Whenever I’m sifting through the depths of the internet in search of a great makeover, I like to look at the before photo and decide what I would do with the space if it was my own. Once I have a general idea, I scroll down to see what the designer or homeowner actually ended up doing. It’s a fun little creative exercise and I’ve learned a lot by doing it. What I noticed about this house was the strong Spanish architecture hidden behind shrubs that seemed too tall and out of place. I also noted a pine tree that looked a little lost and a stretch of grass that I’d want to get rid of. That was about the extent of my thoughts….but I was excited to see how the execution went 10 times further than my ideas ever would have.
This weekend I was mowing the grass when our 21 year-old Honda pushmower finally gave up the ghost. We had limped it along for several years until the most recent service visit when the mechanic finally said that it needed a new carburetor and the cost to fix it and everything else on the mower was probably more than a new mower. I would rather use $300.00 to purchase more plants than another mower so I pushed the dead mower into our barn and called it a day. I logged into Facebook later that evening and saw where a friend was selling their 2 year old push mower for $100.00. Boom. I sent an instant message and the mower was ours. Simultaneously between the time our old mower died and the new mower was bought via Facebook, our daughters had decided to check out what daddy was doing in the back yard and ventured out to explore. Right around the time I was purchasing the new mower, one of our daughters said to my wife, “mommy, did you know we had an apple tree in our backyard?” We have lived in our home for 2 years and for some reason have neglected to notice the apple tree growing right on the edge of our property. It is funny how sometimes you miss things for years only to catch a glimpse of them as something new.
This type of event also happened to me at work last week. As I was walking through the gardens, I noticed a large, glossy leaved plant with big, yellow-green fruit hanging from underneath the leaves. There were probably 20-30 of these egg-shaped fruits hanging under the leaves in clusters. It really was a cool sight to see. As I got closer, I realized this was the Chinese mayapple or Podophyllum pleianthum. The Chinese mayapple is similar to our native mayapple, Podophyllym peltatum, with the exception of some noticeable differences. For one, the Chinese mayapple does not go dormant in the summer. Another is the size. The height and spread of the Chinese plant can be up to twice the size of our native mayapple. Also, the leaves are dark green and shiny on the Chinese species versus the matte green appearance of our native P. peltatum. I love our native mayapple and think that incorporating the Asian species into the garden is a nice contrast.
For us here along the Maine coast, having the big, almost tropical like appearance of the Podophyllum pleianthum is a striking addition to our dry-shade garden areas. From what I am learning about the plants, they resent being in areas that stay wet or being in too much sunlight. Once you plant them in dry shade, be sure to water frequently until established. During periods of dry weather, I would be sure to give them a supplemental drink or two of water. They will continue to look great in the gardens until our first hard frost which typically comes in late October. That turns out to be around 6 months of interesting foliage in the gardens. If you are adventuresome, be sure to have your guests crawl on the ground in late spring to see the attractive, deep red flowers. Unfortunately, the flowers are usually hanging under the big foliage so they are hard to see. As mentioned above, then in the fall, they produce attractive yellow-green fruit over an inch long and half as wide.
The end of summer is drawing near and we’re losing sunlight fast. The kids are back in school and some of you guys are probably back in school as well! With chore-stacked to do lists and interruptions galore, I thought it would be nice to look at a makeover that stayed within the realm of simplicity. While this particular before & after only encompasses one small change, I think it’s a good one to pass along.
I had a goal last weekend….I wanted to finish our new pergola in time to have a BBQ and sit underneath it on the patio for dinner on the holiday Monday. It didn’t happen, so I am hoping to cash in the rain check for this weekend.
We did however get a lot done and I am hugely proud of what we constructed.
All that we have left is to finish putting on the roof (it will be open slats) and staining it. I can’t wait to style it up with fall planters, light up the fire-place (this whole thing was designed to make the fire pit an even bigger garden focal point) and enjoy the late summer and cool evenings of the autumn.
If you care to see the inspiration for the design – it came from a historic structure at a local museum – check it out here.
Despite the extra weight and expense I am so glad we opted to use 6 x 6 pressure treated wood rather than 4 x 4. It is so much more substantial and the proportions seem to work much better with our weighty fire pit. Don’t you agree?
Images by rochelle greayer
Walking through New York city brings to mind a unique combination of good and bad smells. Cooking onions and sausages from street food vendors, fresh roasted coffee from the one of a kind coffee shop, and of course, urine from the subway and parks. Maybe it was the sense of smell that set the High Line apart from all of the other experiences I had while in New York. The first time I walked up the stairs to the High Line was probably in the early fall of 2009. The garden plantings were still fairly new but the experience was memorable. Up above the city was a place away from traffic and the smells of the city. I noticed at this time, a most unusual smell. After meeting with the staff of the High Line, I asked them where that unusual smell was coming from. It was an earthy smell, kind of like popcorn without butter or even coriander. I like toasted, earthy smells and this smell was one of them. The gardening crew from the High Line told me that was the flowers of a native grass called prairie dropseed or Sporobolus heterolepis. At the time, I was working at Longwood Gardens and we later added some plants to a dry, parking lot planter. Over the next couple of years, they filled in and on cue each fall they provided that nostalgic smell of the High Line.
To even go farther down nostalgia lane, I think my affinity for these smells is due to the fact that my grandpa always wore English Leather aftershave. That woodsy, clean scent always made me feel comfortable as my grandfather and I used to go off exploring in the North Carolina mountains around Boone, where he lived. In our gardens at Coastal Maine, we have a couple of mass plantings of prairie dropseed and have even added a few more this past spring. Sporobolus heterolepis is an easy to grow, perennial grass native to most of the eastern and middle states of the US. Once established, the plants can survive drought and reach 3 feet in height and width. In late summer, airy, white inflorescences emerge above the dark green wiry foliage. Once in flower, the wonderful scent of the High Line and my grandpa’s English Leather starts to waft through the garden. After flowering, the plants set seeds which are a good food source for seed eating birds.
As a post script, when I think of this plant, I not only think of the High Line and my grandpa, but the ever-present, High Line horticulturist with the hipster haircut and Wayfarer glasses, Johnny Linville. I met Johnny during my first visit and we corresponded occasionally about various gardening matters. During our last trip to New York in May of this year, a group of us were fortunate enough to spend time with Johnny and Thomas Smarr, walking the entire length of the High Line. Johnny passed away suddenly in August at a very young age. Johnny, you are missed.
Images: The High Line, Rodney Eason
I always appreciate the thought that goes into all these great makeovers we feature on Studio ‘g’, but some of my favorites are the ones that add beauty and function. Tandra and Eric live in Sacramento, California, and they were faced with a yard that just wasn’t working for them. What was supposed to be a nice, grassy space for their dogs to hang out turned into an island of crunchy patchy grass filled with more than ample amounts of sunshine. They finally had enough and decided to create something they could enjoy. Read the full post