a tale of peter rabbit

I have always romanticized critters in the garden.  Cute bunnies and adorable deer… even the chipmunks and mice. But then I came here to get my hands dirty and create order out of mother nature’s messy habits.  I didn’t picture the garden as battlefield; a “me” vs. “them” struggle. A battle I lose on a daily basis. Along with pulling weeds (it is bindweed – not morning glory – nothing, absolutely nothing glorious about this weed) I find myself frantically googling “what is eating my rosebush?”.   For the record – next year I will grow lacinato kale – the curly stuff while easy to grow and delicious to eat hides more cabbage worms than I care to imagine I am eating (don’t think about it – don’t think about it – don’t think about it…).

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this can’t be good

This morning while enjoying my coffee I spy a rabbit lounging in the grass – rolling and stretching and doing a bit of self care.  You might think it sweet and a moment to give thanks. ha…ha, ha, ha.  I was actually willing – using all my powers of telepathy – a hawk to come and make a breakfast of him. When did I become Mrs. McGregor?  At first I didn’t see any rabbits when I bought this property 2 years ago.  Along with an absence of squirrels I wondered… why? I now imagine it was the llamas and big dogs that the former owners kept. So when one lone bunny showed up late last year I thought it was adorable. I was wrong. Bunnies do what bunnies do and now they have the run of the place – eating both weeds at the woods’ edge along with my pansies and flowers yet to bloom – they ate the “snow” from my snow in summer: a mounding drift of white flowers…sigh.

Yesterday morning I took my early morning walk to see how the garden fared overnight. I noticed one of my lavender plants – now 2-3′ wide and tall – smushed and trampled. hmmmm. And then the insult to this injury: the animal (still unknown at this point) pooped in the middle.  Really?  I hoped that he was amply stung by the waves of bees that thrive on the lavender.

 

My frustration is compounded when I see the lush growth of a zucchini I didn’t plant or a beautiful flowering weed (that the bunnies don’t bother) or the lilies that beautify my compost pile. I accept these small gifts even as they mock my planting efforts.

 

a room with a view

Embarrassing to see I last posted in February.  This on-again off-again diary keeping started when I was a girl and loved a new diary only to fill it for a few days and then neglect it for months/years.  sigh. This time around February marked when I starting “doing” instead of “planning”.  Brian, my contractor, took some time in Florida and I took some time to get to know the inside of my sweet – now, very un-shack-like house.

The doing was mostly prep for painting: caulking, spackling, sanding.  And, deciding once and for all the color scheme for the interior.  Since my house is small with few rooms and a hall that all blend one into the other I decided that the color scheme should apply everywhere.  I visited Benjamin Moore often.  I consulted my sister Marie (thank you Ria!)  – whom I consider a color expert. I (we?) settled on Pink Damask for the walls and Simply White for the trim and woodwork.  A third color for the interior doors and window sashes was chosen – Halo – but now needs a tweak …more gray and brown will be added to offset the mossiness. The painting took time and was intense (I learned just how high 9 foot ceilings really are)  but looks beautiful and the color is such a subtle shade that all you see is the faintest blush.

The exposed wooden beams on the gable ends of the house, the dark bronze hardware and ceiling fans complement the creamy brightness of the walls and trim.

I moved in 3 weeks ago. There was no event that forced the move other than the feeling that it was time.  Sleeping in this house the first night was interesting.  I have lived alone for 12 years now and it suits me…but…I always lived in an apartment in a crowded city – and never felt truly alone. Here on this plot of land – even with the house so close to the road – there is a sense of isolation. Adjusting to it and feeling comfortable in it is a challenge…but such a good challenge.  This house makes me strong.

As dusk led to nighttime I realized that no covering on my bedroom windows was going to be a problem – the shades hadn’t been installed in time.  What to do? Hammer, nails, dropcloth curtains.

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canvas drop cloth curtains

Other than monthly trips to NYC (thank you Suzy for letting me stay at your lovely apartment) for work and fun – my days are arranged according to weather.  The rainy ones keep me inside unpacking – arranging and organizing

while the beautiful ones find me outside lugging rocks, mowing grass and planting roses.  I now have 6 rose bushes firmly established and look forward to their climbing and bushy habits filling in and spreading out beautiful pink roses in years to come.

A strict row of root-bound lavender that I freed are growing and offering a subtle scent along the front of the house. I coerced my nephew Ivan and Sarah’s son Lucas to work on more small rock walls on the patio.  These two are animals!  (I say with a lot of love :)) They were moving boulders as though they were movie props. I love seeing form emerge and chaos turn to order. IMG_6095Yesterday, with an unexpected morning of beautiful weather, I mowed until my back hurt.  With memories of being laid up last summer – I cut my work short and applied ice.  I court patience these days… with heavy jobs reminding me to go slow and be thoughtful. Rome, they say, wasn’t built in a day.

 

odds and ends

How many posts can I write where I claim we are done building and cue up moving in?  3 more?  Okay.  I am a patient – no really (‘cuz I hear my friends and family say “huh? I don’t think so.”).  And one week more or less? – it’s all good.  So odds and ends will be mostly pics that describe what these final weeks look like…so, move your cursor over the photos to view my comments…enjoy.

the home stretch

Our neck of the woods got its first real snowfall with Jonas.  It howled, it blew, it left a very pretty white blanket.  But just 12 hours later found fluffy clouds scuttling across a backdrop of crystal blue sky.

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Last week’s visit to the house finds drywall that’s been taped and mudded.

Once dried it will be sanded and primed – inspected for any splotchy areas. The pine flooring will arrive soon to sit and acclimate for a week.  Cabinets have been ordered and next week I get to pick out stone for countertops.  After all my going on about how much stone I have -I plan to truck in more – and pay for it.  Everyday finds new ironies.

Sometimes the needs of finishing this house overwhelm my sense of environmental appropriateness.  The deck is stacked against the person who wants both: to use reclaimed materials AND be frugal. That doesn’t seem to make sense – does it?  What I am learning is recycled materials often need more trimming, modification or retrofitting – they need more time.  The do-it-yourselfer stands a better chance to make these ends meet. So…I settle on compromises to my aspirations. I wonder – should I have slowed down? Maybe with more time better choices might have wiggled free.  Hind sight.

Even before the snow the land had on its winter coat. The trees, deep brown spears against the slight backyard rise corralled by stone fences.

from the woods

Stones with green moss and lichen smoothing their craggy surfaces in shades from vibrant (shamrock! parakeet!) to muted (seaweed, olive).

They are a relief in this rusty landscape. I have taken to reading garden supply catalogs (when did I turn into my mother? I ask…).  I know from my pitiful planting experience that the pictures found within promise something rarely seen in real life.  Or, maybe, time is the factor – years. But still…imagine: a New Dawn rambling, climbing pink rose making its way up the corner of the house before arching over the living room windows.

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Mental gymnastics via armchair gardening.

the builder – part 1

I love the smell of construction.  It triggers childhood memories like few other scents (crayons or colored paper being a close second). I grew up with time marked by one building project after another.  My father, a Purdue University trained civil engineer and eventual naval architect,  was never happier than when knee deep in construction or designing at the drafting table. Building – whether houses, stores, offices or sailboats – was a constant until the very day he died.

The smell of freshly sawn wood, poured concrete or construction sand piles all zap me back to my childhood.  As kids we used to pick up all of the “coins” of metal that came from the electrical boxes and navigate the perimeter edge of the recently poured concrete basement after a torrential rainstorm made it a pond.  We played on the mountain of construction sand treating it like the world’s largest sandbox.

I think of my dad a lot as I work on this house.  My mom often says that my dad would have loved this project and been my steady guide during all of the design and construction choices.  My sister wonders if all of these “daddy” long leg spiders are here to remind me thatIMG_4918 my dad is present and watching. I like that notion.
I feel certain my dad would appreciate Brian, my contractor, very much.

 

During this past summer on cloudy, humid days that threatened rain and kept the job site quiet – I would just sit and look at the house and land.  I didn’t often get this chance since so much work was being done and I didn’t want to get in the way of progress. I learned it takes time to see with clear eyes, to notice details, patterns and connections.  It reminds me of when my babies were born and I could spend hours looking at them – getting to know them intimately by just holding them and watching carefully.  An exercise in being present if ever there was one.  This project triggers the memory of joy you get in giving or receiving that undivided attention.

My drive home one summer day took me down some backroads – I am fortunate to have beautiful country roads to explore.  I decided to stop for whatever the local farm had to offer – fresh eggs, some garlic and early cherry tomatoes.  These beautiful creatures greeted me at the pasture gate – they were patiently waiting for garden scraps:

before and after

Often my pictures say it better than words.  This crazy warm weather has allowed me to spend far more time at the house working in the yard and kitchen garden than you should expect in December – some progress:

After the last wheel barrow full I stopped to photograph and noticed a hole in the compost – what?  Well, it seems that a family of something (mice, voles etc.) decided that my sheet mulch was the perfect combination of materials to create a winter home – take a look:

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I must be doing something right if the locals are moving in already 🙂 I always intended for my garden to welcome the critters.

And yet even more unbelievably – the exterior of the house got painted in December!  I still have to paint the windows and trim – but the clapboards are safely tucked under 3 coats of solid stain.  True to form – I chose gray (I know, a world of color and I can’t seem to move past gray).  The trim will stay white and the front door will be red – in the end it will look like the clothes in my closet – ha!

 

kitchen garden

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early pic of stone wall enclosing kitchen garden – lining the driveway

The path to purchasing 90 Farmholme began as a search for land.  No more thinking, reading and pinning…let’s just see if I can grow something. I purposely didn’t search for a house because that would be a commitment (to the area and to settling down while I was still suffering NYC withdrawal). Well, we know how that went…

Since May all of my effort has gone into gutting and rebuilding the house.  It will be sweet when finished.  But the “getting my hands dirty with gardening” only started a few weeks ago.

I haven’t completely wasted the summer – the time was spent looking and thinking about this place.  Usually I want to act quickly on any project: “let’s jump in and do something”. Waiting and “marking time” as my dad would have suggested (he is sorely missed while working on all this) isn’t in my nature.  July brought the perfect solution to moving too quickly.  A bout of sciatic pain slowed me down enough to spend time thinking…not doing.  With all the possibilities I let my imagination go wild and created many designs. As it happens – it wasn’t until September that I started to consider the small patch off my driveway as the perfect starter plot. It has an old stone wall on 3 sides.  It is easily accessible from the driveway which borders it on one side. I can place my composting area in a spot that allows me to throw kitchen scraps and yard waste without a hike to the back 40.

I love this ariel view of the garden. IMG_5198It was taken by my contractor, Brian, when he was on the lift putting the clapboards on the house. What this picture shows is a beautiful but weed choked, thorny spot with a nice patch of poison ivy all with great southern exposure.

I share part of the enclosure with my neighbors. They are descendants of the Maine family (Elsie and Minnie are the grandmother and great-grandmother…a couple of self sufficient and independent women according to the stories) who once farmed most of this area. Elsie and Minnie lived in my house at one point – I found old letters addressed to each stuck in the walls and left in the attic. In the early 1900’s most of my 7 acres were pasture.  My neighbor told me the story of when a cow from those pastures wandered across Farmholme and was swallowed up in a quagmire masquerading as a pond – yikes! He also described my gorgeous boulder on the edge of the patio as a “blood rock”.

It seems that livestock would be tied down to posts drilled into the top of the rock.  A gouge on one side of the rock created a perfect spout for letting the slaughtered animal bleed out.  No part of the animal was wasted.  I know this is graphic but if I eat meat (and I do) I want to understand what an animal goes through to give me that gift. My sense is this was a more humane way to treat an animal than the feedlots and slaughter houses of commercial meat production today.

Back to the kitchen garden… I wasn’t sure how to slash down a summer’s worth of growth.  These plants are about 4-5 feet tall with woody stalks and most have thorns.IMG_5318  I didn’t know that thorns could come in so many sizes – there are some that are so fine you wouldn’t know they are thorns until they burrow under your skin.  And then – good luck extracting them.  I tried my weed whacker and lawn mower (to remove the weeds not the thorns under my skin!) without much success when my brother John suggested I try the electric hedge trimmer.  Ahhhhhh…cut a swath like buttah! I am composting in place and will smother these seed producers with a thick layer of cardboard.  I am going to learn just how big is 1000 sf.  Some progress:

So why call it a kitchen garden?  It is just what it sounds like.  This garden tends to be close to the house and in it you grow food stuff.  Herbs, vegetables, fruit etc.  My design will include a hedgerow as well.  A hedgerow (which sounds very Jane Austen) is a combination of trees and plants that are mutually beneficial while providing homes to animals and insects (the good kind).  Typically they are nut and fruit trees and bushes.  The combination makes an excellent border and can double as a fence of sorts all while providing something edible.

Goal before the snow flies: I hope to sheet mulch.  A glitch:  you need water to do that effectively and while I am now water rich it still remains 400 feet down in the ground until the pump and plumbing are in place.  I will do what I can and hope for the best.  I am learning to roll with the punches – it will happen as it happens .