She’s Baaaaaack! Cordless drill in hand!

IMG_2095Fall was a wee bit hectic–not much time for projects, let alone time to blog about them.  But if it’s winter there must be a project or two percolating. The trick is to get it out of my head and onto the workbench. So to start the new year off easy, here’s an idea that took much less than a day to execute–even including the inevitable trip to the home center. (Apparently it’s the dog who uses up all the sandpaper without replacing it.  She’s a busy pup!)

IMG_2090I’ll share the inspir-ation photo with you from the Art Institute of Chicago Gift Catalog. Love, love, love these fish. They are in my new accent color (persimmon-ish). They are tall-ish (remember to think  UP when you are creating tablescapes…folks tend to spread out without going up). They fit into an awkward space that I always have trouble filling on top of some shallow bookshelves. And to me, fish are just happy. I wanted them bad, but couldn’t really justify buying something new when I have tons of unused STUFF in every box in every closet–and we won’t even discuss the basement.

IMG_2081Inspiration struck when I noticed three wooden shoe lasts collecting dust in a basket. They were hand-me downs from my mom, who is a much better housekeeper than I am, and quite willing to pick up 16 little things to dust around them. Not me. I recognized the cool factor of the old lasts, but didn’t know how to display them in a way that I could live with–until I thought of those fish.

Once I had the idea, the rest was easy. You can get the materials for the base at a hardware store or home center:  the base is 1 3/4′ thick oak (9″ x 10″ for the display that I needed), the dowel is is 7/16″ in lengths of 3″, 6″, and 9″ (which looks balanced for what they are holding up). IMG_2080I got my husband to use a router to make a decorative edge on the base, but you can easily get the same effect by gluing on some purchased moulding. You will need a saw (a handsaw will do, but a circular saw is faster–don’t be afraid) and a drill (my fabulous sister gave me a cordless drill for Christmas–real women own drills!).

Finally, finishing the piece is easy, but do consider both what is being displayed and where its home will be. IMG_2083You will need to sand the wood smooth, then paint, or stain and seal the display stand. After doing some tests I decided to go with a pickled oak stain and a tung oil finish (wipes on with a rag, and is easy cleanup).

I wanted the piece to be super light, and not compete with the medium-toned shoe lasts–they should be the focus, not the stand. They are also located against a very light wall, and the light stain helps the stand fade into the background. In contrast, if you are displaying something brightly colored (like those fabulous fish), painting the stand black would look good.

IMG_2092

So what have you got in your closet that needs to see the light of day?  Shells? Dolls? Tea cups? Toys?  Vintage handbags? Decorative boxes?

Take something old and make it new again!

Tulip Time

IMG_1353No, I haven’t lost my mind. This is the time of asters, dahlias, and mums (and if you only grow that last one, you need to give the others a try…). But it’s also when you need to be thinking about spring bulbs, because if you don’t think about them now, you’ll only be able to admire them in other people’s yards come spring. So it’s time to do some planning, ordering, and digging for spring. (Throw in a little hoping and praying too, as planting bulbs is one of the bigger acts of faith that gardeners perform!)

Allium "Globemaster"

Allium “Globemaster”

There are many, many kinds of bulbs, from tiny flowers like crocuses and scilla and grape hyacinth that are great in small places like rock gardens, or along spaces where you walk frequently, to outer-space looking fritillaria and allium, to what I call the “big three” –daffodils, tulips, and lilies. If you are just getting into growing bulbs, these are the showstoppers that can be seen from indoors or from the street, and make fabulous cut flowers. They are a great place to begin getting to know bulbs because you get big impact for the effort.

Dutch Master-style Daffodils

King Alfred-style Daffodils

Daffodils:  There are a lot of poems about daffodils (second only, perhaps, to roses), and it’s not hard to understand why. Their virtues are many:  They are a great combination of very early bloomers (some varieties in late March/early April–no kidding!) and extremely hardy–they can be in full bloom, get snowed on, and keep right on going. They are deer, mole, and vole resistant. And they are economical because they can multiply like crazy and last for years. There seem to be literally hundreds of varieties, so you can get quite creative in designing with daffodils. For me, nothing quite beats the King Alfred-style daff–the one most people would pick out of lineup if you asked them to identify a daffodil. But don’t limit yourself–there are short and tall, large cups and small cups, petals and cups that are contrasting colors, and colors from white to gold and even peach. (Tip: don’t put them in a vase with other flowers, as they will shorten their lifespan.  But who needs company when you’re a daffodil–they look great on their own.)

IMG_1350

Tulips:  While there may not be a lot of poems about tulips, they did inspire a speculative bubble called “tulip-mania” in 17th-century Europe! And while I may not be willing to mortgage my house in order to buy a single tulip bulb, I get why people did. Tulips are fabulous–tall and straight, with flowers that rise beautifully above the foliage; brilliant colors that can be combined to beautiful effect, or massed to look like a field of solid color; and the varieties that make one flower per bulb (which is most of them) are simply regal.  That said, however, that fabulousness comes at a price. They are one of the very few plants that are on the higher maintenance end of the spectrum that I am dedicated to. So here are a few tips about getting the most out of tulips, and also about understanding what is reasonable to expect about tulips, so that you aren’t disappointed:

As with daffodils, there are hundreds of varieties–tall and short; early, mid, and late blooming; fringed petals; bi-color petals; flowers shaped like lilies and flowers shaped like peonies; multiple flowers from a single bulb, etc. The vast majority of these tulips are not perennial (coming back year after year, reliably), and they do not multiply easily (create new bulbs at the base of the original bulb. The problem is, that people don’t seem to know that, because everybody knows a patch of tulips that comes back year after year without any attention at all. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule. Most tulips have to be replanted every year. They are also not deer, mole, and vole resistant, so extra care must be taken when planting in order to deter thieves. I hate to hear people think they are terrible gardeners because they’ve had bad experiences with tulips (and this appears to be rather common!)–and the gardening industry really doesn’t do it’s part in educating the public, creating unreasonable expectations.

So, if you are still reading after all this bad news, here are some tips:

1.  Don’t buy tulip bulbs in the grocery store or home center. I don’t even buy them in nurseries. The only way to really know what you are getting and to also be assured top quality and top size bulbs is from specialty growers.  People often ask me about particular companies, and these four are the ones I recommend from personal experience:  these companies supply bulbs that are healthy (not dried out or bruised) and larger in diameter, resulting in larger flowers and longer-lived bulbs for the ones that do rebloom. They also are less expensive when ordering in quantity–which you should do! A dozen tulips is not enough! Just look at the photos on these websites and get inspired:

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Colorblends Wholesale Bulbs

White Flower Farm

Bluestone Perennials

2.  When you look through the catalogs of the specialty growers, be aware of the coded language. It’s not dishonest, but if you’re not familiar with growing tulips, you may not know what to look for. There are a few categories of tulips that are reliably perennial, and they will always be identified in a catalogue, because this is a very desirable trait. Then there is a category that could be called “semi-perennial”–that is the bulbs will rebloom for about five years. I’ve had excellent success with these varieties and recommend them without reserve. They are hybrids in the Darwin category, which have large “chalice-shaped” blooms, and my favorite is the “Impression” series.

"Pink Impression" Tulips

“Pink Impression” Tulips

I’ve tried Impression tulips in various colors and from various sources–“Pink Impression” is the one tulip I cannot live without! You will now see Impression tulips in the grocery store–don’t buy them, they will be small and not very long lived.

Parrot-type Tulips. The feathery texture of the petals is due to a virus!

Parrot-type Tulips. The feathery texture of the petals is due to a virus!

3.  Sometimes, though, you just really need an exotic tulip. Then the thing to do is plant them in a spot that is high impact and also easily dug up when they are through. I’ve got a three-foot deep strip along my front walk that is perfect for this application–the gorgeous bi-colors and fringed parrot tulips of a Rembrandt painting?  This is where they belong! This is also the only place I plant annuals in the ground–so when the tulips are done, out they come and in go the annuals.

4.  I once planted 200 tulips in the fall, and only 50 came up in the spring. #$%&! moles! So I always take a couple of precautions now, and haven’t had a repeat of that disaster:  make a crushed seashell sandwich for the bulbs. Get a bag of crushed shells from an aquarium supplier, and sprinkle a layer in the bottom of the hole, then add the bulbs and enough soil so you can just see their tips, and then add another sprinkling of shells. The crushed shells reputedly act as a deterrent because they are unpleasantly sharp to critters. They are a great organic solution, and have the added bonus of not degrading over time, so when you plant them with long-lived bulbs they stick around! Being paranoid now, I also add a sprinkling of pelletized castor oil to the top layer (available in most garden centers), which I’m pretty well satisfied is also repellant to moles and voles (and organic–though it must be reapplied (on the top of the soil) at least annually).

5.  Finally, fertilize, fertilize, fertilize! For bulbs, spring and fall. You’ll be amazed that plants generally will be bigger, with better foliage color, and bigger and more blooms. Bulbs are one of the few things that should be fertilized at planting. And let the spent foliage turn brown before trimming it back–bulbs need all the photosynthesis they can get!

All this talk of tulips–and we never even got to lilies! Do yourself a little kindness and go for it!

IMG_2017

Lilium “Silk Road”–This amazing variety is taller than I am, even in partial shade! Just one flower looks great in vase, because they are about 10″ across. So you can leave the rest on the plant and them enjoy outdoors.

Hiding in Plain Sight

So what do you think is hiding in this picture? Obviously not Asta-the-Wonder-Pup. Crabapple? Nope–it’s definitely in it’s look-at-me phase. Ah, the fence, you say, there’s something behind the fence. Yep. The fence is hiding the compost bins. I’ve got two wire bins that are each about three and a half feet square. This particular composting system requires water and air circulation, and that’s what this picket fence provides.

IMG_1315

They really aren’t very pretty, even though they make the “black gold” that every gardener covets. (Not to mention that they get rid of garden waste–which means I don’t have to haul stuff in the back of my car, since there’s no city pickup in my neighborhood.) I’ve had them for years, and have tried lots of things to hide them:  bushes planted in front of them take up too much valuable garden space; they can’t be near the house because they attract critters; growing morning glories or pumpkins on them looks good in summer, but not for the other 1/2 to 3/4 of the year. So my requirements for hiding the compost bins were:  it looks good year round, it’s cheap, it’s easy to build (that is, DIY, not do it by carpenter).

IMG_1317

After all these years of experimenting, I think I’ve solved the problem. Here’s a picture at the worst time of year in terms of aesthetics. There’s no snow (which usually makes anything look better) and there’s hardly a leaf in sight. Yet the picket fence is neat and tidy, and because it’s stained dark it doesn’t leap out of the late winter landscape. I had thought of white–who doesn’t like a white picket fence? But it would always draw the eye, which I don’t really want. I was also strongly tempted to paint it a bright, intense color–chartreuse, bright purple, electric blue. And while that would look great with the greenery of the garden in summer, it would be “a lot” in the winter landscape. So, does it meet my requirements?

  • Looks good year round? Check.
  • Cheap? At well under $100, check.
  • Easy DIY? Check. It’s made up of two 8′ segments of pre-made picket fencing from Home Depot. One is sawed in half to create the two 4′ ends. Each end is bolted onto the long piece using a 2″ x 4″ in the corner. Then stained. Then place it where you want it. Period. The u-shape is very stable, so the fencing does not have to be sunk into the ground or tied down in any way. In fact, two people can lift it and reposition it quite easily. The back remains open for easy access to the compost–I can even remove the wire bins without removing the fencing, which I do about twice a year. Voila!

And here’s the update on “our” robins. At this point I think they were cuter as eggs. But they’re doing great–giant beaks and all. You can make out their wings–amazing!

IMG_1446

Get Inspired–It’s Time to Plant Bulbs!

Tulips come in an incredible assortment of sizes, shapes, colors–and bloom times. Here are the last of the late-season tulips putting on a show this past Memorial weekend.

Image

One of the unfortunate things about tulips, is that you can’t plant them when you are inspired by seeing them in the spring, you have to wait to fall. So if you have tulip-mania (as I do!), make a note on your calendar today to remind yourself at the beginning of September to order bulbs to plant at the end of this month or in October. Need more inspiration?  Here’s the Miracle Mile in Chicago, in mid-May this year. We were lucky to be there at the peak of tulip time…

Image

These were in front of the Water Tower.

Image

Or perhaps you like more color? Notice that the planter is arranged with twigs like you  might with a vase of cut flowers!

Image

I love the lone red renegade in the sea of white. I suppose if this had happened in my own garden, I would have been irritated. Here, I love it. There’s a lesson there!

Tulips are rather a commitment, because most are not reliably perennial like many other bulbs (daffodils are the chief example there). The flip side, is that there is nothing quite as regal in the garden at that time of year–and who doesn’t need a boost in spirits in rainy April?

 

 

My itchy green thumb….

ImageIt may be April, and the sun may be shining, but the ground is frozen, there’s still ice on the pond, and the trees are completely bare. It’s springtime in Michigan! The above pic is the daffodil update–look closely and you can see a few buds showing, and the creeping sedum is beginning to show some color, too.  There’s hope!

But what’s a gardener to do when she can’t get outdoors? Read about gardening and plan her attack, of course!  It’s no accident all those gardening catalogs start arriving in January. Coming into this spring I knew the lawn would need some work, so that’s what I’ve been reading about recently. Then just last week I saw a front page story about the winter devastation of this year’s honey bee population. Colony collapse disorder has been around for a few years now, but this year is the worst yet. Unknown

Scientists aren’t sure yet what the cause of CCD is, but they now suspect it’s due to the buildup in hives of certain kinds of pesticides, including pesticides within genetically modified crops.  I usually feel depressed and helpless when I read about honey bees, but this time I’m using it to make a commitment to making my beautiful corner totally organic (rather than mostly organic–which is like being a little bit pregnant!) and to have a garden with a lighter footprint. Just because I don’t grow crops doesn’t mean I’m powerless to change my corner of the world.

So back to the lawn, April is the time that folks apply pre-emergent crab grass preventer, fertilizer, and, of course, grass seed. So with my new commitments I’ve been exploring my options through reliable websites–try your state’s agricultural extension service to start, their info is based on science, not on selling products.  Fortunately, my mostly organic approach will not require me to change too much to become fully organic, but it’s always nice to see confirmation of what you’re doing:

1.  No pre-emergents (even organic ones):  they don’t distinguish between crabgrass seeds and flower and veggie seeds. So get some exercise and weed!

2.  No spring fertilizer (even organic ones):  wait until fall, rather than feed the weeds in spring.  No problem, that saves time and money.

3. The best defense against weeds is a lush lawn, but how do you get that when you’re not fertilizing and watering?  This is the fun part–microclover! We’re all familiar with the large-leaved white-flowered Dutch clover (mostly because it’s been considered a scourge of lawns). But the leaves of microclover are less than half the size of the familiar Dutch clover.

51+EKJPfWxL._SX355_In theory microclover grows in sun or shade, has deep roots and therefore is drought tolerant, is a legume so is a nitrogen fixing plant, flowers much less than the Dutch clover (so you’re not walking on bees, I love bees, but really…), grows only to a height of 5-6″ so doesn’t require tons of mowing, and stays green throughout the year (we can all attest to that from the “weed clover,” which are the greenest patches in any yard). Sounds too good to be true?  Well, I’ll let you know, because I’m trying it!  Nichols Garden Nursery has a variety called “Pipolina” that I’ll seed over the grass in the entire yard. I think the bees are gonna love it!

Rockin’ the Home Show

IMG_1291

Here’s our booth at the Central Michigan Home Builders’ Association Show last weekend. We had fun showcasing what we love to do–talking to people about design, making their environments more functional, and how to make what they have beautiful. Many thanks to all the people who came out to see us and give support to B-Squared Design Studio–you made it fun!

IMG_1294Here’s a peek at the bookshelves I freshened up alongside the vibrant Flor carpet tiles. Note the great Ikea lamp in the top photo. We got lots of comments that people saw it from far away and had to come check it out!

IMG_1295Here’s Todd Davis from HGTV’s “Home Crashers” in action. Attendance at the Home Show was way up this year. Of course we hope that that’s a sign that the Michigan economy is improving…but I bet Todd Davis had a little bit to do with it too!

IMG_1279And just in case you’re wondering about whatever happened to my New Year’s resolutions, rest assured they’re in process. Here you can see the telephone table with a couple of coats of primer…so stay tuned!

Cranes for Luck

Image

According to Japanese tradition, making 1000 origami cranes will bring luck and happiness.  This is a big weekend for B-Squared Design Studio–March 8-10 2013 is the Home Show (www.hbacm.com) on the campus of Central Michigan University. This year’s show is special because HGTV’s Todd Davis, the host of Room Crashers, will be making two presentations on Saturday and one on Sunday. We’ll be there in booth 6, so come and talk to us about whatever your design needs might be–from architectural and space planning to garden design. We haven’t folded 1000 cranes (yet), but stop by our booth and take a little luck with you.

To help get our booth ready, I worked on a quick and easy project that brightened up some inexpensive collapsible bookshelves. 

Image

As you can see, they may be functional, but they are less than inspired. The finish is a sprayed on “mahogany” color that is meant to hide a multitude of sins, but doesn’t quite get the job done. To coordinate with the other elements of the booth, including the very bright carpet tile in the photo below, I simply painted the exterior of the shelves black. The black paint actually does hide the uneven grain, the less than precise joints, etc. The bookshelves never looked better!

Image

To keep the interior of the shelves from turning into a black hole I pulled out some stripes from one of the carpet tiles we’ll be using in the booth, and that coordinate with the other elements we’ll be using. The colors and pattern aren’t precise imitations of the carpet, just an “inspired by” feeling. Next post you can check out what they look like as part of the entire booth.

We still have six inches of snow on the ground here in mid-Michigan, but I felt lucky to see signs of spring this week. Maybe those cranes are already working!Image