What just happened? Good call, Andrew!

Still jittery from what just happened and experiencing ambivalence with a capital A. Warning to readers:(especially PETA empathizers and Buddhists) in the telling, there’s bloodshed involved so click away from this site if you feel your karma will be compromised.( I’m feeling that mine might have been.)

An hour or so ago, I was at the ironing board, pressing a new apron prototype, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the dark profile of an animal heading towards the back of the house. I rushed into the bedroom where Andrew was reading and shouted “Andrew. Animal, fisher or raccoon, heading around the back”. He bounded out of bed and hovered by the window and said “I see it. It’s heading down towards the pond”. Well, it seemed like that was the end of that. No further conversation. We each resumed our activities. Ten or fifteen minutes later, Andrew dashed through the room, heading for the back door, and grabbing for a flashlight while he struggles with his boots, he says “I heard something, something in the back”. I immediately don my boots and head out through the front door, thinking that whatever he heard will be spooked by his presence and come back around the front, to be spooked by me. He’s heading towards the chicken coop. I make a cursory surveillance, and, finding nothing, head towards the chicken coop to join Andrew. There we are, with a flashlight. Andrew articulates his hunch: “I heard something coming from the chicken coop..I heard the chickens”. There we are, at the door to the chicken coop. I say “I’m going in”. He says ” No, we need a brighter torch.” (He’s English). Me: “Goddamn it. F__K the torch. I’ll use the light in the henhouse”! We open the door to the henhouse and scan the place with the feeble flashlight. Nothing seems amiss until eagle-eyed Andrew notices something.  Andrew: ” What’s that? I see fur…there, up there, above the doorway”. Me: “What????? Show me”. (he shows me) I freak out. Me: “I’m going in”, as I grab a four foot long wooden spike.  Andrew: “No. Don’t be an ass….we need a better torch”. Me: “F__K that, I’m going in”. I do and behold what is clearly a raccoon, that has chewed its way in through the hardware cloth and is now comfortably ensconced on a 2″ x 4″ between a pair of studs, enjoying the warmth, looking adorable, and just biding its time for the right moment to kill chickens, ducks and turkeys. I jab at it with the long, sturdy, 2″ x 2″ spike. It shrieks and grabs hold of the weapon that I’m attacking it with. I’m shocked by its strength. I’m pumped up on adrenaline and thinking that I can dislodge it from its newly found comfort zone and send it on its way. Not a chance. Not gonna happen. This creature is fierce. Shockingly fierce. Andrew has, almost without my noticing, gone off and returned with a blazingly bright light. He takes over and thrusts a wooden spike into its throat. The creature  screams and screams but doesn’t give up the fight. This is awful. I’m shaking and nearly in tears but the adreneline seems to keep me in the moment.  Andrew is a powerful ,man…5’11”,190 lbs, and incredibly strong and fit. He himself is shocked by the power of this predatory creature. He says “Get the gun”. Me: “Okay, where is it?”….I’m running towards the house, I hear him directing me. His voice becomes fainter and fainter, I just need to get the gun…..I’m overwhelmed. I find the gun, handle it with care and fear, as I run and pass it to Andrew. After some struggle, with the raccoon, seemingly, knowingly, pushing its powerful arms against the barrel of the gun, Andrew fires and kills it.We’re splattered with blood.

We shove it out the door of the chicken coop. The chickens and ducks and turkeys have gone mad during this episode and, once the evil deed is done, they seem to settle back onto their perches.

Andrew goes back to his reading. I serve myself a glass of wine and post this incident. Confused, sad….in some ways. Glad and satisfied, in other ways. Our flock is intact and safe.

The Ultimate-ish Gardening Apron; Free Giveaway!

Producing a useful gardening apron is high on my list of things to do. I want to expand my apron offerings on Stonewell Cottage, to include the Ultimate Garden Apron. Many years back I had someone make a few artist/ craft aprons for me that were patterned on a sort of short, waitress style design. They were cute. When I moved to the country and actually tried using them for gardening, I discovered that they simply don’t function well. For the past couple of days I’ve googled gardening aprons and have found quite a variety, but surprisingly few will actually do the job they need to do. They look great on the real-life models who are standing erect and in a garden environment, tools nicely featured in generous pockets, and the more stylish ones are downright adorable and chic, not dissimilar to the ones I created years ago, but they just won’t do the job that I want my garden apron to do.

Here are my thoughts, based on real-life gardening work, and the criteria I will apply to designing the perfect gardening apron.

  • Firstly, the apron must have a slit through the front. Of course you want plenty of pockets for tools, seeds, etc..and these must be included, however, they will be positively useless if you cannot access those pockets in a crouched position. Its akin to keeping your tools in your front pockets…you simple can’t get to them, or worse, they’re jabbing you in the solar-plexis.
  • The apron needs to be more like a toolbelt, but not exactly. I have something like that and it presents problems for me. This takes me to the part that I think might be a hard sell because it seems so weird. I garden in a close fitting long-sleeved T shirt and sturdy jeans (baggy clothes catch on things, like rose thorns). In the classic crouched weeding or planting position, the T shirt rides up and the pants down, exposing a crescent of my lower back that gets sunburned. My garden apron idea is to have the apron tied on in the opposite way that it would normally be worn. In other words, a back panel would cover the lower back, preventing sunburn, the tie would be in the front, in my case, enfolded in belly fat, and the utility pockets would hang accessibly from the sides of ones outer hips, where they can be readily accessed.
  • The majority of people are right handed and so the narrow pocket for a writing implement might be on the right, but a similar pocket could be on the left, for lefties, or equally serviceable for plant markers. The heavier hand tools; the trowels and cultivators, would best be located as close to the vertical hipline as possible, so they work in harmony with gravity and our most durable and padded anatomical parts. (Sorry supermodels…talk to me about doing a padded couture version just for you!).

So I want your input and experience….pros, cons, all of it. There could be a bibbed version of the Ultimate Garden Apron. I suppose a bibbed version would provide additional storage for small items, but I think the pockets on the bib would have to be placed somewhere mid-chest and they would have to hang freely for easy accessibility, which means they can’t be very deep, otherwise they would block your field of vision. (Sometimes bibs can ride up and choke you a bit).

Oh, I forgot to mention…..my ultimate gardening apron must be durable and good-looking. I’m planning my apron around 100% cotton ticking fabrics, made in the USA.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a contest / giveaway. Totally subjective (but nepotism and familiarity free).  You MUST comment. Include details regarding what you want a Garden Apron to do for you. Based upon the seriousness and depth of you comments, I will select a winner, and he or she will receive one of my Ultimate Gardening Aprons within a months time.

Deadline for Comments is: April 1, 2014!!! I look forward to hearing from you!

Seeds, Glorious Seeds!

Today, our order of seeds from Fedco arrived. A box load of optimism, an engine for self-reliance and sustainability, and the hope and prayer that we will, yet again, have the health and strength and spirit to do right by these tiny capsules of life, flavor, nutrition, beauty and artistry. This year I’ve ordered 38 packets of vegetable seeds and 30 packets of flower seeds. On the order sheet, which the ‘packer’, who is also a co-owner, (as Fedco is a cooperatively owned entity) checks off and signs, there was this handwritten note: ” Just saw your address and it made me smile! I am from Chester, CT! (the next town over from us). I’ve lived in Maine now since 1984. I hope your gardens do well! :). It was signed and she provided her maiden name as well as the name she now uses. So sweet.

Nothing could sum up the reason that I buy from this company better than that. Such a lovely, kind and thoughtful touch.

It’s still a bit too early to start propagating seeds in the unheated greenhouse, with the wildly fluctuating daytime/nighttime temperatures, but we’ve started the onions and leeks, and they’re going great guns in the Oak Room, thriving, along with the 46 baby chicks with whom they share the space. I will get around to taking photos; eventually. In the meanwhile, with so much more to do before Spring arrives, I direct my attention to my Stonewell Cottage business, garden design projects for clients, and the renovation of our own gardens in preparation for a major fundraising event that we’ll be hosting in June.

Happy garden planning to you!

Flower Seeds: Self-Sowers

images of perennial border with annual poppies

Annual poppies enhance the cottage garden effect in a sunny perennial border,

Today I received a bulk order of my favorite flower seeds; all 72,300 of them. These are considered self-sowers. While these are mostly annuals, biennials or short-lived perennials, once these plants become established in the garden, they will continue to cast their seeds about, ensuring that they reappear each year, albeit in unpredictable places. These include Shirley poppies, foxgloves, Sweet William, Bachelor Buttons, Cosmos sulpherus, Nigella damascena and Columbines.

The annual poppies, of which there are many varieties including papaver rhoeas, papaver nudicaule, escholzia (the yellow, orange and cream colored California poppies), along with Bachelor’s Buttons, Nigella damascena, (aka Love-in-a-Mist) and Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) enjoy full sun. But one must be able to tolerate the somewhat scruffy look of the spent flower stalks in the garden as the plants need to produce seedpods, mature and then cast their seeds in order for them to multiply.

image of foxgloves behind perennials

Foxgloves provide a nice transition between a perennial border and a woodland.

The foxgloves and columbines thrive in a bit of shade, making them perfect candidates for creating a naturalistic transition between a sunny perennial border and the edge of a woodland, which is how we use them. Here, they’re shown with salvia, nepeta, agastache and a few self-sown Shirley poppies.

As we gear up for Spring, you might want to consider ordering some of these seeds,  to cast about the gardens and create a relaxed, cottage-garden/wildflower look. They’re usually inexpensive; geez, for $3.95 I got 44,000 seeds. If only 1% decide to germinate I will still enjoy a few colorful blooms that offer the promise of future generations. Go for it!

Garden Rooms

A serious gardener may find it preposterous that I have the nerve to write about garden rooms. This will be especially galling and irksome to any British garden afficionado, who probably knows more about garden rooms by the age of 5, than I can hope to aspire to by the age of 70.  However, this cold, frozen, weekend afternoon, while indulging in the time-sucking, digital opiate, commonly known as Pinterest, I found myself drawn to outdoor dining images, and decided to create a Pinterest board, cleverly titled, Outdoor Dining. http://www.pinterest.com/stonewellarts/outdoor-dining/

(I mentioned opiate, right)?  There I was, pinning away, niggledy-piggeldy, blissfully enjoying every wasted,  second, minute (dare I admit, HOUR?) of my life, until nature called me back to the house to briefly enjoy the comforts of the room with the ceramic furniture. When I came back to the ‘studio’, which is,  really, these days, a euphemism for my ‘woman cave’ (that’s right SISTERS!) I reviewed the Pinboard I’d created and noticed an aesthetic and practical thread  that I think warrants some comment.

Here is my opinion. Outdoor dining areas are most successful when they fulfill two criteria. (No, wait, 3).

1. They create a sense of enclosure and protection, as any indoor room would, within the context of a garden.

2. They provide a vista, or, more modestly, a garden view.

3. They inhabit level ground.  Practically speaking, the dining/entertaining area must support a table, chairs, a side table for serving, several wine buckets, and provide a sense of stability and enough roominess for a guest or host  to rise, pace, (possibly stagger) and recite Garcia Lorca or T.S. Eliot or Pablo Neruda.

Other things do come into consideration. If the poets bore you, then there ought to be fragrant plants and luminous set-pieces to distract you (or engage you) from the activities/conversation at hand, as well as areas for seating. If the Federal Budget Deficit is weighing in too heavily on the conversation, and our conflicted, dysfunctional Congress is driving you to consider ‘asking your doctor’ about a prescription for ‘Lunesta’,  then there ought to be some gorgeous,sweetly fragrant, night blooming Nicotiana to provide a bit of respite for you and other guests, especially those on unemployment.

We’re in the process of re-thinking our Kitchen Garden., in fact, all of our gardens, with an eye towards how they can best suit our aesthetic and practical objectives. I encourage all of you to  view your gardens  and garden rooms, as an extention of your home and consider how they will best suit you.

55 Days Till Spring

55 Days till Spring: the title of a Facebook post from a neighbor. My thought: Egads! That’s less than 2 months away. Since moving to the ‘country’ from NYC, 6 years ago, this is the first year that I’ve felt that the winter season serves a valuable function. Now is the time to do all the things that must be done indoors. Making paintings, designing client gardens, designing new collections for Stonewell Cottage, implementing indoor projects chez Stonewell, completing sewing projects for clients, preparing for the upcoming gardening season here, on our own turf, ordering seeds and plants and trees, so much to do, and so little time to do it in. Andrew has his sights set on completing the stonework on the wood-fired, beehive oven and, possibly, the adjoining patio area. It’s been too cold to implement that plan, and all the while, ‘tempus fugit’. Snow continues to fall. temperatures hover around or plunge below the teens, Farenheit. Trips to the woodshed  demand an act of willpower and grit. Tea and coffee punctuate the bursts of action that spike the flatliner vector.  The grey and white landscape induces introversion; pinning our attention to the warm chair, the colorful computer screen, the opiate draw of Facebook and news channels and leisurely websearches for bees and plants and ‘how-to’ guides for any number of things that will deliver distractions from the dead and frozen landscape. Fifty-five days. Egads. Not enough time. Not nearly enough time till the shocking green shoots greet us with the suggestion of Spring. Not enough time until the long list of tasks that gardens and beauty will make their demands on us. Not long before the gardens will murmer, in their sleep, as they’re slowly aroused from their hibernian slumber, to seek attention.

Yesterday, while rummaging around the place, I noticed that the peonies were already sending out alerts with tiny red shoots from their frozen roots. My reaction was somewhat ambiguous.(“Dear god, it’s January, for crying out loud”) It is snowing now. I’m grateful, as this will conceal the thing that we love the most and yet, are not quite ready for: Gardening.

Angry Bird – Maple Sugaring

EXCELLENT! Mission Accomplished. Seeds ordered from Fedco. We’re now ready for seed-starting in the greenhouse in late February. Soon, depending upon the climate, we’ll be able to start the maple sugaring process. I say WE, but I really mean my husband, Andrew. You see, Andrew is the youngest, (underaged 60),  member of a group of sextuagenarian + fellas who get together to harvest and make maple syrup at the farm of a woman, named Wendy, who’s inherited this practice from her long-gone Dad. The way it’s been explained to me is that they’re  ‘traditional’, and don’t like to have any women involved in their activities, unless it’s Wendy, bringing them muffins and biscuits and hot coffee, while they’re hard at work producing the sweet stuff, and nipping at their flasks. Last winter was a dangerous one. Deep snow glazed with a deadly layer of ice set the scene, and the ‘fellas’ were neither willing nor able to brave the elements, check on the sap flow and harvest the sap. Andrew, of course, volunteered. Michelle, of course, said “there’s no #$&^(*way that you’re going out there without a spotter. Therefore, together, Andrew and I collected the sap, stored it, reset the buckets, and did this over and over again over a two month period. Cold. Dangerous. Nice. Bonding. Cold. Dangerous.

It was a boon year for maple syrup. The ‘fellas’ did a great job of boiling it down, and our good neighbor/member ‘fella’, did a wonderful and selfless job of distributing the goods, which we’re enjoying to this very day.

Of course, no-one was or is aware of my ( a woman’s) contribution, however paltry’ it may have been to their effort. It’s fine….I don’t really mind….but, BUT, well, I guess that I DO mind, after all. I guess I mind because I was concerned about the safety and well-being of one of their own being out there without any safety net or back-up. What if Andrew fell, slipped on the ice, was knocked unconscious? His cell phone wouldn’t help him, would it?  If you ‘fellas’ are neither up to the physical job, nor up to the managerial job of arranging assistance and safety for one of ‘your own’, and a petite woman must rise to the occasion to ensure safety and partnership, then, all I can say is that  you ‘Fellas’ are careless, indifferent, unkind and need a reality check. This post, of course, relies on Andrew’s veracity, and, so forgive me if I’m ill-informed. I don’t like to say this but I’m afraid I must. This is no longer your world. You’re unwillingness and inability to invite diversity into your enclave, makes you obsolete. Your world was small, is small and rapidly becoming smaller still. That smallness will bite you hard. Maybe not now, with your wives and partners, but very soon, and very definitely. Your children and your grand-children are rejecting your values at this very moment. They will try to remember you with fondness and compassion but, in truth, they will deeply regret that you did not embrace diversity. They will be told that “oh, that was a different time; a different generation. We’re not like that” But they will not accept it. In short, you will make them ashamed.

I hope you can live with that, my friends. I cannot. I chose not.

I am not ‘HIP’, but I don’t want to be sarcastic.

Recently, I was informed that I am not’ hip’. Shortly thereafter, I was deemed unworthy of being listened to, or so in my perception, as I was interrupted and ‘spoken over’ every time I tried to get a word into the ‘conversation’.  No, surprisingly, these intimations did NOT come from my husband (kidding, sweetheart), but from friends, whose company I enjoy and whose taste and energy and lifestyles I embrace.  Where does that leave a person? Re-examination. That’s where it leaves a person. Right there at the front door, in freezing weather,without any lights or keys or tools to break-in.

Well, it’s a New Year. No better time to reassess ones’  ‘hipness’ or ability to make vibrant, informed and interesting contributions to a dinner party conversation? Right? Well, here it goes, right to the top of the list, along with,

  • Shun the trends and trendiness that feel so formulaic and prosaic. Follow your own peculiar aesthetic. Don’t get sucked into the hole of the present trend that mimics mid-century patterns that are just “blown-up’ or ‘reduced’ and marketed as fresh and innovative. David Hicks did this in the 60’s. (Give the guy some credit). Explore your love of pattern and color, that’s informed by a vast and rich experience of historic design and painting from the beginning of time through now. Play with that experience; hip or not. Don’t follow trends; create them.
  • Choose your conversation carefully. Politics aside, can we talk about dietary habits, for a moment? What’s the big deal? Everybody knows that I don’t eat meat and that I don’t object to those that do. I would, of course, prefer it if meat-eaters didn’t make an issue out of it and demand that I provide them with reasons for my abstinence, but, I’ve decided, for this year, anyway, to just respond to the question with “What’s you favorite color”? By the way, I don’t eat meat because I don’t want to eat something that looks like me, a mammal. It’s a personal thing and I’m not comfortable with it. Period. I’m not judging those that do and I can see a lot of merit to being a meat-eater. (I would encourage all my neighbors to eat more Venison.)! But please, be gracious and gentle, and stop asking me why I won’t eat another mammal. I don’t want to. Period. Case closed.I don’t want to eat dessert either, not because I’m fretting over calories, but because I do not like the flavor sensation of ‘sweet’. I don’t ask for any special treatment at dinner parties, nor do I expect  it. I only ask that I not be subjected to an ‘inquisition’ and not be challenged and reprimanded for my peculiarities.
  • Design trends are short-lived. Face it. They are. I understand that one needs to keep up with design trends, but that nod only needs to go so far; gently. Let’s not become trend lemmings. That’s too embarrassing and humiliating for words. Let’s relate to the things (and it’s all about things, trust me) that we love and how we want to combine and contrast them to create an environment that makes us feel at home. Complicated, and yet, simple, at the same time.
  • Create an environment that feels and IS an expression of your emotions. Not so easy to do, I can assure you. It takes time, thought, contemplation, sensitivity, and a grip on reality…what you can actually achieve versus what you dream about. Its all about the dreams!

Garden Year 2013 in Review- Part I

As the seed and bulb catalogues start piling up in the basket, it seems that this is a good time to review the ups and downs, successes and failures of our gardens in 2013. Where to begin? Well, it wasn’t the best gardening year, nor was it the worst.  Just different. One of the main differences was the absence of a cutting garden. In the past, we’ve had a separate, fenced garden, approximately 65′ long by 25’wide, that was largely dedicated to annually planted cut flowers; dahlias, sunflowers, cosmos, china asters, gladioli, zinnias, larkspur, Bells of Ireland, tall marigolds, nicotiana, and the like. This space was shared by espaliered apples, which line the fence, a fanned peach tree, asparagus, and vegetables that we couldn’t fit into themain kitchen garden. Last year, we rooted cuttings of red, white and black currants, blueberries, wine grapes, raspberries, black berries and gooseberries and these were all planted in that garden, and which we now refer to as the Fruit Garden, along with space-consuming strawberries. This was a great success. We produced loads of delicious jams and jellies, stuffed the freezer with raspberries,strawberries and blueberries, and are now enjoying muffins and ice cream in the dead of winter. This left us with no choice but to plant the ‘cut flowers’ into the borders and in a small, 20′ x 20′ un-fenced annex garden and the results were a dire failure. DEER! They ate everything in sight, all of the annual flowers were chomped down to nothing and many, if not all of the perennials. Deer pressure is reaching epidemic proportions in our neck of the woods and even at 20 feet away, they are fearless. They watch me feed the chickens, turkeys and ducks, they chomp away at the apples in the orchard, maintaining eye contact with me as if I were their friend, and now they’ve discovered the poultry feeders and learned to share! Yes! While the chickens and ducks and turkeys are snacking at the feeders, the deer are right there with them, nibbling away as if they were all one big happy family. The birds appear to have embraced them. The fowl seem perfectly fine with these cloven hoofed behemoths nuzzling their beaks at the feed source. (It’s almost as if they LIKE them, or worse, ADMIRE them)!!!! They gaze up at their eyes, and carefully, nimbly, negotiate around and between their legs with a generous sense of plurality and the cloven-hooved ones respond with gentle, careful movements. Not a peep or cluck or quack of alarm or concern. “Excuse me, but you don’t mind if I just grab this bit of cracked corn, do you”? “Certainly not, please, help yourself, and I hope you won’t mind my having a few of these delicious and nutritious layer pellets”.  ” Oh, not at all, help yourself, there’s plenty where that came from….the bipeds with the opposible thumbs always keep it full and fresh. Oh no, no need to go down that slope to the pond, the fresh water is over here, just follow me”.

Geez! What’s next? Fine, we’re accustomed to the chickens pecking at the front door asking for their treats of Cheerios or Carr’s crackers, but shall I now expect to hear hooves tapping at the threshhold demanding tortilla chips?

So, in short, there were no cut flowers for us this year, and very few roses, for that matter. More in the next post.

Resolutions for 2014

New Years resolutions have never been a thing of mine, however, this year might be different. My new Babylock ‘Molly’ sewing machine is a marvel, my sewing skills are improving, and the style and relevancy of my wardrobe is declining,( the latter faster than the former). So, sew I shall. I’ve just treated myself to 4 vintage sewing patterns that I intend to complete within the year, along with a wish list of 8 basic, stylish garments that I feel are within my skill level (although I will have to create patterns for them) and that I can combine with ‘off the rack’, inexpensive, leggings and shirts.

This, my New year’s Resolution, is an attempt to reclaim a sense of style, however modest, that seems to have been lost in the shuffle when we packed up from our cosmopolitan, NYC apartment and moved to the country to dig gardens, chop firewood, can vegetables, make bread, build stone walls, husband chickens, ducks and turkeys, wallow in horse manure,  and, generally, be slovenly.

First up is ‘The Smock’, view #3. Okay, granted; not that stylish, but it’s a comfort thing, a garment I wore when I was 5 and, after all these years, it might qualify for a sort of retro-stylishness, that’s what I’m thinking. I plan to make it in a natural, undyed belgian linen.

1960's Artist's Smock

1960’s Artist’s Smock

Once I get this one going, I’ll post about the other up and coming garments.

What’s YOUR New Year’s Resolution? Do you have one? Any goals or wishes or hopes? Please share them in the comments section.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU.

May you enjoy prosperity and good health!