Category Archives: garden

If a tree falls…

If a tree falls in the backyard and someone is around, does it make a sound? 

Surprisingly, not always.

 But let me backtrack a bit – quite a lot, actually.

 Nothing says autumn like a hot cup of cocoa in front of a roaring fire – which is why we decided to fill our defunct fireplace with a stove insert last year. There were too many issues with our flue for an affordable fix and eliminating the fireplace by tearing out the heavy brick chimney (seen here during a Christmas a few years past) would have been a major undertaking.

Deciding we wanted a stove was easy. Deciding on which kind of stove – gas or wood – was not. We went back and forth for months. On the one hand, a wood-burning insert would better fit the period of our home. Plus, I didn’t really want to spend a good chunk of change for a fireplace I knew was “fake” – I like real cream in my coffee, real butter in my brownies and real logs in my fireplace thank you very much (um, please don’t quote me on that). The idea of starting flames with a remote control just wasn’t very romantic, nor was the idea of paying for gas.  

On the other hand, we had to be realistic. We had a postage stamp-size backyard with one real tree – obviously we weren’t going to be able to collect the wood ourselves. We’d have to buy it. Or we’d have to borrow it from friends and family, which likely meant splitting wood in exchange.

 In the end, we bit the bullet and went with a Jotul cast iron gas insert. I worried that we would regret it.

 

Weeks later, it started raining. By the third or fourth day of gray skies and steady, pouring rain, it got windy. 

I was home alone working. Being a particularly paranoid person, with every shriek of wind I was certain our neighbor’s oak was going to come crashing through the office roof. During one particularly leaf-shaking gust, I thought I detected creaking and snapping so I did what any California girl raised with earthquake drills would do – I dove for cover under my desk, put my hands over my head and squeezed my eyes shut. 

Papers went flying, cats scattered and I heard the blood pounding in my ears – but I didn’t hear a crash. In fact, all I heard was eerie silence. I opened one eye, then the other, then got up the courage to peer out the window at the oak. It was still there. Slowly, I began breathing normally again. I went back to work for half an hour or so, then sauntered into the kitchen for my usual third dose of caffeine (maybe that’s why I’m always so paranoid). I casually glanced into the backyard as I took a sip of coffee. But my backyard wasn’t there anymore.

 

I hadn’t even considered that our only shade tree would fall. But there it was, all 80 feet of it, horizontal across the back fence. The soft, waterlogged ground must have absorbed the impact, because I didn’t hear a thing.

 Amazingly, it had fallen cleanly between our neighbor’s workshop and our own, missing those structures as well as three houses all well within 80 feet of the rootball. It did, however, take out the fence on one side, our little shed, and almost every shrub and flower we owned.

 

We did some research and learned that it was a tree-of-heaven, a species native to China, and its most common use is, get this – burning. Cleaning up literally tons of wood took months, and today that wood is still fueling the wood stoves of our dearest friends and relatives.

 So what’s the moral of the story? That’s a good question. I don’t really have one. Except that maybe things don’t always turn out like you plan. And that, despite the fact that we could have had enough free wood to make it through three cold seasons, I would highly recommend considering a gas stove, even if you’re skeptical. Turns out I like heating up the living room with the click of a button. You know what else I like? Being the only house on the block that doesn’t need to rake leaves come fall. I guess I’m just lazy like that.

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Filed under autumn, garden, home improvement, renovation

Victorian Gardens

When the thermometer inches towards 100 degrees and my garden is looking sad and wilted, I dream of the lush, green gardens of Ferndale.

Every summer we spend a weekend in the remarkably well-preserved Victorian village on the Northern California coast.

Ferndale yards epitomize the old house garden – you know, the kind of garden your grandma had. Think big bushy hydrangeas, dahlias the size of your head, climbing roses, shaped shrubs and tucked away patios with tiny tables and chairs – formal English garden meets whimsical cottage garden, if you will. Of course, Ferndale is better known for its old houses, dairy cows and some of the movies filmed here than it is for its landscaping, but I’ll get to that another day.

When we get there, we always park under these guys, the gumdrop trees.

Plants of all kinds thrive in the town’s temperate coastal air.

One of the bed-and-breakfasts, the Gingerbread Mansion, is known for its Victorian gardens, full of fuschia, fountains and hummingbirds.

But my favorite garden in town is a lot more informal. It’s the farm garden at Fern Cottage, built in 1886 by the pioneering Russ family and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Never mind the hose in this photo. It’s a working farm – see the wooden chicken coop in the back?

My thumb isn’t green enough to recreate these landscapes in the climate at home, but that’s just an excuse to keep coming back.

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Filed under garden, historic houses, old houses, travel, Victorian

Yard Work

Working from home is both a blessing and a curse.

 On the one hand, I can get work done on my own hours with as many coffee breaks as I want and, yes, sometimes in my pajamas.

 On the other hand, the Internet, radio, refrigerator and, at times, the other person who shares my home office, can be highly distracting – especially for an infamous procrastinator. And I don’t even have kids yet.

 My dream solution? The backyard office.

Sunset

When old houses are short on space, sometimes you have to get creative. If I had a bigger backyard, I would refinish a little shed, workshop, mother-in-law quarters, poolhouse – any small outbuilding – into my own cute, private cubicle.

Sunset

 Okay, this one’s actually a greenhouse – but I would totally make it into an office.

Sunset

Fresh Dirt Blog - Sunset

Aside from magazines, I haven’t noticed many backyard offices in the U.S. But shed offices are so common in the U.K., there’s a blog devoted to them. Tiny House Blog also features its share of garden offices. With so many people telecommuting today, I think these guys are onto something.

Tiny House Living

Urban Eden

 And check out this hunting cabin-turned-Victorian cottage in the New York Times. To be fair, this one isn’t an office either – but it’s inspirational all the same.

The New York Times

I can just see myself now: packing a briefcase, kissing my boyfriend goodbye and whistling as I commute to work – across the lawn.

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Filed under cottages, garden, interiors, old houses, restoration