Friday, February 24, 2017

Warm Interlude

Yesterday was in the 60s, warmer than L.A. and a welcome treat in mid winter.

Snowdrops are blooming at the front of the house, so sweet. I wish I could show pictures of them. But this is a post with no photos because my camera was stolen and I can't figure out how to properly use Jim's.

A replacement camera is on its way, same make and model, courtesy of homeowner's insurance. Until then, imagine pretty white snowdrops and brown muddy mulch and warm sunshiny light.

I was tempted to do garden clean up in the nice weather, but my tools are in the potting bench on the north side of the house, and even 60 degree temperatures can't melt the snow in the deep shade on that side. The patio is covered, and where I shoveled out a bit of access it iced up and was treacherous.

Even so I managed to get at the pruners and did some artistic lopping of the rose at the front door. The woody canes needed some taming.

It felt good to be doing chores outside in the unexpectedly pleasant air.

Oh, and the 'Diane' witch hazel is flowering in this warm interlude. Blooms are copper, not red as it was advertised to be, and the flowers are oddly tinier than what I've seen for this cultivar elsewhere, but it's blooming and the fragrance is delicate and spicy. I'm just no longer sure this is actually 'Diane'.

No matter. I cut branches and brought them in the house and when I walk by at certain times I catch such a sweet, lovely scent. Very nice.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A House with Gardens

It is tough to sell a house with gardens. That's the opposite of what you'd think -- a home surrounded by beauty is so attractive and people who visit are so impressed with the shade and color and privacy and places to rest and views to see.

But they don't want to buy it.

That's a reality I have to face. All my effort to turn a bare lot into something lovely in every season lowers the selling price.

"Oh, but just the right buyer will want the amazing spaces you have created here. Someone else who gardens will value this highly and want it". Well, I hope so.

But a true gardener doesn't want someone else's vision. They'll want acreage and good soil and a nice location to create their own gardens.

And non-gardeners don't want the work. Particularly in this location. We abut another neighborhood of similar homes that is a condo association. The homes are freestanding but homeowners don't plow in winter or mow in summer. The outside is completely maintained in their fees.

The homes on my street look exactly the same and in fact were built by the same builder at the same time, but we maintain our own yards. Jim mows and I garden, but our immediate neighbors hire all their yard maintenance out. Most homes around us have basic shrubbery and a back patio and the phone number of a landscape maintenance company.

Home buyers who like gardens are looking in the more outlying suburbs or rural towns. Buyers looking in this area for our kind of home are condo shoppers who want the association to do all the yard work. Or they'll end up hiring it out as our neighbors do.

When we bought here 13 years ago, that's exactly what we were looking for. And then I retired and I discovered we had a blank lot and I got a book at the library on horticulture, and never looked back. Jim bought a John Deere tractor mower and started mowing the lawn and he was hooked as well.

New buyers will want the benefits we originally wanted too when we moved here. Realtors will advise us to lower our price to attract someone who will accept the evident maintenance issues if the deal is good enough.

Only if the deal is good enough.

It's so counterintuitive -- it feels like we should add a premium and advertise the beautiful surroundings, but the real estate articles I have read extensively say gardens add no value, and realtors in this area actually advise discounting the price to get clients to even look at the place.

I need to overcome resentment about needing to lower our price to attract buyers to a place that is leagues above the rest of the neighborhood in aesthetics. I need to remember that for 13 years this place has given me such joy. I can't put a price on that, and I'll accept that I've actually paid for the experience, both in outlays over the years to create my gardens and in a hit to the value of our real estate.

I can live with that.

Do you know anyone who wants to buy a house with a half acre of borders, trees and shrubs?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Just Shrubbery

I am going to help my son plant his new yard in Denver in April. I already ordered three free and two low cost saplings from the city's urban forestry program for him. He'll get two bur oaks for eventual tall shade along the sidewalk, a honeylocust for his fenced back yard, a linden to screen the view of the apartments on one side, and a flowering pear for a corner.

In addition, he has a long fence line that needs some plants along it to soften the stockade look. He also has a bedroom window in direct line with a bright streetlight that needs something to block the light all night long.

So I have to come up with some shrubbery selections that will solve those design challenges. And I need to find a place in Denver where we can buy shrubs.

Okay, this turned out to be an eye opener.

I googled nurseries and greenhouses and garden centers and plant stores in the Denver metro area where we might shop when I am out there in the spring, and I got . . .
    . . . every kind of marijauna product we could ever need.

Seeds, plants, starts, containers, lights, grow resources, grow instructions, soil amendments for pot culture, heat mats, and on and on.

Some urban garden centers also had a small side business in annuals and houseplants. Some sold floral arrangements along with pot plants. But no ornamental shrubs.

Home Depot and Lowe's in the city are probably places we can find basic landscape plants. We'll go there to start.

But where to find a real selection of woody plants for my "vision" of his landscape? A tall narrow juniper for height, or dwarf Chinese junipers, or an upright lilac maybe, or Rose of Sharon? Can we even buy some of my favorite low care, minimal water standbys like comptonia and caryopteris and low growing fragrant sumac? Dwarf deutzia? Amsonias?

I asked a blogger who gardens in Denver and he suggested Harlequin's Gardens up in Boulder. I also have been to a nice nursery in Ft. Collins when I was visiting one time and on a mission to find the Colorado clematis vine 'Kintzley's Ghost'. But no good sources in Denver, though.

I should probably contact the Denver Botanic Garden for suggestions on where to get shrubs. I'll do that this winter.

It looks like my son and I will spend a spring weekend in Colorado driving all over the state to find plants for an urban lot. Not pot plants, not "grow supplies", not marijuana paraphernalia, just shrubbery.

It's going to be fun!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Living in Cement

It snows in New Mexico and it gets cold, but dry air and intense sun at high altitude dispatch it pretty quickly. They have flat roofs out there, which tells you something about expected snow loads.

Snow may last in a layer on the cold ground during winter, or in patches, but it doesn't accumulate in ginormous mountains of heavy frozen pack. Certainly not like it does here.

This is dense wet snow, too heavy for a man with a very bad back to be shoveling. But the snowblower died, and he won't pay our snowplow guy to come back again and do this walkway.

Our solar panels are completely covered and we are drawing from the grid now, not producing our own power. Which happens in this climate and has been factored into our electric savings and we still pay nothing for electricity all year, since months when we produce excess offset this situation. But still, I really hate to see this.

There may or may not be mail delivery today. I tried to shovel out an arc below the mailbox so the truck could sidle up close enough, but the snow was too sodden and I couldn't do it. At least the man with the bad back didn't try. So what if our bills are late.

I've lived in this climate all my life, I like winter, sometimes more in theory than in reality, but I'm getting ready for a climate where we won't have to deal with living under a layer of white cement when it snows.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Blizzard and Taxes

It snowed and it blew. All day. Taxes got done. A blizzard raged. Pea soup for lunch.

It's cold and deep and white and wintry. It's stopping, but the wind is still swirling sheets of fine sugar crystals around, rearranging the drifts, mostly putting the snow back in the driveway where it got plowed off an hour ago. The snow wants to be there so that's where it goes.

It's clinging to surfaces, piled up on the needles of the spruces. With the fitful wind, I worry that the heavy loaded branches will break off in a gust. Something to fret about.

But taxes are done.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Impressions Before and After our Trip

Here are my impressions:

Space, Amenities and Location
Before we went to Santa Fe, I imagined we might live in a small (1,200 sq. ft. to 1,400 sq. ft.) casa or condo in the city, with a walled shady patio for a lot, walkability to the center, and authentic touches -- kiva fireplace, viga beams, Talavera tile. No garage necessary, but off street parking would be nice.

After touring many different properties, I know we need more space. And a garage. And more of a living neighborhood outside the city.

The small condos we saw were really cute but way too small. It snowed, an icy windshield-covering snow that had to be scraped, and now we know we need a garage in Santa Fe, as well as more room than I had first thought.

Cute, quirky, small and central. But not a good choice for full time living.

The in-city properties were beautifully decorated, but urban zoning was mixed, so some nice places we saw were next door to less attractive places. Some were awkwardly laid out, one casita we saw shared a laundry with the unit next door.

The cutest and most upscale of the urban casitas in our price range were mostly places that investors buy for tourist rentals. Adorable, just what I wanted, but we would not be in a neighborhood. We'd be surrounded by short term renters, vacationers, and lots of turnover.

Conclusion: We need to focus our search on larger places outside the central city, beyond the tourist areas. Walkability to the center is not going to work.

Air BnB Home
Before we visited, I thought the Air BnB home we booked was the perfect home for us, and it was for sale.

After staying there, I know it isn't for us.

Loved the Air BnB we stayed at,
but there were issues.
The size (1,600 sq. ft.) was perfect, the location was central and right off an urban walking trail, the gardens were tiny and lovely, the decor was fun, but there were problems. Doors and windows all needed replacing, the floors were canted to either side of a central ridge (structural problem?) and some of the rehabbed finishes were a problem (the fancy upgraded master bath was awkward).

And the neighborhood was too gritty -- several homes on the street had been done over, but were close in with other distressed and ugly properties. The street had kind of a college housing vibe.

And the price was too high for the issues that came with it.

I did fall in love with the patios and portal and landscaping, but even then, the porch tiles were loose, the landscaping was mainly non-native wisteria, roses and lilacs, even a patch of grass, which seems like a garden back east, and not very New Mexican.

Conclusion: this house was utterly charming, walkable to so much, and really cozy, but we won't be buying it.

Style of Home
Before we toured neighborhoods, I knew I did not want to duplicate what we have now: a newer home in a planned development in the suburbs. I wanted that old authentic adobe looking house, either a town house or a ranch.

After seeing a range of homes, it's clear we are most comfortable duplicating what we have now after all. We really liked the homes in a development about 6 miles out of town -- not far, but not in the city.

We like the cluster housing, with a consistent look and feel, and close neighbors, but walled private gardens and open walking trails in the common landscape all around. Not authentic or old style, but at least the architecture hews to the stucco and flat roof aesthetic. But new, in a homeowners association.

Newer finishes, high ceilings, planned development, outside the city.
Everything I thought I didn't want, but we really liked it.

I thought I'd like the Stamm homes that are a feature of mid century building in Santa Fe. They are low stucco ranches with nice touches (hardwood floors, kiva fireplaces, small footprints). Many have been rehabbed with upscale decor and I just loved the small, iconic looking homes.

Stamm homes are very distinctive, with a real 1950s look and feel.

But after seeing them in real life, it's clear that even with enough square footage, the layouts are just too cramped. And the neighborhoods don't look the way I thought, although the pictures show such cute exteriors. To me a street of Stamm homes looks like 1950s bomb shelter housing, even with upgrades and nice landscaping. The style just didn't suit me the way I thought it would. It's almost too frozen in time, evoking the 1950s too literally.

Conclusion: Stamm-built homes are off our search list. Newer homes with nice finishes in the suburbs are on the search list.

We got a good feel for the distinct areas of the city and the flavor of each. The realtor spent all day with us, from 10 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon showing us 10 properties in very different locations. The next day we went to look at rentals, but the townhouse we had an appointment to see inside had just been leased. 

This rental looks nice, but it was up a tiny, steep gravel drive,
and the complex was a little too tightly clustered.
(it wasn't green and leafy, this is the realtor's photo from summer)

When we scoped out the neighborhood the rental was in, the building was nice looking, but the streets in that area were narrow and steep and very tight, and that seemed problematic. We'll continue to look at rentals, though.

We looked at condos in a planned development up in the hills above the city. Although it felt remote from town, and the sprawling layout of the landscape seemed less welcoming than the neighborhoods closer to town, it was really just a 10 minute drive into the city.

I could live in a place with mountain views.

General Impressions
Every single home in Santa Fe is stucco -- the cost to repair and refresh it, which needs doing every 20 or so years, is thousands of dollars, and I quickly learned to spot which properties looked good but needed expensive stucco work.

This one needs some stucco work, and it's not cheap.

Every home in Santa Fe has a walled garden in back, and some have walled courtyards in front as well. The garden clubs sponsor "Behind Adobe Walls" garden tours in summer. I'm looking forward to that. No one keeps a lawn.

The city has trees, tall shady trees that give the place a graceful feel. Homes feature ornamental fruit trees -- apparently apricots, peaches and apples grow well under cultivation in small courtyard gardens. Outside town there is scrub landscape, with piƱon pines that grow to only four or five feet. They dot the hills all over with a rich deep green against the new snow. It's strikingly pretty.

Courtyard entry in the front.
As this realtor pic shows, fruit trees and flowering trees are popular.

And beyond the green pine scrub, Santa Fe is surrounded by mountains. Before we visited, I thought I had to find a home with a view out the window of mountains, but after spending time in many neighborhoods there, I see that everywhere you drive or walk in the city has killer views. 

You don't need to pay for an adobe compound perched on a hillside with picture windows looking out at mountain ranges -- anywhere we have a house we will be able to walk outside, or drive down the street and see incredible mountain views.

And sunsets.

source: Jack Arnold photo


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Nine Hundred Miles

How to pack for two different climates in one trip?

We're gone for a while, visiting the southwest in winter. We're combining two destinations -- a visit to the chilly elevations of northern New Mexico (snow, cold air, mountain scenery), followed by a visit to the Texas gulf coast (warm, balmy breezes, beaches, sun and sand.)

I overpack on every trip I take, so planning for two completely separate wardrobes -- one for cold weather and one for beachwear -- means I am completely at a loss.

It seemed to make sense when we booked this vacation. New Mexico and Texas are adjoining states, right next to each other, so why not spend a week in northern New Mexico, then hop over to Texas for a a few more days to visit friends at their condo on the gulf. It's all the southwest, after all. We're from a tiny state in New England, what do we know. . .

. . . . these two locations are more than 900 miles apart. Over nine hundred miles. That's like combining a trip to Connecticut with a stop in Chicago.

Nine Hundred Miles.

This country is so damn big. It boggles.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Daylilies in Summer

Want to see beautiful summer garden shots on this winter day? I have some for you.

Ommmm. Summer.

This is the garden of a friend in town, who is an active member and leader of the Connecticut Daylily Society. She was featured recently on the Hemerocallis Society's blog.

           Click to see the Garden of the Week

I have visited her garden often, so it's fun to see some of it featured in photographs. The shots are lovely, focused on her extensive daylily plantings, but they don't begin to capture the charm of her old farmstead or the scope of the gardens, terraces, outbuildings, and lawn sweeping down to the pond below. Or the coolness of a ramble on a hot day through the tall shade plantings at the side of the house.

The photos on the site do show the wisteria vine at her front door -- what a sight that is in bloom. Even in winter it's a major feature as you walk under the immense woody structure to enter the house.

Wisteria at the front door

So go ahead and click on the link to take a tour of Cheryl's garden and read the story of how it all came to be. You'll be impressed with her daylilies, and her whole garden. And you'll be treated to some high summer in the middle of winter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dead Wood

I've been learning recently that when pests infest a tree, the damage they cause inside the trunk can create an interesting look in the wood, which is valued by woodworkers.

Trees die in the woods all the time, but the logs are no good for lumber. It's too hard to reach commercially, dead trees start to rot quickly, and even if they can be reclaimed, modern milling techniques can't deal with the areas of board that are too damaged. Lumber harvesters want healthy, whole, solid trees.

Dead forest in Colorado killed by Mountain Pine Beetle.
Needles turn red, then the dead trees remain standing for two years.
They then fall and rot or are consumed in ever bigger wildfires.

Doesn't it seem that already dead trees would be an excellent source for wood products? Especially when you consider the huge tracts of dead conifers in the west, killed in the millions and millions by pine beetles.

The western pines that are under attack from beetles get a fungus that stains the wood blue gray. The disease colors the milled planks in beautiful striations.

Beetle Kill Blue Pine salvaged lumber has interesting
 streaked wood for furniture, flooring and crafts.
From Core 77 article

Apparently there are niche lumber operators who can harvest some of the dead trees and make beautiful use of the colorful boards. But it's never going to be a large scale operation and so it is limited to crafts people and specialty designers.

When sanded and clear stained the colors pop, making beautiful furniture slabs.

My son has discovered a specialty wood source in Denver and he has taken up woodworking. He recently built an industrial chic shelf out of spalted maple and gas pipes. Like blue stained pines, spalted wood is the result of a fungus in the dead tree.

"Spalted" describes any wood that has black streaks from a fungus.
The maple he used shows the interesting black streaky pattern.

Spalted wood happens when a tree falls to the ground and moisture starts to creep in and fungus invades the wet wood. If the log can be harvested quickly enough, the damage leaves interesting black streaks. But after only a few months the wood will rot and become unusable. So the time to harvest is very short, and salvaging spalted lumber commercially isn't feasible.

The key is to select a board that shows streakiness at its edge as well as the top.

From my son's new interest in crafty woodworking, I am learning much more about trees -- dead and diseased ones to be sure, not the live ones I nurture and grow.

What fascinates me is the fine balance between health and disease, growth and rot, that creates beauty.

It reminds me of the tulip craze in Holland in the 1600s when unusual striped tulip bulbs, called "broken" tulips, were selling for fortunes and were prized for their rare beauty.

Only in the twentieth century was it discovered that the stripes were the result of a virus that damaged the bulb, and not careful or lucky breeding. How those diseased tulips were admired, though. And still are.

I try to keep bad bugs and plant viruses and fungal infections out of my garden in order to keep my living plants beautiful.

But I am learning that even when the bad actors and the fungus among us takes over, a dead tree or diseased flower is capable of producing something really beautiful.

Here's what the woodworker built.  Check it out.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Disguise

The Colorado blue spruces that were planted on a raised berm at the back edge of our property have been in decline recently.

They were little green pyramid blobs when first installed in 2006. It was hard to picture them forming a line that would ever screen anything.

But they did. By the winter of 2012 they had grown majestically and were quite a sight -- five in a row, staggered a bit for visual interest, and screening the back of our house nicely.

I never thought they would turn the interesting blue that I had expected. They were green for the first years, but then began to develop the blue cast that Colorado blue spruces are known for. In fact, they became a real steely gray color.

But as soon as they had become stately, blue, dense and tall, they went into decline. Of the original five, two are gone now. We had to take two out in 2014 because of extensive branch dieback. They were looking very sparse and half dead.

Three remain, but the one on the end is looking bad now too. The lower branches are dying out from the inside. There are healthy blue needles only on the very tips of the branches. The inner part of each branch has died back.

It gives the tree an open, droopy, empty look at the bottom and it will get worse, probably until we have to take the whole thing out.

Spruces do not regenerate growth. The dead parts of the branches will not regrow. But Mike from Bartlett suggested helping the tree disguise its empty parts by stimulating more healthy growth at the tips. More needles at the growing ends of each branch will make it all look fuller.

How to do that? He suggested a root collar excavation. All of the spruces on the berm were planted too deep originally. It's a common condition when landscapers install trees, they simply put them in too deep. Additionally, the soft, newly dumped dirt of the berm settled over the years, and the trees kind of sank with the settling. Dirt piled up even more over the root flare, constricting nutrient flow and limiting growth over time.

That's not the main reason my Colorado spruces are in decline, though. They are a poor choice for our climate -- they want open, sunny, dry, cold places, like the Rocky Mountains they come from. Humid, warm, crowded conditions in my garden are not ideal, not even acceptable, as the declining blue spruces let me know.

But we'll do the root collar excavation in spring. Bartlett will use air spades to blast away the dirt compacted around the trunk without cutting any of the root mass away. They have done root collar excavations on a number of large trees on my property and the resulting growth stimulation is always impressive. It works.

So that will help my sad, sparse, blue spruce. New growth at the tips will be a clever disguise, at least for a few more years.