Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mesmerized by a Little Devil

I pillaged my Orlando garden before we left, as my regular readers already know. I tried to keep it quiet, but the ever-growing cluster of plants in plastic pots started to give away the secret. By the time the neighbors started coming over to dig up a little bit of my garden for themselves, Turfman was getting a worried. He thought we might be openly flaunting the removal of plants, but I convinced myself that even though we had taken quite a lot, the holes were barely visible. In the last week, my decision to take and give away as much as I did has been vindicated. Horrified neighbors have been texting me photos of our former front garden. Nearly everything that was left behind was dug up and thrown away and replaced with low-maintenance (or, as Christopher Lloyd always called them, "low braintenance") plants.

Nearly everything that I took away with me is now thriving in the Georgia garden, but one cluster of plants, in particular, is putting on an amazing display right now. When I think of what the new owners of the former house don't get to enjoy, I am filled with wicked glee. I can sometimes be found these days bent over the flowers cackling and whispering, "Mine! They're all mine!"

And so I give you all the incredible process of a Crocosmia in bloom. This variety is called 'Lucifer,' and he makes me so very glad that I stole him. In fact, you can't make me feel guilty for my crime. Really, it was just a liberation. He was mine to begin with, and he would be dead now if not for my greed.

The flower spike initially looks a little like the head of wheat

The individual buds begins spreading away from one another

And then they just start showing off

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The State of the Pond

In the words of the band Garbage, these days, "I'm only happy when it rains." The problem is that since we moved, it really hasn't rained much at all, which means my happiness levels are draining quickly, a bit like a certain body of water on my property. Previously, when we found ourselves in the midst of a drought (and believe me, in Florida, one is frequently in the midst of drought), I would fret a bit about the dwindling water supply in my rain barrels, but I wouldn't work myself up into a nervous wreck. Now that I have a pond, it's a completely different story.

The water level in the pond is something I now monitor throughout the day. It has receded at least two feet from where it stood around the edges just two months ago, and it was already low then. If I hike around the pond, I can clearly see its former levels, and I can say with certainty that it has fallen by three feet of depth. The fish, turtles, and other creatures that call the pond their home are weighing on my mind.

That's a dock of sorts, now very far from the water's edge

I've become obsessed with the weather. I check the radar several times a day in desperate hope. When I hear of flooding in Detroit and Phoenix, I feel for the residents, and then I curse the skies. 

I would be capable of finding a silver lining in rain clouds. As it stands, I have to grasp at something positive in this situation. Here's all I've come up with: with the water level so low, I can focus on pond clean-up since the pond is yet another area that has been neglected for years. Now I have much easier access to the things growing out of control. All I lack is a punt to reach the center of the pond.

The jungle

One of many strange, plastic ducks is hidden in these weeds

I can clear out the wild growth in my wellies and a raincoat, though. I want some rain. I want "When it rains, it pours" to be more than silly, complaining sentiment. I want it to be literal. I want it now.

And wouldn't you know, it just started to rain here. It just needs to continue for several days.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Starting Over

Seven years ago, I stepped away from a full-time position as an Assistant Professor of English. The reason was quite simple. Turfman got promoted and relocated, and I preferred being with him. In addition, we both preferred his salary and likely always will. I had desperately hoped that I would quickly find a new tenure-track position near our new home. I did not. In fact, though I found a great part-time position at another university, it became pretty clear that my decision to walk away from my first job was a red flag for other institutions. I despaired for quite some time about my derailed career, but I eventually got over it and decided that I could make a new path for myself, and so I did.

Then we moved here, and I quickly got a full-time professor position. Sometimes, it seems, life is just a constant stream of revisions to the plans we make for ourselves. Tomorrow, after another major revision, I begin again. I've had to search frantically for electronic files of all my teaching materials, long ago set aside and nearly forgotten. I had to assess my wardrobe again after a long period of creating a new, decidedly more casual one since I've spent more time gardening and writing than ever before. The Wellies I recently purchased for mucking about the pond and the future veg patch will get less wear than I expected. But I'm looking forward to the challenges and the rewards that this new chapter will present. I'm looking forward to the potential of it all.

The front garden presents the need for similar revisions and the possibility of something beautiful. I had hoped we could salvage the unloved shrubs, but as you've seen in previous posts, they were far too gone. After I cut them all down, Turfman went to war with the extensive roots. I think he lost 10 pounds getting them out. But then we had a clean slate and thinner waistlines and could start fresh, which is exactly what we did this weekend, thanks to the help of a super sister-in-law.

The new "bones" for the garden

And the mirror image on the right. The speckles in the
photos are from photographing in the rain.

The view today is so different from the one we saw when we arrived here. The garden still requires a lot of work, a lot of perennials to fill in the gaps. The plants are small, but in time, they will grow and fill the space. Some elements of the plan will work, and others will require revision. There will be triumphs and disappointments. In the end, though, it should be all the better for the work put in, which is essentially true for just about everything in life.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Insider's View

Have you ever considered the outdoor views from within your own house? I never gave it much thought until I realized that our Orlando house really never afforded us a good view of the gardens I had created there. If I wanted to see the work I had done, I would have to walk straight up to a window and peer out, turning my back to all the furniture. It was an inward-looking house. I don't know what to think about the architect who designed such a space. Perhaps he didn't think at all about how furniture would have to be placed in that house, didn't realize that the windows were in bad positions. Or perhaps he was a hater of the outside world. I have no idea, but I'm inclined not to like him.

The new house is entirely different. Views figure prominently in every room. It makes me imagine the architect of this house as an outdoorsman, a lover of nature. I think he's a kindred spirit. I want a house that reminds me at every turn that the world outside is a magical place. I think houses should make us feel warm and safe but should also beckon us outside. That's what this place does. I cannot walk by a window without feeling the outdoors tug at me. I can barely sit down to watch television without being distracted by the view. It's an outward-looking house, which makes it more comfortable by far.

One of the family room views

The view from the bedroom

The view from my desk

What our guests see from one bedroom

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Matter of Time

Although the bulk of my time is spent indoors these days in a desperate attempt to make the kitchen more user friendly, the gardens are still persistently on my mind. Occasionally, after hours of deconstructing and reconstructing cabinets have given my nerves a hair trigger, I have to get outside and make some progress somewhere. In the interest of keeping my unfinished projects to a minimum, I have been focusing my efforts on the horribly overgrown vegetation around the front porch. After a particularly frustrating day in the kitchen, I did this.

A clean slate

If you don't recall what it looked like before, the right side of the steps, which currently remains untouched, should provide ample contrast.

Much left to remove

What I cut down filled the back of my truck completely for the haul to the county composting site. It looks like I'll have to take at least three trips to remove everything from the front that got out of control. With the space empty, though, I am better able to see the space I have. I'll be drawing up some planting plans in the next week or so and taking them to my fabulous local nursery, Mill Pond Gardens, to see what plants they have that will fit the plans.

I'm also keeping the future productive garden in my mind, and I've finished drawing out the design plan for that. This weekend, I'll pick up some stakes and some twine so that I can mark out the garden in its entirety so that I can get a good sense of how it will feel and make any changes that seem necessary.

In the meantime, I spent a little time in other areas today with my camera, just enjoying the floral show. I'm not very good at taking it easy, slowing down and breaking the work down into manageable chunks, but I'm a work in progress, just like the garden. Eventually, we'll both be in much better shape.

Love seeing the sky sparkle through the leaves

I grew this salvia from a cutting! (Okay, I'm a little proud.)

The Crape Myrtle corner

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I have always wanted a larger piece of land for my garden. I had grown tired of carving out little spaces for my vegetables in an already small space. I'm not sure that I had intended to own 5 acres, though. Now that I have them, I'm beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. I suspect that I wouldn't feel quite so daunted by the task ahead of me if the previous owners had given their land proper care. As it stands, I can't really work on laying the foundation for the vegetable garden until I get other pressing issues cleaned up.

The front of the house needs a lot of attention. It just seems so plain to me. I thought that the two blue planters that accented the entryway at the Orlando house might give it a little punch, but they seem terribly small now at the base of the massive steps.

The planters are lost in the overgrowth and steps

I decided that I would just go for immediate pleasure on my second try by pulling out all of my hanging baskets and planting them with colorful flowers. They've basically had the same effect. 

Where are the hanging baskets?

Basically, I can only enjoy the fruits of my labor when I stand on the porch and look out. Even when I try to enjoy the nice addition of the hanging baskets, though, I can see the foundation plantings screaming for my attention. They are officially the elephant in the garden. The front of the house will never look right until I rip out most of the overgrown plants and replace them. But that's a major project.

The baskets lead to the overgrown Loropetalum climbing
through the railing
With so much to do, it's hard to decide where to start. For a person who wants everything done at once, it is pure torture. I'm painfully aware of a cooler planting season on the horizon, so I would love to skip the front porch issues and move on to getting the vegetable garden structures in place. 

That area presents another major problem. The previous owners left me two large piles of debris right in the middle of the space. We first thought that we could just burn the piles, but a closer inspection revealed that they are filled with scrap metal and plastic, along with wood and weeds and who knows what else. I have to clear them before I lay the clear plastic to solarize the soil. And I have to do that before I till the soil and build the structures. Like I said, it's all a bit overwhelming. 

The future vegetable garden

In the meantime, I ordered 150 bulbs for planting in the fall. Because, you know, planting so many bulbs in Georgia clay is a lot less challenging. 

I might have to develop a 10-year plan for this place.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Name Game

Last summer, I spent 10 fabulous days in the Cotswolds with my mom and my sister-in-law. We rented a lovely 17th-century thatched roof cottage that was called The Old Cider Press, largely because the barn that was converted into three cottages had once been the site of a cider press. On the day that we arrived in the village, it was hosting its annual Open Day for the National Garden Scheme. For the price of £5 each, which was donated to charity, we were granted access to nearly 20 private gardens throughout the village. It was magical.

I need a sign!
One of the things that stood out to me the most was the fact that nearly every house had a wooden plaque attached near the front door or on the gate with a name on it, just like The Old Cider Press. That's when I became obsessed with naming my own house and garden, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't come up with anything suitable. Now that we're in a new house, the desire for a name is even stronger, but again, I'm coming up blank.

Here's another in the village

We loved this one.

I have decided to ask you, my dear readers, for your suggestions. Maybe you can help stoke the fire of creativity or even save me the agony of trying to think of a name myself. I'm including photos of the property to give you a better idea of what this place looks like, to perhaps reveal some aspect of its personality. I know that many of you are rather shy and resist leaving comments, but I need your help, so if you have a moment of clarity on this one, I'd really appreciate you sharing it with me!

View from the front porch

View of the approach to the house

Peeking toward the barn
(apparently I was leaning)