As you may remember from this post, Jeff and I are attempting to improve our ex-deck area on the east side of the house. We have a table and fire pit near our koi pond, which is close to the house, and beyond that we're doing a rock garden / bird bath / cauldron-fulla-plants thing. It's coming together slowly because this is our process: after we figure out one component, we spend days deciding what to do next. If that involves buying something, we tend to wait until the weekend to do so. Here's what we've accomplished so far.
We now have black mulch, a mixture of pea gravel and river rock creating a mini dry riverbed, and extra plants (including hollyhocks and some grasses we still need to plant). A very Bunlike toad moved in under the big rock almost immediately, and birds now know that we have a bathing facility for them. The other day I watched a father robin show his juvie sidekick how to do it. Here's a blurry picture of the juvie wandering around the tub.
The big rock (holey limestone, 230 pounds!) has all kinds of tiny caves just begging to be filled with succulents, and yesterday I planted some stonecrop plants. Jeff thinks they look like fish skeletons.
Also in the above photo: two "hen and chicks" succulents that Jeff planted in the pea gravel.
And this is another view of the bird bath. When I was single and renting apartments, I always envied people who could buy plants, especially hollyhocks for some reason. Now I finally have some. Fancy ones, too!
Here's the other one! I went hollyhock crazy. Planting these was not easy because this area is going through a dry spell. The other day I overheard this conversation between two elderly women.
Elderly woman 1: Awful dry! Could use some rain.
Elderly woman 2: Beans 're sufferin'.
So the ground is rock hard, and if you want to dig any kind of hole, you really have to put your back into it, which will make you think about this song as you dig and dig and worry about those sufferin' beans.
We had fun filling this cauldron, which is indeed a cauldron used by Jeff's late wife Nicole back when she was a witch (no comment). We splurged on a corn-like plant called "striped giant reed" that we saw and fell in love with at the University of Illinois' Idea Garden a few days ago. Also in there is some Russian sage, gorgeous blue flowers whose name escapes me (anybody know?), moss roses, and dianthus, those white and magenta flowers that look like little parasols. Jeff decided that the middle of the cauldron needed something, so he popped in a little terracotta figure that had been languishing by the koi pond. I'm assuming that's a Nicole artifact as well. I love the way it looks in there!
It was so hot outside that we planted everything just before darkness fell last night, and that brought this R.E.M. chestnut to mind.
Some pretty heavy-duty weeding revealed a grapevine growing in our lilies! Jeff's mom gave us a sort of trellis last month on the off-chance that we could use it, so we installed that and wrapped the little vine through it, and that is how the mighty Carroll Winery was born.
Next to the vineyard: a couple of buckets we bought at a horse fair in Jeff's tiny home town. What to do with them? Should I paint them? I can do a pretty darned convincing distressed copper when I want to. We're still trying to decide what to plant in those, but obviously the real story here is the bowling ball. Not content to add just any old gazing ball to our garden, last week we hit Goodwill to see if they had any bowling balls available, and they most certainly did! We scored a turquoise one and a rusty one for a fraction of the price of store-boughten gazing balls, as people around here might call them.
I can't tell you how satisfying these bowling balls are to me. Do not tell anyone about this, please. People in our town tend to latch onto a decorating idea, and it spreads like wildfire until suddenly everyone has a giant metal star somewhere on their houses, for example. (What is up with those giant metal house stars? A rebel house on the east end of town is currently sporting a decorative flying eagle where a star would normally go, so I'm predicting that this will be the next big thing.)
I also put in a wee herb garden using rocks and containers we had around the house, including an old roasting pan that Jeff's mom didn't want anymore.
We're going to plant these beauties somewhere in the shade near our rock garden. I can't get over their pinks and greens.
The lily pads in our koi pond are out of control.
A judgemental, lip-smackin' Bun observes our gardening foolishness.
And behold Jeff's gardening outfit! His parents gave him those Homer Simpson comfy pants as an earnest Christmas present a few years ago. Unable to abide them, he gave them to me, but something about the tapered legs and truly insane print made me feel more than a little bit clownish. This spring when Jeff started wearing holes in his ancient, beloved, and subdued comfy pants, I gave the Homer pants back to him, and suddenly he didn't mind them as much and is in fact wearing them all the time now.
But it hasn't been all hollyhocks, witches' cauldrons, and bowling balls around here. We (mostly I) have paid dearly for our gardening adventures. Exhibit A: my perfect, irreplaceable sunglasses, the only sunglasses I have ever loved, broke in half earlier today and are currently lying in state on a doodle I made of an alien.
Exhibit B: I have been poisoned! By ivy! Oh, dear reader, this has been one awful week of exquisite, itchy torture for yours truly. What you see above is me kind of on the mend. My right wrist (gateway to my precious right hand!) seems to be where first contact was made, and other hateful spots appeared on my pasty white midsection and neck.
I have never dealt with poison ivy before, so I had no idea what it even was until it was way too late to do much about it. "Bite the bullet and ride it out, or else go to the doctor and get expensive shots and steriods," said the Internet (I'm paraphrasing). I decided to ride it out. A poison ivy-prone friend recommended a pricey scrub called Zanfel. Desperate, I tried it, and it provided some relief, but I think it would have worked better had I used it the nanosecond that I knew I had poison ivy. Otherwise I spent Saturday through Tuesday slathering myself with this anti-itch gel from Band-Aid. Apparently the gel isn't available anymore, but Jeff found a basically new tube of it in our medicine cabinet, once again a Nicole purchase from way back. Thank you, Nicole! It expired five years ago, but I used it anyway. This (and night-time doses of Benadryl) kept me from scratching myself raw last week. I'm still kind of itchy, but I'm pretty sure the worst is over, and I have learned a thing or two.
The internet is loaded with general poison ivy advice, but here are my tips for women with poison ivy that I haven't read anywhere else:
- Wear loose cotton dresses at all times, the hippie-er the better. Do not reveal the hideousness of your midsection (if you are me) to your husband because believe me, nobody needs to see this stuff, and it's nice to maintain an air of feminine mystery.
- Do not wear underwear, especially if it rubs against itchy places. Other than this, please know that absolutely nothing about poison ivy is sexy and the human touch will lose 100 percent of its appeal for at least a week.
- To ensure that your companion continues to love you, or to at least feel borderline attractive to yourself, do what you can to look cute otherwise. Example: this week I spent a little extra time on my eye makeup, so that when I looked at Jeff my eyes seemed extra sad and puppy dog-ish, and this may have been the reason why he thought nothing of running up to the store and buying me Benadryl and snacks. Also wear fun earrings.
- Here's how you'll know when the poison ivy is on its way out: it will begin to look like the surface of a lukewarm Papa John's cheese pizza. I swear, I put my wrist next to a P.J.'s cheese pizza on Thursday and the two were identical.
I can't end this with poison ivy advice. Here are our gorgeous girls: