The Garden Grows

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Check it out.

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The stuff I planted (FROM MUTHA-FLIPPIN’ SEED, YO) is actually growing, amazingly.

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I’m as shocked as you are, given my previous talent for killing all living things.

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But this hosta.  This came with the house.  And it’s enormous.

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It’s blocking the lilies that also came with the house, and the dahlias I recently planted.

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We can’t have that.  Especially as I’m not a huge fan of hostas to begin with.

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And I have that pile of rocks in the front next to the driveway that needs to be dealt with.

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What if … I split the hosta in two and planted it in place of that rock garden? Sounds like a plan. I got up pretty early one hot morning so I could do this before all my pasty white skin burned off.

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First I removed all the rocks in the little bed.

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I left the ones that were under the stairs so they could prevent the soil I was about to add from sliding under the porch.

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In fact, I added back in a few more to make a little wall.

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I knew these rocks were local because so many of them were just STUFFED with fossils, and good ones, too. There used to be an ocean above the Ottawa Valley, and so most of the rocks around town are sandstone with all sorts of little critters petrified inside.

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Now I filled the hole with soil. It took most of one of those awkward 20kg bags.

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Then I wrestled that huge hosta out of the ground in the backyard. There are no photos, because I was covered in mud and sweating like a pig. Turns out I no longer own a shovel, and so had to dig it out with a trowel. And then split it. With a trowel. I felt like a true victor once I had it out of the ground. Once I stuffed it into the bed in the front, I tamped down the soil, fertilized it, and watered it well. The (now plural) hostas took quite a bit of damage during the disinterment and transfer so I want to give them the best chance for survival.

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I don’t want to have to take too much care of these babies, so I took some of the prettier fossil-y rocks and placed them around the hostas to protect the soil from water loss and erosion.

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Because I had so many rocks leftover, I put some in a border around the edge of the wood, just because it looked more interesting.  I still had a ton remaining after this, so they’re currently lining the wall in my garage. I’m sure I’ll come up with something to do with them.

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I’m quite pleased with the result. It’s no feat of professional landscaping or anything, but it’s a sure sight better-looking than what was there before!

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Found Stone Pot Feet

My wee parlor palm is growing fast, and I recently replanted it in a large terra cotta pot.

The problem with terra cotta is that it’s porous, and so I was getting discolourations on my lino tiles from mildew.

I tried taking the pot off the ground and putting it on a trivet with holes in it but then the trivet just got mouldy.

Then I remembered that Lee Valley sells little terra cotta pot feet for your pots that go outside, to keep them from messing up your patio.  I figured, why not apply the principle inside as well?  I had three stones of a similar size that I picked up on our last visit to Middle Cove Beach, so I figured, why not use them as an attractive and yet practical way to keep my pot off the floor?


Bell Island Take Two

What’s weird about this post is that it’s about Newfoundland, and by the time it’s posted I won’t be in Newfoundland any more.  So that’s weird.

When the in-laws were in town, the Pie and I decided to take them to Bell Island.  It was a day that promised rain, but we figured, what the hell, and we went anyway.

Boy are we glad we did.  There was so much to see that we hadn’t seen before on our trip with Cait and iPM, and it made for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.  You can see the full set of photos here, but I’ll give you the highlights.

During our crossing we got to watch some minke whales frolicking between two small boats.  I didn’t take pictures because they were too far away for a good shot, and it’s hard to predict when their tails are going to come up.  The whole time we were watching the whales some old guy next to me kept pointing them out to me every time one came up for air, nudging me and saying, “Did you see that?  Did you see it?  That’s a whale.”  Like I didn’t know what I was looking at.  Eventually I moved around and hid behind my father-in-law, who was clinging like death to one of the poles away from the railing.  And my mother-in-law wouldn’t let me hang over the railing, either.  I know where the Pie gets his fear of the ocean from.  Too bad I made him live on an island in one of the harshest oceans in the world.But at least I got them all to smile.  Sort of.  To be fair, it was raining in their faces so that’s why they’re all squinting.After a short interlude, Bell Island emerged from the fog.Our first stop was the Bell Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1939.  This afternoon the lighthouse keeper was actually there, and he let us go up the ladder!It being one of the shorter lighthouses I’ve seen, the view from up there was a slightly more rain-spattered one than the view on the ground, but the Pie took this nice one of the lamp itself for me.

The lighthouse keeper was kind enough to explain to me something that had been puzzling me for some time.  I’d seen brown paper bags, filled with air or paper to fluff them out, hanging over the thresholds of various businesses when they left their doors open.  There was a similar one at the lighthouse, and the lighthouse keeper told me that it’s called a “Newfie Screendoor.”  The paper bag mimics the size and shape of a wasps’ nest, and therefore discourages other wasps, as well as bees and flies, from coming into the building.  He said it’s about 80% effective, which is about what you’ll get from a real screen door.  Pretty clever!

Then of course I went and draped myself over the edge of the cliff to take pictures of the rock formations (I was actually about two metres back from the edge but not according to my family).  The entire in-law family was not impressed.Mrs. Nice, a photographer herself, could understand my desire for the perfect shot, but she still wouldn’t come any closer than ten metres from the edge.They were all only content once I was satisfied and stooped to taking pictures of wildflowers that were on safer territory.Then we hit up Lance Cove Beach, which was where, last time, Cait and her shiny red boots saved me from an exuberant mallard.The gentlemen skipped rocks while the ladies took pictures of rocks.And boats.And wharves.We found some fossils.And a butterfly.And a SHIPWRECK!Not bad for a day at the beach.

Then we headed off to see one of the abandoned iron ore mines.  The reason rocks are red in Newfoundland is because they’re rusty with iron.The rust tends to get into other things as well.Anyway, at the end of a long rusty trail there was a weird, rusty shed.And behind the shed (and down a slippery, precipitous climb) there was a rock.That tiny yellow sign is actually about a metre by a metre and it reads KEEP OFF: FALLING ROCKS.

The sun took an opportunity to disappear for a while behind the clouds as we slipped and slithered our way to the beach.  It took about ten minutes to get down there.  When the terrain looks like this, however, you can’t really blame us for exercising caution.  Mrs. Nice remained at the top and waited for our impending deaths, but Papa John gamely followed us down.Why attempt such a harrowing climb, you ask?  Well, because of this.That, my friends, is an abandoned mineshaft.  HOW COOL IS THAT?

Still, once we were down there, the looming cliffs and their attendant minor landslides put a little bit of a damper on our high spirits.  There’s no sense of scale in this shot.  But the closest piece of fallen stone is about the size of my leg.  You can see from the above shot how far down it really is.And here’s the mineshaft.We’re not stupid: we didn’t go in.  The whole thing was raised about 2.5m off the ground and the way up was slippery and showed signs of recent landslides.  Plus who knows how stable those supports are?

Here’s a picture of me looking uneasy in front of it.  Or at least as close as we felt comfortable to getting to it.Then we began the climb back up.

Not that way.  There was a better path we hadn’t seen before.

Then we ended our tour watching the plants dance in the breeze.  It was worth the climb!

Marine Mobile

I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired in the kitchen lately, so the Pie recommended that I make “something like that tea cozy,” which I took to mean he wanted me to get all crafty.

If you know me, you know I am a rock hound.  If you don’t know me, well, now you know that about me.  I love rocks.  I nearly minored in geoscience during my undergraduate degree because I loved them so much, but I didn’t have the physics I needed to take the advanced courses.  So I’m a dabbler, really.

I have a substantial rock collection.  They are in my garden.  They are my door stops.  They decorate my mantle and my book shelves.  I keep them in a bowl in my kitchen. 

And I know where they all came from, too.  Bubbly volcanic basalt and gem-quality chunks of jasper from the beaches of my BC childhood.  Sugary white and rose pink quartz from Algonquin Park in Ontario.  A chunk of slag picked up on the shores of Lake Erie.  River-smooth pebbles from our old cottage at Lavergne Bay, near Arnprior, Ontario.  And some lovely round treasures from our recent visit to Middle Cove Beach.

Spending most of my life near the ocean means I also have a bowl of shells in my kitchen, too. 

Oysters (which I gathered from the beach, cooked in a pail of seawater on an open fire, and ate, how glorious), mussels (I had a massive foot-long complete shell at one point that broke in one of my many moves), periwinkles, limpets, barnacles, snails, scallops, cockles … even a giant moon snail shell given to me on a class camping trip to Denman Island by the first boy I ever kissed.

What you might not know is that in my closet I have a HIDDEN rock collection.  Two little plastic boxes in my office closet, filled with even more rocks, strange found objects like faucets, cream bottles, and artillery shell casings, and mismatched pulleys. 

Twisted segments of driftwood.  The top to some ancient incense burner.  And lots and lots of sea glass.  Bags of it, collected during long afternoons ignoring the rain, scrambling over the slippery rocks by the house, eyes glued to the ground in front of me.

So rather than keep it in the closet, I decided to use some of it to make something.  How about a mobile?  I’ve been toying with the idea of making one for a while.

I sorted through my treasures, and the pieces I chose were solely based on my ability to wrap a piece of nylon fishing line around them and get a decent knot.  So my tools for this were some white glue, a pair of scissors, and some fishing twine.  And whatever else you got.

I’ve never made a mobile before, so it was an experiment in balance for me.  Tying the twine around rocks and pieces of glass was a challenge as well but I managed to get a few strings going.  To make a string, I started with a piece that could form the base and looped the twine around it and tied it tight.

I made sure I had two strings now of equal lengths coming off it.  I measured a random length of twine from the first object, then tied the two pieces together to make a base for the second piece.  Then I tied the second piece on, and so on.

Make sure to dab a little bit of white glue near your knots just to keep things from sliding around.

Balancing things was, well, a balancing act.  I found it much easier to put the mobile together while it was hanging.  I started with this round piece of driftwood I’d picked up in Victoria on the beach in front of my house.  Suspended from that was a piece of shale from Rose Bay, Nova Scotia.  Then a twig I pulled off my lawn here in St. John’s.  And then I worked on my strings.

A stroke of genius was to glue whelk shells (from Holyrood, Newfoundland) onto the ends of the sticks to act as barriers for sliding twine.  I put a few dabs of glue on the sticks as well to hold the lines of pieces in place.

Waiting for the glue to dry (or for everything to come crashing down).

Finished, and hanging in the dining room, the one place where the Pie won’t run into it accidentally.

Greenthumbing Day One

The crocuses on my front lawn have informed me that it is, indeed, spring.

The tulips and daffodils in the backyard are thinking about making their presence known.

For the record, it’s supposed to snow in the days leading up to the day this will be posted (pretty sure it’ll be a Sunday).

*** EDIT: It totally did snow, the jerk.  We got about three inches.  Then it rained the next day.  Nothing like walking downhill in three inches of slush.****

I still haven’t put away my snow shovel, just in case.

However, today is Sunday (what a coincidence), and after a night of rain, the ground is dry and the sun is shining and I decided to get off my butt and do some work this afternoon.  It was way too windy to consider raking up the thousands upon thousands of leaves littering the front and back yards.  Doing things like that on a windy day here is an exercise in frustration.

Crappy back yard leaves.

There is something you should know about gardening in St. John’s: it’s not easy.  The soil is rocky and thin and nobody really cares about it because nothing grows in it.  Everyone in my neighbourhood, including us, has these horrid bushes lining the front of the property.  They are thin and scraggly and get massacred by the snow drifts every winter.  They look like crap but there’s nothing I can do.  I have to clean the garbage out of my front lawn on a daily basis, from the high winds and the drunken students.  Finally, I don’t own the place I live in, so this is why I haven’t taken a more careful approach.

Crappy front yard leaves.

I went out today with the intention of completing one outstanding project and ended up working on four, but that’s just how I roll.  Things tend to snowball with me.

Project the First

The snowplow, at some point in our long and crappy winter, got a little over-zealous and took a sizable chunk out of the lawn on the side of KK’s driveway (Elizabeth has two driveways: ours is on the right and KK’s is on the left).  The turf was still there, and still mostly intact, so it was just a matter of gathering up the pieces from the lawn and the walkway and stomping them into place.  I then watered the crap out of it and in a couple of weeks (when it is less windy, hopefully), I will scatter some grass seed on the bare bits. 

Project the Second

I had to seek out my grass seed just in case I needed it today, so before I put that turf back in place I made a foray into my shed.  The shed in our backyard is technically supposed to be half ours and half KK’s, but in reality it’s about ten percent ours, ten percent KK’s, and the majority is filled haphazardly with crap that belongs to my landlord and my landlord’s contractor, whose storage strategy is to plop all the heavy stuff (like tires) right in front of the doors.

Our stuff is of course in the back right corner, so I spent about half an hour or so moving things to and fro.  I didn’t take a picture of the interior after I had done clearing up, because it still looks chaotic, but now there’s a nice clear space in the middle and a path to the back where our stuff is.  I managed to dig up my gardening tools and lawnmower and put them in a place I can get to them easily.  I wonder how long that will last.

Project the Third

This is what the front bed looked like when the Pie and I moved in in August 2008.  This photo was actually taken in the spring of 2009, because I obviously hadn’t gotten around to doing anything with it.  That’s not true.  The bare patch is where I moved the struggling astilbe to the back.  The rest was a wash, a weird combination of grass, tulips, baby hostas, and lots and lots of weeds.  I was hoping it would just grow over.

At the end of the summer I had completely dug it up and planted some evergreen bushes.  I planted some sweet peas, too, but they never survived.

It had always been my intention to mulch this bed with red cedar chips to combat the creeping weeds that are incredibly tenacious in this part of town, and although we had purchased the mulch it had sat in the shed all winter.  Today I decided it would be the day to lay it down.  And it was pretty easy, once I got enough mulch out of the bag that I could lift it.

Project the Fourth

Then I realized that I hadn’t made a very good edge on the sides of the beds before laying down the mulch.  It looked ragged and messy.  I had an edger that I found while shuffling through the shed but the soil wasn’t deep enough for me to get a decent edge.  In the end I did what I did to the backyard beds last year and edged them with rocks.

The backyard after I rocked the beds last year.

My quarry in the backyard leads to the scary basement of our house, and consists of the crumbling foundation of a previously collapsed back porch.  I have pulled hundreds of rocks out of this area over the past year and I am only now starting to notice a decline in the availability. I actually had to dig some of the rocks out of the deteriorating concrete matrix.  It was kind of fun, but hard work, jimmying the bigger ones out of the old foundation.

Quarrying from the matrix.

In any case, today I had to do some searching to get some consistency in my rocks.  I put larger ones at the corners of the beds and the Pie helped me to carry them from the backyard to the front. 

I also took some of the larger chunks of concrete that had a flat edge and made a little stepping area for people who don’t want to go all the way around the bed (like me).  You’ll notice that I scaled the rocks down near the stepping area so clumsy people wouldn’t trip (like me).

I’m no landscape artist, but this wasn’t bad for an afternoon’s work and all four tasks took me just under three hours.  I was quite pleased.  Now I just gotta figure out what else to plant in that bed.

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