My New Best Friend

I know everyone has probably heard of Angie’s List because it is nothing new.  But we had were one of those people who had never thought about using it.  Until our AC bit the dust. We joined in order to make an educated decision about hiring someone to replace the HVAC system.  Then we used it to find an electrician to fix the wiring in our house that was casing the A/C to keep tripping the breaker.  And the then we used it to hire someone to help us find our house again from the tree that was swallowing it. 

I was playing with the idea of just chopping it down because I hated it so much.  But it is amazing what a lot of trimming did to change my mind.

Here is the the after-


I really meant to have a “before” but he came early and I had just gotten back from the pool.  It would have been weird enough to start snapping pictures of the tree with them there, but adding a swimsuit into the mix I decided it was not worth it.  So you will have to you you imaginations that it was covering all the top windows and only the bottom two feet of the door and bottom windows were showing.  No pizza delivery guy was finding our house.  And it was hitting the roof (which I do have a before pic of weirdly enough.)


So while this site costs money to join, it was worth every penny as we have been very satisfied with everyone we have found through them.  Now if only tree trimming wasn’t so expensive…..


Stop and Smell the Flowers

I know what you were thinking since my previous post. That you wanted to see more pictures of the flowers in the perennial beds.  Lucky for your I have been playing with my camera so you can see what is actually growing back there.  And for me to refer back to in when I am feeling dreary in the winter. 












And there is is still a whole lot more that I am sparing you from as I am thinking ‘flowers” are giving “dogs” a run for their money in the most frequent photo subject in our house.  Do you have a favorite?  Or something else I should add next year?


Did the Miracle-Gro Work?

Last year I had dreams of a beautiful bed of sun loving perennials.  Visions of cut flowers were dancing in my head.  I decided to go with a color scheme of yellow and pink and worked everything I wanted to plant.  Then I started up adding up the numbers realized how expensive plants are.   Ouch. To help ease the budget, we ordered from Bluestone Perennials and got tons of plants in lots a great varieties for not much money.  Last year they were a bit small when we planted them-


Yeah pretty puny.  I was a little worried.  OK I was a lot worried.

But this year it has turned into this-IMG_1222


Still have a little growing to do, but I am amazed what a difference a year makes.  We lost a couple of plants to dogs and rabbits but that was an excuse to feed my plant buying habit for some fill ins.  So if you have a little patience, you should definitely give plant mail-order companies a try.

That and because they send you magazines in the dead of winter for spring ordering.  It’s like plant porn.




Overall things are going very well in the garden.  Other that the *^#@ rabbits that keep eating everything.  But I told myself that I need to get over that, so moving on.  One of the things that has taken off the most is our first tomato plant…IMG_1181

Yep the middle half of an entire bed is a single tomato plant that has already taken over two cages.   Good thing the rabbits ate all of the peas because there was no room for them anyway.  I can’t wait to harvest the tomatoes and start making my salsa.


Which brings me to the bad news about the next salsa ingredient…..the cilantro is not looking so hot.IMG_1176

Hmmmmm….   We thought if we staked it up that it would help with more delicious leaves and less of this-


Not so much.   Then I thought maybe cilantro was supposed to look like this at this time of year.  But I read Kim’s post over the NewlyWoodwards and that burst that bubble.

So now I am thinking to cut my losses and replant.  Unless the blogworld had any brilliant ideas to salvage this.


In case you are interested, the how-to page has finally been updated.  I struggled getting all the columns to line up correctly and therefore have not been adding to it and worrying about it “later”.  So I finally did away with the columns to make it more user friendly. And I promise to keep it updated this time.



Jack is digging the new sectional and this is his nightly position.  The pups are not allowed on furniture in the house, but since the outdoor furniture gets rained on a regular basis, we decided to let them cuddle on the cushions if we invited them.  Jack thinks this is a good choice on our part.

And I am thinking that the outdoor space will be ready for the big reveal by the end of the week so stay tuned!


Summer Laziness aka I Hate Watering

Summer is officially in full swing.  Bringing with it lazy afternoons, lemonade, relaxation.  And a brand new air conditioner that stopped working, multiple service visits, four nights sleeping the basement, an electrician and a new hole in the basement ceiling.  But that is a story for another day.  This is a happy summer post.

Anyway one of the things I love about summer is enjoying the garden and landscaping on maintenance mode and not planting/tons of work mode.

Ahhhh….pretty flowers and delicious vegetables.   But for the past couple of years I have struggled with keeping all the potted plants hydrated.  Every afternoon when I come home they look wilted.  And so I then had to water them everyday.  This gets really old and honestly makes me wish for a hard freeze in the beginning of September.

If was really dedicated I could install a drip irrigation system for all the plants.  But that takes too much work and planning. Next idea please.

Mulch helps with water conservation….but- while perfect for all the landscaping,  a little boring for the pots.  Being on the deck they needed some pizzazz.  I thought about polished river rock you can buy in the mesh bags in the craft stores. But for a couple bucks for a small bag, it could get expensive. 

So we bought two bags of marble chips at Home Depot.  Under $7 total and I think they bring a modern aspect to all the potted plants while conserving water.  Observe-









When we bought the rock, it was covered in dust and grit.  So I rinsed it in a shallow pot with drainage holes like I was panning for gold.  The rock looked so much better with a bath, and then I set it on the top of all the dirt.  Helpful hint- if you are going to work with landscape rock, wear gloves.  I did not and it really scratched up my natural nails.

Since adding the layer of rock, the soil has not been completely parched on a daily basis and I have been able to reduce my watering.  It was the a trifecta project of cheap, easy and quick but hopefully will have a positive impact on my plants and my sanity.  Unless someone wants to install drip irrigation on the deck.  Any takers?


Berry Time

I have been patiently waiting a year and a half for the raspberries to do something other than hide the ugly electrical box in the backyard…. and this morning they made it worth every single day.

Raspberries first harvest

Not knowing anything about raspberry bushes I had no idea when they were ready to pick.  Do they start to fall off, or do you have to cut the thorny stems with clippers?  I had no idea and in the back corner of the yard I was without a google-enabled device to answer this pressing question.  So I took the plunge and pulled one off.

Raspberries first harvest

It felt like a raspberry should and I had been doing the organic thing with the bushes this year so I poped it in my mouth.


I like raspberries from the grocery store and buy them whenever they are on sale, but this berry blew all of those out of the water.  It was so sweet. 

So I immediately got a basket to collect all the berries in and proceeded to eat one and then put one in the basket.  And then eat another two and then put one in the basket.

Here is what made it back to the sink.  Where they were promptly eaten before their flavor had to spoiled with refrigeration.

Raspberries first harvest

I planted two different varieties of raspberries-the classic pink/red color and another variety that ripens to a peach color. 

Looking at the bush, I should be getting larger and larger harvests because there are so many on there that are not ripe yet.  So we will be trying to consume them as fast as we can as well as freeze the extras for future smoothie making.

If you are a beginner garden like me and thought about trying raspberries, I would say go for it .  The first year of no fruit stinks, but my four plants have taken off this year and other than having the painful task of tying the thorny branches to a trellis, I have pretty much left them alone.  They have been disease and pest free with no intervention and I am not nearly as diligent in watering them as I am the other veggies.  They spread and need full sun, so if you have those criteria I would plant some and start counting the days until your first berry crop.  They fruit on two year old canes, so after this years harvest is complete, I will cut back all those branches and let the new canes grow so that they are ready for fruit next year.

Unfortunately, there was one nuisance that I could foresee ruining my happy berry day. Raspberries first harvest

And I knew that as mad I have been at the rabbits for killing all the spinach and eating countless other plants, if birds got all the berries that I had waited two years for,….well I just might explode.

So now the berry bushes now look like this. 

Raspberries first harvest
Hopefully the birds and I can remain friends.  While I am enjoying every single berry.

War Has Officially Been Declared

Rabbits are no longer welcome in our yard.

It rained a lot last week.  Like a cold week of April rain in May.  It was weird but it was a good excuse to get things done inside and deal with the stress of the end of the school year.

But one afternoon I got home from work and noticed all the pink roses were laying on the ground at the back of the yard.  The roses that were among the plants that I had spent an entire weekend preparing a bed for and planting.

“Wow it must have rained really hard last night to knock all those petals off of the roses”

Then I walked out there and saw this.  I guess the stem right under the flower were the tastiest.


And it made me very angry.  As in hoping the rabbits were bleeding internally from the thorns.  If we did not have a solid six foot fence around our yard, I would have thought that we had a deer problem.

Obviously with the rain, my number one rabbit repelling/killing team was not spending a lot of time outside.  Failures.


When it finally stopped raining I went out to spray Liquid Fence to deter them.  And I found even more damage.  Which made me angrier.


But, I have had success with this product in the past.   You have to reapply it every time it rains, which gets really old.  And it smells like a mixture of rotten eggs, puke, and toilets.  Two reasons why it is not a product that I look forward to using.

I was serious though so it applied it over all non-edible plats while muttering things like “die rabbits die.”  And even though the direction of the wind kept changing, dousing me in eau de rotten eggs that took two showers to get rid of, I was satisfied that I had foiled the mangy rabbits.  Victory!

The next day I walked over to the vegetable beds and witnessed this.


I refuse to spray liquid fence on the spinach because even if it was suitable for human consumption, I really don’t want my salad smelling or tasting like a toilet.  So I spayed some on the dirt in between the rows of spinach in the hopes that it may work.  And I laid some chives from my previously overgrown plant around it randomly.  Because in my mind, rabbits don’t like the smell of onions.  Probably not true, but in my agitation I was not thinking that straight.  And it sounded good.

According to my scientific google search, cayenne pepper and human hair also are good repellents.  But call me crazy, I again hesitate to put that all over food I hope to eat.

Sigh. So I think we are going to have to make a chicken wire fence around the raised beds to keep them out.  As well as to keep out one of the rabbit repellers who has shown a recent affinity for strawberries fresh from the plant.


Fence….Ugly? Yes….but probably will be necessary. 

Because I will win this war one way or another.

I hope.


Herbs on the Move

Know what my favorite thing about winter is?  How much it makes me appreciate spring. 

Because who can appreciate the absolutely gorgeous weather we have been having without going through the cold and incredibly long winter?

That is what I tell myself at least during the winter.  Sometimes it actually works.

Since spring is in the air, gardening is on my mind.  We are still in the iffy part of planting in good ole Zone 5 because we have been known to still have a random freeze this late.  But being the rebel I am, I decided that I could start planting my pots last week.  I know I am living on the wild side, but I figure that in the unlikely event we have a freeze, I can always pull them inside at night.

Since I am freeing up garden real estate this year, I decided all the the herbs were going to planted in pots on the deck.  There are two added bonuses to this.  First, most of them smell heavenly which brings a nice ambience to the deck space.  Also, all the flowers I planted in pots last year did not do very well so hopefully the herbs will succeed  much better.  And flowers can start to add up in terms of $$$.  So by replacing most of them with herbs I would be buying anyway, we are saving some money.

But then I stumbled onto a problem- pretty pots are expensive, especially when I plan on planting tons of herbs and some random flowers. 

I did have a stack of old terra cotta ones  in the garage and they are inexpensive for new ones as well…..but orange rust does not mesh with the color scheme of the outdoor decor I am going for. 

So I turned to my favorite thing for sprucing something up…..I bet you can guess what that is…..


But terra cotta is not a material that you can just slap some paint onto and call it good.  It took some prep work and specific materials.  So of course I am sharing the how-to so that you can also score some cheap and springy pots.

The How -To

1. First, gather all your posts and scrub them with soap and water.  I used a combination of new and old pots and definitely spent a lot more time scrubbing the mineral deposits and grime off of the old ones.


2. Let them dry for at least 24 hours.  Learn from my mistakes and do not set them on a cement garage floor if there is any moisture at all in the ground.  The terra cotta will suck it right up and they will never dry.  Which is not fun to discover when you are ready to start painting them.

3. Spray with a water proofer.   Terra Cotta is porous and when holding plants will suck all the moisture in from the dirt into the clay.  Which is bad news for your paint if you are expecting it to stick.  There are a lot of water proofers out there and some people suggest painting them with oil-based polyurethane to do the trick.  But we had cans of Thompsons spray water sealer laying around from some past project that I now have no memory of.  The terra cotta absorbed it right away and did not appear any different after spraying.  Spray every surface with this stuff- both inside and outside.  We went though a can and a half for all the pots pictured after applying one heavy coat.


4. Paint with Patio Paint in your desired color on both the outside and the inside.  All terra cotta surfaces must be covered so that no water permeates any part and causes your paint to peel.  This includes the inside of the water hole.  I found my patio paint at a local craft store next to the terra cotta pots and not next to the acrylic paint which caused me a little bit of confusion.


I covered everything with two coats of paint using a foam brush.  The yellow and the white did not cover as well, so I added an extra coat.  This paint dries really fast so the process did no ttake very long.   I also used the green on the lower inside part of most of the pots because I knew you would not see it but it covered very well.  And I had a big bottle of it.

5.  Let dry for at least 48 hours per the paint’s instructions.

6.  Fill with plants!


We put a coffee filter at the bottom the pots so that water could seep through but the dirt would stay put.

7. Color coordinate where you want particular herbs and enjoy!




Budget Breakdown:

$37 for pots (I already owned some)

$16 for paint

$0 for water sealer (already owned)

=$53 total…..which I think is great for 11 pots and some of them being large ones at that.

And I love what the color brings to the deck….I am so excited about how it is coming together.   Now I just need to figure out what I can cook with that monstrous sage that came back with a vengeance this year…..


Knock Knock….Spring is That You?

All around blogland I have been seeing beautiful and inspiring pictures of spring.  I love seeing all sorts of flowers and green re-making its appearance. 

So I thought I would share what good ole Zone 5 looks like this time of year.   Not as springy as the warm places are sporting but I am taking what we can get.

Especially considering that last weekend we started with this….mother nature did not get the memo that it was the middle of March. 







Unfortunately the rabbits (and weeds) are also making their spring appearance-IMG_0803



ahhhh spring…..

I just may have gone to Home Depot yesterday to buy some potting soil and pansies for the front porch.  And while I was there, the vegetable vendor just might have been there delivering all his goodies.  And I might have browsed them to see if lettuce and spinach were there.  You know because they can withstand a freeze and all.  And it does not hurt to check.  And to stare at the mini tomatoes and herbs.  Sigh.  But I sad happy to report that I restrained myself by repeating over and over “It is too early….they will freeze and die…and then you will be very very angry.”  So for the next couple of weeks I will just have to take solace in the green beginning to poke up and knowing that they are waiting for me to take home and be part of our garden this year.

Now if I can just figure out just how to get rid of the bunnies and weeds and figure out how to have the beds add compost to themselves I would be set.  Hmmmm….


Garden Report Card

Last year at this time, I was a gardening newbie.  Other than a couple of strawberries in a pot that were rather unsuccessful, I had never grown anything edible.

But I had grand visions and we built three raised beds.  And largely it was a success.  If I can do it with no background knowledge, so can you.

We started with three empty raised beds and a lot of gravel….


And planted some little sprouts in the them (wow my old camera was pretty crappy)…MOV02216

And by July we had this…DSC02382

Since it is now officially spring and am now a “seasoned” veteran, it is time to  plan for this year’s selections.

Should I have done this earlier?  Yeah probably.  Especially if I was going to start seeds indoors.

And this would be the case if that did not miserably fail at this task last year.  I blame the sunny window that was not sunny enough.


So this year we are sticking with plants that I buy and direct sowing seeds in the garden.  Once it thaws out I mean.

So here is what I planted last year -


Strawberries- A  We did not get a lot of fruit last year, but according to my sources that it normal and we should get a lot more this year.   Our lack of fruit also could be a result of a furry friend named Jack hijacking the fruit.  The entire summer, I was cursing the birds thinking they were the culprits.  Until Jack was caught not once, but four times with a perfect red wipe berry in between his paws.  Which he promptly ate as soon as saw him.  So even though this crop will not need to be replanted, a dog deterrent/fence will be in order.


Radishes- C  They grew very quickly and easily.  But I do not think we will replant this because Derek does not like radishes.  And other than an occasional one on my salad I am not huge on them.  So we decided that the garden real estate will be better served for something else.  But if you are new to gardening, this is a quick and easy crop to start with.


Red Leaf Lettuce- B  I really learned last year that lettuce is a cold season crop.  Once it it gets too hot, it starts to bolt and then tastes nasty.  So this will definitely be repeated this year but I will not be afraid to harvest some of it early and will replant a second crop for late summer/fall when in cools off.


White Onions- A  These were easy and we used them a lot.  I started these from an onion set which was easier than seed.  And they stored well.  Will be a repeat this year and I may add some purple onions. 

Chives-B These would get an A except we did not use them as much as I thought I would.  But they are a perennial and are already looking very robust in the snow.  Even if they did not I would be replanting.


Pole Beans-B  This grew after the bunnies decimated them twice (note to self to install dog and rabbit deterrent).  But the trellis I installed was not tall enough and I waited a little too long to harvest them.  So they were, well, stringy.  But I have learned from my mistakes and they should be spectacular this year.  At least I hope.

Sugar Snap Peas-F  One of the lowest grades in the garden because…well they never grew.  I replanted them twice and really thought that I had been successful.  But my “success” turned out to be giant weeds that I spent the summer fighting and no peas in sight.  But I will not be beaten by these peas and will be triumphant this year.  Hopefully.



Tomato-A  We bought this plant on a whim and ended up with so.many.tomatoes.  We are not huge tomato people, but the sauce and salsa and brushetta is already being planned for this year.


Jalapeño- A A random purchase and we ended up with tons of them.  Way too many for our Mexican nights.  So I gave a lot away and made jelly with them.  I was happy how that turned out and  a single plant does not take up too much space, so it is on the shopping list for this year..


Mint-A  We bought it for the mojitos.  And it did not disappoint.  Enough said.


Basil- A+ Probably the most used plant in the garden.  So easy to grow and so easy to use.

Parsley-C Looks pretty and was easy to grow but I did not find a whole lot of uses for it.  But it is a perennial so it is back.

Cilantro-F The only other F in the bunch.  I killed it planting it.  But let’s try it again.

Sage- C-See parsley.  Exactly.


Raspberries- Since they fruit during the second year, I can’t comment on that yet.  But they grew really well and I have high hopes for this summer

Carrots-D Since Derek is allergic to uncooked carrots (i know weird) and I hate cooked carrots these did not used that much.  Not to mention I really struggled with unearthing them.  As in hours digging struggled.  So these will not be repeated.


Pomegranate- B  I bought a dwarf pomegranate online last year.  And I had to plant it in a pot because it cannot survive the winter outdoors. So it is growing in my kitchen right now.  There is tons of fruit on it but I am a little unsure how big they will grow.  I can’t wait to see what it does this summer, especially now that it is in a bigger and prettier pot.

I am also planning on moving all the herbs out of the raised beds and into pots on the deck.  Why?  First of all I want to free up some space in the beds for some new things. And my hope is that if they are closer to the kitchen that they will be used more often.  And last but not least, the more pots I fill with herbs , the less I will have to fill with flowers.  There will be flowers of course, just not every pot.

So with all the new space what is going in there?

Here is what I am thinking, but I am open to suggestions and to my whims when I am staring at plants and I decide something looks good.

-Cantaloupe-  I love this fruit and they are not cheap at the store.  From what I read they take a lot of room but I am up for the challenge.  Maybe.

-Spinach- This will like lettuce in that we will not be munching on it in July, but we have been trying to eat more of it.

-Grapes-I really want a grape arbor.  Just need to figure out a place for it that will not look dumb.  We will see….

-Red Pepper- We use this a lot in cooking and hopefully it will as easy as the jalapeño

-Potato-  I am considering this but am still unsure.  They are cheap at the store and we really should not be eating them that much.  But I really like them.

-Asparagus-I think I might give this one a whirl because we should be eating more of it and it a perennial

So what do you think?  Anything I need to be adding or subtracting off my list?


Delayed Gratification

This weekend it looked like a small animal had started to make small, systematic burrows all throughout the garden. So should we start setting traps? Or set the dogs out on a hunt?

Actually we were the the culprits. Why? To plant bulbs of course. Tulips are on my top five favorite things about spring and you have to plant them in the fall in order to get the enjoyment in the spring.

I fell in love with tulips while we were in college. They planted millions of tulip bulbs every winter and the campus was covered with them in the spring. It made me so happy to walk around campus and know spring was coming.

Bulb planting used to be one of Derek's least favorite activities because honestly digging hundreds of tiny holes in heavy clay soil took forever. But this weekend we planted over 150 bulbs in less than a half hour. How? With these two tools-

The specifically designed drill bit for bulb was a life saver. Derek drilled the holes and I followed behind him throwing in the bulbs. Then we just covered it back up with dirt and start the countdown until spring to see all the pretty flowers pop up.

When we did it the old way, we used this thing. The soil just got stuck in it and we had to pry out with a stick.

After a particularly frustrating bulb planting session two years ago, Derek asked why we did not drill like the landscaping guys at college did when they were covering hills with hundreds of them. I assumed that the drill was a specialized piece of landscaping equipment not available to mere homeowners. But luckily for us we found it at our local hardware store for a couple of bucks. So this year, after just a half hour, our backyard beds were prepped to hopefully look like our front ones did last spring.


My One Seed Success

Last winter I had the bright idea of starting tons of seeds indoors to get a jump start on the spring.

The bright idea failed miserably as everything died a) when I set the tray outside to "harden" the seedlings or b) when I planted them in the ground. I even followed the instructions and everything. Sigh....

When I planted my side yard I put a couple of dahlia seedlings in between the other plants just to see if they would survive. Much to my surprise this is what they look like now-

The bees even like them-
The side garden has really turned into the "cutting" garden despite the fact that it does not get tons of sun. I can't wait to plant even more flowers there next year.
And what is the point of having a cutting garden without vases of flowers?

So worth the packet of seeds that cost a dollar. Dahlias won't survive a frost, but I have read that if you dig up the tubers and store them over the winter that you can replant the same plants in the spring. Hopefully they will be as successful as the seed. Well the dahlia seed at least....

Yeah for Spring!

Since all my new plants need to have some time (OK a lot) to grow in, I am trying to make myself be patient by enjoying spring bulbs and the pots I have planted. Patience is not one of my strengths so I am going to have to keep looking at these pictures.

We planted tons of bulbs in the front yard last fall. Tulips are one of my favorite flowers and I hope to have even more in the yard next year. I spent hours in the local garden store last fall picking out my favorites and could not wait to see what they looked like when they bloomed this year. Unfortunately bunnies ate the buds off one of my favorites but we still had plenty.
Some pots are still empty but I did plant the three in the planter on the deck last week. Last year I put the same flowers in each pot. Not the best idea. This worked for two of the three but the third pot was shaded so I could not get the dahlia to grow.

So I learned from my mistake and this year each pot was planted with different flowers better suited to the light it will be receiving. I did use a "spiky" plant (the technical term) to unify the three in some way. It probably would also look better if all the plants were the same color, but I could not find what I needed all in one color. If I was patient enough to go to more than one store that might have happened. Next year I will be posting that I learned from this mistake:). Here are the three pots in all their "I need to have time to grow in" glory. (the roses in the black pots still need to be planted in the ground)
Pot #1 (the shady one)-Calla lilies and impatiens
Pot #2- Marigold and Snapdragons
Pot#3- Gerbera daisies and a white annual I can't remember the name of

And even though the roses are not in the ground yet, I am still enjoying the flowers. Nothing is better than fresh cut roses from the garden

This Means War

Notice to the Rabbits who are eating all my new plants- Get out my yard or else.

I went to check on my new plants progress this morning and there were teeth marks all over my plants, especially the hostas. Grrrr.....

So I did tons of research on rabbit repellents. And by tons of research I mean I went to Home Depot and bought one of the ones they had.

Here is what I ended up with-

It was expensive at $11 for a spray bottle but if it saves my plants from the bunnies it is worth it.

So after work on Tuesday I decide to spray it on since it is not going to rain for 24 hours supposedly. First lesson- do not wear nice clothes while applying. Why? Because the smell is a mixture of piss and puke. The entire time I was applying it I had my shirt over my nose. According to the bottle, the smell is not noticeable to humans after it is dry and I sure hope so because if not it will also repel me from the garden.

As I am finishing I am also thinking quite happily to myself that this will also keep the dogs out of the landscaping because of the smell which would be a double bonus.

So I finish applying the spray to every new plant and then put the noxious bottle back in the garage. I then walk past the back windows still doing a happy dance and thinking how clever I am. As I am walking back in I see Jack (you know the long-haired dog that every thing sticks to) laying on his back on my plants and rubbing himself all over them (smashing them in the process of course) in order to get the smell all over him. I should have gotten a video of him to add to this post but I ran outside to yell at him before that thought popped in my head.

Awesome......rabbit repellent is our crazy dogs new perfume.

It is Not the Prettiest Garden Accessory....

But it is super functional so our rain barrel has a new place in our garden. What is a rain barrel? It is a giant barrel that collects water from your downspout. You then use this water for your plants, lawn or some other non-drinking water activity. So you conserve water at the same time you are not flooding your yards. It is amazing how fast it fills up with just one downspout. It only took one rain storm to fill the entire thing, so I will have a lot of watering to do. Here it is hidden behind the deck-
I have been thinking about getting a rain barrel for awhile since I do so much watering over the summer and our sump pump is constantly running when we have any rain. And maybe I will even admit I was jumping on the "going green" bandwagon. If you look for them online they are expensive and I was not going to spend $100 on something just to save some water, bandwagon or not. So when I got an email that they were doing a free workshop at the local high school I signed up. Or rather I signed us up.....I was worried that I would not be able to carry it to my car by myself so Derek got roped in under the pretense of "It will be fun!" I don't think he fell for it but he did go with me. What a good husband:).

The process was very quick and easy and we did not actually have to crawl into the barrel to install the spigot like This Young House did. But it wouldn't have been bad if we had to since our rain barrel contained Mountain Dew syrup in it's former life and you can still smell the sugary sweetness.

So how did we make a rain barrel in less than 10 minutes? We drilled two for the spigot and one for the overflow hose and then screwed in the accessories. We drilled the spigot hole as low as possible and the overflow hole as high as possible.

The plastic pieces were provided as part of the workshop but looked like something you could pick up at your local hardware store. The spigot did leak slightly after the first rain, but Derek fixed it very easily with a little plumber's tape.

The top of the barrel was already cut and had a black plastic flower pot in it. We added a screen on top to keep out mosquitoes and other dirt that runs off the roof. That was the extent of the rainbarrel making, so it was very quick and easy. They did say you can paint them and I am thinking that I might try that next year to make it blend in more. Or maybe covering it with bamboo fencing...... oh the possibilities

So we brought it home and carried it to the backyard. Then we set it up on cinder blocks and Derek diverted the downspout so that the water runs into the barrel. If you are installing one, make sure it is on level ground so it does not tip over. They are very heavy obviously once they have water in them and you don't want gallons and gallons of water spilling all over your yard.

Can't wait to get watering without turning on the hose!

Bring on the Miracle Grow

For the second weekend in a row, Derek and I were out in the yard all day for two days. Who needs to watch the NFL draft when you can listen to it on the radio? It all started when my plants from Bluestone Perennials arrived on Thursday. I have been planning their arrival for awhile. I thought we had another week or two until they would come, but I was so excited when I knew these boxes were waiting for me.
After they were all unpacked

So we got up bright and early on Saturday to start. We began with the front bed since it was smaller. This bed was a challenge to choose plants for because it gets almost no sunlight. There was not much grass growing in this very shady area so we just tilled it up, and added a couple bags of compost before planting. We went back and forth about edging. Since we were dealing with the tree roots which made digging out a trench for edging difficult, we are trying the "cutting a clean line in grass" method. We will see it works.....I see a lot of weeding in my future. Here is the planted bed.....sadly the plants still look wimpy and small. But I just keep telling myself that they will grow and I should resist the urge to keep adding more. Hopefully by next year we will have a beautifully filled in bed. Or at least keep the sexy foundation from showing.
Then we moved onto the second bed in the back. If we had been smart we would have edged it this past fall and been preparing the soil by killing the grass since then. But we are not smart and we still had tons of grass growing there like pictured here-

The original (and overly ambitious) plan was to dig up the sod and move it to other parts of the yard that needed it. However after we, I mean Derek, took 15 minutes to dig up a very small section (with a lot of grunting and cursing mixed in) we decided to ditch the original plan. Next plan- rent a tiller and just till up the entire thing. But after calling around and learning that a tiller that had enough juice to cut through grass roots would need a truck to be moved, we decided that plan sucked too. So then we went to google to figure out what other idiots do who do not plan ahead. We found the lasagna method.

So I went out with my beautifully drawn plan, my yardstick, tape measure and all the plants to plot exactly where they all went. This took a lot longer than I was expecting because a) the bed's dimensions did not match the plan's dimensions exactly b) when the plants were actually in my hand I had some different creative visions and c) measuring is not my strength. After I got them all set in the correct places, Derek dug very large holes which we filled with a mixture of dirt, compost and the plant. So it looked like we were planting in the middle of our lawn since the grass was still there. After we were done with that, we laid down newspaper over the grass and around the plants. Then we dumped tons of mulch on top of it. So our planting bed now resembles a lasagna. I am hoping to till around the plants next spring and that their large compost filled holes will keep them happy this year. But I could be a gardening moron.....

Again the plants are puny and you can barely see them in the pictures. Also I forgot to order some of them so I will have to go and fill in holes later. Just picture the plants as large as they are on the plan-

But right now they look like this-
The rock thing in the back is the dog pups in the landscaping!

Does Miracle Grow bring out the flavor in lasagna? Because I think we really need it.....

It Hurts to Blog....

....because I am so sore. I never want to see rocks again.

The rain did clear up Saturday so Derek and I got to wallow in the mud to move three yards of rock and two yards of dirt into the backyard. That is about 65 wheelbarrows full. That is shoveling it in to a wheelbarrow, pushing the wheelbarrow through mud, dumping and spreading each load.....just in case you did not comprehend what 65 wheelbarrows entailed. Derek sat in bed last night calculating how many shovel fulls that involved but I will not bore you with that.

The weather turned out beautifully in the afternoon and we used every last minute of light to get everything moved. We had almost the perfect amount of dirt to fill the beds and fill in holes along the fence from the pups digging adventures. The rock was another story.......we, and by we I mean Derek, seriously over-estimated the amount of rock. He measured and plugged those calculations into an online calculator, but somehow when we were finished with the areas that we wanted rocks, 1/3 of the pile was still on the driveway. So either his measurements were off, the calculator was off, or the nursery just felt extra generous and decided to deliver an extra yard of rock on our driveway (Derek is claiming the last two of course).

So we made it a little thicker. Still tons on the driveway. Then we added some to another bed. Still a huge pile. So we talked about storing it for another area to use later on. We filled up one storage bin, realized how heavy it was and decided one bin was enough. So we walked around the cul-de-sac and checked to see if our neighbors wanted any any rock. Luckily we had a taker for some. After they were done taking a couple of wheel barrows full, we brainstormed about where else we could dump it. Finally we came up with the neglected side yard. So we added some under the bushes on the side. We tried to dance with happiness as we swept off the empty driveway but we were too sore.

Here are some pics.....sadly they still do not look that nice without plants. Also the grass really needs to be mowed but hopefully next weekend things will be farther along.
Halfway through the dirt pile

The dog path behind the new landscaping bed which still needs to be de-sodded. You can vaguely see the edging in the incredibly tall grass. The flowerpot is covering a sprinkler head that we still need to edge so it does not get covered in rock.

One of our other beds which got covered in 4 inches of rock because we had so much left.

Weekend Fun

This is what was awaiting us when we arrived home from work on Friday-

Actually there was a lot more dirt....I forgot to snap a pic until after we had started moving it. But anyway there was 2 cubic yards of dirt to fill my raised vegetable beds and 3 yards of rock to put around the beds and for a dog path behind the landscaping.

Since we knew it was going to rain this morning, we got all the dirt moved last night. We both woke up very sore (dirt is really heavy) but hopefully this afternoon the rock will be able to be finished and I can post some pics. Rain rain go away!

Landscaping Slow Progress

This Saturday we made some progress on the new landscaping in the backyard. My goal was to get all the edging in for the back bed, remove sod, place raised vegetable beds, and add compost to other beds. We would have made more progress but Mother Nature was/is not cooperating. Yesterday it was cool with intermittent rain. While we were loading our cart with landscape edging in the outdoor section of Home Depot, it started to downpour. It continued to do that on and off all day. We had orginally hoped to get dirt and rock delivered Sunday, but with temperatures in the 30's and snow flurries, we decided against it. So unfortunately we are on hold for at least a couple of weeks since next weekend is Easter and we will not have time to get anything done.

The first thing we had to do was decide on what type of edging. We wanted something cheap, nice-looking, easy to install, bendable and dog proof. This was a tall order. After much discussion/arguing at Home Depot (in the rain of course) we finally decided on the green metal edging. We had previously used this type at our old house and it is relatively easy to install.

We brought it home and marked off the beds with a tape measure, string, spray paint and my lovely plans. We did switch around the placement of the vegetable beds because our property line is not square and the way I had drawn it on paper did not look the best when we placed them there.

The plan

I bet you are wondering why we have a line running parallel to the fence. Wouldn't it make more sense to have the bed run all the way to the fence since we are trying to hide it to make it less of a focal point?

Yes but.....

Or should I say....
We are creating the landscaping with the pups (and our sanity) in mind. They have worn a path around the perimeter of the yard and repeatedly have killed the grass. Along that back section you can also see all the holes they have dug to try to see the dog that lives behind us. (If you look closely you can also see the various materials we have unsuccessfully stuck in the holes to get them to stop). Winter is also a digger and I do not want to give her a reason or permission to be in the landscaping beds. So we are making a 2 foot rock dog path behind the landscaping and in between the vegetable beds. Will it work....I have no idea. But I am hopeful that with practice and training it will be successful. If not, it will be a very expensive and labor intensive flop.

But back to the edging....after we marked the lines we then laid down the edging and dug holes for the vegetable beds. Derek hammered down the edging with a rubber mallet. After his arm was numb, I tried a couple whacks and learned it was more difficult than it looks.
We extended the bed slightly so we did not have to cut the metal edging

We also built a support system for the raspberry bushes in the back bed. Hopefully they will form a dense thicket to hide the pretty cable box. I am trying to be optimistic that we can get the compost, garden soil and rock delivered soon so it will really start to come together. Here's hoping for rain-free warm weekends!

Landscaping = $$$

We are always trying to find less expensive ways to "pretty up" our house and landscaping is no exception. But I am always surprised how quickly the prices of plants add up. Every spring I fill my cart with beautiful plants at our local nursery and then am stunned that I ended up spending a couple hundred dollars when it is all rung up.

Since we have a lot of area to cover this year, I have been searching for more cost effective ways to fill the areas with plants and actually make it look nice. At our old house we ordered a pre-planned garden from Bluestone Perennials which was perfect for our space and inexpensive (although it might have grown better if I did not plant a garden that needs full sun under a tree...let's just say that was a learning experience). So I have been getting their catalog ever since. I spent hours poring over pages in the middle of winter and drooling over all the gorgeous choices. My catalog had more post-its than pages. But I quickly learned that there is a huge difference between finding plant you like to look at and actually planning a landscape.

So I needed help.....but in the DIY spirit was going to research and do it myself. I spent a couple of hours at the book store poring over books and magazines(and actually bought a couple). I then gathered all my materials and sat down to devise a plan.
We have four areas of landscaping on the to-do list this year: a small strip on the side yard that currently is holding dead stumps, the fruit/vegetable garden, front landscaping on left side of house to hide the sexy foundation, and along the back fence. The first two areas we are using mostly seeds that have already been started. Since all my flower seeds needed to be planted about 12 inches apart, my plan was very easy to put together.

I used GrowVeg for my vegetable garden which also made that super easy (I will post those plans later).

Then came the more difficult areas. The front area was difficult because it was in full shade. The back area was difficult because it is so....big. Since my new books gave me so much landscape knowledge I knew we needed a color scheme. In the front all the flowers will be white. In the back, most of the plants will be hot pink and yellow with a couple pops of white.

So this is how I attacked it. I went through my catalogs page by page and copied and pasted plant pics and descriptors from their website into a word document. If I like a plant I copied and pasted, keeping in mind my colors, and the need for differing plant heights and foliage. I had one document for my full shade area and one document for full/partial sun. After that I made a table with names, color, height, planting distance and price. Then came the fun part....I plotted the areas on graph paper and started drawing in plants from my table. I mixed up my colors and put taller plants in the back. The plants that were on sale suddenly were more beautiful than the others that were full price. If the plant only needed 12 inches between them, they got a small circle and it grew from there. After spending hours going through the planning steps here are my masterpieces:

I then ordered all the plants and they totaled out to $300 which is awesome for 70 plants/shrubs and shipping. But this brings up another problem....I am not very patient. So it is going to be very difficult to wait for my plants to ship since we still are not past our last frost date here. Also it be difficult because I will want it to look full and lush the first year but all the plants will be small. So when I go the nursery I will have to leave my purse in the car to stop buying more plants to fill in. Yeah Spring!