Wednesday, August 28, 2013

they are painting my house, and other stories

I have spent a lot of time this summer opening favorite blogs and seething, "Do you see that post date at the top of your page?  Do you?  That was MORE THAN A WEEK AGO!"  My last post date is over a month ago.  Oops. 

In my defense, this is a personal blog, but still. 

The summer is not over (I believe it ends September 21, and around here it will be warm well after that), and I am severely annoyed with retailers who claim the contrary in order to get me to buy things I don't need in the first place (on my list of life goals is never to have a storage container of Hallowe'en decorations, and I certainly will not be "decorating my mantle for fall").  However, the summer's natural pace is winding down, even though I don't have any kids going off to school.  And I am, as usual, horrified with how I have let the time slip by without really getting anything done.  Also as usual, of course, this concern is based on a totally false premise. 

So, here, I abuse you with all the summer notions you somehow escaped on the first go-round, when I was too lazy (or busy) to blog. 

So, first of all, in May I announced that I was going to dig a planting bed around the oak tree.  I actually did that!  I did one major weeding of it after the initial establishment (and it could use another one).  I also planted some baby lavender plants there (which have not really grown), and I planted gladiolus bulbs right up against that fence:

Those are the wilting late-summer gladioli.  As it happens, they do not get quite enough sun there, nor, so far as I can determine, enough water.  I planted my numerous left-over gladiolus bulbs in the raised bed row I designated for a cutting garden:

First box is Oriental lilies (which did phenomenally badly, to my great sadness), and leftover gladioli (you can see the shoots, after I cut all the flowers.  They made my dining room table lovely for weeks).  The second is "giant" zinnias, but they are not really that giant, and I am going to have to hunt up some mail-order seeds for the Bennary giant variety last year.  I want them.  The third bed is a mix of regular-sized zinnias and sunflower mix.  I planted too late, and the sunflowers are not tall enough, nor as productive as I'd like.  They are, however, very pretty, and I will plant them again next year (earlier, next time). 

I note that you can also see the corn stalks in bed #2, just behind the flower bed (#3).  I want to clarify that that was not all of my corn.  For some reason, right around the time it ripened, almost all of the corn fell down.  I cut those stalks and dried them for free Hallowe'en decorations.  The ones you see are the few that stayed standing.  But we have picked and eaten the corn. 

I also have drawn some lessons from the zinnias (besides wanting the larger ones).  Namely - there is a straightforward history with everything I have ever tried to grow from seed: it dies.  Rapidly.  The zinnias, as you see above, are not dead.  On the contrary - despite my planting them too late in the season, they are nearly four feet tall.  They are aggressively healthy (they survived and eventually fought off a great deal of munching by Japanese beetles that also attacked my basil and I do not want to talk about it).  And they produce flowers like it's going out of style.  It's not an exaggeration that the more you cut them, the more they grow.  If I cut them only once a week, I gather one to two dozen flowers at a time.  I have cut easily a hundred blooms so far, and they show no signs of slowing.  The blooms are exuberant - dense layers of intensely-colored petals, in brilliant jewel tones.  (I got the variety seed pack, which makes for magnificent vases-full.)  They have decently long vase life, although I think I'm doing something that kills them early.  Although I love - nay, adore - roses (and lilies.  Sniff), and I acknowledge they are the queens of the cut flowers, I think zinnias are a pretty superior cut flower option also.  For one thing, they're traditional - home gardeners have grown them since Victorian times.  For another thing, the intensity and variety of color is excellent (though I note they have no scent).  For another, they have a certain informality - I love the stateliness of roses, but zinnias do communicate a sort of "I grew this myself" rusticity that obviously is attractive to the incompetent amateur gardener who wishes excessive praise for her rare successes.  Rustic, but also highly ornamental - that's right up my alley.  And I spent less than $3.50 on seeds (no fertilizer) for a good ten dozen flowers - so far.  I think you're getting the message here that I will be planting zinnias again. 

What else did I do?  Well, you may remember my faucet:

That I plumbed myself.  And (eventually) didn't leak.  Although it still lacked something in the aesthetic/functionality department, because, as you may be able to see from that picture, it leaned.  I had attached it with wires, and they slackened over time.  Well, it only took me about ten months, but I fixed it:

I know, it actually looks more like it's leaning here.  But if you look at the plate on the back on the left side, you can see that it's flush with the sink.  That is a first.   

I also spent a three-day weekend of grueling labor working on the side paved area.  Regrettably, I took no before pictures that would capture the hideously uneven paving and the masses of weeds.  And since the weeds have grown back (ROUND-UP LIES, PEOPLE!!), I am not going to show a before picture, either.  (This makes total sense to me.)  Suffice it to say that I bought and set replacement pavers, created a rain drainage system away from the house in the process (entirely by accident, I might add), leveled almost all of the pavers that were already there (one weighs as much as my car and is not going anywhere), put some potted herbs out in semi-decorative fashion, moved an underutilized work table from the basement (was here when we got here) and spent THREE HOURS assembling a propane grill.  Now the area is highly functional, tidy (it only needs a LITTLE weeding just now), and prompts no complaints from the DH.  Success. 

Also on the list of things I did not photograph is the heinously overgrown area at the far back of our yard by the alley.  In successive bursts, I took it from overgrown visibility hazard when backing out, to reasonably trimmed collection of ugly foliage, to mulched and tailored stand of flowering trees and one wild raspberry (who knew?).  Also, when we moved in, there was this:

That's a grape arbor.  Please note that it is L-shaped.  The problem is two things: (1) grapes are extremely heavy, but have zero structural integrity (prompting me to question how they survived before cultivation by humans); and (2) grapes are aggressively vining - yet not as aggressively as 3+ other types of invasive vines that seem to live in my yard.  Oh, there's a third thing: grapes need aggressive annual pruning.  Like, remove 75% of the growth, aggressive.  Which they hadn't gotten in two summers.  The result - predictably - was that the vines had gotten heavy enough to chew up and spit out their support system of pressure-treated lumber sunk in concrete.  While they were at it, they also reached their grapey arms out toward the Rose of Sharon behind them (which were minding their own business), and latched on.  That was all the provocation needed by the more aggressive native vines, which saw their opportunity and attacked.  By the time I was able to devote attention to the situation, Rose of Sharon and grape arbor alike were strangling in whatever the heck that vine is with the spear-shaped leaves.  I had hatcheted out that area the year before as well (though it wasn't as bad then), and this time a light bulb went on: notwithstanding the generally sound foresight of the former owners, I realized that this was not a good place for the grapes.  They were going to keep trying to expand toward the Rose of Sharon border (which I read are invasive in Maryland, but I reiterate, they were innocent.  The grapes were causing all the trouble), and they were going to keep getting opportunistically attacked by even more aggressive vines.  So I hacked the Rose of Sharon back severely (several branches had permanently formed an angle toward the grapes), and simply destroyed the half the grape arbor that ran parallel to the Rose of Sharon.  Then (with the husband's help) I build reinforcements for the half that remained, which was collapsing.  Like so:

My husband is still upset about the Great Grape Massacre of 2013 (because I didn't stop there.  I tried to give the remaining grapes their missing two years of pruning retroactively, realized that that doesn't work, and just started ripping.  They actually need to be cut back even more, which I will do after we harvest the few grapes that survived), but I know I did the right thing.  It was for their own good

I spent a lot of time and attention on the vegetable garden, which is now almost bloomed out.  Lessons: I need to plant bell peppers in mounds to help with drainage, and probably there are other issues there as well.  I need to plant more eggplant for a decent harvest, and get them in the ground much later.  And, zucchini will just not grow for me.  I should focus on the yellow squash instead.  We harvested quite a bit of corn, but it did not germinate as well as I was hoping.  Also, just as it was ready for harvest, half the stalks just plain fell over.  Next year, I will fertilize; I hope that will help.  I need to do something in advance to stave off the Japanese beetle attack on the basil - not sure what.  But my basil in the ground this year did better than any basil ever has for me, so I will be planting more next year.  I love fresh basil.  Also, I have to remember that my herb garden is out there and go pick some!  Finally, "shade-loving" begonias do not actually like the shade on my porch.  I may douse them in gasoline and set them on fire, but first I should probably put them outside and see whether that helps.  And if I want to grow something in a window box on the porch, I should probably not try to grow it from seed.  Getting something that's already blooming would be a better bet. 

I am still looking for a good place to plant roses (I may or may not have bought two before I even figured this out.  Hey, they were on sale). 

And I had random issues with the new threshold I had to build after I replaced the porch floor:

And I fixed them:

Whew.  I had never put together an exterior threshold before.  Wasn't sure how that was going to work out.  I also finally sawed that door to the right length, painted the bottom, and reattached the sweep.  Only took me about six months! 

Then, let's see, remember my coffee cabinet? 

And I had great ambitions for the bottom edges?  I believe this was my inspiration picture (look at the curvy bits next to the coffee cups):

Well, I found me a $8 jigsaw at a local Rasmus auction (thanks Sarah!):

I believe you know how I feel about additions to my power tool collection. 

And I did this:

Don't ask me why, but I am convinced that is particularly impressive.  And then I dug a fire pit:

Now, of course, we need to work on the grass again.  I filled it with large stones that were oddly scattered around our lot (some in vaguely sculptural ways) when we moved in.  Now they are mostly out of the way.  Plus they were free.  And this will require zero maintenance.  And I think it looks cool.  Alternatively, you could buy an expensive outdoor fire pit that you have to store (my outdoor furniture is already making a mess of the carriage house!).  Or follow a plan like this and spend days of hard labor, at least $500 on materials, and have to mix concrete.  I am unsure why this would be necessary; dirt is not flammable.  But what do I know? 

I also finally got through a major item on my summer to-do list: I got quotes from painters.  (Seriously - this was one of my biggest headaches.)  So as of this week, my badly-faded paint job that made my beloved historic home look like an abandoned property:

- well, that picture is overly flattering; here's a close-up -

is being painted.  Like so (note the lower area):

And that's just one coat.  (I am starting to believe the Sherwin-Williams hype.  But man, is that stuff expensive.) 

And when I say "being painted," yes, I mean I hired a contractor.  I didn't want to.  But my DH insisted that I was not climbing that big ladder, and realistically, given my fear of heights, I wouldn't be able to maneuver well enough at the top of a tall ladder to get any real painting done.  I have enough trouble painting the trim in the living room!  And then I got the estimates, and I decided that I would somehow do it anyway.  And then I realized that I wouldn't.  But I was really hoping that the estimates would come in low, so I could also hire out the replacement of the vinyl siding on the rear sun porch with fiber cement to match the rest of the house, and the insulation of those walls before the siding went on.  See how the siding doesn't match (at left corner of picture above)? 

But now I will be doing that myself, so first I have to teach myself to put up an insulation wrapper, and honestly, that project sounds like a bear.  Oh, and I'm also going to paint the carriage house myself.  So I have a lot of work to do.  It will be an interesting fall.  But how much can I complain about the fact that, every day when I come home from work, more of my house is painted?  And can I bore you with how happy I am about the color?  It's a custom one I mixed from three or four different samples that were just not quite it.  First I used it on the inside of the porch:

I may have mentioned at the time that I was using the porch as a giant swatch.  And I had lots of doubts as I was working, but as soon as I was done painting, I loved it.  Fortunately, so did my DH.  (So nice to have a color you unquestionably love.  Some of them have really had to grow on me.)  And the very first time I saw it on the outside of the house, I was over the moon.  I am going to be so happy when the whole house is done - plus a new coat of white on the trim.  It's going to look like a house that somebody loves!  And that's even before I find me some antique shutters and paint them the lovely super-dark green we settled on.  (That will be a job - both finding them and attaching them.)  I'm also contemplating a new color for the front and back doors, which I wasn't originally planning to paint - but I fell in love with the peacock blue shown here. 

Before I get started on my siding/painting adventures for fall, though, I am planning to close out the summer with a lovely back gate that I will build myself.  Stay tuned for more lunacy! 

P.S. I took so long to publish this that now the whole house is painted.  (The painters only took a week.  I was very impressed.)  AND IT'S AWESOME. 

(I note that the yellow is rather brighter than it appears in the picture.)  This is, of course, just an ordinary house by ordinary standards.  But the outside of my house has looked neglected as long as I've known it.  And now (IMHO) it looks adorable.  I am gleeful. 

We were planning to add very dark green ("Charleston green") shutters.  But now I am debating whether it needs them.  What do you think?  Better with shutters? 

Another question: it's hard to tell in the above photo, but the front door is painted bright blue (OK, that's not hard to tell), and in front of it is an old aluminum screen door, which is also painted that color of bright blue.  (Why they couldn't just leave it silver or white I do not know.)  I got really excited about painting the door peacock blue - even hunted down exactly the paint color I wanted (and that is a process, let me tell you) - and then realized...oops.  I have a screen door.  So the front door wouldn't even really show if I painted it.  And it would be weird to paint the screen door peacock blue to match.  (Even though these weirdos already did that.)  So...I dunno.  Why do all the front doors I see in glossy photos have no screens?  I even descended into the "if they don't need one, I don't need one" madness and considered removing my screen door.  Granted, I nearly never leave the front door open to welcome the breeze.  But if I wanted to, I would need that screen.  We have mosquitoes.  Where do these other people live that they don't need screens?  Somebody help me understand.  Why can't my front door be pretty???