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Some time ago – can it really be back in 2014 I wrote that post? – I featured the last home I lived in, a beautiful stone farmhouse, the oldest part of which was 1724. The bulk of the house was built in 1810, and then the homeowner who lovingly restored the property added a modern kitchen and bath about 40 or so years ago. I’d promised to share the house I’d lived in prior to that, an 1870 home, technically Victorian I guess, but not of the gingerbread style as the community was more farm oriented than fancy.

As mentioned in that earlier post, all my life after college, including where I live now, has been in homes or apartment buildings from 1810 – 1920. I have enjoyed 9′ ceilings as my standard, deep porches on all the homes, stunning hardwood floors, and more “wildlife” than modern homes allow by sheer dint of better mechanics, technology and sealing. It was usually a small price to pay.

Above you see the first house I lived in when I moved to the western side of New Jersey in a tiny rural town called Pattenburg, once a center of basket-making and peach growing. These were all taken to market on the trains that ran the (still active) tracks at the far back of my property. The land itself was 1/2 acre and an absolute marvel to this girl who’d been living in an (albeit huge) apartment. The property was on the narrow side and quite deep with 14 deciduous trees, and I sure got my exercise raking each fall and mowing.

There you see an aging apple tree which was a major attraction in the fall. It was not unusual to look outside and see deer, rabbits, and groundhogs all together enjoying what had fallen to the ground. As the ancient tree had not been well-cared for, the apples were not really edible or pie-worthy, but few went wasted. At the right, the ubiquitous outhouse, an often-rescued fixture on every property on Main Street.

And this is Main Street, photographed from the road in front of my house. When I first moved here, people were always talking about “downtown”. Needless to say, I was curious as to where that might be, so I asked. I was told,  “You’re standing in it!” This was a far different life than I had ever known, for sure.

Every time I was out walking the dogs total strangers driving by would wave at me. At first, taken a bit aback, my hand would flail lightly at my side reaching in an upward direction. I’d never lived anywhere where strangers just waved at you. But it didn’t take me long to catch on – people were just downright friendly. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have landed here.

The backyard in snow. And this only shows a portion of it. There’s another third of the land beyond that farthest point you can see. Plus this doesn’t give a hint of the lush blossoming of endless perennial plants, shrubs and trees that were on this property. I have so many photos of the flowers all about – small areas of blossoming beauty – that I’d be here for days just trying to find and scan photos of the riot of color that abounded in spring and summer.

I don’t have a lot of photographs of the interior of the house. It had original hardwood – walnut, I believe – floors and stairs. The kitchen’s wide planks had already been painted, so  once settled in, I gave it a new high-gloss paint job. Out the kitchen door was a patio.

Another photo in the kitchen. Here was my old girl, Chloe, then nearing 15 years – the most lovable, trustworthy and phenomenally stubborn dog one could ever hope to own. (Yes, she’s on the drop cloth.) Behind her was a complete wall of original wood cabinets and drawers, any kitchen-lover’s dream. The original wainscoting was also intact, unpainted. Throughout the house there were chair rails with beautifully coordinated colonial colors and petite flowered wallpaper above the rail. There were also closed-over fireplaces in the living and dining rooms and the master bedroom. Again, just as well for one with no knowledge of building or watching over fires.

And here’s what qualified our little stretch of maybe 24 houses and an old red schoolhouse as a downtown – we had a church and an antique store which was once Pattenburg’s general store. I was soon surprised at how many people visited the shop filled with antiques and collectibles. It turns out the owner had cleverly gotten her store listed on an “antiques trail” where people would drive about following a map for fabulous finds in and around the county.

The house at Christmas, my tree in the dining room at right, not visible in this photo. I decorated the garland with white lights, gold bows and small pink roses to complement the house. It always looked wonderful. At the holidays, our little Main Street was all aglow, looking for all it was worth like a slice of another time with beautifully lit houses, and neighbors happier still, all of us waving at one another, wishing each a warm Merry Christmas. Life was good.

p.s. For another insight into this country life, take a peek at this post about the train trestle at the far end of Main Street.

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From when I was quite little all the way to today people have asked me, `How do you know the names of so many flowers?’ It actually never occurred to me that I did; I thought everyone knew the names of flowers. Apparently not. The answer to that question is I just followed my Dad …  like a puppy.

MyFamily

Growing up, we had a smallish, but perfectly sized, house on a not very big lot of 50′ x 100′. I have a photo of our house shortly before we moved there; it was the second house in from the next bigger road and the rest of the houses on the block had not yet been built. I suppose it might have been called a development, but it looked nothing like the ones of today, all cookie-cutter and same-ish. Each home looked quite different in both style and building material, some clapboard, some all brick, some a mix of both and so on, but always  on the same size lots. What made our house so special was that there was always something growing, and it was my Dad who orchestrated it all.

To this day, I can see the rhododendron and the red, pink and white azalea in the front of the house interspersed with some evergreen shrubs; the daffodils and narcissus circling our beautiful big elm (home for a nest of those rapscallion squirrels); and the spot to the right of our front door with another rhododendron and a yearly change of annuals, purple and white ClimbingRoses-1957-newalyssum come to memory. Next to the garage grew a length of lily-of-the-valley with a flagstone walk alongside, and on the other side of the house, an andromeda, a dogwood with creamy white flowers, and myrtle.

The climbing roses, taken with my humble little Brownie camera.

But it was the backyard where my Dad really went to town. Behind the dining room were his roses; additional myrtle created a dark green backdrop behind. I can’t remember all their names, (perhaps he had a Peace Rose?) but I do remember the Japanese beetles. They were beautiful, too, I thought, and I wished they and the roses had a better relationship. At the end of the rose bed was a lilac tree. On the back of the garage was a trellis where he had smaller climbing roses of a cerise color. At the base of the roses, he grew strawberries, but I also remember pansies.

In the back right corner, there were peonies fluffed out like ballerina tutus. I always wondered why the ants liked to crawl on their buds so much; I’m sure he told me and I don’t remember. There were two large bleeding hearts, and a mix of other flowers I can’t recall, and  portulaca in front. Oh, I remember the portulaca! They were loaded with honeybees, and I was always sure they had me in mind for their next pollen visit. Or worse.

And in the other corner, a forsythia and a pink weigela, a mass of brightly colored tulips and zinnias for cutting (we always had cut flowers in the house all summer), and then my Daddy’s delicious tomatoes. We enjoyed them with many a dinner. Later he added a flowering plum in the yard with those lovely burgundy leaves and delicate pink blossoms.

Thinking back, how did my Dad do all this? When did he do it? (Oh – and he had gorgeous gardenias inside!) I can remember following him around when I was small and “helping.” I have no idea what all I was actually doing, I just know I was next to him, watching and listening while he trimmed and pruned, staked and watered. AnHonestHouse-CReyes2For the size of our little lot, it was quite an impressive display. My Dad was always happy when he was gardening (except for the squirrels and Japanese beetles.) He truly had a green thumb …  something I, unfortunately, did not inherit. I could plan a color layout like nobody’s business, but didn’t always have the right mix of what needed sun and shade, more or less water, trimming back or deadheading. Having all that come so naturally as it did to my Dad is a gift and I’m just thankful I got to follow him around.

And thanks to Cynthia Reyes and her memoir “An Honest House” for inspiring the warm reflections on my childhood and my earliest appreciation of all things growing and green.

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Despite assurances to the contrary from the proprietress of one of the nurseries near me, I still felt like I was the last person on the planet planting anything this spring. I had intentions of going many times, but didn’t get there til last weekend. Finally!

Flowers16-ImpatiensBench2

This was the only color Impatiens left! This children’s bench is next to my front door.

As the landscaping on my property is already taken care of, I have just my lovely, deep front and back porches to consider. Picking flowers that are fairly hardy, (meaning I can’t easily kill them), and that provide nice pops of color are the simple goals I have in mind.

Flowers16-Vinca2

I’ve never purchased Vinca before, but they were so pretty. I will have to read up on them so I know what they need.

Being as late in the season as I was getting to the nursery, I was disappointed to find that the color and plant selection had really been winnowed down. Next to nothing was left in yellows and purple shades, so I just went with a few basics. I could no doubt stop by Home Depot or Lowe’s and round out what I have, but honestly? when I’m done this, I’m done, and I’m moving on to a multitude of other things on my to-do list. Plus I like supporting local small businesses.

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This angle doesn’t show how really, really leggy the petunias are.

Everything you see here had been waiting one week on my back porch, but even so, most of the plants were already overgrown. The petunias are terrible leggy, the sweet alyssum struggling, the vinca tall. But I’ll let them all settle in a bit and then start cutting back as needed. Hopefully, in a few weeks, they will be happier and looking healthier.

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I have probably over planted this good-sized pot with three Coleus and three Sweet Alyssum, but it is practically July. This is a spot on my front porch where coleus are absolutely ecstatic.

As always, after I’m done, and have cleaned up, I look at my effort and say, `for all that time, is this all there is?’ I have flashes of luxuriously planted porches I’ve seen in Better Homes and Gardens and feel I should immediately go back out, get more pots, more plants and a boatload more soil and seriously get gardening! Alas, that’s what I’d love, but not what I have time for.

Flowers16-ImpatiensBack2

Another shady spot for hardy Impatiens.

Instead I have my humble little pots of flowers all about my porches, and they elicit a smile wherever I sit. I will tend them and help them be full and bushy or tall and elegant, whatever they need, and as the summer goes on they’ll thrive. It’s enough.

 

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It’s been a while since I’ve had the time or the brain to post, but at last, I’ve returned. I have a few things I’d like to post about, but as the weather gets chilly and soon I will have beautiful Fall mums gracing my porches, I wanted to share a bit of how they looked this summer.

I was originally going to title this post “The Little Porch of Horrors” because all the plants were doing just terribly. I am not the gardener some of my fellow bloggers are, (you know who you are), and I am sometimes at a loss as to whether it’s me underwatering, overwatering, poor plant quality or simply their settling in. But somehow with the exception of  two pots, they all came around. The most successful of my porch plants are the humble coleus.

TwoColeus2

The dark one on the left had a tag that said either dwarf or miniature coleus. Truly, it is supposed to be a hanging plant, but that would mean I’d have to drag a stepstool or get a hose wand or whatever, and if you know me, you know my indoor plants live by their wits. I pretty much expect the same of the outdoor varieties as well. This burgundy coleus is just gorgeous and in the sunshine, has almost a furry silver texture on its leaves. The variegated one has done quite well, too.

CornerColeus2

In the corner of  the front porch I planted 2 coleus in the pot and 2 dusty miller, hoping the coleus would shoot up like last year and the dusty miller, be bushy underneath. That didn’t happen; maybe too many plants in one pot. What did happen was a never-ending explosion of coleus flowers, which, as you know, are not all that gorgeous. I pinch them back – not a good idea? – and they seem to become more profuse. However, it all looks quite pretty nonetheless.

PetuniaTrees2

Then we have the petunia trees. I have never had petunias which kept growing straight upwards. I chose these gorgeous velvety deep plum and purple varieties and planted them with cream salvia, again thinking the petunias would spread low around the salvia. I pinched them back, did whatever little I knew, but no such luck – they just keep to their aspirations of one day starring in Jack and the Beanstalk, the Revise.

There were several other pots that also did well on the porches, although they sure took their sweet time about it. Again, if I paid them more attention, perhaps I’d figure out what I was doing. But here’s what looks the most fabulous on my porches:

TheBoys2

The Boys. These are my neighbor’s cats who spend a good portion of every day lounging about on my porches, walks, driveway, car – whatever strikes their fancy and might include some sun and ideally, me, usually with a book. Truly, my talents lie in the direction of animal care and not plant care, and I think those described know it and behave accordingly.

So my hat is off to you, you wonderful and talented gardeners! I stand humbly and appreciatively in your shadow, and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that were I to begin to wilt, you’d know exactly what to do.

 

 

 

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This year? Not all that well, I’m afraid. I don’t, in fact, actually have a garden … I have a variety of flowering plants in pots and containers that enliven my nice, deep, wrap-around porches . But this year, it hardly felt that it was worth the time potting them. Even the Impatiens – which rarely fail to shine – did poorly.

EndSummer-Impatiens2

This is the one plant, above, that did the best. I bought this solid pink Impatiens plus a new variegated one, magenta and white with a darker leaf, that did even worse. Although this one looks pretty good, it was potted at least 3 months ago, and normally an Impatiens in this spot would have been covered with flowers. I did read an article that spoke to there being some kind of  bug or blight or whatever with Impatiens this year. A small comfort. Those below, with both types in the container and in a favorite spot for Impatiens, also show a scarcity of  blooms.

EndSummer-ImpatiensFront2

I believe it was our crazy weather. We had 9 or 10 days of scorching sunshine, temps in the mid to upper 90’s. Before or after that we had nearly 10 days straight of rain with not a drop of sun. I’m not posting photos of all the plants that barely survived. A Lobelia I got in May … I missed one day of watering and half of it died. I bought Lantana for the first time and had them in spots for sun-lovers, they were scorched before I even knew to move them.  Violas, Alyssum and some others just barely grew at all. Quite disappointing.

EndSummer-Hydrangea2

And the Hydrangeas in the yard? This particular plant which last year had blossoms in a rich blue, (see photos here), this year saw flowers in pale to medium lavender with only half the amount of petals per flower. Weather sure can make a difference! (How do farmers sleep at night?)

EndSummer-Mum2Thankfully, the weather has stayed in the 80’s with nice cool evenings for awhile and seems to be continuing. Ever the optimist, I bought two small-ish mums at Home Depot and replaced the pair of sad Lantanas. It’s a new season coming soon, so perhaps it’s a good idea to slowly replace some of the plants in the sunny spots and see what happens.

I would not describe myself as a person with a green thumb, but even I couldn’t have managed such poor results on my own!

Here’s to Fall and some gardening success.

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Flowers-July2

I am not ashamed to admit it. I do not like to exercise. (Although I do love to dance. That’s exercise, right?)

Flowers-JulyB-2Over the course of my life I have at times been a jogger and a regular walker. Once I got out there, it was okay, but I could think of soooooo many things I’d rather be doing. The time has come that I need and want, (very abstractly), to get out there once again. My incentive? I’d bring my camera and hope that might help.

So I made use of it and took some shots of the beautiful garden flowers that so many of the folks in my town take the time to plant and tend.

Will it be enough inspiration for tomorrow? I guess we’ll see.

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MiniPansies2When I first moved to my current address, I was a bit disappointed when I was requested not to plant anything in the ground. I was asked to please limit myself to potting flowers or plants on my porches. While at first that seemed a big restriction, I soon remembered an earlier home I lived in where I was on an half acre. Initially, I was ecstatic. A former owner was a gardening wizard and had all kinds of things growing from Spring to Fall, and lots of beds for the annuals of my choice. I particularly loved planting around my mailbox each year. (I’d never had a free-standing mailbox in my life, and this stood at the line where my property met the road.)

As an artist, I was loving creating fabulous color areas and changing them each year. Having come from an apartment, I also loved mowing the grass and raking the leaves of the many, many trees on my half acre. By about the fifth year, the enthusiasm was wearing off, and while I still loved my wonderful piece of land, life had gotten busier and I realized that all that landscaping was a major commitment. I never stopped doing it, but it had also become work.

So here I have a much smaller and more manageable gardening world … seating arrangements and tables which hold whatever annuals I pot for any particular year … and it’s just fine. This year I fell in love with, (among other flowers),  miniature pansies, and planted two pots with two colors, a two tone purple and a delicate purple and yellow. Yesterday I started to pinch them back so they wouldn’t become too leggy, and rather than toss what I’d taken, I put them in a jelly jar on my desk. And here they sit,  bringing a smile to my face each time I look at them.

I am reminded of how little it can take to bring happiness, and how something so utterly simple can be so extraordinarily wonderful. That the pansies are sitting in a jelly jar from the nearby farm that makes their own delicious jams, jellies and sauces even makes me happy. There are times when life’s stresses and busy-ness take us away from what’s right in front of our noses. And sometimes what’s there is really all we need.

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