Thursday, February 27, 2014

Captain Ahab's Focus

I suppose I should admit it to the world something that my wife has known for years: I’m not the best multi-tasker.  I don’t necessarily think of this as a negative though.  In the “glass half full” spirit of things, I see my propensity for avoiding multi-tasking as a direct cause of my single-minded determination.  I have an Ahab-like ability to obsess on one thing at time. 

Once my obsession has taken root, I find it difficult to move onto other things.  For the last two months, my obsession has centered on the construction of a new room off the back of our garage that we’re temporarily referring to as a “man cave”. 

A place for tables without chairs, cabinets filled with paint cans, and rusty file cabinets. 
Before it was the man cave, this room was a thrown-together catch all.  My guess is that former occupants of this house used it as a shop and a place for their kids to shoot their air soft guns.  The structure, such as it was, stood on top of a slightly raised concrete pad that takes up the majority of what was once a good sized patio.  Initially, I thought we could just tear down some of the old construction and put up new dry wall and replace some lights and we’d call it good.  But when we discovered that the entire frame was nothing more than one of those iron patio awnings we knew it was best to tear it all down and start from scratch. 

After we moved in I started filling this space with weed whackers, HD buckets, and gardening shoes.
Although this means the entire project would be much more expensive, it turned out to be a real blessing for me.  I was able to design the new room and add in all the perks that would make it truly usable as an extra space for our family.  Because this room juts out onto the patio, and the back yard as a result, I had to consider the exterior of this room as a backdrop for the garden at large.  To that end, when we designed the room I made sure that there was enough space between the windows that I could put my large planter box/trellis between the windows without blocking any of the light.  

This now fits perfectly between the room's two windows.

I also made sure we installed several exterior outlets making it easier to do things like power Christmas lights, corded power tools, low voltage lighting, irrigation timers, and anything else that comes with an electrical cord.  I also asked for an outlet to be installed just under the eaves because I thought that would be a perfect way for me to realize my Pinterest-inspired day dreams of being able to string cafĂ© lights up into the mulberry tree that presides over our patio. 

Something like this is what I'm aiming for. 

After two months of construction, the keys have finally been turned over to me and the decorating will begin in earnest this weekend.  Once I have gotten the interior situated to my liking, I am going to turn my obsession to getting the patio set up the way I like it.  

A fresh start always comes with a renewed feeling of hope.
The door on the left now hides the utility meter and provides a little closet storage.
If I knew how to Photoshop, I'd erase those chairs from the picture.  Obviously I don't know how to Photoshop.

At my last residence, I was very much a container gardener.  I probably had 20 different containers on my back patio alone.  I enjoy container gardening immensely.  I used to think that I was a container gardener because I lacked the space to do more traditional gardening.  But now I understand that I enjoyed the restriction of it, the "movability" of plants in pots, the ability to easily change the scenery as my mood dictates, and the experimentation involved.

Nearly time to pull my pots and misc. containers out of storage!
I am definitely looking forward to letting myself obsess about filling up my patio with plants, pots, and power cords.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Spring: In Seven Pictures

Sacramento's spring has begun.  There are still plenty of leafless trees and our record breaking dry winter (part of California's worst drought in 500 years) has left many homes, mine included, with dry, brown lawns.  But it's not all gross to look at.  Here's a peak at what has been blooming in my yard the last few days.

A plum tree of an unknown variety.  But I think it might be a Blue Damson or a "French Improved"
No matter the type, the blooms this year were the first to proclaim the end of winter. 

One morning last week I woke up and saw a Camellia bloom.  A few hours later there were a half dozen opening up.
The Japanese maple cultivar "Katsura" is almost always the first to leaf out in the spring.
It starts out yellow with tinges of red and then turns lime green for a while before darkening a few shades in summer.

This hydrangea managed to hold onto a few leaves from last season and is now putting on new growth.

This is one of my favorite Japanese maples.  The cultivar name is Murasaki Kiyohme.
It's a smaller JM and suitable for growing in a container in a shady spot.
All JMs prefer afternoon shade in hot climates but this one is especially sensitive to hot sun
and the leaves will shrivel up in the wrong spot.
If you look closely, you can see the buds are just beginning to swell.

The birds have returned and their voracious appetites made quick work of what I put out for them.

This pictures sums up Sacramento's Spring pretty well.  There are plenty of weeds to attend to but since they are the greenest part of the lawn I might just decide to let them take over this year.  Who needs a lawn anyway?

Monday, February 10, 2014

There's No Terroir There

At some point in my garden blog reading, I began to encounter a fancy French word, terroir.  I quickly realized that “terroir” is what the smart gardeners call what the rest of us explain as “what’s it like where I live”.  Less sardonically, terroir means a sense of place. 

Being a connoisseur of fancy words, I quickly filed this one away.  It went under: Words I Like but Will Never Use in Casual Conversation. 

This is no casual conversation though.  I know that if you’re reading my blog it’s because you are esoteric in your own way, right?  So allow me, if you will, to write about what it’s like where I live.  Allow me to explore the terroir. 

I don’t want to tell you too much about the weather (historically dry until the last week) although that plays a significant role.  And I don’t want to write too much about my neighborhood (old with lots of character). 

My neighborhood is filled with turkeys.
I want to write more about my sense of the place.  I have lived in my house for less than a year.  In fact, it’s been just about a year since I first saw the listing for our house online.  I have probably written several times before, or at least I’ve thought about writing several times, that one of the main draws to this house was the lot itself.  All I saw was potential.  I was so excited to get started with a new garden, a garden that had room to grow, where I could plant more than one tree and not worry that it was the only thing I’d have room for in the entire yard. 

But then I got here, moved my family’s stuff and my personal junk into the house, worked on some projects, and did the unthinkable and hired people to mow my own lawn.  And after some nine or ten months I feel like I don’t have any real understanding of the terroir of my lot. 

My yard is still largely a blank slate.  I have certainly done things since I’ve been here.  I planted most of the Japanese maples that had lived in pots at my old place.  I have created one new garden bed, cut down lots of poorly planted and placed trees, and added some boxwood hedges, patches of ferns, and tackled my vegetable garden.  But it still just feels like small pieces of a larger puzzle - only this puzzle is lacking the box with the big picture on it. 

These pieces (the chair, the potted Japanese maple, the wood lantern) all had a place at my old house.
Now they are grouped together on the island of misfit elements.
The other morning as I drove through the neighborhood and looked at other people’s yards, it struck me how differently people landscape their yards.  I don’t know most of my new neighbors yet, but I can’t help but derive a sense of who they are based on what I sense of their place. 

That got me to thinking about how other people might perceive my landscape and what that says about me.  Can they tell just from looking that I’m still feeling directionless?  Can they sense the influence of too many different voices the way I do?  Do they experience the terroir of my yard the same way I do?   

In the realm of all things that are much less important than life-and-death, one of the worst things to feel is discouragement caused by your lack of progress in an endeavor like art, writing, or gardening.  But I am not as discouraged as I could be.  Although I sense that the terroir of my garden is as muddled as a slow-moving stream with too many kids playing in it, I also know that Spring is just a few warm days away here (the ornamental pear trees in the neighborhood have already bloomed!).  And when the Spring rains come through, this muddy water will be revived and I will have my chance to do a little bit more to fill this place with my voice.

This pincushion flower is already blooming in my front yard.
I am curious to hear from you on this topic if you have a moment.  I would love to hear how long it took you before you started to feel like your garden or yard or home started to feel like something you wanted it to feel like.  Did you have a good sense for the garden right away or did you have to live with it and listen to it for some time before it became clear to you?