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.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Bail Pulls and Boring Holes

Back in 1971 we inherited some old furniture from the estate of a relative I never knew on my husband's side -- I actually can't remember who it was. This chest of drawers was one of the items we got, along with end tables (one of which I still use in the living room) and a few other miscellaneous wood pieces.

I've used it all these years. It's been in my bedroom in every house I've lived in. It's roomy, the drawers slide beautifully and it's a solid, handsome piece of furniture.

For over 45 years, all the time I've owned it and certainly before we even got it, the lower left drawer pull has been missing.

It doesn't affect anything -- the drawer opens easily using only the one pull on the right. It's always been this way. Forever.

But over the decades I did want to fix it, especially when we moved to this house 12 years ago and things here were "nicer" and newer. But I could not find an exact replacement anywhere. I did look for a long time online, but finally gave up.

Now, suddenly, I really want it restored. This time, instead of looking for a single replacement that matches, I ordered 10 new handles and will replace all of them. They're called bail pulls apparently, and you measure the boring holes to get the right size.

Ten forged brass bail pulls are expensive, even the low-end ones I got. The cost seems ridiculous given that I have had this chest with a missing pull for more than 45 years.

My. Entire. Adult. Life.

But I'm on a kick to get all the little things that have not been right in my house up to par. There is no gardening in winter and I get antsy to do projects at this time of year, and my focus has inexplicably, after all these years, fallen upon this chest.

So I'm getting a whole new set of handles to completely dress up and restore an antique chest of drawers.

I hope the ground thaws in Spring before I start replacing all the doorknobs in the house.