Barrier Planter Boxes

Art by Kiril Stanchev

Art by Kiril Stanchev

As soon as the weather warms, I find myself spending more time out of doors than inside. Whether I’m doing some gardening, grilling with family and friends, or relaxing with an iced tea and listening to the birds, my backyard is a relaxing sanctuary for me.

One unfortunate fact is that I live on a corner, and a roadway passes directly past my backyard patio. Sure there’s a six-foot wood fence, but other than visually there’s no real barrier. That’s why this spring I’m planning on building a raised garden bed inside my fence that borders the road.



Motivational speaker Denis Waitley gave us this catch-phrase, and it’s worth remembering. Even as an optimist, I feel safer when I gauge the worst-case scenario, prepare for it as best as I can, and then put it from my mind.

When we first moved into this home and I felt uncomfortable on the back patio, I wondered why. Soon I understood. Every time a car turned the corner and sped down the road beside my fence, I held my breath. Apparently some of my neighbors are often in a hurry, and their roaring of engines and scattering of gravel was not conducive to relaxation in my backyard space.

raised garden barrierHowever, a solid barrier makes all the difference. Not prepared to have our 40-foot wooden fence section replaced with concrete masonry or blocks, I’ve opted for another option. Raised garden beds!

I’ve built raised beds in the back corner for growing vegetables, so why not build others against the roadway fence as additional security?

raised plant beds bench LG blurVehicles spin out… roads get icy in winter… all kinds of things can cause drivers to lose control and drive through a fence. But a raised garden bed can certainly hamper a vehicle’s momentum. And THAT is a fact that helps me feel more relaxed when enjoying time with friends and family on our patio.

Do your research, hire a respected contractor if needed, or certainly do it yourself if you follow all the correct steps. But it’s not that complicated to build a sturdy box, fill it with soil, and then enjoy annual food crops and/or flowers. I live too far north for much of anything to survive in containers above ground over the freezing winters, but annuals certainly flourish during our hot summers. Farther south you have many more options.

So if, like me, you have an alley or roadway that travels right past your patio or deck, why not consider a raised bed… maybe even with a built-in bench? We gain peace of mind when we eliminate worry of a wayward car crashing through a wood fence. With a soil-filled raised garden along a roadway fence we add beauty, security, and inner peace.

Images are not mine: click painting by Kiril Stanchev to view it on Fine Art America; 2 photos from Pinterest

Always Unique Totally Interesting Sometimes Mysterious

"Pieces" by Starr Weems

“Pieces” by Starr Weems

April is Autism Awareness Month, but as a proud auntie of my dearly loved 13-year-old nephew who has autism, I celebrate the fact that every day is autism awareness day. Let’s use this month of April as a springboard! Let’s celebrate growing awareness and the movement beyond awareness into acceptance.

My sweet nephew blessed my life with his presence when I married his dad’s older brother years ago. Even though I’d raised two sons of my own, and during my career was employed with organizations that support people with developmental disabilities, I quickly realized that autism is unlike anything I’d experienced before.

Autism is a topic I’ve poured myself into to learn all I can. Reading books and informative websites is definitely helpful. Noted autistic professor Temple Grandin’s articles and lectures continue to help me tremendously. It was through Dr. Grandin’s explanation that I began to comprehend how differently sound affects people with autism than it does me. She explains it like being a fish with sound as water, all around, touching everywhere. This imagery helps me understand how my bursts of loud laughter at family gatherings in the past actually ‘hurt’ my nephew.

Therefore, learning to curb my naturally boisterous sounds (and even applause) at things people say and do that delight me, has been a great opportunity for self-growth. I find it self-empowering to learn how to act differently than what comes naturally. Sure I’m proud to be ‘real’, and the saying of ‘what you see is what you get’ describes me well. Yet my deep affection for my darling nephew is a great motivator for me to learn how to laugh quietly and refrain from applauding others’ amusing antics when he’s around.

autism acronymAs an easy-going ‘hugger’ I am also learning new ways of showing him how much he means to me, without sharing hugs. I enjoy placing different kinds of toys out for investigation when he visits. Pinwheels and ribbon wands are fun, and I’ve recently discovered how to make ‘Discovery Bottles’ for his watchful amusement. Also I understand that people with autism have difficulty with certain foods and textures. His wonderful parents bring his food over and I offer my support, but they don’t need much. Just a bit of counter space and a microwaveable plate for the white chicken and (separate!) rice he likes. I make lots of carrot sticks, which I know he prefers long and thin and crisp. It’s little things that help show love.

When he comes to visit I always say ‘I’m so happy to see you. Thank you for coming over’ and as he and his parents depart I repeat the same sentiments: ‘It was wonderful to see you and have you come over to our house. Thank you!’ Even if they don’t respond back to you, children with autism can hear just fine so be warm and friendly with your words and especially with your tone of voice. Even more than words, they’ll pick up on what we are feeling about them. Perhaps all children do, but imagine it as being heightened with autistic children. Remember to relax and smile even if they don’t smile back, rather only glancing at you instead of maintaining eye contact. We can be polite and avoid gazing at people with autism for too long or too intently. Instead offer a smiling look and then look away, still smiling. While I’m relatively new to this mysterious world of autism, I’ve found that a gentle attitude helps make us more welcoming and approachable, and every bit helps.

As the autism saying goes, rather than trying to get a child with autism to come into your world, try to enter his world. Try to see through his eyes, and you will be blessed with a new and broader vista of our beautiful world. I give thanks to my nephew, and his incredible parents, and look forward to all the ongoing things he will continue to teach me. Let us all learn from those who are different than we are, for they help teach us how to open our hearts fully. Let’s embrace not only autism awareness but also autism acceptance.

These images are not mine and I offer my deepest thanks for this wonderful example of support and creativity. All of these can be sourced on my Pinterest board:

A Candle Lit Evening

Evening by Leonid AfremovLet’s make tonight special as we light a few candles at 8:30pm and turn off all non-essential lights around our homes and businesses to help support and celebrate Earth Hour.

small acts transformLast year, WWF’s Earth Hour broke global records, mobilizing hundreds of millions of people to call for action on climate change. The symbolic hour has grown into the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, with activities and initiatives throughout the year.

It was famously started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then it has grown to engage more than 7000 cities and towns worldwide.

turn off the lightsEarth Hour demonstrates how truly wonderful things can be achieved when people come together for a common cause.

Please join supporters all over the globe this evening, Saturday, March 28, 2015 between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. local time. Every little bit helps, and together we can all help make a difference. Namaste.

Images are not mine: Painting source is embedded in image, and the quote images are from my Pinterest collection ‘Earth Day Every Day’

Painting Kitchen Cabinets

'Almost Ready for Dinner' by Marianne O'hare

‘Almost Ready for Dinner’ original artwork by Marianne O’Hare

Gasp! Yes, I know. Many people cringe at the concept of painting kitchen cabinets but lacking the serious coin to replace our cabinets, I was left with no other option. I adore cooking and spend a lot of time in my kitchen. My heart pined for white in my dark wood kitchen with dark counters and dark backsplash. It was almost a deal-breaker when we were house hunting but other features overcame my dislike of this kitchen. And boy, did I research first! I recorded and rewatched various DIY shows where home owners had painted their kitchen cabinets, including ‘Ask This Old House’ and ‘I Hate My Kitchen’.

Plus, I read a LOT of articles on the web. The researching process took me many months. (What? Procrastinator? Who, me? No way… I’m researching!)

The reviews were tallied and scored, and the results were in. People reported great success with a complete kit by Rustoleum called Cabinet Transformations. I did the measurements they describe and was pleased my small kitchen only required one box. Since I only did the uppers so far there’s plenty left for when the next burst of motivation strikes and I’m ready to turn the house upside down for a few days again. It went easier than I’d thought, although doing this in winter with closed windows wasn’t the best for air quality even with a mild smell. I brought our 2 air cleaners into the kitchen and ran them full blast which helped. Plus it was worth doing in cold weather because I know me: once the weather warms enough I’ll be outside! So this was a great project for a cold and snowy weekend.

I did go beyond the 2 coats they recommend and ended up doing 4 coats, and I’m so glad I did. The result is still more flat than I’d hoped for, knowing a glossy surface is easier to clean, but that being said I know I could add a clear gloss coat some day. If I really want to. But as it turns out I like these a lot. The lower cabinets will be done soon. Maybe. Or maybe we’ll live with it like this for a while since I kind of like the uppers being white and the lowers being wood, for now. But I do long for a bright white kitchen in this dark north-facing room, so I’m sure the painting will resume shortly.

Having done the first half of it now, I know what to expect. Prep work! It’s all about the prep. It can’t be stressed enough: if you’re going to paint your cabinets you mustn’t rush the prep work. First, scrub well using TSP (and wearing gloves). Wipe down and allow to dry. Then with a green scrubbie supplied in the kit, apply the kit’s liquid stripper. This essential step removes the glossy finish, replaces the usual sanding, and allows the paint to adhere. Again, wipe off and allow to dry well. The kit comes with a directional DVD and booklet, so you’ll be shown every step clearly. Just wanted to point out what I learned both in research and doing it myself. Take Your Time. Each step matters.

Perhaps doing household projects like these are filled with metaphors and lessons for internal growth as well as home improvement. I know I certainly learned to not only research but also take action, not only take care with each step but also relax a bit and just do your best. There ended up being one flaw of a tiny drip I’d missed, near a door handle that I use daily. But rather than stress out on the 1% I’m not happy with, I have chosen to focus on and celebrate the 99% that I adore! It’s so much brighter, and I did it! And I didn’t even need to wait for hubby to take a business trip – he didn’t mind at all. Sweet man. Plus we treated ourselves to a couple of nights of take out from the local pizza place as well as a deli chicken with salads supper. Yum. A worthwhile project, all around. I encourage you too to take steps to love your home even more. You can do it! If I can, anyone can. Namaste. Gina

Gardeners Are Often Hilarious

Summer At Last, by Hanne Lore Koehler

Perhaps it’s because we have to keep our sense of humor or else we might go stark raving mad, but I find many of us who endeavor to work with Mother Nature and the seasons as we attempt to coax flowers and food-stuffs from the ground are quite a funny bunch.

Case in point: recently found this years-old comment stream on a board about what to do with Goutweed, also commonly called Bishop’s Weed or Snow-on-the-Mountain. I sometimes contemplate growing a clump in a large container under one of my Spruce trees that line the front sidewalk, but then I always reconsider when reminded of its invasive tendencies.

This morning, sitting in my wee home office creating lists, drawing maps, and researching gardening tips, I found myself roaring with overflowing laughter… from a gardening board! How unexpected is that?!

Mind you, before I share some of my favorite comments here, please be forewarned that I do have a kooky sense of humor. Perhaps due to my parenting years, when I discovered that being goofy and cracking up in laughter were much better than, well, cracking up mentally. Plus, as an added bonus, as anyone who has parented (or aunt/uncled) teenagers knows, acting silly to watch them get embarrassed is great fun! Ended up helping both my sons have easy humor and thick skins, plus the ability to shrug things off with an ‘oh MOM’ or my favorite (from my eldest when he was about 17) ‘And my friends think I make these things up!’

But I digress. Gardeners and their sense of humor likely come from a similar source. Sometimes if we don’t laugh we might cry. How many plants do we excitedly plant in what we hope is the right location with the correct soil and offer the adequate moisture requirements for our new babies, only to have them never return? Plants considered ‘tough’ on many lists can still disappear from my Spruce tree, moisture-starved garden, in spite of only seeking out the toughest and most drought-tolerant species. One can only shrug it off, and continue to focus on the plants that chose to stay. I love you guys! A great old saying I enjoy is ‘I love tough plants. They make me feel like I’m a good gardener!’

Hence the sense of humor.

Combined with my admiration for tough performers that return every spring. I cheerfully welcome them: Hello YOU! And then I notice a neighbor nearby hopping into their car and slamming the door shut, no doubt shaking their head about me and my one-sided conversations alone amidst my garden. Yes, I can often be heard talking aloud in my garden… to birds, butterflies, bees and ants… to returning plant friends and cursed plant foes. I can’t help it. Being in my garden is not a passive thing for me, it is an active, proactive process. And proves, to me at least, that yes plants indeed do much better when they are talked to.

'Goutweed' aegopodium podagraria

‘Goutweed’ aegopodium podagraria

Here are excerpts from a fun comment stream about Goutweed:

Begun by Amanda in 2004:

For as long as I can remember, there has been these “weeds” that pop up constantly in my mostly-shady bed by the house. They are even in the cracks of the sidewalk near there, and even under the house! I mentioned it to my mother yesterday, since I know she battled it when she lived here, and she said it was not a weed, but a plant that someone planted before they bought the house almost 30 years ago! Despite pulling it, spraying it, trying to smother it, for almost 30 years, it lives. She said it was called snow-something, so I searched around on “snow”, “invasive” and “underground,” since that’s how it spreads, and I eventually found it. Aegopodium podagraria: snow-on-the-mountain or goutweed. So yes, someone actually unleashed this beast in my garden. I tried smothering it this year with several layers newspaper and a heavy layer of mulch and it worked for about two weeks, but we’ve had a couple days of rain and more of these things are bursting through by the minute. How can I kill this stuff without killing everything else in the bed?

I hope you enjoy my selection of a few of the replies:

Last summer we build a 12×16 family room onto our home. I dug out all the GOOD plants and left the snow on the mountain for the contractors to deal with…they had to excavate the area..they tramped on it…plastic was put over ground to stop moisture and the addition was BUILT over it. Several months later, hubby had to go under to run some phone line…guess what was still growing!!!
I keep watching for it to come up through the floor boards and carpet! I do think that stuff came from outer space on a meteor or UFO. Probably a UFO..their idea of a joke on us for sending all those signals into space. My advice to you….MOVE… LOL! April
I’ve used Roundup on all kinds of weeds. When they are close to other plants, I use a small paint brush. Sometimes I had to ‘paint’ it a few times, but after a couple of tries, it would die. I never use a spray with Roundup, I’m too afraid it’ll get on me! They say to use it on a calm day, well we have very few calm days. So ‘painting’ the weeds has worked the best for me. Good luck on getting rid of it! Kat
An alternative to spraying Round-up is the ‘Hand of Death’. Put two nitrile gloves on. Dunk your hand in a bucket of Roundup. Grab the plant, and say thrice: “I smite thee with the hand of death!”
Works everytime.

(and so does the paintbrush, but not as much fun.)

This was from Bug_Girl_MI in May 2004 and began many posters sharing their joy of this suggestion! And was my first head-thrown-back guffaw of the stream!
LOL, Bug Girl! My neighbors will be so impressed. Just for fun, I’ll wear the gloves everywhere and threaten to smite anyone who offends me. 😉
We have both the variegated variety and the plain green variety of goutweed. While we will probably never get rid of it, we go out every day and pick anything visible. (Sometimes I eat it — it is a potherb and tastes a bit like lettuce. My Chinese neighbours use it that way all the time — also as a medicinal herb.)
Yes, I would imagine it’s totally controllable in a pot or planter. I guess a person would have to make sure its branches didn’t touch the ground and start a renegade colony in the ground. (I have planted my mint in the ground, but inside huge pots… Of course, it escaped and now it’s growing everywhere…)
It’s so funny to think of mint “escaping” from pots… I just picture a little mint plant, dressed like a prisoner, plotting its getaway. Wasn’t the alien in “The Thing” (or maybe it was “The Body Snatchers”) really a plant that was trying to take over the earth? Maybe it was a goutweed from another planet 🙂
(And then Janniet posted this!)

This is an incredibly funny thread and should be revived here in 2010.

I too had a tiny patch of this alien under a 50+ year old silver maple, which had to be taken down. I foolishly let the small two foot by 4 inch high patch survive. I have been doing penance for six years in an attempt to keep it from taking over in a FULL SUN, unwatered area in our very xeric climate. Today I am going out there to paint roundup on those leaves for the fourth time this month, but this time I am taking our full spectrum light and holding over each section for about 15 minutes at close range. I remember that roundup requires sunshine to encourage the victim plants to take up the active ingredient. It “worked” on a small patch when I roundup-nuked the whole patch last month. It is important to cut off the flower stalks, too, before they go to seed before, during and after you nuke it.

Remember to wear sunglasses, gloves, long sleeved shirt and pants, socks and solid shoes for yourself, you don’t want to get sunburned. Also remember to have your spouse or neighbor take pictures of you as you do this in 90 degree weather. These will form the instructions to future generations at your home in how to combat the aliens at ground level (Note, not WIN, but only combat) and provide your progeny with proof that you are insane.

I will add the intonation of “I smite thee with the Hand of Death” as I perform this ceremony in full ceremonial dress and think of each of you as I do so.

Tell Ma, I died game.

(I nearly died laughing!)

seasoned gardener

So just remember, the next time you see a gardener hunched over in their yard weeding and planting and whatnot, feel free to stop and comment on their garden.

They’ll undoubtedly look up at you and smile. Gardeners LOVE to talk about anything garden-related. Don’t be afraid to interrupt their conversations with annoying slugs or beloved perennials.

After all, you might discover that this neighbour just so happens to be the funniest person on the block!

Buried in snow

tiny tough SnowdropsIt is a northern gardener’s life to be unable to garden outdoors for half the year (or more). Just one of gardening’s many great lessons: patience. That and learning about cycles. Cycles of seasons, light and shadow, decay and rebirth. Of noticing migrating birds when they leave, and when they return again. When the massive queen bumblebees emerge and drowsily look for new dens to start this year’s hive, eliciting alarm as they buzz close by ears and again reacquaint us to the sound of buzzing creatures. And of the tenacious determination of green growing things, pushing through the soil and sometimes even, through snow.

This is what makes me so happy to plant flowering bulbs. I adore spring bulbs because I do it every autumn – almost – and they perk up into a spring-thawing but otherwise brown garden just when I need it most. March! Okay… April, but by March I’ve got some forced mini-bulbs growing indoors and am busy planning a tea party luncheon, but I digress.

Even in those years when autumn rushes right past in the blink of an eye, because Mother Nature was in a hurry and flung us from late summer right into winter with a massive September snowfall (like this past fall), I can rely on spring flowering bulbs to keep coming even if I fail to add to their numbers. If we gardeners select a zone-appropriate bulb that is resistant to grazing (ie: tastes unpleasant to animals) and plant it at the correct depth in the right location (read: if they’re ‘happy’) bulbs will continue blooming and even multiplying year after year with no further assistance from us, except maybe a handful or so of good compost and leaving their leaves alone. And of course to be remembered where they are and not get accidentally dug up!

But their greatest gift to me, as a northern gardener enduring far too many months of frozen lifeless ground, seems to happen to me every year around this time when I am feeling weary from the short daylight hours and not enough time spent outdoors, I find comfort in simply knowing they’re out there. Tiny little bundles of hope buried under the snow and soil… just waiting for the perfect time to brighten the world. My world. My yard.

I celebrate spring blooming bulbs! Tulips (which survive in a corner of our back yard with a high fence, not in the popular-for-grazing front), Chionodoxa ‘Glory-of-the-snow’, Narcissus ‘Daffodils’, Muscari ‘Grape Hyacinth’, tall purple Allium… plus their rhizome-cousins Crocus, Lily and Iris… your very presence brightens my heart. Even unseen, just knowing you’re there and that your bright faces will be blooming soon makes me happy on dreary winter days.

Luckily we can all buy them already blooming in containers to grace our kitchen table or bedside (talk to your florist and try to buy organic). And after having read that planting previously ‘forced’ bulbs in our gardens to be a lost cause, I’ve found that to be untrue. I had mini-daffodils and grape hyacinths forced in containers and once they were done blooming I put them in the garage, forgot about them for a couple of YEARS and then threw the pot contents into a wild corner of our backyard. They actually took root and grew! I now have a little patch of Tete-a-tete daffodils and Muscari that come back every spring. How cool is that? So if you have a patch of ground, throw those spent bulbs in and they may or may not come back, but why throw them in the garbage when, sometimes, they come back? Mind you bulbs hate to be ‘naked’ for long and the dormant ones I mentioned were in a dry pot of soil. I’ve tried this with bulbs I’d had left over in the package for a while without the same success.

Of course I adore all my perennials, shrubs and trees – in my own yards and everywhere – but nothing better beckons the coming of spring than the early-blooming bulbs.

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New Small Raised Beds

Summer is always such a fast season, isn’t it? What with the abundant sunshine and long days keeping us up late and all the outdoor chores to be done it certainly seems like time flies. I’ve been away from this lovely little blog for far too long and an update of what I’ve been up to is overdue.

Sharing photos of some of my garden areas seems like a great place to begin. A 14′ x 25′  sunny back corner of our property is where our old truck sat for many years. We’ve since learned the hard way that vehicles really don’t like to sit unused. Suspension, frame and brakes sadly rusted up and she’s off to her new home, a family member with a collection of Chevy’s that could really use the good parts such as tires, windshield, tranny, and more. I feel like we signed her ‘donor card’ and she’s now living on in other old trucks! But once the sentimentalizing passed I began planning what could be done in that old parking pad, and voila! Witness the birth of my small raised bed garden.

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While I’ve had some resistance to sharing my less-than-perfect shots of my far-from-perfect new garden area, I decided that my love for this reborn area just might show through in this post. Plus, enough procrastinating! Hopefully you’ll enjoy and even feel inspired to grab some 1-foot wide boards at the lumber store. These were 12-foot lengths that they cut three times so I could have four 3-foot lengths for each box. Then the soil was delivered in huge bags and we have some left over, waiting to be wheel-barrowed over to the front perennial beds. I’ll just add that to the ever-lengthening To Do list!

Four tomato plants are likely too many for this bed, especially with four pepper plants lined up along the front, and never mind the swath of marigolds being overcome. Ahh… it’ll be fine. Still need to get out there and do some tying up of these sprawling tomatoes but their enthusiasm and daily growth inspires me.

Once we added landscape fabric and bark mulch it’s been feeling cozy back there. The tough fabric helps thwart the weeds and the bench offers a shady spot to sit between waterings. Oh, right. The waterings! Yes I’ve learned how quickly raised beds dry out in hot weather so be prepared if you make small beds. Twice daily watering for these thirsty tomatoes, peppers, basil, beans and summer squash.

One of my favorite statues in our gardens, Saint Francis, tenderly holds a lamb as they stand in a spot that is slowly being overcome with another rogue raspberry plant. Nothing a few snips with the clippers can’t fix but the bees adore those berry blossoms so much that I know St. Francis would have understood a little waiting. Also is a length of fence with a collection of birdhouses and another fence section with a few uplifting adornments behind some tall stands of Hollyhocks and Giant Yellow Mullein over by one of the rain barrels. That precious water-saving barrel is nearly hidden in this photo but it’s there nonetheless, nicely shaded by these giant staples of any self-respecting unkempt cottage garden.

raspberry abundanceAnd what would summer be without an (over) abundance of raspberries! Luckily they freeze beautifully and are delicious and nutritious in all kinds of muffins, smoothies, shortcakes and jams. Well plus fresh too of course. Yummy! Even Nikki, my old blind dog can still find her way to the low-hanging ripe berries for a self-serve tasty treat. Funny dog.

So I truly hope you have enjoyed this wee tour about my humble backyard patch of heaven. This evolving area has been bringing me tremendous joy. I shall endeavor to return with posts and updates much more frequently, my friends.
I trust you are doing well and enjoying your summer!
Until later (but not too much), cheers. Gina