Thirty Days in the Garden: Sunday Snapshot

Here’s a snapshot of our garden at the end of another lovely weekend.

I spent a little time pulling weeds and dead-heading flowers, but I had to buckle down and write my Lifted Spirits board report, in addition to other mundane activities.

Mike finished assembling the glider, and we all took turns sitting on it. I promise pictures soon.

In the meantime, here are several photos of the garden at dusk. This is such a wonderful time of year in the garden.

Thirty Days in the Garden: VegTrug Cozy

We planted our tomatoes in the VegTrug a few weeks ago, then promptly covered it with a net canopy. I wanted to keep Tessa out of the box if possible

Tomatoes, herbs, and strawberries in the VegTrug

There are a pair of tomato plants in the box, and an oregano plant from my friend Mary who inadvertently bought two.

Tessa’s a clever feline, so she figured out a way to lift the cover and climb inside. I tried tightening the velcro strap, but to no avail. So far, she’s only sleeping in there. Hopefully, she’ll take care of her other business elsewhere.

Tessa enjoying the warm mesh covering

A handful of strawberry plants grow along the perimeter. I noticed today that a few stray geranium plants are back. They’ll fill the box if left there, so eventually I need to take them out.

Flowering strawberry plant

I stuck my head under the netting to take photos, and I have to admit that it’s cozy in there.

The underside of the VegTrug. No wonder Tessa likes it in there.

I bought the VegTrug five years ago so that I could expand my growing area. It fits perfectly over the business end of the garden that houses the low-voltage transformer and an irrigation manifold intake valve.

Yawn.

The VegTrug is a marvel. The base is shaped like a V, allowing for deeper planting in the center and shallow-rooting herbs along the perimeter. It works perfectly on the gravel bed near the other two planting boxes and has added a lot more planting space for sun-loving vegetables.

Another fun assembly project
Young tomato plant starting to flower
Growing food is gratifying

In about a month, I’ll add some basil to the mix. I used to plant the tomatoes and the basil simultaneously but the basil started to flower. I kept pinching back the flowers, but you have to stay on top of it. Once the basil flowers, it bolts. Once the plant bolts the energy goes to the flowers instead of the tasty basil leaves. We love making Caprese salads, so with luck, I’ll get my timing right this year, and we’ll have lots of salads on our summer table.

Caprese salad from 2014

I’m off to bed. I hope you’re enjoying your weekend so far.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Flat Pack Glider

The garden glider is here!

Some assembly required

Yesterday I mentioned replacing our garden swing with a glider, and today it arrived. Wow, that seemed fast. I received the shipping notification while downtown volunteering, and I could hardly wait to get home.

When I got here, Mike had already disassembled the old swing. It sat in a pile near the driveway.

I raced into the back yard picturing a fully assembled glider. Only then did I realize the some-assembly-required part of the deal. The new glider arrived in a flat cardboard box.

Flat pack glider

I should know better. Unless it’s a couch or an appliance, there is almost always some assembly required.

We moved the stacked pieces into place and removed the packaging. Straight out to the box, we realized one of the glider arms had been pulled away from its screws. Seeing the bent screws and shredded wood left me crestfallen.

Damaged glider arm

Mike is Mr. Fix it, so when I suggested we call and request a replacement part, he assured me he could make it work. While I attached the seat to the back, he pulled out the damaged screws and set about the repair. The wood glue in his workbench is past its usefulness date, so that meant a trip to the hardware store.

Mike applying wood glue to broken glider arm

We had a quick dinner, and then Mike glued and reassembled the glider’s arm. It needs two hours to cure, so it’s resting against the kitchen counter under a couple of boxes of sparkling water.

Waiting for the glue to dry and set

We’ll be back at it on Sunday. I’ll share more photos then.

Happy weekend! May your days be assembly-free.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Projects

I enjoy a good garden project. I like refreshing things as needed, but I know my skill set. I don’t tackle the unmanageable.

I have two garden projects lined up. Now that I’ve committed them to my blog, I know I’ll see them through.

San Jose summers are getting hotter, so I’ve learned to tackle outdoor projects long before the summer solstice. If I wait, then it’s just too hot.

My first project is to replace the top of my potting bench. The bench doubles as a sideboard when we entertain (ha), and it also stores our emergency earthquake kit.

Our earthquake kit lives here

I sanded and repainted the entire bench a few years ago and it turned out well. I used chalk paint, a first for me. I stenciled a fern pattern on the lower half, a small detail that made me smile. It’s fun trying something new.

2018: The rest of the bench looks good, but the top is shot

Unfortunately, the surface of the bench didn’t last. The paint started to chip after just two years. Last year I decided to repaint the surface with house paint. House paint is made to stand up to weather, so it seemed like a safe bet. It was a production buying anything last year due to the pandemic, but we waited in line, got the paint, and came home. I sanded and repainted the surface and it looked ok.

This is what it looks like today.

2021: A year after house paint application

This time I plan to remove the boards and replace them with a solid piece of wood. I’m hoping the hardware store can cut a couple of notches for a snug fit, but if not, I’m happy to go with a rectangle. I’ll apply to coats of the house paint, and I might even buy a topper to extend the life of the bench.

The second project will come as a shock to my regular readers: I’ve decided to replace my garden swing with a glider.

2012: My first and most ambitious makeover

Mike and the boys bought me the swing for Mother’s Day in 2009. I’ve finally crossed over from sentimental to enough already. The challenge with this swing is that the cover and cushions are built-in to the structure. You can’t remove them during the off-season. Instead, I covered the entire swing with a clear drop-cloth. This protected it from the rain, but not the squirrels. Season after season I replaced the cover, re-stuffed the cushions, made new pillows, only to start over again in a year or two.

Mike will help me take apart the frame so we can move it through our narrow sideboard. Curbside recycling will haul and recycle the frame. Only the tattered cushion and mesh will go into the landfill.

I ordered the glider on-line, so it’s slowly making its way across the country. I hope it’s as pretty as it looked in the photo. Once the glider is set up, I’ll replace the half umbrella cover, and I might even paint the tables.

Once upon a time

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Sweet Peas

The first of the sweet peas came up this week. The soft petals and gentle scent fill me with a sense of nostalgia.

Sweet peas are easy to grow. This vine is growing on top of weed cloth and pea gravel

My friend Kelly got me hooked on sweet peas (the flowering vine variety) a few years ago after a chat on our blogs. Up until then, I had grown the vegetable sweet peas, but not the flowering vine. I didn’t know what I was missing?

The petals remind me of butterfly wings

I planted the seeds late that first year, with a so-so crop. The seeds need to go into the ground early. The following year they came up on their own, and I’ve had a beautiful, self-seeded crop ever since.

The white flowers are a soft yellow before they emerge

The vines grow close to the sidewalk on both sides, ensuring a sweetly scented stroll past my house.

Sweet peas emerging on both sides of the sidewalk

I enjoy making small bouquets, mixing in some lush fern cuttings, and whatever else is in bloom at the time. I save empty jars throughout the year so that I have plenty to give away.

It will be a few more weeks before they take off, but we planted several stakes over the weekend so they can happily climb skyward.

Sweet peas and California poppies growing near the curb

I can’t wait.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Lady Banks Rose

It’s Lady Banks rose season. We have a pair of these climbing roses (Rosa banksiae) growing on either side of the orange tree. Their soft yellow blooms are cheerful and a nice way to brighten up the fence. The orange tree growing in the same corner is densely foliated, providing shade year-round. The roses grow just outside of the orange tree’s perimeter, along two fences and the back of the garden swing.

Lady Banks Rose Rosa banksiae

Lady Banks is a low-maintenance rose, requiring little water or fuss. They bloom once a year in spring, and the show is spectacular. Tiny roses cascade along a thornless vine.

I’m supposed to prune the vines just after they bloom for vigorous growth the following season. The problem I have is that I’m never quite sure that they’ve finished blooming. It’s hard not to want to preserve their beauty as long as possible.

Lady Banks roses

I think I did better last year given the prolific blooms, but when I look at some of the nursery photos online I think I can do better!

Our back fence, left of the orange tree

No matter. They’re a garden darling and they are here to stay.

The vine arched over the walkway to join the bougainvillea

In other news, Mike and I received our first dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine this morning. It took weeks to find available appointments for our first jab. They scheduled our second appointment before we left. Four weeks from now we’ll return for our second dose. By early June we’ll be fully vaccinated.

We’re impressed with the efficiency of the process. We were in and out in under an hour and that included check-in, paperwork, the jab, and the obligatory 15 minute waiting period before we could leave.

I hope the vaccine is making it into your arm soon if you haven’t received one already. I’m feeling hopeful for the first time in a year.

Now back to those roses.

Thirty Days in the Garden: A Second Little Free Library

Several years ago I spotted a book box in a nearby neighborhood and I fell in love with the idea. I came home and told Mike. It took several months to bring the idea to fruition, but by January the following year, we had a Little Free Library of our own. It sits at the curb near the garden and attracts visitors throughout the day.

Little Free Library

Being a part of the Little Free Library movement has been a joyous experience. I’m friends with the owner of the library that inspired me, and I’ve met other LFL stewards along the way.

My friend Nick built the first library from scratch using reclaimed and recycled material. He did an amazing job. He even thought to add light by connecting it to a landscape light below.

Lighting wired to the landscape light

After several years in the sun, the library needed a facelift. My friend and artist Donna Pierre worked her craft. Donna has amazing ideas and the skills to see those ideas to fruition.

Donna’s beautiful art and craft

When I sit in my home office or work in the kitchen, I see visitors throughout the day. The Little Free Library attracts people of all ages.

Last year when the pandemic hit, the library’s use skyrocketed. Children were out of school looking for something to do. Teachers stopped by, with one explaining that she had been forced to leave her classroom on short notice without any teaching materials. Some stewards closed their library for fear of spreading COVID. I left mine in place, assuming that books could be wiped down if necessary. In those days people were wiping down groceries.

I had several children’s books stored in my garage, so I took a large plastic bin, turned it on its side, and filled it with my stash. I placed the box along the low wall leading up to our deck. It’s the perfect height for small readers.

Temporary book bin, summer 2020
2020 Debut: Children’s Little Free Library

As the weather started cooling down, I knew the plastic bin would need modifying or replacing. Right on cue, the bin cracked, brittle from the overhead sun. It had to go.

The only thing better than one Little Free Library is a second one. I ordered the largest pre-made box available through LittleFreeLibrary.org and asked my friend Donna if she could work her magic once again.

Little Free Library viewed from beneath the Wisteria

This allowed us to support the LFL non-profit while providing work to a local artist. I stocked the original library with children’s books on one side and adult fare on the other. The second Little Free Library is exclusively children’s books.

I read voraciously growing up. Libraries in my youth were a refuge and a treat. I thought I would grow up to be a librarian. It’s been a circuitous route, but in my way I’m living that librarian dream. What a thrill!

Art by Donna Pierre, 2020

Thirty Days in the Garden: Easter

We’re enjoying a gorgeous Easter here in Silicon Valley. Mike made homemade waffles for breakfast after we all slept in. I ate mine with mixed berries from a frozen mix. I look forward to berry season every year, but it’s early yet. The frozen fruit is surprisingly good, and a bit better for my waistline than the alternative.

We took a drive to the Wildlife Center Silicon Valley, something we do a few Sunday’s a month. WCSV rehabs wildlife and when possible, return them to their natural habitat. The non-profit uses soft t-shirts rather than old towels so that talons and claws aren’t caught on the loops.

I sort clothing at Lifted Spirits every week, and set aside t-shirts that are badly stained, torn, or sporting inappropriate language. Trust me, I’ve seen some doozies. It’s a nice excuse to drive out to the park, and it feels good passing on something useful that might otherwise end up in a landfill. Baby squirrels and rescued hawks don’t care what the t-shirt says.

If you celebrate, I hope you’ve had a lovely Easter.

Happy Easter

Thirty Days in the Garden: Wisteria

I’ve admired Wisteria vines forever, but I never dreamed I could actually grow one. They need full sun and a sturdy trellis for support, and once established they can be tree-like in stature.i

A few years ago we had to remove one of our magnolia trees due to an unrelenting case of scale. I manually scraped off the scale after pruning away the inner branches. It was a tedious and unpleasant job, but I really wanted to save the tree. The scale returned the following year. According to the arborist the scale probably came with the tree. Without a toxic application that would harm all insects, the tree wouldn’t survive.

Nasty business: scale-infested magnolia

As sorry as I was to see the tree go, it made room for this love Wisteria.

We moved an under-utilized arched trellis from the back garden to support the vine. It took a couple of years to train the Wisteria but it’s now a lovely shape.

Wisteria growing in our front garden

It surprised me to learn from Wikipedia that Wisteria is a member of the legume family. Further, the article described Wisteria as a “woody climbing bine.” I puzzled over that for a while, having never heard the term bine before. I eventually realized it was a typo. No judgement as I make plenty of typos myself, but I had a good laugh nonetheless.

Wisteria vine along the ramp

Pictured below, left to right: rhododendrons, gardenias, freesias, a white camellia, native grasses, branches from a healthy magnolia, and my trusty garden cart near the fence.

I’m pleased that the flowering vine is doing well.

This walkway is a gently sloping ramp. The sign says Sharon’s Way. My sister has MS and could no longer visit our home, so we had a landscape architect design a ramp from the curb to the house. It’s subtle and beautiful.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Minor Amusements

My garden serves up minor amusements now and again, little surprises that make me grin. Here’s a recent one:

Something ate a hole in this California poppy making me think of a tent for a traveling snail.

Motel 6 for mollusks

Equally amusing but more annoying, is the weed that gets a foothold in the center of an established plant. There is no way to get the weed out by the roots without completely uprooting the shrub. I manage to get my gloved hand under the low branches of each perennial, only to come away with part of the weed and no roots.

The weeds aren’t thumbing their noses at me, are they?

Some amusements are more along the lines of quaint, like this self-seeded lavender. Planted by the wind or a bird, the starter plant grows in a small pot surrounded by succulents. It’s nice of the container to host this little upstart, but now the plants are probably intertwined. Stay tuned for updates.

Lavender looking small and unassuming
This is how big the plant will get
I hope they all get along. It appears that the succulents are reproducing.

This photo is reminiscent of my girlhood. I was taller than average, rail-thin, with bright red hair. I longed to be one of the pretty-in-pink-petite girls, but alas I only grew taller. I’m at peace with my uniqueness now, but I wouldn’t want to relive those early years.

A praying mantis is oddly amusing, but startling as well. They show up during the summer months in shades of brown like this one, or green. They pivot their head giving you that odd feeling of being watched. The mantis is good for the garden, as long as they leave the hummingbirds in peace.

This ceramic lizard was destined for the trash. Like a lot of children, my son loved creating art. Then he reached adolescents and decided it wasn’t worth saving. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, so I moved a few pieces into the garden. It was amusing to discover that a plant had taken root in the center of the lizard’s tail.

I’ve shared this tip with some of my organizing clients, who are reluctant to part with ceramic pieces from their child’s grade school. The ceramic holds up well in the garden, it frees shelf space in the home, and it creates a wonderful conversation-starter when guests happens upon the garden treasure.

My favorite amusement of all is finding Tessa incognito.

Where’s Tessa?

Who doesn’t like a game of hide and seek?

I hope you find ways to amuse yourself this weekend.