Monday, March 31, 2014

Landscaping: Plan Your Garden, Garden Your Plan

In the spring of 2004 my husband and I embarked on a fairly large renovation of the exterior of our home. Implementing a landscape garden in the lot adjacent to the house was not our primary goal, but it certainly ended up being the icing on the cake at the project completion that fall.  We increased the overall curb appeal of our home significantly, and have continued watching the garden's beauty unfold each season since. We're just beginning our garden's eleventh year, a point where gardens really mature. Here's a look back at how we planned our garden, and how we gardened our plan.

When we started in 2004, we were rated as plant hardiness growing zone 6 by the USDA (link to current USDA plant hardiness growing zones). Our landscape soil consists of rich, river bottom dirt, and had never been dug for as long as property records had been kept in our town (more than 100 years). The rendering pictured below is on a 1" to 20' scale. The house and garden lots, combined, are approximately 100' wide, and 100' deep; the main garden is about half of that total space, or 50' x 100'. Plants are identified at suggested locations within the drawing (listed in detail at the end of this post).
We worked with a landscaper, but had definite ideas of what we wanted.  We knew:

  1. we wanted an overall traditional, Southern look to coordinate with our home's appearance and location
  2. we wanted a curved appearance within the straight lines of our perimeter fencing 
  3. we definitely wanted some privacy on the lawn so passersby would be separated from us
  4. we wanted colorful, annual flowers to grab one's attention when passing by the front
  5. we wanted plants that would be both low-maintenance staples and showstopping specimens 
  6. we wanted year-round interest planted in the garden, as we have four seasons, distinctly, in our region
  7. we wanted a plant to disguise a utility pole in the center back of our property (while our home's lines are underground, adjacent properties' are not, and they run along the alleyway of our neighborhood)
Our landscaper and I would volley back and forth with various plant suggestions, I would research and get Mr. P.'s input, and then we would discuss the pros and cons.  Once decided, our landscaper helped us select the optimal quantity of plants for proper spacing when the garden would mature (where we are now).

Here's a closer view of the garden rendering, though it is without all the proposed plants in the frame:
To get a better understanding of our garden, I need to explain a bit about our renovation and the hardscape construction. Where you see the "A." (about midway, on the right of the teardrop lawn in the above photo), a trellis was installed, coming from our courtyard (next to the residence).  There was already a 6' brick wall enclosing that courtyard, both part of the original house construction, which extended parallel to the garage, with a gate access out to the alleyway.  That existing brick wall became the springboard for our renovation of the lot that eventually became the garden.
The renovation project involved having the 6' bricked wall built from the courtyard edge at the back of the property, 50' across the back side of our adjacent property lot, and then forward again to the street. It also included a new design for a portico / balcony (the initial reason for the exterior renovation project).

Here's what the front of the house looked like prior to the renovation:
In the photo above, the side yard (what's now our landscape garden) is partly visible to the right of the crabapple tree at the corner of the house. Our property extends to the back, where you see the weathered cedar fence on the adjacent neighbor's property, which is across the alleyway.

The next photo shows the existing courtyard wall at the edge of the house (tall conifer near the gate), where the proposed trellis would become the gateway into the landscape.  The proposed wall would enclose the opposite side of the yard to this point, and then stair-step down for more openness, all the way to the street front.
Below is a photo showing the just-finished project (October 2004).  The new portion of the brick wall (enclosing the lawn) was stair-stepped down, directly across the point at which the courtyard wall existed.  To the far right, inside the yard (against the adjacent home's side wall), you can faintly see where the 6' brick wall meets the lower fencing.  There is a Japanese maple planted at the junction of the high/low wall change.
From the high/low brick wall intersect, and all the way around the front lawn, brick columns and custom-aluminum fencing were constructed.  All of the already mature landscape plants were removed as part of the renovation, including yews, spireas, azaleas, conifers, and the crabapple tree. In the photo above, outside the fence, we planted boxwoods, liriope and annual flowers. Our parking pad was extended across the entirety of the house and adjacent lawn, curved at each end.

Below is a photo of our landscape when first planted, taken from just inside the back brick wall.  The teardrop shape of the lawn is evident, and you can also see the curve of the lawn toward the front of the house (center of photo).  On either side of that curve, we planted kousa dogwood trees to act as the natural gate of the lawn.  It allows privacy from passersby while we're on the lawn, yet gives both us and passersby a glimpse in/out. The huge trees you see in the distance are actually across the road, on our river property.
You can also see the Japanese maple on the left side, across from the courtyard high wall. This is the point where the wall drops down, behind the maple.
While I didn't have the forethought to capture the garden layout from above just after planting, I did photograph it that next summer (2005).  The next photo shows the front lawn, just inside the brick fence, looking out from the portico balcony, on the right side of the lawn.  Annual flower beds are all in front of the house, and are positioned just in front of the boxwoods, positioned in a curve at the house's front. The boxwoods are positioned with a good 3' between their centers and the front wall of the house. This was part of the plan to allow for mature growth.  The previous plantings were butted right against the house, something we definitely wanted to avoid with the new landscape. Annual beds are also outside of the front gate. In the upper left corner, white-blooming azaleas face the street (curve of parking pad is visible outside the fence), while three PJM rhododendrons (fuschia-blooming) are along the side wall.
The photo below shows the lawn from the left side of the balcony.  You can see how the lawn curves into the entry of the main lawn. Just behind the liriope in the arc of the curve are three holly plants, positioned right at the corner of the house. A curve of knockout roses begin just in front the holly trees.
A view from around the curve is below, entering into the main lawn, where the kousa dogwoods act as the natural gateway on either side of the teardrop.  In the background, just behind the liriope grasses, are a curvature of white-blooming azaleas, and several snowflake viburnum in the far corner.  Near the concrete pedestal are nandina plants, and red twig dogwoods to the left of those.  In the foreground, behind the liriope and kousa dogwood, are the knockout roses.  One of several plants of juniper ground cover is visible on the left side.
The view looking toward the back of the lawn is below.  The trellis (with mandevilla vine growing) is visible at the courtyard gate in the foreground, and the neighbor's cedar fence beyond the back wall gives a hint of the previous lay of the land.  It is much clearer in the photo below to see the utility pole at the back center which we wanted to disguise in our plan.  You can see the maple tree between the pole and the outer wall of our fence, disguising the pole.  Within the left mulch bed are five spirea bushes, and beyond them are black-eyed susans and asters, with butterfly bushes in the far left upper corner.  Flanking the benches are a sea of hosta plants, with hydrangeas and rhododendrons among the borders of the back wall and right side.  The three trees within the landscape are white birches.  Most of these plants are great staples for a landscape, requiring just annual maintenance (trims), and many have year-round interest. Most of the flowering plants are perennials (reblooming each year).
Just beyond the yard umbrella you see in the photo above (to the right of the birdfeeder and black-eyed susans) is this specimen plant, a weeping cedar atlas (below).
Just across from the trellis is our southern lady, a Betty magnolia, another specimen planting (below, with her very first crowning bloom on top).  Another planting of perennials, Lord Baltimore hibiscus, can be seen below in the bottom, right corner (huge red blooms).
The detailed plant listing that we worked together with our landscaper is below.  Only a few changes were made at the last minute, before the actual, initial planting (mostly due to availability).
If you noticed, liriope has no quantity.  I know from cutting them by hand the first couple of years that there are well over 400 of them.  They have multiplied over the years, and have been thinned out.  Seasonal annual quantities vary, and perennial quantities (black-eyed susans and asters) were not quantified at the time.

The garden has now matured, and many lessons have been learned over the course of the last ten years of gardening.  The main lesson learned when considering a landscape garden is simple - plan your garden, and garden your plan. Watch for an upcoming post to see how the garden looks now, in maturity, ten years later. It even amazes me to see how drastic the changes are. I'll share the best of our lessons learned and pitfalls to avoid, many of which can save you money. You already have a good idea of one type of garden plan (traditional, southern), and can take away any of the ideas / information you think may work to your advantage, should you choose to create or alter your own landscape garden either now (spring) or later (fall).

If you have any questions you'd like me to address about the plan or the choices we made, let me know either by comment or email, and I'll try to include them in the follow up post.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Purging Progress

Just a quick update to my purging's coming along really well (see my 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge).  I started in my main clothes closet, which looked like this in the before state (I had to remove my laundry hamper just so you could see a lot of this pictured below):
My closet basically has several micro-closets, which includes (1) lots of shoes (out of season stacks are behind the stacks in front).....
......and (2) too many hanging clothes......
.....(3) a plastic dresser on the bottom left, full of athletic and sunwear (which I can't even access for the junk in front and to the side of it (the clothes hamper sat on top of that big box on the floor).......
......and (4) two crates and two bags FULL of loose flip-flops, slippers, and gift-with-purchase cosmetics stuck back in the right corner.....
...not to even mention the jewelry armoire peeking out on the far right, which I cannot open due to micro-closet (4) and step ladder and the stack of purses on top of it!  I know, pathetic.

Well, so far I have purged and donated of all of this...
......and all of this.......
.....and all of this.......
.....for a total of 16 (large) bags of items!  I have also separated all of the gift-with-purchase cosmetics and split it among three sisters, two daughters, and three nieces.  AND, my oldest daughter took four additional, smaller bags of items she chose for her use.

After the purge, my closet now looks like this:
While the photo above may not appear too different from the before photo, the micro closets are vastly pared down, and they are ALL accessible.  There's room for the laundry hamper. the jewelry armoire has no purses stacked on top of it, the stepladder is out of the way on the far right wall, and one crate is now on its side on the top shelf, with tote bags corralled inside it, and a couple more handbags on top of it.

I am on a mission......still have several more spillover closets to go, but am determined to pare it down.  I have also donated several pieces of furniture - a rocking chair, card table with four chairs, and an end table.

I am feeling accomplished at this stage, and feeling really good about delivering these items to our resale shop that exclusively benefits women of domestic abuse and violence.  These items will become available for public purchase but, more importantly, will be available to the women and children living at our local shelter, who are provided vouchers to 'shop' for their clothing to make a new start.

What's in your closet?

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Spring at Home 2014: New / Old

I'm well into my mission of purging things throughout the house - really a long overdue project, to be honest - but I'm also taking some time to freshen things up throughout the house for spring.  It leaves me feeling a bit like a yo-yo, but that's okay - it keeps me from getting frustrated or bored with one activity or another.

A few weeks ago, if you recall, sister M & I went to Ohio to shop antiques & vintage with sister J.  I came away with some things for the shop, but also with a few things for the house.  I'll show you those and few other new / old (vintage) things I've put into the mix throughout the house.

The most exciting item I picked up at Heart of Ohio Antique Center (Springfield, Ohio), after walking through the entire 116,000 square feet of mall (the website claims it's America's biggest antique mall), is this slender beauty of a trophy:
It really looks more like an art vase than a trophy, and that's because it's a Heintz Metal Art trophy. When I saw it on the high shelf in the booth space, I recognized that style immediately, reminding me of the "one the that got away" - a Heintz metal art vase that I lost at auction several years before. Otto Heintz was granted a patent for his classic, sterling silver on bronze method in August, 1912, of which this trophy is one example. Here's the other side of the trophy, with the award plaque:
The trophy has a nice application of the great seal of the state of Michigan (elk & moose, holding the state coat of arms), along with the applied lettering, "Michigan State Fair", and "1918", applied above and below an inscribable plaque shield.  The plaque is engraved with: HEREFORDS GRAND CHAMPION BULL, OWNED BY JAMES V. HILL, ROUNDHEAD OHIO
This Heintz vase/trophy is my new favorite find and home decor item, with pride of place over my [mostly] metals collection, in the dining room, currently holding a nice spray of cherry blossom branches.  Perfect for spring.
The opposite side of the dining room has a few changes incorporated for spring also, although I have yet to settle on the arrangement for the dining table itself.  Below are a few photos of the left side of the dining room.
The vintage bar cart, which sits in the corner, consists entirely of vintage items assembled over the years. Changes for spring include removing the antlers on the tureen underplate and replacing a couple pieces of brown transferware with the small bluebird print.
The cabinet in the center of that same wall is now holding a new / old polychrome bronze ("Harp Girl", A. Moreau, 1834-1917).  In the silver compote next to her is my collection of miniature library books. These are very tiny books, no larger than the size of a matchbox, all fabulous finds, though not easy to come by.
Just beyond the cabinet with the bronze statue is the leather chair, by the window.
The addition of the reading chair in the dining room gives the room more purpose than the infrequent, formal meal, and I like that. This chair sits on the eastern side of the house, where morning light comes in.  The room, overall, is extremely hard to photograph with the woods and rose-tinted paint color.  The chair's heavy, woolen throw has been replaced with a lacy shawl.  The "Three Graces" salt statue reappears on the side table, after being stowed away through winter.
In addition to the dining room, I also added a few cherry blossom branches in our living room, where there is a definite Asian-influenced vibe in the decor.  The cherry blossoms always remind me of Washington, DC's celebration of the 3,000 flowering trees, gifted to our nation's capital in 1912 by Tokyo's mayor.  Each year, the rite of spring is celebrated in a huge way in our nation's capital, focusing on the blooming of those trees.
LR decor: (L to R):   one wall decor, with credenza and mirror; detail of credenza and the beaded, scenic, vintage handbag in framed case next to lamp
I don't seek out Asian decor items for the living room but when I happen upon them in a better auction lot or estate sale, I've been known to purchase a few.  Here's a display of those items which I've collected, placed in a small curio beside the couch in the living room.
Curio shelves containing various Asian collectibles, including porcelain tea caddy, foo dog wax seals, Limoges, enameled and cloisonne trinkets, cinnabar snuffs and Occupied Japan cup & saucer.
In the sunroom, the natural light and overall warmth of spring are the most obvious changes, but I've also added some color in the form of flowers and textiles. Taking photos in the sunroom is tricky, as the south-facing room is flooded with light from windows above and on two sides.
The washstand (below) sits inside the sunroom's corner, between two sets of sliding doors off of the kitchen and breakfast area (it's positioned just to the left of the loveseat glider pictured above with the quilt). Below the stand's drawer is a wire basket (not pictured), where magazines and newspapers get tossed for recycling.
The hand-forged copper pitcher was found last year in a shop just an hour north of town, into which I placed some forsythia branches.  The unframed canvas oil was picked up at a huge estate liquidation I attended last summer.
The architectural piece on the brick wall was found at the Highlands Festival in Abingdon, VA several years ago.  The dealer noted it came from a building razed in France.  The putto looks like he's hanging on for dear life.
A few more dashes of color in the sunroom add subtle hints of spring:

After presenting my vintage and antique mesh and beaded purse collection to a local Antiques Club last Fall, I was given a certificate to a local gift shop as a token of thanks.  I've been wanting a West Virginia state-themed throw pillow for a long time, but never wanted to splurge for it.  With the gift certificate, I finally had the incentive to splurge for the pillow.  The bright colors of the pillow coordinate well with the flowers in the sunroom, as well as the quilts I have placed in this room. These pillows and other state-themed textiles are available for all the states from catstudio.
I have more throw pillows and/or covers in my house than I care to admit, but I will say they're more than just something I enjoy looking at - they're functional in every seat I use, primarily as full back or lumbar support.  I also use certain ones as lap desks for reading.  Mr. P. finds throw pillows, along with most household decor, pretty much useless, I'm sorry to say.
With just the few changes I've made to the few rooms in the house so far, I've come to agree with the editor's comments in the April issue of HGTV magazine.  Sara Peterson (HGTV magazine editor) states there's a need for a props closet in the home, just like they have and use for magazine photo shoots. Right now, my entire basement is fair game as a props closet, as my 'stuff' for the antique mall tends to bleed into home decor, depending on my urge or ideas.  The only problem is my 'stuff' is in containers and boxes and, even though I actually have a system for storing and locating those items, I'd much rather have it on uniform shelving, with zippered dust covers.

That visual of a props closet, my friends, is all the motivation I need to continue going through the purge cycle of my home (in case you missed it, it's my 40 bags in 40 days challenge I've committed to). Creative visualization of a props closet - it's working for me.  How about you - do you have a props closet of sorts, and are you purging unused and unwanted 'stuff' this Spring?  I'd love to hear how you store things - anything  from out of season clothing to seasonal decor - and what your methods are for purging unused, unwanted 'stuff'.  I admit it, it can be a struggle for me.

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

The 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge

I follow our local Habitat ReStore's Facebook page and, on Ash Wednesday (March 5th), they posted something that definitely caught my attention.  It read:
"Here's a great idea: Decluttering for lent! Drop off your used, surplus or unwanted building materials, furniture and home goods at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and help your community while helping yourself!"
And it was linked back to this blog post at White House Black Shutters, by Ann Marie Heasley:

In this blog post, Ann Marie shares where she originally found the concept, tips for getting started and keeping momentum, and even has a template for black bag 'stars' for keeping count of progress. I'm so in!  But, right from the get-go I was already four bags behind, so I dug in over the weekend (thank goodness Sunday is called a free day).  I'll donate some furniture to make up some of the difference and get a head start on the week to come.
All kidding and literal translations aside, the point here is to decrapify (Ann Marie's word, hehe) your world. My ReStore happens to have a creative marketing manager who shared the link, suggesting their site as a drop-off for items purged. I could also help out friends and/or family who may want my crap stuff - the point is, pick a spot, 40 spots (figuratively), and get to work!  Furniture, household items, clothes, shoes, even email - they're all fair game - decrapify!

I usually set aside my crap stuff for an upcoming community yard sale, but I have another commitment on this Spring's sale date, and I don't want to harbour all of this stuff while waiting for the Fall sale date.  I'm striking while the iron is hot!  Spring cleaning is on!

Accountability is a big part of this mission, and I hereby proclaim myself accountable! I'll let you know how it goes.  Care to join me?

This personal mission also complements my Getting Organized series posts very well, which I started in January.  If you missed those posts, here they are again:
Getting Organized: Part I of a Series (Paper)
Getting Organized: Part II of a Series (Bath)

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Getting Organized - Part II of a Series (Bath)

In this segment of my ongoing series of getting organized, I'll share a few things that are working really well for me when it comes to keeping various sundries organized in the bathroom.  Any of these items could easily be used in other rooms, as you will soon see.  For your convenience, I'll summarize all items mentioned at the end of this post.  For Part I of the series (paper), see link at end of post.

The first item I want to share in organizing my bathroom is this medicine cabinet shelf from OXO (pictured below).  For under $10, this little shelf adds stack storage to small items, utilizing space in medicine cabinets so much more effectively!  I found this item written up in Real Simple magazine a couple years ago, and ordered one right away.  I love OXO Good Grip items, and this one doesn't disappoint.  OXO also makes a few other medicine cabinet storage options, (see the 'frequently bought together' under the description in the link provided for this shelf).
After updating our bathroom fixtures last summer, I was inspired to better organize my items under sinks.  With a quick trip to Lowe's, I picked up a couple items for under sink storage that provide more stack storage.  The first is this coated wire shelf .  These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, useful for any cabinet storage.  With this one ($10), I can easily reach things from the lower level or from the shelf itself.
The other item I picked up is the stair-step organizer from Lowe's.  This item was $18, but gives much more visibility to items that always seem to get lost in the back of the cabinet simply because they're out of sight.
I removed most of the items I had on the shelves for the photograph above, but you can see it's got great grip strips on it, much the way OXO products are designed, so things don't slip off the shelves.  The photo below shows what it looks like when filled (looks I'm crazy on vitamins, but my local CVS had a BOGO sale, lol).
Another great item I use under my sink (this bath has double sinks) is a Rubbermaid 10" lazy susan turntable.  New, these cost around $17, but I found mine at an estate sale for $1.
I have room for my open vitamin bottles, as well as another small basket containing hair brushes, etc., that sits upon the turntable.  It's so much easier to turn the table to reach for items instead of reaching over, and inevitably knocking things over in the process.

What bathroom is complete without baskets?  I keep several in my bathroom, most of them purchased in graduated basket sets from Lowe's.  Mine are several years old, and I paid under $30 for a set of three. I use them for various things in the bathroom, such as small appliances.
Even on a vanity ledge, the smallest of the baskets in the set can be used to corral frequently used items.  The basket makes cleaning counters easy - just lift the basket - and the liners are removable / washable.

I also use the baskets to store first aid items (the one pictured below is from a different, graduated set that has handles).

The basket pictured below came from a Bath & Body Works gift set, repurposed after the items were used.
I like wire baskets also, particularly the European market baskets, and I have a couple of those (vintage) in my bathroom as well.  One is used for decor display only, and another for bath and body toiletries.
I guess with six baskets (wire and wicker) in one bathroom alone, you could say I'm a fan.  The best feature of baskets is being able to lift a lot of items all at once.  In my mud room / laundry / powder room, I have another vintage wire market basket, used for storing hand towels.

In summary, here are all the items described in this post that help me better organize the bathroom.  I hope you find these items useful, whether in the bath, kitchen, or even a craft room or office.
medicine cabinet shelf from OXO
coated wire shelf 
stair-step organizer from Lowe's
Rubbermaid 10" lazy susan turntable
basket sets from Lowe's
wire European market baskets - vintage

If you missed Part I of my organizational series, you can find it quickly at this link:
Getting Organized - Part I of a Series (Paper)

NOTE:  I was NOT compensated for any of the materials or references mentioned in this post!  These are simply tools that work for me personally, and are only posted as a means to help you get started on your own.

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