Yard Work–2012–Part 2

June 28, 2012 07:20 by ehouston

As I was writing several long weeks ago, we were attempting to raise the curb appeal around our place without spending a dime.  I know, what’s new, right?  Big impact wanted without spending.  Can it be done?  Well we decided to take a chance and drastically trim back the bushes along the front of our property.  We went into it thinking that they either needed to be trimmed way down or pulled out completely.  However, part of what we love about our property is that the bushes and trees are all very mature.  It’s also one of the things that we dislike because much of the greenery is getting to a point of no return.  Meaning the pull it out and start over method is what has been most prescribed by our lawn care folks, as well as, many of the reps we have been talking with about painting the whole place.  Of course, they are also willing to do all that plant pulling if it makes painting the house easier, but for a big fat price. 


(Just like me, these bushes are all fat and out of shape.)

After hemming and hawing, as we usually do, we decided to go into attack mode and spent two sessions in the yard, hacking away at the the main bushes.  I should say, the Mister did the hacking and I (in all my big-bellied glory) did all the clean-up and bagging of the debris.  The first session involved a slight slimming along the fronts, a topping and a brisk, tight shave along the backs of the main larger holly bushes.  Then we rested and had a laugh at how nude several of them looked.


(Nekkid! Tee hee!)

A couple of weeks later, on Mother’s Day, because yes that is what I wanted to do on my one day of rest, we took it all up a notch and really knocked off some girth and height all the way down the line.  Of course, at this point we had also invested in a small chainsaw to get busy with and I think The Mister had fun releasing some pent up aggression.  This time the trimming was to the point of needing the truck to haul off what we had hacked away.  And, this time when we finished we didn’t laugh.  Instead we said a little prayer to the Gods of Shrubbery that they give our toothpick plants another lease on life and at least a few more years for budget sake.

Fast forward about a month and a half and we have been happy to find our shrubs blissfully branching out and filling in. 


(In the close-up above left you can see one of the larger holly bushes nearly covered the window and passed the roofline.  After trimming we now have a much shorter version, above right, and better access to the window.  Only problem is that as it has filled back in, it has also begun to grow all crazy too.  But hey, at least it matches all the goofy shapes of the other bushes now.)


(And while the “nekkid” bushes near the front stoop certainly need a hair cut they have started to really fill in around the bottom, above right.)

So far no one has taken the leap off the cliff to the compost pile and several have even pushed out new limbs from areas that we guess haven’t seen the light of day for years.  The only problem is that they all need a good shaping and each weekend lately we have been faced with too many activities plus triple digit heat.  My fear is that by next spring we will end up with some even crazier shaped plants to hack away at and it will take years to get back to some decent curb appeal.  If only I had some energy and …well… no gigantic belly to work around!

By the way, have any of you ever attempted to drastically change the look of very mature hedges or bushes in your yard?  I would love to hear about the process you used and the outcome.  We have read plenty about the “ways to do it right” online, but then we decided to wing it and just see what happens.  If all goes well and we save on the cost of large shrubs along the house we hope to put that savings toward adding more large trees and shrubs to the perimeter of the property.  Why is it that we move into a neighborhood and then spend all our time trying to make our yard super private? 

Oh yeah, because mamma don’t like a long trip to shopping or fast food!

Just bein’ honest!

Kitsch Krafts

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Yard Work

May 3, 2012 00:25 by ehouston

This year we are attempting to tackle the outside of the house and the yard.  We have made small strides toward getting the yard we really want, and putting off some things we really need.  Like, a paint job.  That one is really breaking the bank right now and has been put on hold until we can figure out how to get some needed repairs completed properly before slapping a on a new coat.  I never imagined it would be so difficult to find decent maintenance workers, but just getting a call back from an ad, a number in the phone book or even a referral has proven to be a full time job.  After a month of hanging around, waiting for people to come over and give us an estimate I am pretty much over it.  We have had bids ranging from a couple grand to new car prices.  Now you can probably understand why we have taken a step back.  This type of work seems to be priced all over the place and we have yet to find the best way to know if you are going to get quality craftsmanship.  Having used some referrals for smaller projects in the past we have learned this first hand.  You can see great work at your pal’s house, but that doesn’t mean you will get it at yours.

So, to bring this back on track, one of the items on our Yard To-Do list was to figure out a plan of attack for our shrubs and bushes out front.  We are quite aware that several are really much too large and they will soon be a hindrance for anyone attempting to correct any of the siding or window trim issues, let alone painting the house.  Rather than calling in the big guns and getting yet another estimate to have them trimmed and/or removed The Mister and I decided to trim them up ourselves.  A daunting task, even for seasoned lawn care workers.  We have very little yard work equipment, but the one thing we do have is an extension hedge trimmer and various pruning tools.  Figuring we were well armed, we decided to go for it a couple of sunny weekends ago.

These first two shots show how overgrown the bushes had become.  Not only are they far to tall and wide, but they were also sporting spikey tops.



The Mister spent some time on the ladder tackling the two larger bushes on either side of the front stoop.


And, while they look much better than they did, we had to laugh at how naked this one ended up after it’s initial “haircut”.


We actually plan to trim these way down, but realized that our little handsaw will not work for this part of the project.  So, off to Home depot we go to add a small chainsaw to the arsenal.  Hopefully this next weekend we can do a little more damage, but in a good way.

Now, for the rain to let up so the deck guys can get back out here and finish the staining process.  It took long enough to find some guys we thought we could trust to do the work, so now we are VERY ready to have the work completed.  Shoot, I have patio furniture to arrange, large ceramic pots to plant and lots of other ideas about how I want to spruce up the area. 

Patience is a virtue…they say.

Kitsch Krafts

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Gardening : More Tree Planting

October 17, 2011 07:30 by ehouston

Three weekends ago I finally got around to returning the two dead Leyland Cypress trees to Lowe’s for a refund after they up and died on us within a one week period.  They literally went from looking fine to being completely brown within days.  So weird.  Well, this time I did a little more research before making my purchases and decided to add some large holly trees to our yard.  I was told to purchase Nellie Steven’s holly bushes, but when I got to the nursery up the street they had a great deal on Robin’s Hollies, so I bought them instead.  I’m such a sucker, right?  Anything for a sale price!  Even though the information posted read just like the Steven’s Hollies, they will probably die soon too.  Okay, I will get over my melancholy now and just pray for the best.

Back to where I started, three weeks ago I picked up two 6 foot Robin’s Hollies and they have been sitting in position in our yard ever since. 


Hello, my crooked little street buffering friend!

I brought them home late on a Sunday afternoon, just shy of the end of the Little Guy’s nap, so there was no time for planting.  In removing these beasts from the truck I managed to strain my lower back something fierce and continued to feel the pain until mid-week when I then found out we would possibly be having company for the weekend.  Change-O-Plans and I went into Operation Clean House to be ready just in case.  Well we had a nice visit and as soon as our company left, the rains began.  I say “rains” because I was beginning to think we were living in the tropics or something!?!  This past weekend was finally nice enough for yard work, but alas, I was already committed to a parade and festival on Saturday and Sunday School Sub the next day.  Let’s just say this is the first moment I have had to really deal with the two large Holly bushes/trees in our yard.   Now, I think I may just be procrastinating the inevitable… our crazy neighbors are out there relentlessly blowing every bit of dirt off their driveway.  As soon as that blower goes off, I’m ON IT!

Kitsch Krafts

PS – Got ‘er Done!


Drink, drink, grow, drink and GROW!!!!

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Gardening : Veggie Patch Update #3

September 23, 2011 05:32 by ehouston

In between rounds of hole digging for the new trees I also somehow managed to put together the veggie patch and get some food started this past spring.   At this point, I have already pulled the dead and bolting stuff out of the veggie patch twice and just planted another round of lettuces and spinach.


I tried to give the tomatoes another week, but they just hung there looking more and more unattractive as their leaves curled up and started to die.  Plus, the fruit was staying green and not really getting any larger, so earlier this week I yanked them out of their cozy little beds and sent them packing.  We had an abundance of tomatoes this summer that we enjoyed immensely.  My only regret is not planting more so I could make sauce for the winter.  This is something I plan to remedy next spring with a garden expansion- hopefully! 


A couple of Best Boys ripening on the vine earlier this summer.

By the way, I planted three Supersonics and a Best Boy this year.  They grew in a very upright pattern and produced a LOT of fruit.  So much so, that one plant got really heavy and slid down the stake, breaking under the weight.  I employed my usual method of staking and pinching off the suckers as they came up, taking only one additional step of actually pruning away branches around the bottom of the plants, to allow for more airflow, and cutting back those that were really blocking the progress of their neighboring plant.  The process seemed to work very well and I believe if we commit an entire raised bed just to tomato plants we will have plenty of sauce for a fully stocked pantry by next September.  I had never grown these varieties before and was pleasantly surprised with the results.  Hopefully Lowe’s will run another 2 for a $1.00 deal on tomatoes next year as well.  Wow, I just realized that we enjoyed cream of the crop slicing tomatoes all summer for $2.00!  cool.

Right now, I am hoping our jalapenos and couple of bell pepper plants hold on long enough to finish what they have started, which is just a little too small to pick yet.




This shot makes me giggle because the pepper plants look so funny being the only large, upright things in this garden bed right now.  The lettuce is coming in nicely to the left, though!

The herbs I left in the ground are still going crazy and while the strawberries are continuing to grow, they are not doing anything more than staying green. In the cleared areas of the beds I sowed some more lettuces and spinach, which have already started to sprout. 


If all goes well we should have more leafy green stuff than we can stand to eat in just a couple more weeks.  With this last attempt at outdoor gardening completed I am now shifting my focus to an indoor herb garden and some herb decorating for the fall.

Last week I dug up a couple of basil plants, some clusters of chives and the lone parsley plant to bring indoors. 


I used a cool oval galvanized tub that I found on sale at Joann’s the week before. Now I am counting on the sunny kitchen windows to help keep these plants going, because I can’t wait to use fresh herbs during the dreary winter months. Also, for some fall decor I transplanted my extremely neglected mum plants from last fall into bigger pots, along with a couple of our overgrown sage plants from the garden.


Since all I had to use for transplanting were ugly black plastic nursery planters, I squished them into our large galvanized tub to make one big display for our front landing. 


The soft gray-green of the sage plants contrasts nicely with the darker green of the mum leaves.  I like the color of the sage plants so much that I am considering pulling the last couple from the garden to add to the pumpkin display we will place on the steps next month.  Plus, pulling them out of the garden will free up more room for spinach- yum!  Now, if only the mums out front would give us some blooms we will really be in the fall décor business!

Have any of you started decorating for this time of year?  Do you bring anything in from your garden to keep going during the winter?  Any tips to keeping things alive indoors?

Kitsch Krafts

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Gardening : Some Triumphs and Some Tragedies

September 19, 2011 07:29 by ehouston

My outdoor “To-Do” list is off the charts right now. I was hoping for a little more warm weather before having to trudge around the yard, cleaning up all the gardening and other messes.  I guess I should be happy that I won’t be baking in the sun while straightening out this space before winter sets in.  Not only did I put together a small veggie patch this past spring, but I also toiled away at planting 16, yep, 16 Leyland Cypress trees around the property.  We have a fairly wooded lot, especially for a neighborhood.  We have wooded sections on either side, out back along our fence line and out front in between the ends of our circle drive.  We love having this added privacy, especially since we live on the main road into the neighborhood.  These wooded areas consist mainly of large and small deciduous trees, mostly of the oak variety.  Interspersed among these trees are several regular long needle pines, cedars, and many mature Leyland Cypress trees.  We also have a couple of dogwood trees and crepe myrtles in key areas for color and bloom.  The rest of the yard pretty much has small, very neglected boxwoods, azaleas, iris plants and lilies.  The previous owners clearly had some initial landscaping completed and then proceeded to do nothing going forward.  While we loved the idea of having all this space and “stuff” to work with, we did not have a very good understanding of the time and/or budget commitment our yard would take up.  So, we have proceeded with caution on both fronts when it comes to changing and maintaining the grounds of our home. 

Late last summer and early this spring we had a sudden decent in the ranks of the Leyland Cypress trees.  Here are some pictures of our backyard from early this year.  You can see the trees we lost are almost completely brown when I took these shots and since the leaves are off the other trees you can also see the views we want to block.


View to the left.


View straight toward the middle.


View toward the right.

We lost four very large Leylands out back and a huge, story and a half sized tree from the front yard. This was really quite devastating to us because to truly replace what we lost would be in the several thousand dollar range and would require bringing in large equipment. Neither bringing in the heavy equipment to make the fix, or living without the privacy the bushy trees yielded, was an option for us. So, as soon as the sale papers arrived touting the 4 to 5 foot Leylands on sale for $16.99 I jumped at the opportunity to get some screening going ASAP!


View toward the side yard, before.

After walking the yard several times we decided 12 trees would do the trick to start. I actually began the monumental task of all this planting by adding two trees to our side yard to begin the buffer between us and the neighbors.


View toward side yard, after.


Closer view of the side yard trees through the fence.  They actually grew a good foot taller and wider just this summer.

We love these neighbors and they are good friends, but we don’t enjoy looking onto their deck and screened porch while sitting out on our deck in the evenings. Plus, the sounds from passing cars out front seem to be amplified as they come into the backyard in between our houses. We figured two fast growing, bushy evergreens would cut both the view and noise in half within the next couple of years.

Then I planted the other 10 along the back fence and in the empty spots from their fallen comrades. Before I even finished the planting, which took a couple of weeks of afternoon naptimes, we realized we needed at least 6 more to fill in all the gaps everywhere else. And, those last 6 took another couple of weeks to get into the ground because I was just flat, exhausted!


View of the left side after removing the large dead Leyland and planting three along the back fence.


A little bit closer shot of the plantings and part of the view we want to block.  That’s our left side backdoor neighbor’s garage, driveway and back of their house.  They also have a shed with a HUGE pile of yard waste behind it.  They don’t see it, but we do.


View of the middle section of the backyard, including the back of the left side neighbor’s shed and massive stick pile.  You can also see some of the dead new trees in this shot.


View of the right side after removing the dead tree from the front of the bed and planting two trees along the back of the fence.


Here is a close up of one of those newly planted trees on the way to tree heaven.

Now, with the weather changing we need to get out and do that last minute clean up before we start being pummeled by the falling leaves. And, before winter really sets in. We were also considering adding some other trees and bushes to our yard to help round out the landscaping, add more privacy and some interest. While doing our research on new and different varieties we have discovered that we should not have replaced the fallen Leylands with more Leylands. Apparently there is a disease in VA that is killing them all- great! We have also noticed that several already appear to be succumbing to that disease- Double Great!

This week I have added, “remove the dead and dying Leylands” to the “To-Do” list along with purchase and plant some new stuff. Luckily I still have my receipts from Lowe’s, and luckily they have that lovely 1 year warranty for plants. Thank God! Now, it’s on to Camelias, Stevens Hollies, Skip Laurels, Accubas, Wax Myrtles…anything that will grow in mostly shade and not keel over on us within 6 months. While I am not looking forward to all this hard yard work, I am excited to see some new things out back and hopefully lose the view of my neighbor’s discarded stick pile!

So, what are you guys focusing on in your yards right now? Planting or just removing the spent stuff?

Kitsch Krafts

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Gardening : Veggie Patch Update

August 8, 2011 05:54 by ehouston

Back in the middle of June I posted about the progress we had made with transforming our smallish garden plot into two larger raised beds.  To catch up you can click here.  Not only had I taken our old dilapidated railroad tie bed and turned it into two raised beds, but I also added a wider landing to the backdoor from the garage.


Shot from the left side of the backdoor, mid-June.


Shot of the landing, right outside of the backdoor, mid-June.


Shot of the right side of the backdoor, mid-June.

At the time that I was sharing this project things had just begun to take off in the garden.  I had planned to take some more pictures in mid-July to show off how things had progressed at that point.  Well, that time came and went and I took some pictures.  Unfortunately they were not of a stunning and vibrant garden.  It was more like what I would image Sanford & Son had out back between the piles of junk.  Did I just date myself?  Actually, I think I watched mainly syndicated episodes as a very, very young child.  ;o)


Here are the same plots in mid-July.  Left side of the backdoor.


Backdoor landing, mid-July.  I had already pulled down the sugar snap peas and they are part of the weed pile on the ground to the left of the landing.


The jungle to the right of the backdoor.

Anyway, I snapped these shots right before going on a clean-up rampage, weeding and pulling out spent crops.  The lettuce would not die out, but had gotten to the point of being more wilted than edible.  The spinach never did much of anything and our sugar snap peas literally dried up and died on the vine.  The worst issue was sharing garden space with Mr. Mole’s home. 


As you can see in the picture above (all the dark spots) he burrowed his way out of the beds each night and had a smorgasbord.  First he striped my bush beans from the bottom of the plants up.  What we got off of those plants was so good and we were very disappointed that he killed those plants before they even hit their prime.  Next Mr. Mole moved on to the carrot patch.  What was strange was that he would come out at night and eat the tops, but then leave the bottoms.  So, despite the damage to the tops, I pulled them up and used them shredded in several meals.  He left many of the larger carrot plants alone for a week or so more and they ended up being a pretty good size when I finally pulled them out.  He ate all the parsley, but left the sage.  I don’t know why, but he has not even touched the other planting bed at all.  Thank GOD!


You can see one last bush bean plant, way in the back to the right, hanging on the end of the little trellis for dear life.  The lettuce was flowing out of the front and back of the bed and the sunflowers were starting to get a bit too heavy at this point. 


But, the basil at the far left was ready for the first big harvest!

Just on the other side of the backdoor to the garage, the tomatoes, squash and cucumbers are thriving through the heat. 


The green peppers and jalapenos are still growing, but not producing like we had hoped.  We did finally get one nice big green pepper just this week and we have been pulling one or two jalapenos off every week.  Which, it turns out, is enough for our palates….at least mine and the Little Guy…The Mister likes things scorching hot!  The problem is that the squash went completely insane and took over the bed, drowning out  the peppers.  I even had to put in a piece of the metal fencing between the squash and the rest of the bed because it wasn’t just shading the peppers, it was growing up and over them.  I have since trained the squash over the metal fence along the front of the bed and out into the yard.  I would have pulled all of the metal fencing from that end of the bed if the cucumber vines had not completely covered it.  They even started growing into the peppers, using them to hold on to as they lurched up and over those plants too.  Cucumbers and squash are like Seymour from “Little Shop of Horrors”.  They just get bigger and bigger and want more and more.  They are a little bit scary to deal with!  Although they have turned into nuisance plants they have been giving us a steady stream of produce, so I am not totally unhappy with them.


The one planting that did disappoint, aesthetically anyway, were the sunflowers.  If I plant them again, I will definitely do so next to a sturdy fence or trellis.  I thought this variety did not get very tall, but I must have actually grabbed the wrong packet of seeds because pretty much all of them are in the 6-8 foot range and have 1.5-2 inch stalks.  They are HUGE and heavy and they keep falling over into the other plants, breaking things on their way down.  Plus, they have added shade where we really did not need any.  So, this one was a “lesson learned” sort of planting.  Again, next time I won’t count on stakes to help hold them, I will just put them by the fence for support. 


We are looking forward to all those seeds, though.  Not only did the stalks get big, but several have nearly foot wide heads on them, so we hope to collect the seeds for snacking.  I will let you guys know how that goes.

After cleaning up the garden I was left with a pretty significant empty space in the bed on the left side of the backdoor.  If it had not been for the extreme heat and Mr. Mole, I had planned to attempt some second round plantings.  I even considered transplanting the peppers so they could breath a little.  I was advised against the transplanting and sowing anything else from seed, simply because the heat would not allow for germination.  Since we discovered that our dog was the one eating the strawberries I decided to try placing the pots up on the bed in the empty spots.  And, because Mr. Mole had been so selective in what he ate, I figured it was worth a shot to see if he was even going to be interested in this new addition.  Also, one of the strawberry pots had tons of runners, so I thought they might take root and I could eventually cut them from the main pot and let them do their own thing. 


So far they are still alive, but languishing in the sun.  We have experienced some cooler nights, but now we don’t have much rain.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another!  So far the mole does not seem interested in the strawberries, and since only one of the pots is producing anything I am not really sure if he just hasn’t noticed them yet.  I just keep watering everything and pulling off the ripe stuff as it comes along.

The basil transplants from the end of June have done very well and we have made four batches of pesto to enjoy at least one night (and several lunches for me!) a week.  Between the pesto and the juicy, ripe tomatoes we have been in backyard veggie patch heaven.  Those are the main things I long for when digging, weeding and planting.  So, I guess I can say that even with the issues we have faced this summer the garden has been pretty successful.  Now, to talk The Mister into adding some more beds!  I think we could use some eggplants and zucchini!  Mmmm…..

So tell me, how does your garden grow?

Kitsch Krafts

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I Looked Out My Window Friday And Saw This…

July 18, 2011 00:44 by ehouston


Not only are our Crepe Myrtles in full effect, but the sunflowers I planted at the back of the garden beds are starting to open up.  I walked into our powder room last week and noticed two of the sunflowers have popped up just above the window sill. 


PowderRoomFlowersFlyingBeesPowderRoomFlowersFlyingBees - Copy

We have been watching the petals unfurl on the smaller one, while the bees pull pollen from the other.

Nature is pretty cool, right?


Kitsch Krafts

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