Garden Diary: Summer’s Bounty

porch-1Here, we have the citizens of the porch garden, hiding from a potential frost in the dingy hallway outside my apartment.

(We also have, top left, the Icelandic poppy plant I purchased to bring to work, which was super pretty until it got sickly, and then I forgot to ask my officemate to water it while I was in Iceland, of all places. That was its final death sentence. There’s also a resilient plant atop a plant stand—both from Cooper’s dad—that he’s had since college. It survived abandonment while Cooper was in Chile, but can barely survive Haroun, hence its hallway banishment. My dad rescued the Norfolk pine, next to Cooper’s plant, from a garbage bin in his alley. It’s the only plant that I fertilize regularly, which may be why Cooper’s mom always tells us it’s gotten bigger.)

Next to the poppies is an impulse-buy: a dahlia to live on our front porch, which gets the western sun and is unshaded by any trees. I thought its flowers would keep me satisfied while I waited all summer for the front porch sunflowers to grow.

Then, three long, plastic window boxes with nine! basil plants, for basil gimlet cocktails and pesto and pizza. Two sculptural terra cotta pots that I lusted after at Terrain for months, if not more than a year, before they went on super-clearance and I let myself buy them. ($15! Only $15! Sure, they’re just beautiful terra cotta pots that could probably break very easily, but the size I bought started at FIFTY-EIGHT dollars apiece. Highway robbery.) They house the parsley, left, and the thyme, right. Behind them are some bright red geraniums,  a perfect fiery red with a hint of orange, to add color to the green farm on my little fire escape. Not pictured is the under-appreciated tomato plant.

So like I said in this post, the plants were mostly the same as last year, the first year of the porch garden, but with more basil and a few flowers.

porch-2-square

The start of the garden, on May 9th. I also wanted to add plants along the outer edge by the railing, possibly hanging a few window boxes from the slats, but Ikea sold out of the planters I wanted, and I never chose what to plant, anyway. Maybe next year!

On the left is the porch viewed from the stairs, also on May 9th. On the right, just over a month later, the tomato plant had grown several feet and we may have already harvested the basil for a batch of pesto once. The basil got much bigger after this.

One day at the end of June, I set some of the plants up on the railing (including my little cacti from the bedroom window) to catch the morning sun. Because we’re so close to the next house, with a big tree above, we get narrow patches of sun at different angles throughout the morning. Since I was home and able to move the plants around as the light changed, I did. Plus, the plants looked pretty against the yellow house, and I could see them from inside for a change.

The morning outing didn’t go well for those three basil plants. They took a spill, narrowly missing the car parked in the driveway below. We made pesto with the mangled leaves, repotted the scraggly plants, and happily, they survived. (Never again, at least not for the planters that don’t quite fit on the slanty, narrow railing.)

porch-6So all summer, the garden saved us from buying unnecessary bundles of parsley, just to season occasional meals then throw the rest away. Our fresh pesto habit was made cheaper by the homegrown basil (plus Cooper started to substitute walnuts for pine nuts). There was always thyme when we needed it.

Besides the endless supply of pesto pasta and pesto sandwiches and best of all, pesto pizza, my favorite part about the porch is that it’s a simple, refreshing place to sit—the best place for hour-long phone calls. I’d bring out a big pillow and lean against the railing, legs stretched out in front of me. Sometimes I tried to write this blog. Sometimes I did stretches on the colorful, woven mat. When I was tired, I’d lie back on the pillow and just stare up at beautiful patterns made by the tree above me. Happy to be outside, and alone.

plants porchThis photo is from early October. The planters are full of dead leaves from the tree. Today, November, the basil still hangs on, though it’s not as impressive as it still was a month ago in the photo. The parsley, thyme, and geraniums have moved indoors, to try to live on winter’s western light, à la The Unexpected Houseplant.

Then, there were the sunflowers.

Back to early May and the impulse-dahlias, their deep red petals looking elegant with the dark shingles and sleek galvanized steel bucket behind them (à la 66 Square Feet). I planted the sunflower seeds in the buckets in mid-May. (No, please pretend my shingles look like a chic, black- or charcoal-painted Scandinavian home; it’s what I do, powerless as I am against the actions of the landlord.)

Some of the websites I came across cautioned against growing anything larger than dwarf sunflowers in a container, but others thought I could get away with it, so I bought a pack of autumn mix something-or-other seeds. The plants should grow six feet tall or more, some with red accents on the petals, if their petals weren’t red outright (I wish I’d had some crimson sunflowers). I planted three groups in each bucket, with two or three seeds each group, and a bucket on each side of the door. I thinned them out eventually, reluctantly. Neighborhood animals thinned them out some more, so my reluctance seems merited.

I tried to follow the watering directions linked in the previous paragraph, (so much water! don’t do this if you don’t have an outdoor faucet and a hose!), and then I stopped taking pictures until the end of June, when the tallest plants were already door-height (above right). Most of the summer, we were lugging a water bucket down the stairs twice a day to keep the soil moist (woodchips or something on tops might have helped.) The first bloom opened at the very end of July, days before we left home for a week in Iceland:

One of the sunflower plants did its best to one-up Jack and his beanstalk. It only made it partway up the second story, but I think that’s pretty impressive for a nonmagical sunflower seed from Lowe’s:

sunflowers-5

sunflowers 8 portrait.JPGThe last bloom from the last plant still standing, this week. Perfect for the kitchen table. Farewell, summer.

What Do You Want for Your Next Home?

I know what I want next. In fact, I want so many things for my next home that it’s impossible to reconcile them.

There are the bare necessities: a dishwasher, on-site laundry, a bathroom guests can use without having to walk through our bedroom. A bedroom big enough for a queen-size bed complete with headboard and footboard. Enough space for my desk and papers and Cooper’s desk and papers to coexist comfortably along with a living room and a dining table that fits more than four people.

Whoa now, that’s already asking a lot, especially considering that we’ll still be renting at our next place, and it will most likely be an apartment. Let me make it more fantastical for you, though.

pinterest-2pinterest-1I dream of a guest bedroom/office, with a beautiful iron bed, an extra sofa or at least a pretty bench at the foot of the bed, a wall of bookshelves. I want a restful place for my friends to sleep when they visit, safe from cat fur and early wakers rumbling in the kitchen. I want doors that really close, sometimes, for the guests and for me.

I imagine a kitchen that can be clean. Fresh paint, truly flat and smooth surfaces, no weird grime. I think we might need a hood over the stove because of all the grease our current kitchen collects, but maybe cabinets without sticky paint and grooves in all the surfaces, without a forced air vent on the floor directly next to the stove, would be easy enough to clean. There’s a big table in the new kitchen, so we can cook dinners to share, with a bench or maybe a corner banquette on one or two sides.

(A home built with right angles, perhaps, although I plan on it predating World War II, and so maybe it’s too much to ask for straight floors.)

I hope for a real porch, if not at least a weird fire escape like we have now. I want to eat outside and each year, grow a few more plants than I did the year before. (All I really added to last year’s garden were prettier pots and some geraniums.)

And then sometimes, I dream really big. I see us buying a house that would be a lot more work, but probably also a lot of fun. We plant trees and fill our yard with flowers and herbs and vegetables and put solar panels on the roof. We try having our own chickens, like Ali and Drew, so we know the eggs we eat every day come from animals who are healthy and appreciated. We could host our parents for weeks at a time and give a dog a home and throw big parties.

laundry cat.jpgBut that’s a completely different life from the one we’re living now, and it’s not a life I’m really ready for. I want a little more space, and a different layout; I’m sick of coming up against the same limitations every time I try to make our home work better or look different. Mostly, I want to be able to better accommodate friends and family, and ease some burdens in our daily life (laundromat trips!!)—but without spending a whole lot more money, or widening our carbon footprint. I don’t want to upsize just because we can. I don’t want to accumulate anything we don’t need or truly want. I get frustrated now sometimes because we have too much furniture, not enough space for our things to breathe, no room to pull out couches to clean under them. It’s so easy for the cats to run from one piece of furniture to the next as they chase each other wildly in the evening, following the furniture packed into the perimeter and endangering the plants, the lamps, the external hard drives I haven’t put away because I’m not done with them yet. It’s only a matter of time before they cause a cataclysm.

But, you know, I really don’t know where I’ll be living next year. Anything could happen, be it a real bed or a laundry closet next to the bedroom or three bedrooms, a garage, and a chicken coop.

What else? What do you plan on changing when, or if, you move again?

Here, Saturday

The wind is strong, the air is silver. Or is it grey? The sky is grey, in that bright, impenetrable, there-is-no-more-sky-only-blankness way, but the wind jostles the trees and comes in to swirl in my clean apartment, and I think the air is silver because it feels like such a gift to feel the season start to turn like this, to hold this day in the palm of my hand, to hug my world to myself, a new world after all the sun and heat I’m now accustomed to.

It’s September now. There’s time for burrowing into the couch, or spreading my limbs as I lie on the carpet. A dark morning asks for lit candles on my desk, and I oblige. I know that lighting a different mood can make for magic sometimes; it could trick me into writing.

I look forward to hot evening baths on winter nights. I’ve tidied the apartment day after day because I want to welcome friends in whenever I can, and to feel the peace of this refuge every evening. I still dream of road trips, of lakeshores and bare feet, but also of fiery trees and warm scarves. My wanderlust will not be sated, but now that things are different, I’m trying to hone in on home, on here, instead of my focus always flitting around with all the different theres.

Home the Way I Want It

tiny cacti in windowI’m someone who gets energy from her surroundings. I’m a person who wants to be surrounded by beauty, maybe needs to be, most of the time, to be happy.

I feel silly, and embarrassed, to write that, because art museums make me nervous sometimes; because I gave up on being an art person in high school; because I remember the several-sizes-too-big jeans and baggy K-Mart tees I once wore; because I know how rarely I clean out the sink or even brush my hair; because for all my yearning for mountains again, mountains, Gandalf, there have been years since leaving my puppy-dog and pretty neighborhood when I didn’t take any walks just for the sake of walking and looking; because I know there are things more important than beauty, like equity and justice and peace; and because beauty isn’t a word that comes naturally to my tongue.

Of course, beauty is many things to many people. I know not everyone would agree that my apartment, with its weird, green linoleum countertops and the crooked, widely-spaced boards that make up the floors, is better-looking than the ones you find in the brand-new high rises or in the boxy, post-war apartment buildings scattered across this town. You might not call the many layers of old white paint caked onto the baseboards of my apartment beautiful, and I would agree with you if you didn’t, at least as an isolated feature.

But despite the built-in grime that comes with a rental like mine—built in 1858 and managed with minimal upkeep for maximum profit for decades, at least—for me, this apartment is pleasant, while so many newer, cleaner spaces are not. Sitting in the little grey room that used to be my office, I’d think of the windows and the gentle lamps and the old walls and the well-situated couches and my tiny white desk by our bed, and I yearned for them. Sitting in the bright, tall, walls-of-windows office I have now, I still yearn sometimes.

I gather strength from my home, from the way I’ve made it look and the ways I’ve made it mine. Continue reading “Home the Way I Want It”

Porch Season

The first year in my current apartment, a small but sufficient one-bedroom, I avoided opening the door that leads straight from the bedroom to the outdoors. Shortly after move-in, a large population of wasps threw me, Cooper, and the overly-curious cats a deranged housewarming party, with that back wall of the house as its epicenter. (The worst day, Cooper counted something like seventy-eight wasps in their death throes, writhing on the bedroom carpet while a sadistic feline looked on.) I let eighteen months pass before I ventured out onto the fire escape again. So last year was our second summer in the apartment and the first summer with a garden.

Continue reading “Porch Season”