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The Garden in July


The garden in July is abundant. Full. Verging on unkempt. I can find time to give things a haircut, like the wisteria on the arbor above, but then the heat kicks in and knocks me out, so clean up happens later.  Good thing it’s been to hot to really sit out on our lovely patio anyway, as those wisteria trimmings were there for a few days.

There is always a pile of something needing to be picked up and composted. Weeds I’ve pulled out and left laying about during trips out with the dog, half-trimmed plants (the Salvia just reached its massive trim time). Maintained in stages, that’s the garden in July.

The lilacs I put in our first year here are desperately trying to take out our neighbor’s garage. I have them nearly half-way trimmed, taking off about 18″ all round. I’m going to hack at them some more tomorrow, as it’s cooled down here substantially this week. Hacking at things is my general trimming process. It seems to work.


 My grasses and perennials look fantastic though. They got much taller this year with all the early rain.

south yard

The willow hut is falling apart. When half of it didn’t grow this spring I decided to cover that by using it as a trellis for the cucumbers and beans. Those cucumbers are taking it down. Oh well.

willow dome far falling

baby cucumbers

I don’t know what’s going on with the beans. The plants are huge, but I have yet to see any flowers on them, let alone a bean. I’ve never grown beans before, perhaps this is usual?

willow dome

I do love this view though.


spring garden 2013 001

Cliché, I know. Still, I love the garden in the spring. This moment particularly. It’s just on the edge. Everything is tidy, contained. This time next month it will be a slightly overgrown riot, two months from now it will be out of control. And I will be a little tired of its excess. Right now, however, I revel in the plants I’ve forgotten. The ones, like these peonies, that look like they may finally be coming into their own (this is their fourth spring, last year was the first time I got any blooms). After starting from scratch when we removed the asphalt and concrete that covered everything 6 years ago, each spring I get a sense of what it is becoming. And despite our urban alley view of electrical posts and wires, what it is becoming is beautiful. Weeds and all.

garden collage

Garden Dreaming

comment-page-1 - Copy I cannot stop staring at this gorgeous small garden Nicole posted today. What I wouldn’t give to have a balcony view that looked over that patio through some cherry blossoms. And since our still chilly and very thunderstorm-y weather prevents me from getting my hands dirty, I’ve just been pinning garden images all over the place (you’ll find the links for these on my pinterest board). d4a844c07e8bb3c437ba3940a8aabc54 - Copy c20216adc71de3313cd02be25febf21a - Copy I see small paths with lush plantings (maybe in the side yards?) in our future. And adding one or two small patios using simple concrete squares. That should give me a good arm workout. What are your garden plans this year?

Kid Crafts: Make a Terrarium

how to make a terrarium with kids

Emmeth and I wandered into West Elm this weekend (looking at their curtains, I’m still undecided) and she was captivated by their terrariums. We had still had rocks, lichen and soil at home from her birthday party last year, so I let her pick out a container and some plants to make a larger terrarium together. She didn’t really need my assistance though, so I served as documentarian. I even made a little Vine film of the process, although it seems to be sideways. Have you jumped on the vine app? This was my first video and it was really fun.

In case you’ve been living under a rock during the current terrarium craze, Emm and I put together a little tutorial for you. Truthfully, we left out some steps, but I’ve found that for open terraria like we’ve made, the charcoal and sand aren’t vital. If you want a true tutorial though, complete with video, Nicole has a great post on making a terrarium.

First, gather your materials. We had river rocks, succulent medium and a selection of plants. Choose plants with a variety of textures and heights to add interest to your finished work.
succulents close

Place a layer of rocks on the bottom of the vessel. Cover them with a layer of sand or other appropriate medium. Ours is a very dry potting medium suitable for succulents. Carefully place your plants in the soil or sand. Succulents are fragile, so be careful not to lose any leaves.

arrange plants

Tuck additional soil and rocks around the plants to stabilize and create your landscape. Finish the terrarium with lichen, small figurines or pebbles. Lichen is traditionally used in wet terrariums (ours is dry) that are planted with ferns and such, but if left dry it will do fine here. Emmeth liked the textural contrast with the spikey succulents she choose.

finished terrarium

And there you go. A simple indoor gardening project that looks fabulous. She’s super proud of it and was even more pleased that we’ll be keeping it out where she can show it off to any and all guests.

On another note, one of you lovely people nominated me for a Homie, Apartment Therapy’s annual award for blogs. Several more of you seem to have voted for me. I am beyond flattered, thank you! And if you’re so inclined, head over and vote for Designing Around, either for best home design and inspiration blog (seriously?) or best home project and diy blog (or, you know, both).

And in line with that, check out the brand new DIY Projects and Recipes pages I’ve created. All the projects are easier to find and sort through now. I’m still working on making it prettier. Baby blogging steps.


The Fall Garden

I spent all day today (Sunday) working in the garden. When we put in the front garden, I deliberately crowded together the shrubs, planning to separate them as they grew. Most of them outgrew the space a couple of years ago, so today was spent doing a lot of digging and heavy lifting. I began the process of clearing out the side yards and relocated seven good size shrubs. While it’s still nowhere near the inspiration pictures, little things are starting to come together.

The north side yard, which I would like to have a bit of a secret garden quality eventually, got an arch and climbing roses, relocated from the front entry where they looked ridiculous. A couple of rhododendrons and a butterfly bush were moved from other parts of the yard. A few more plants are needed on the side of the house, but as the roses grow it should look much better.

The south sideyard is just getting started. I moved an overgrown red twig dogwood from the front and a hydrangea that’s just never grown. Perhaps it will like its new home better. Finn and I made plans today to improve upon the improvised patio space with a small retaining wall and a more structured patio, so I’ll be bringing the flagstones currently in front to this side space as well. The sidewalk next to the house is very narrow, so the flagstones should make the pass through space much more functional. A couple of rocks and perhaps some hostas will finish that space.

Here is the front garden after today’s work. A boxwood border is going in, which we think we’ll continue around the front of the garden as well. The shrubs have been rearranged for their current size and space needs. Where the table and patio are now, we’re hoping to put in square pavers similar to this.

So, some progress. And a gorgeous day outside. I need to go take some Advil now though, so I can move in the morning. That was a lot of work.

Small Changes: Looking for side yard inspiration

While I still very much need to get my current garden under control, I’ve been dreaming about transforming other areas. We have two tiny, sad little side yards. One is a pass through, the other just a no man’s land between two houses.  Generally both are completely overgrown with weeds, although when I went out to take pics someone had mowed one side down.

Here’s the no man’s land.

And the pass through.

I’ve been pinning garden ideas. They all have a secret garden quality to them, with paths, sculptures, shade plants, found objects. Things I’d never in a million years put inside I’m drawn to for a garden space. I’d like to make each of these spaces feel intentional and I’d love to create some kind of secret garden in the no man’s land. I think some rocks and varying heights could make the pass through weed patch charming.

Is your garden style different from your decorating style? Anyone have a beautiful urban side yard I should check out?


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Welcome to the Jungle

Remember when I said I only liked to garden in the spring? Yeah, I wasn’t kidding.  My garden is a hot mess. It doesn’t help that its been ridiculously hot and humid here, but seriously. I need to get out there. I can no longer get to my back door. Considering how overgrown it is, you’d think I’d have gotten more than four measly zucchini and two lackluster cucumbers out of the thing.

Oh, would you like to come over and have a drink on my relaxing, shaded patio? Careful, if the wisteria doesn’t absorb you, the mint and lemon grass just might.

Are the plants repelling mosquitos as advertised? Who knows. It’s certainly repelling guests however. And perhaps I could get around to removing the tag from the table.

And let’s not forget the willow dome. Such potential.

Well, you can sit there and enjoy the dome. Just watch out for the alyssum, it’s already claimed the poor gnomes and fairies.  And occasionally pears (or in the case of extreme storms, entire pear tree limbs) drop right out of the sky.

And finally, the grass. Despite the drought, its managed to stay quite green. With weeds. Look at all the dandelions and spiky plants. So pretty.

How’s your summer garden grow? Are you keeping up appearances? Here’s hoping for some time and cooler weather to whip mine into shape.  And the reappearance of my motivation, which seems to be having quite the summer vacation.

Before and After: The Backyard

This weekend was the fourth anniversary of our backyard renovation, a moment I celebrate annually. In the midst of being thankful for our personal freedoms and grateful for those who made and continue to make that possible, we also quietly mark a major achievement for our home. This was one of the moments that made us realize we really could turn this hideous house around. Think I’m exaggerating? Wait till you see the before shots. You’ve seen the front of the house when we bought it. It’s not fabulous, but it doesn’t make you want to run the other direction screaming. This my friends, was our backyard view.


Pretty awesome, yes? Paved over from alley to house (with, as we later discovered, asphalt OVER concrete. Because really, why stop at just concrete).  And let’s not discuss the pepto pink color. You can’t tell from the photo, but its not even the same material across the back of the house. Also not pictured, the 10 foot satellite dish and rusty basketball hoop. Those we managed to take down ourselves. Want to see more?  They all include the adorable two and three-year old, as she was the focus of the documentation at the time. Oddly, I have very few photos of the backyard during this period. Its like I didn’t want to remember it.

Why yes, that fence is falling down. No, I’m not sure why I even tried with the container garden. Nothing was going to help this. Classy stuff going on here. But wait, there’s more.

That’s right, there was also a metal shed. Falling down as well, of course. Not pictured, the drum container located inside of unidentified chemical something and the giant wasp nest. It was, I think it goes without saying, our dream home.

This was not a DIY project.  And, as you might imagine, it was not cheap. The backyard project had three phases. Phase one included removal of the metal shed and replacing it with a wooden kit one from Lowes. Phase two included removal of everything else. Which took about two weeks, with numerous strong men and machines and untold dumpsters. That was in March 2008. Then it rained for two months, so we had mud. SO. MUCH. MUD. The tall one was in kindergarten, so we invited all her friends over for a mud pie party one day, trying to make the best of it. It was insane and lots of fun.

Finally it dried up enough for the fence crew to place the fence posts and the landscapers to install the parking pad/patio and sod. A garage is part of phase four, but who knows when that will actually happen. I put in all the plants and four years later its hard to even remember just how ugly it once was.

So green, in fact, that I need to get out there and weed the patio. This next photo shows where the metal shed used to be. Now the home of our patio and herb garden.

The perennial beds. Our yard has no shade, which is perfect for a cottage butterfly garden. Everything I’ve planted is perennial, super low maintenance (with the exception of the hydrangeas, which need lots of water and aren’t happy in July) and attracts so many butterflies and bees to the area. Plants include may night salvia, Echinacea, foster’s reed grass, flame grass, butterfly bush, lilacs, hydrangeas, roses, tickseed, coreopsis, coral bells, the willow dome, crane’s bill geranium, peonies, the vegi garden by the house, asters, phlox … I’m sure there are more I’ve forgotten or that just haven’t come up yet.

The fence is no longer falling down and several happy freecyclers took the more than 200 day lilies I dug out from underneath it. I really need to trim back the monster butterfly bush and lilacs back there so that the grasses and Echinacea planted with it have a chance. And I wish we’d put in a higher fence at the back, when we do use the parking pad as a patio for parties I’d like more privacy.

Phase four, currently dubbed the “Someday Phase” includes installing patio doors and a narrow deck along the back of the house, as well as a green roof garage/covered patio utilizing the model of an architect friend who recently built one for his own home. Someday. There’s always a next step, but this weekend I was really happy with how far everything has come. It’s not quite as good for side-walk chalk as asphalt, but its much, much more livable.

Small Changes – Garden Updates


Finn built this lovely bamboo pergola last summer to provide better support to my wildly overgrown wisteria and shade the small patio he’d built the summer before. The wisteria had to be cut off its previous support, but is coming back nicely this spring. Our little yard faces west and has no trees (it was paved over completely when we moved in) so this little spot is our one patch of shade for diners al fresco and general relaxing. It had one major drawback. Mosquitoes tended to make the evening hours unbearable. I stumbled upon this site listing mosquito repellent plants and thought I’d try stocking the planter boxes that surround the space with them this year. The weather last weekend was lovely and my garden has been neglected, so I pulled out all the baby trees from the planter boxes and went shopping. I had to go to a couple garden centers to find them all, although if I’d started here I wouldn’t have had to try so many places.

First I laid out my plants.


Lemongrass, mint and marigolds. A random carnation I’d been given for Mother’s Day.  It was looking a little too sparse, so off I went again, this time looking for rosemary, more mint and something that trailed for interest.

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Garden Advice from the Small One

We harvested our first crop of vegi’s today from our tiny garden for dinner. I have a 4 foot by 6 foot patch that we use as an experimental garden, working to show my urban kids what the food they eat looks like before it hits the grocery store. Today’s choice was kale, which I cooked up for this lovely dish from Jules. I used quinoa instead of rice, as the small one doesn’t eat eggs much lately and could use the protein. Everyone voted it delish and the tall one has requested it for her birthday dinner. High praise indeed.

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