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My Lovely But Stubborn Rose Bush

June 20, 2011


When I first moved here over a decade ago, I knew next to nothing about gardening. I bought some books and checked some out from the library, and went to work, studying. I learned a lot. The nice thing about gardening is that it’s actually kind of easy. Plants are pretty resilient, and they will endure a good amount of abuse, lol.

So when I moved here, there were few plant: a rhododendron on its last gasps; a front flower bed FILLED with hostas (yuk); a stinging nettle bush next to the driveway (we got rid of that nasty bush the second day we moved in!); and an old Scotch rose disfigured with horribly drippy bags of fluorescent-orange spots. I later found out this was a fungus.

The rose bush, while pretty, was situated right next to the garage wall, in the shadows in an obscure area. I hacked at it to remove it. The thing grew back every year! And every year, I hacked at it again. I cut, I sawed, I weed-whacked. It just stubbornly refused to die! As a matter of fact, it grew back beautifully, free of the orange goop. I guess it had been neglected for so long that my vicious hacking only helped it!

Last year, I didn’t hack it. I was too exhausted. I just left it.

Look at it today. Photo taken this morning.


It’s still in the shadows in that obscure area, by the garage wall. I have to admire the tenacious little thing. It’s blooming like there’s no tomorrow- and I guess that makes sense because I hacked at the poor thing like there was going to be no tomorrow!

So I’m going to leave it. Maybe next year I’ll take the root suckers and plug them elsewhere in the garden. There are a few offshoots of this bush, elsewhere around the yard. They are also blooming prolifically. And they smell HEAVENLY. Oh, those old-fashioned Scotch roses! You can keep your hybrid plastic-surgery models– give me the old fashioned, hardy rose.  They are absolutely delicious. Like any true blood American, I love an underdog. And this rose bush is definitely a contender. LOL

So I have plans to put roses everywhere. I’ll incorporate them into my lilac-laden garden plans. Wouldn’t that be so wonderful– lilacs in May, roses in June. What’s for July and August?

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How to Keep an Old House Cool in the Summer

May 27, 2011


Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. before the 1970s malaise and even before the Industrial Revolution, most homeowners focused more on keeping their homes cool in the summer than warm in the winter. Back then, wood and coal were plenteous, and labor was cheap (not to mention that families had dozens of kids back then), so heating the house was relatively easy. Houses were built to release heat. High ceilings were the repositories of warmed air; thin glass windows– the bane of our modern homes– and drafty rooms kept the house well ventilated. I’d even heard that the reason for all the decorative gingerbread features in Victorian homes was not for aesthetic reasons, but to give the impression of icicles and therefore the illusion of coolness. I am not sure if this is 100% true, but it’s what I’ve heard.


That's the closest I'll ever get to gingerbread on this house...

At any rate, the world is turned upside down, now. Thanks to the energy crunch, we homeowners must seal every crack, plug every hole, lower ceilings, install thicker windows with better quality glass…. and while there’s great benefit, in hot or cold weather, to insulating walls and sealing every crack, it does make the interior of the house rather airless during summers. Airless homes are not healthy. Mold and mildew love homes with temperate, stale air. Toxins within the home, such as natural gas and small traces of carbon dioxide, reach poisonous proportions in tightly-sealed homes. And since we are in our homes more frequently than previous generations, ventilation is all the more important for our health and well-being.

Close Up

Our old wiring could never have supported the large electric load of an air conditioner.

I have lived in old homes all my life. Old homes aren’t really built for the power-sucking, window-filling air conditioning systems of today. My old homes had outdated electric, unable to withstand the kilowatt slurping window-installed air conditioner. And unless we gutted the walls or purchased new fangled cooling units, we couldn’t install central air, either. So I grew up learning the passive methods of keeping a house cool in the summer. I remember my mom waking up very early on summer mornings to “batten down the hatches” before a particularly sultry summer day dawned. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years:

1. Open the windows at night.
Summer nights are obviously cooler than summer days. I place fans in the windows, blowing cool night air in at night. I sleep better when it’s cool, too.

2. Close the windows before the sun rises.
After encouraging the cool summer night air to enter the house through open windows, I basically seal the cool air in for as long as possible by closing off the source of the heat– the summer day. All windows are closed and curtains are drawn. I may have one upstairs window open, with a fan blowing out.

3. Know the natural air flow of your home.

Every home has some kind of natural air flow to it. I have studied the flow of the drafts in my home, so I know what directions the air naturally travels downwind. If I work WITH instead of against the flow, I can save energy (and money). This helps me to position fans in the right areas, especially that upstairs “out” fan I mentioned in #2. There’s one room in the house upstairs where all the air goes into. I open the window in that room and point the fan out. The fan will blow the heated air that is rising up from the first floor out the window. This does two things: it removes the heated air, and provides a constant draft that makes the house feel cooler.

4. Hang heavy drapes.

Solar energy is a marvelous thing, but when it’s making you sweat buckets, it stinks. I close all windows and blinds during the hottest time of the day (from 11am to 5:30 pm). My current home is situated in the middle of a small business district, with large sections of heat-pumping asphalt all around me. Heavy drapes are my only barrier between comfort and that nasty, heat-belching asphalt.

Whew Exhaustion


5. Reduce heat-producing appliance use.
Obviously, the clothes dryer is a biggie here. If you have a laundry area right in the living quarters, it can get pretty hot, running that thing. Hang clothes or relocate your dryer to the basement. Don’t use the stove at ALL (you’ll really regret it!)– get a grill and cook outside. Computers generate a lot of heat, so turn off the ones you are not using. Lower your hot water tank thermostat. Use the “air dry” cycle on the dishwasher. Turn off lights. Regard anything that produces heat as an impediment to your goal.

6. Plant deciduous trees on the south and west sides of the house.
Deciduous trees will provide shade for your land during the hot summers. The nice about deciduous trees is that they will drop their leaves by winter, giving your home access to the warm sun that is welcome in the winter. Don’t plant them too closely to the house, or you may have roof and/or gutter problems when the leaves drop in the autumn.

7. Plant evergreen trees on the north side of the house.
Much like deciduous trees on the south, evergreens offer your home a little barrier. But while deciduous trees provide a barrier from the hot sun in the summer, evergreen trees provide a barrier from the cold north winds in the winter.

8. Install light colored roof shingles.
Black asphalt shingles retain heat and continue radiating it. Shingles in white, gray, or even red absorb less of the sun’s sweltering rays.

9. Insulate the attic.
And seal all holes and cracks from the attic to the living areas. In my old home, the insulation is both insufficient and disgusting. It’s the old cellulose crap– loaded with dust and it stinks like all get-out. Oh, how I hate cellulose insulation!


How I HATE this attic!


Well, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, seal the holes! In my home, the roof heats up and the backyard heats up thanks to all that asphalt, and the heat builds up to epic proportions in the attic. And I know all about physics, but in my house the heat actually DROPS. Must be wacky airflow. But the house sometimes smells like the attic and the upstairs gets really hot. When we gut the upstairs, I’m going to seal that blasted attic.

10. Open the basement door.
Before we had our sneaky cat who is always trying to get outside, we would open the basement door and place a fan in the doorway. I really can’t believe how wonderfully cool the basement is. When the weather gets really oppressive, I sometimes go down there to cool back down to 98.6.

FTK 3.26No2

Of course, sitting in the refrigerator is a great way to cool off...

11. Install awnings over south-facing windows.
Believe me, this works. My new kitchen window at 4 feet by 5 feet is so wonderful, but it faces south and receives the full brunt of the hot summer sun and asphalt.

So there ARE ways to keep the house cool without busting your energy bill. After all, you’ll need to save every dollar you can for the winter’s heating bills!

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Gardening Update

July 3, 2010

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I have been as negligent of my gardens this year as I have been about blogging about them. Thank God, plants require very little care and attention. Unfortunately, the weeds also thrive on negligence. :-p But it looks like my vegetables are holding their own. The snow peas are on the brink of harvesting (I just love them raw); we also have cucumbers, which are not doing so well (never do, really); loads of kale, lettuce, spinach which is overwhelming in its production; the red cabbage is coming (yay!), yellow squash is starting to produce fruit… I love vegetable gardening! There is nothing like fresh, clean food that you have grown yourself.

Here is my chorus of onions in the late afternoon sun:

Chorus of Onions

The zucchini has a few babies!

Zucchini Baby

The cantaloupe is doing poorly, due to a cold spell in April, a very dry May, and a totally soggy June. The apple tree is producing little– I only spotted THREE apples so far– but the grapes and berries are doing well.

Berry Harvest

Baby Grapes

The native, wild stuff seems to be doing very well in Upstate this year. Plants that I usually have to pamper, such as tomatoes, melons, and cukes, are doing very poorly. It does not fare well for our emphasis on the raw food diet, but I am grateful for the stuff that we are getting.

June is really a crucial month for us, and it was very disappointing this year. We got SEVEN inches of rain in June. Way, way too much. Everything is soggy, and the pests breed in the wet weather. So even my flower gardens are rather limpid this year.

Still, it is good to see my fruit plants producing, such as the berries and grapes. They get better every year.

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Yes… MORE Garden Photos

August 8, 2009


I hope you’re not sick and tired of garden photos. Because I’m surely not tired of taking them! I could gaze at them for hours. So I feel compelled to inflict you, as well, muahahaha!

This is the time when everything finally bursts into color. Because I use only perennials and late-flowering shrubs in my garden, my garden is green usually until early July. Then, late-July and August, the whole yard goes colorful. It’s so lovely.

My Althea, also know as Rose of Sharon, are blooming, too. They have survived being chewed to death by the deer.

Althea Buds

Blooming Garden

We’ve added to both side of our Secret Garden this year. We removed a tangle of weeds and overgrown plants under the Maple tree, and finfished it off this past week.

New Garden Bed 3

New Garden Bed 2

New Garden Bed

In case you’re wondering, this is what it looked like before:

Around Tree before 1

Here’s my purple Butterfly Bush. I love the color. When the kids ask why it’s called a Butterfly Bush, I tell them, “Because that’s where butterflies come from.”


We got a visitor in our garage, too. Don’t know what he was doing in there, must have taken a wrong turn. We got him out.

Dragonfly 2

I love this time of year!

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My Blue Hydrangeas Won’t Bloom!

August 7, 2009


I’ve had these Nikko Blue Hydrangea plants for YEARS. They bloomed the first two years, and after that, NOTHING. I cannot figure it out.

Non Blooming Hydrangeas

One Plant Guy told me to cut them down in autumn, and new blooms would appear in the spring. Nothing. Another Plant Guy told me to leave the shrubs alone (no trimming) and in time, they’d bloom. Nothing. GAH!

The plants are well-fed, they are obviously not starving. They have plenty of green growth. I’m out of ideas. Can anyone help?

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Miscellaneous Gorgeous Garden Photos

August 2, 2009


My gardens always come into beautiful bloom about this time of year. Here are my pride and joy– the gorgeous Stargazer Lily. The scent is knock-off-your-socks heavenly.

Fuschia Stargazer Lily

The Asian lilies are beautiful, too.

Stargazer Lilies 1

Stargazer Lilies 2

Here is my beloved Secret Garden on full bloom, finally!

Secret Garden Blooming

Mandeville plant with Black-Eyed Susans.

Mandeville Plant

My first year with grapes are doing well.

Little Green Grapes

Unfortunately, the bugs are loving our grapes as much as we are. I have been beating back the Japanese beetles (HATE those things, wish they’d stayed in Japan), and now Irecently found out there’s a bug that loves grapes so much, it’s called the GRAPEVINE Beetle! Gah!!

Weird Yellow Beetle 2

I got a measly pepper from my plant. Peppers just don’t do well here. This is my second pepper from three plants over three years. OK, I quit now. I’ll stick to the turnips and potatoes!

Measly Little Pepper

And I’m thrilled to see my young apple tree loaded with small fruits! The bugs, of course, are getting there before us. :S

Baby Apples

And we’re still working on expanding our Secret Garden. More on that later! It will look so beautiful!!!

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Weed Hacking and Building Gardens

July 25, 2009


This yard, where half of it is gravel beneath turf, and the other half is completely waterlogged, is very difficult to cultivate. When we bought the place, it was horribly overgrown. It has been a decade of hacking, digging, sweating, screaming, and crying to plant ANYTHING here. The good thing is that we are old pros now. We know what to expect and are armed with strong iron tools to fight back. Today’s project was no different. I’ve been wanting to do this for 12 years! Today was the day!

There’s a small asphalt walkway in the front of the house. It led to the neighbor’s parking lot (the two properties were once one large lot). We put up a nice fence between the two properties, mostly to keep out the scads of snowmobilers that roared across our yard in the winter. But the asphalt walkway remained, it just led to nowhere! Today, I had one of the kids bust it up and cart the pieces away. Hurray!

Around Tree before 2

Then, we removed the tangled mass of weeds and groundcover. I’m planning on extending my Secret Garden area to this area around the tree.

Around Tree after 2

Before and after:

Around Tree before 1

Around Tree after 1

Around Tree after 3

The pipes are from our sump pumps. We have two pumps running day and night– there’s a LOT of water underground here. If we do not keep pumps going, our basement floods badly. The town has balked at helping us build a basin at the street side, so all we can do is pipe the water up from the basement sump well and into the nearest discharge basin (in the neighbor’s yard). Part of building a massive garden bed is to conceal the pipes under plants. I also want to make it so that we do not have to mow and weed-whap around the pipes all the time, an onerous job. I have plans on plunking down some choice monster-sized hostas here, because it’s so wet and shady. I’ll plant taller, water-loving shrubs in this area, too.

One such plant I have found PERFECT is Purple Loosestrife. It’s hated by many, because it is so invasive. But this plant and I are going to get along very, very well. It SLURPS up water like there’s no end. The plant is hated because it roots otself in waterways, like creeks and streams, and clogs them. For my water-weary yard, this plant is a God-send. I have two plants thriving right now. It’s taken them two years to really get established. I’m looking forward to placing it in my watery areas.

And it looks gorgeous next to my purple Butterfly Bush, doesn’t it?

Purple Loosestrife

So the saga continues…. next time we have another sunny day, we’ll develop this area more. I cant wait to get plants into this area!

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Adding to Our Walkway!

July 16, 2009


We FINALLY got a break in the clouds and rain, enabling us to continue building our Secret Garden walkway. So far, we’ve done this in three stages. This year, we busted sod and removed a good-sized portion of the lawn, adding to this garden. And this allowed us to continue our concrete walkway. It’s looking SO beautiful! I love walking over to this area in the cool of the evening, it’s just a lovely spot. The shrubs will eventually grow up and over the arbor and the walkway, giving the entire side yard a “mysterious” and enchanting atmosphere. When this section is finally done, I think I’m going to mail out birth announcements or something, and throw a party!!!

Here are some photos.

We use the Quikrete concrete mould, and plain old Concrete mix. It works so well!

New Pathway 2

New Pathway 3

New Pathway 5

New Pathway 4

This was all last week. The concrete has now dried to nice white color, matching the rest of the walk. We will eventually build this walkway (and the garden) to fill up this entire area of the lawn, leading up to our garage area at the back of the house.

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Beautiful Gardens

July 13, 2009

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Because I have perennial gardens, everything is still green. My gardens really don’t come into blooming fruition until mid- to late-July. It doesn’t help that I have a lot of blue and purple plants, too: Butterfly Bush, Blue Hydrangea, Veronica, Blue Rose of Sharon, Russian Sage, Purple Coneflower, etc etc, which tend to be late-bloomers. I have some lilies, however, and they add some really nice color in June/early July before the blues start to bloom. I just love lilies.

Sea of Lilies


The Stella d’Oro lily is everywhere right now.

Stella Doro

My Stargazer lilies are still buds. Oh wait until you see those! And they smell INCREDIBLE! They are my favorite lily. I can’t wait for them.

And here’s an old Scotch Rose. It was a diseased, fungus-laden bush here when I bought the house. I’d hacked it down to three inches high, expecting to remove it. But it stubbornly refused to die. Actually, I think my hacking invigorated it. So it grows, and blooms.

Scotch Rose

And here you see the peas and turnips growing right along. Along the weeds, that is. :S

Peas & Turnips

It’s been such a crazy spring and summer– soaking wet and COLD! I had to start my garden in JUNE, for pete’s sake, because we had frost and it was too rainy to plant. Even now, it’s very cold for July. Going to drop down to 50 tonight!

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July 11, 2009


My baby grapes! Aren’t they lovely!

Grapes are Coming

We have about a dozen clusters. So far, the deer and the birds have left this alone this growing season, but I’m still very wary. I have to get some mosquito netting to throw over the vine.

I just can’t wait!

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