day is a good day, but if I let too many nice days in a row pass by, I may be too late.

This grouping of grasses surround the electrical and cable pole tied down.

The goal is to cut the dead foliage back to about 4 inches above the base.  If I have timed it correctly, the stems will all be dead and cut easily.  If I am too late, the new shoots will be coming up and they will be cut off with the dead and sometimes this makes the cut “mooshy”.   This doesn’t really hurt the grass too much, it just makes the tips look a bit tattered for a while until more new growth covers up the cut ends.  This year we got it perfectly.

Our scripture verse sign garden
Yes, these are truly ginormous.  These are zebra grasses next to a 7 foot tall arbor.

We have found that cutting down the grasses is better done as a two person job.  When attempted alone, it takes much longer and is harder to do.  However, we do have a trick to share with you if you are without a partner in decapitating.

T demonstrating proper cutting height with a hedge trimmers as tool of choice.

We use a hedge trimmers to cut down our grass.  You can also use an electric trimmer or a chain saw to get the job done.  We have found that it can be difficult to see what you are doing when cutting so we need a grass cutter and a grass wrangler to make it go smoother.  Since T prefers I do not handle sharp objects, I am the designated wrangler.  "Shannon’s ban on using sharp objects" is a subject for another blog… hopefully about past accidents and not new ones.

Giving my grass a hug.
Like my Blue Booby Bird boots?

I hold all the grass and slowly pull it towards me as T cuts so that he is able to see where he is cutting and the grass doesn’t jam up the trimmer.  If you are without a partner, you can take a bungee cord and wrap it around the grass while you cut.

The bungee cord variation.
Neat and tidy grasses ready for another year.
New sign and new haircuts.

The grass clippings are wonderful as mulch.  We put all of our grass cuttings into a pile for T to chip up.  This gets used as mulch in the garden.  I have a lot of grass but by the time it comes out of the chipper, the pile seems very small.

Scratchy and itchy grasses.  I sneezed all evening.

So if you haven’t cut back your grasses yet, I strongly encourage you to do so this week.  Well, if you live in my area, we are supposed to have a wonderfully warm and sunny week which will get all the plants growing after several weeks of snow and rain.

In other news, (here comes the miscellaneous) I planted, transplanted and pruned a number of plants and planted some seeds.  T and my dad are currently working on my new potting bench so in the meantime I used my kitchen table.  A piece of ginger had sprouted so I planted that along with a purchased dahlia root called Crazy Love.  Since I normally start my dahlias from seed and then save the roots year to year, I hope this one has a larger flower than the seed dahlias' petite 3 inch flowers.

Yep, those are yogurt containers that I punched holes in the bottom of.

Final tally:

Amaryllis – this was given to me by someone who drowned it and killed all the roots.  I cleaned it up, let it dry out for a day and repotted it into the correct size pot.  They like to be crowded in a smaller pot.  I do not know if it can be rescued or not yet.

Cape Flower (Nerine bowenii) – spring planted bulbs that are not hardy here despite the seller’s assurances they were when I purchased them at the GR Home and Garden Show.  Yes, I’m disgruntled.  They either straight up lied to me or didn’t know what they were talking about… as a plant vendor… at a garden show.  I hope the flower display makes it worth the work of digging them up every fall.  They were already sending up green shoots so I figured I had better plant them and transplant them out later after it is warm enough.  T says I need to let it go... please help me forgive your seller by being awesome little bulbs.

Dahlia – Crazy Love root purchased for cheap at Aldi because I couldn’t help it.  I potted up because it was already sprouting and it couldn’t wait until it was warm enough to be planted outside.  I do dig up my dahlias every fall and store them overwinter because I do think they are that awesome.

9 Etrog citron trees – were transplanted into larger containers.  As a general rule, their roots were not at all crowded in the container despite what they looked like on top.  They did have a long tap root that was in danger of bottoming out though.

Ginger root – my ginger plants from last year died because it was too cold in the basement for it.  I am trying again for the third time to grow this plant.  I just let my ginger root purchased for food from the grocery store sprout and plant that.  I have no trouble getting a plant to grow, it just doesn’t like my cold winters.

Rosemary plant – purchased from the store and it needed to be put into a larger pot.

Sedum Seed – I purchased a package of Sedum Roof Garden Mix seeds this spring and it is supposed to have 5,000 seeds in it.  I don’t know if it actually does but they are tiny and there are quite a few in the envelope.  I poured a small bit out and planted 6 small pots.  It has a germination time of 2 to 3 weeks and it needs to be kept moist and uncovered during that time.  Best place for them to go is in my little greenhouse.

Tiny, tiny seeds... do NOT sneeze.  They are just a bit bigger than petunia seeds.
Little greenhouse back in action and labeled.  Those are sweet potato tubers to the right that I am growing slips from.  The one in the back is a white edible one, the one in front is a variegated ornamental sweet potato vine.
No room in the inn, er window.  This is our south facing slider.
T is not happy that the plants have taken over his sun spot to sit in.

T lovingly gave up his lunch break Frisbee golf game for me to help put up the outdoor greenhouse today.  The warm temperatures and the diffused light from the plastic will hopefully ease the transition from inside to out.  I moved all the big stuff along with the transplanted etrog trees out.  Since I did not have enough yogurt containers, I only transplanted half of them.  If the transplanted ones are unhappy about staying out overnight, I will have the still indoor ones as back up.  I am hoping to keep a couple and sell the rest at Sukkot this fall.

What looked so crowded inside seems bare outside.
I moved the two fig trees and the Ashitaba out along with the 3 amaryllis plants.
It will be nice to not have to dodge their floppy leaves while trying to get out the slider.
My fig tree is showing signs of life after being dormant all winter in the basement.

I will leave you with one last picture.  Remember I planted 50 crocuses and 20 daffodils along the west side of the house in the hosta bed last fall?  (I did a blog about it here)  I had a group of large crocus come up earlier this spring and then get the tail end of their bloom destroyed by a couple inches of late snow.  I thought that all the crocuses had been finished.  Today, while walking around with my camera, I discovered act 2 of the crocus display.  The second act on the whole was very much smaller in size than act 1, but oh so pretty in the sun.  I was delighted.  The daffodils are coming along nicely for act 3.

How delightful!  Sunshine and flowers…. Joy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Birthday Trip Part Two

My beautiful birthday day was a bigger blessing than I had originally realized.  It has snowed for the past four days here.  When it did stick, it wasn’t for long but every morning the bird bath has been frozen and the temps have consistently been below freezing every night.  Today it snowed almost all day but because the temperature was in the mid-thirties to low forties, it was more like white rain.  It has not been really nice since my gloriously sunny and warm gift of a birthday day.

Dusting of snow this morning.  If it were December, we would be thrilled.
The birds did not mind the snow… the bird feeders were busy.

We pick up our tour of Fredrick Meijer Gardens heading outside into the beautiful sunshine.  Before we continued our tour outside, we took a break and had a picnic lunch.  T and I have made food choices to engage life in our bodies and have found that eating in most food establishments to be difficult at best.  Last time we ate at the lovely little cafĂ© at the garden, T got a headache from his salad.  We are assuming it was something in the vinaigrette dressing.  So, we bring picnic lunches with us and sit outside and share.

Lunch: Apples, nuts and raisins, mandarin oranges, water, chocolate and chips.  YUM!

I have been wanting to see the new Japanese garden so that is where we headed first with a couple of stops along the way.

A bird feeder was covered with pigeons.  In the sunlight they were all beautifully iridescent. 
One of T’s favorite statues to make fun of…  Cone head the Barbarian.

Personally I don’t really “get” this one.  Its real name is Mad Mom by Tom Otterness.  I think the artist’s name is a more interesting story than his creation.  As we passed by it snorking over T’s irreverence, we overheard a little girl who had read the information sign ask her mom, “Why is the mom mad?”  Her mom replied, “I have no idea, come on we gotta go.”  I was kind of sad at her reply.  I imagine my mom would have replied to my question with some wild story that would match the ridiculousness of the statue.

In honor of said Mom… the giant frog statue in the Wooded Wetlands garden.
The big bear and baby bear that you are not supposed to climb on but everyone does.
 I love this statue.  I don’t know its name or creator.
I think this is one of T’s favorite statues.  It is of Vera the Mouse who was created by Marjolein Bastin, one of my favorite living artists.  I do not know the creator of this bronze replica.
Of course The American Horse has to be visited. 
The Grand Rapids Arch by Andy Goldsworthy is a colossal pile of rocks
balanced in a pleasing way that is also a favorite.

We arrived at the beginning of the Japanese gardens and I was surprised by the size of the ponds.  The Japanese Garden encompasses eight acres and it seemed about half of that was water.  I was not initially impressed.  The first part of the garden is a narrow walkway around the first of several connecting ponds and the trees and bushes felt very new and awkward to me.  Kind of like someone had a whole bunch of woody trees and just haphazardly put them all in and then scattered bark randomly.  It didn’t seem to flow or have cohesion, it felt like a plant nursery aisle.  This first part is called the Cherry Tree Promenade so that probably is why it felt like it did.  I am assuming when it is in bloom, the view is overwhelmed by the blossoms and you forget about the layout.

The pond and banks are very “new construction” looking yet.
I don’t know if they will be naturalized more or left as is with bare soil.
Many of the large boulders had inscriptions on them.
This one gave a nod to the newness of the garden and the settling that had yet to be completed.

We rounded the first pond and headed toward the main gate where there was an information board about the garden designer, Hoichi Kurisu, who is highly acclaimed and has many awards.  Who am I to argue with his sense of design?  However, entering the main gate quickly captured my fascination.

Millions of dollars were spent on hundreds of trees that were planted here.
This incredible Japanese Maple is beautiful next to a multi-ton boulder.
A stone filled water rill to catch the rain run-off from the roof.  Granite pavers enclose black river stones in a wonderful juxtaposition of common structured by extravagant.
This Piece is Untitled by Anish Kapoor.  The top and bottom circles are concave while the center one is convex, thus presenting reversed images in the polished stone.
T off exploring where we aren’t supposed to go…

The path meandered down to the Natural-Style Moss Garden where a barrier had been placed.  Most of the paths were handicap accessible, wide and skid proof.  Some of the paths were made from natural rocks and required a bit of balance and attention to navigate.  These paths were still blocked off from use due to winter’s ice and snow which would make them hazardous.  T boldly hopped the barrier and took off down the path.  I, the one who usually is the one to take off down the path less followed, stayed obediently behind.  T came back and announced that this part was his favorite and of all the strange and somewhat confusing quotes etched into stone around the gardens, he found his favorite on a rock at the end of this path.  “The only thing that is certain is uncertainty. “  I do wish that I had followed him now, but I was worried about getting in trouble then.  This moss garden was very pretty and it appeared to be more “done” looking from my side of the pole.

Then we walked out to the edge of the big pond and wow….  Now I get it.  Several large waterfalls cascaded into a huge lake with a deck, bridge, peninsula and an island that appeared and disappeared as you walked the circumference.  The landscape looked more traditional Japanese along with being more established and natural.  It was beautiful….

Red twig dogwood and birch trees add color to reflections.
The shoreline undulated with huge boulders to anchor the edge.
A beautiful arched bridge spans the narrow section between two of the ponds.
A small island in the middle of the larger pond.
I love waterfalls and this garden had three major ones that ran thousands of gallons of water per hour.  Incredible design and rock work.  South Waterfall
Peaceful reflections…
North Waterfall.  Another huge waterfall that is mostly hidden from sight.
You hear it before you see it and even then you can’t see the whole thing at once.
The lower part of the North Waterfall which flows under a bridge into the back of the big pond.
The edge of the back of the big pond.
The flat rock on the right would make an excellent journaling spot.
Instead of goldfish or koi, the pond was filled with bluegills.
A veritable fortune was spent on trees.  Many of these have been cultivated and pruned for decades and required large machinery to move into place.
These trees are priceless in a way because of their uniqueness and age.
A compacted crushed gravel path leading up from circling the ponds to the knoll and the entrance.
The backside of the teahouse (which I assume can be rented for a price) looking across the back pond and inlet.
From the top of the knoll you can see most of the garden.  This is the south side.
The yellow house is part of the Michigan Farm Garden.
This is the north side.  The tea house, marshy wet lands, and docks are still to the left. 
The stone path set into the hill is the quick and beautiful way down.
A cement path also wound its way down in a gentler and wheel friendly fashion.
Next to a bonsai exhibit that was not yet open for the season, a Zen style garden complete with large boulders and raked gravel offered a plant free take on landscape design.  I think raking the gravel would not be peaceful or relaxing for me as I would belabor every little errant mark.
The moss garden from the other side.  It is so pretty and I regret not exploring with T.
Next time we visit, I will hunt down the quote.

In the end, I was impressed with the Japanese gardens.  I did enjoy the paths and all the trees.  The focus seems to be on sculpted woody shrubs and trees with a small emphasis on perennials and ground covers.  This landscape style is very different from our perennial heavy mid-west gardens.  I do like the sculpted trees and the miniature feel it has despite the size.  An idea that could be beneficial in my small garden.

We visited the Michigan’s Farm Garden before heading back to the Main Building.  I was wondering if they had any of the vegetable gardens started, but found that the daffodils weren’t even blooming yet along the road in the median.  In some birthday visit years this area has thousands of daffodils in brilliant yellow bloom.  We did see the occasional clump of an early variety in bloom but spring seems to be slow this year.

This could have been me as a kid.
This century old barn was moved from its original home to the gardens with the help of the Amish people.  I love the huge old beams and rugged strength and beauty of these amazing structures which were built by hand with hand tools.
This little guy was sitting next to the empty corn crib…  you’d think he would be a little plumper.

We walked back through the Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden which in warmer springs is covered with bulb flowers.  This year the hellebores were still in full bloom.  I do not have this plant in my garden yet.  Perhaps I can remedy that soon.

Woodland garden hellebores and daffodils
The small pond had what I believe to be painted turtles sunning themselves on the logs.
I got one shot before most of them slid back into the water.
The back of the conservatory… that is one huge greenhouse!

Our last stop was to the gift shop.  I enjoy looking at all the pretties there but rarely buy anything because of the prices.  We do get ideas of things we could make ourselves and I snap pictures of interesting objects of desire.  This time there were a few drool worthy items with heartbreaking price tags that I left in the store, taking only an image home with me.

Big metal butterflies that you can mount on a metal post and plant in the garden.  Gorgeous…  $$$$$!

I had a wonderful day and am so grateful for the lovely weather we had.  I hope that you enjoyed the tour along with me at FMG.  As for our weather now, hopefully it will stop snowing soon; I’ve got grasses to cut down!