Friday, May 27, 2011

Back to the Ommmm

I was finally able to get back into some outdoor yoga this morning!  It was so nice to be back. My alley neighbor stuck his head out, but no men in hard hats, and no earth moving equipment!

Here are some views from the yoga platforms.  I should have taken one of the lavender bed behind me, but I didn't think about it.

This is a sky view of the mixed butterfly bed.  If you look closely you can see the Borage blossoms on the right -- and those big circular plants -- I think those  Maximillian (?) sunflowers.  If they are, wow, they will be majestic when they are grown. 

Here's a close up -- with my hand for sizing:

"B" for Blue and Bees

I learned at the butterfly plant sale that you should plant in blocks of color to assist insects in nectar foraging.  As an example, bees mostly can see the color blue (and white for them shows up as a flourescent.)  If you plant a whole big area of blue, it's easier for them to see, and it's more one-stop-shopping for their nectar gathering.  I try to focus on planting plants that bloom blue and orange at my house because they are favorite colors of mine.  At the butterfly plant sale I bought a lot plants with blue blooms because it seems they are more difficult to find in my regular shopping than orange. 

My pansies that I had at the bottom of my back steps were no longer thriving, so I pulled up most of them and in their place planted Bog sage, Brazilian Verbena, Borage, and one Tennessee Coneflower (endangered.)  The coneflower will be purple, and the other 3 plants bloom blue.  The Bog Sage and the Brazilian Verbena will reseed and spread, and at maturity they can easily be 3 feet tall.  Admittedly this is a risky planting for me, because my dog is allergic to stings -- and I planted this right by the steps.  Probably not my wisest move... but I was following the areas that are full sun.

I've taken several photos of this new bed since I put it in, but none of the photos seem to do it justice.  Here's the best of the lot:

The three fuller looking plants in the back are the Bog Sage, then the 4 tall spindly plants are the Brazilian Verbena, the two light green plants on the right are Borage, and then the spikey looking one at the lower left is the Tennessee Coneflower.  Already since I planted this, the Borage has more than doubled in size, and two of the Brazilian Verbena have shot up and are blooming.

Remember my mystery seed butterfly beds back by my yoga platforms?  Turns out Borage was in the seed mix!  Here are two photos of it from there:

Their form is droopy -- and aren't the blossoms the most vibrant shade of blue?  The plant will reseed itself and it's a perennial, so it will come back every year!  I love that it is literally covered in blossom buds -- very promising.

Borage is one of the most photographed and often represented culinary herbs in tapestries, needle point work and ceramic painting. These countless renditions are inspired by borage's quintessential 'herby' look.

Borage has traditionally been associated with good spirits and well-being. Pliny has been quoted as saying, 'A Borage brew would eliminate a person's sadness and make the person glad to be alive'. Such was the belief in the spirit-rousing powers of Borage, it was given to crusaders before going on long journeys and to gladiators prior to blood-curdling skirmishes. In Wales Borage is known as llanwenlys, which means 'herb of gladness'.

Celtic warriors drank wine flavoured with borage to give them courage in battle, and it has always been considered it a very effective anti-depressant for the feeling of elation it induces. Wikans suggest to find courage you should tuck a borage blossom in your pocket before any stressful situation, or drink a tea or glass of wine flavoured with borage leaves. Drinking borage tea is also said to increase psychic powers.

Borage's cucumber flavor makes it a logical addition to any green salad, but be sure to cut the leaves up small enough to negate the hairiness. Add the cut up leaves to cream and cottage cheese and put into herb sandwiches with a little salt and pepper. Borage flowers floated on refreshing drinks such as fruit punch or a Pimm's look attractive and the flavor is complementary. A popular dessert and cake decoration is made by dipping Borage flowers into beaten egg whites, dusting with sugar and allowing to dry.

Leaves are used raw, stems are steamed and sautéed, much as spinach is. Stems can be used as you would celery. The star shaped flowers of borage are great as a garnish or tossed in a salad. The leaves and stems enhance poultry, fish, cheese, most vegetables, salads, pickles and salad dressings. The candied flowers are used to decorate candies and cakes. Flavors blend well with dill, mint and garlic. Because the stems and leaves are fuzzy, many chefs use them for flavoring and remove them from the dish before serving.

Chinese chefs have been known to use the leaves much as others use grape leaves: stuffed and rolled. Germans add the leaves to stews and court bullions. And in England, the gin based drink, Pimm's No.1, has borage as one of its important ingredients.

Borage's wonderful blue color creates whimsical and eye-catching garnishes and is a fanciful way to add cucumber flavor in an unexpected way. They are a tantalizing garnish on canapes, (smoked salmon is particularly nice). They are also tasty on grilled onions sprinkled with balsamic vinegar; the color combination is dramatic. Try tossing them in a salad of baby greens and edible flowers. When using borage flowers in a salad, be sure to add them on top at the last minute to avoid wilting and discoloration. Another colorful and tasty combination is shrimp and avocado, with a lemon vinaigrette and borage flowers. Candied or crystallized blossoms are also used as garnishes for cakes and pastries.

After learning all of that, I'm glad that I have it in more than one place in my garden!  It looks like it could fast become a favorite.

A sneak preview

I got to work in the yard for several hours yesterday afternoon -- that makes me SO happy and relaxed. It's great therapy for anything that ails me. The granite isn't done, but as much as I've been talking about it, I feel like I should give you a sneak preview:

It's different colors depending on how wet it is.  Some of it that you see is from last week's installation and some is new -- so some was rained on.   (It took some crafty cropping of that photo to not reveal 2 other projects to you!  They aren't ready yet...)

Anyway, I'm really pleased with how it's turning out.  As I'd hoped, it is giving the yard a more cohesive look, and the mud is totally getting under control.  I love when missions get accomplished.

That bed right by the stairs is a new one I put in with plants from the butterfly plant sale -- more on that in a sec.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Making it happen

It's amusing to me -- Home Depot will apparently rent anything to anyone.  (Well, anyone with a valid DL, a major credit card and current proof of insurance --)   I give you Exhibit A:


This is a new, Super Duty something-or-other with a 3,000 pound payload (I like that word, can you tell?  I'm not even sure that I am using it correctly.)  For a $25 deposit you can drive it all over town.  It has gigantic side rearview mirrors, an alarm that sounds if you overload the bed, and when you reverse?  It beeps as though it were a very large piece of equipment.    And, if you normally drive one of the smallest convertibles on the road, this IS a very large piece of equipment.  My advice?  If you see one of these trucks around town, give the driver a wide berth -- just like I do when I see those U-Haul rental trucks.  You KNOW that isn't the vehicle that those people regularly drive.

Keith, my local friendly tool rental agent had no issue whatsoever with handing me the keys.  He did advise me that there was good news and bad news:  The truck is brand new.  Deadpan.  Get it?  Right:  don't mess it up. 

Portions of the drive to the gravel place -- about 5-6 miles -- were white knuckle driving.  I am a can-do type of girl.  I am.  But those mirrors?  They seemed to stick out a LONG WAY.  And the center light poles seem so close!  Every time one came up and I didn't clip it I was relieved.  And then -- road construction.  Those long lines of vertical concrete dividers that make the lanes seem oh so narrow?  Ahh ha ha ha ha.

As I drove, I mentally re-framed the experience with affirmations that it's good to push your comfort boundaries.  And really, it was sort of fun.  I was riding really high up.  And, here's a shocker -- fellow drivers seemed to do double-takes when they saw pigtails in the driver's seat.  I'm not going to tell you that wasn't entertaining.  It made me wish for my hard hat from my office bookshelf, just for shock value.  (Oh yes, I do have one.  Truthfully?  I have 3.  I know.  You're jealous.  I would be, too.)

And before I knew it, I was here:

I got out of the truck, my receipt in hand, and waited for the front end loader...   A guy in a truck with a little flatbed trailer got in line behind me.  I could tell, he was jealous of my truck.  Even if it was just a rental.  And then -- !

Here he comes!!

The truck sank considerably when the granite was dumped in.  As I drove the circular drive to get out of the area I called Red.  When he answered I said, "You know, they will rent anything to anyone..."

What day is it?

All week I've been mixed up on what day it is.  On Monday morning my oldest sister texted me and I had to literally stand there for a second to determine if it was Friday morning or Monday morning.  That's pretty bad.  Yesterday Red and I were leaving his daughter's house and I said, "tomorrow's Friday!"  No, actually today is Thursday.  And just now I looked at this blog -- thought -- gosh I haven't posted in a week!  But no, I haven't posted since Monday; that's just 3 days.  At any rate... I shall try to get oriented and tell you what's going on.

I haven't gotten as much done as I've wished, but that's pretty much par for the course for me.  My week in reverse chrono review?  My ankle is nearly healed -- today I am Ace wrap free -- maybe I'll actually make it all day this attempt.  Ah, positive thinking.   Tuesday evening I spent several hours with 6 neighbors in what we've taken to calling our local fallout shelter (the nicest crawlspace we've yet found on on our street) and then enjoyed the following 24 hours without electrical power.  It's good for your skin.  And, backing all the way up to Monday morning, I awakened to my dog being violently ill and took her to the vet.  She's still there.   But I think I get to bring her home tonight -- a couple of days worth of IVs later, and today's exploratory surgery averted.  So yeah, I haven't gotten as much done as I thought, but I've sort of had some things going on.

I do have a backstory to tell you, and it falls into the category of, "you've gotta want it."  In Monday's post I glossed over the story about neighbors helping me get a half a yard of granite for my yard.  This can either be "persistence pays off" story, or it can be a "calamity of errors" -- you choose.

My next door neighbor (really -- I must come up with nicknames -- but I am not feeling clever today --) and I were working on an unrelated project Sunday afternoon and the topic of granite came up.  We got the glint in our eyes... smirked, and then it was "I'd totally do it.  Do you want to do it?  Let's do it!"  Paint brushes were put down, and we both went inside to change.  When we emerged a few minutes later I was in work boots and we both had bandannas on our heads:  We were ready.  The plan?  Rent a Home Depot truck and got get a load of granite.  The draw was that the Home Depot truck has a larger payload, so we could get twice as much with it versus as a personal truck.  We're giddy.

We sail into the Home Depot tool rental and we're told as the renter I need three things:
1)  Driver's license
2)  Major credit card (why are they never minor?) and
3)  Proof of insurance

DL?  Check.  Credit card?  Check.  Insurance?  In the glove box -- be right back -- ohhhhh.  This card expired last week.  In the little red plastic envelope I have cards going back literally years... but the current one is on my desk at work.   We go outside and regroup.

Neighbor suggests she'll rent the truck.  We'll go to her house and get her insurance card.  We drive home.  She scampers into the house, grabs the insurance card and head out.  I make the mental connection that another Home Depot location is probably closer to the gravel place.  But will they have a truck?  Oh!  We know neighbor-across-the-street was going to Home Depot, and probably that one.  We call her.  Yes, she's there.  A quick scan of the parking lot and she can report yes, there is a truck.  Stellar!  We point my car that direction.

We get there, and bandanna neighbor goes in to rent.  She comes out too quickly... doesn't have her wallet -- surely its in the car... hmmm.  No.  Did she leave it at home?  We tear the car apart -- nothing.  So now we have insurance, but now no DL or CC.  Seriously?

We ask the 3rd neighbor -- can you rent it?  No, she has the DL and insurance, but no CC on her.  Any way you slice it, we have 2 of the 3 required items.  And, we're told, all three items must be in the same name.  Oh, and the gravel place?  Closes in less than an hour -- early, because it's Sunday.  We look at each other.  I say, "You know, it's okay.  It's not meant to be today -- I'm fine with that."  Bandanna neighbor is having none of that.  Her plan?  We move the sod from the 3rd neighbor's truck into my car, and put the granite in the truck.  Neighbor with truck agrees... and we implement the plan... driving to the gravel place with the sod in the back and the convertible top down, we make an aromatic observation as bits of grass are blown intou our faces and onto the dash:  the sod supplier must fertilize with manure...

We got the granite (orange -- choices were white, gray or orange) went home, and first laid the new sod.  Then on to my yard, unloading the granite.  Just then a third neighbor unwittingly walked over -- probably thinking that idle garden chat was happening -- ha!  and walked right into the work.  She didn't hesitate a moment, though, and soon the four of us were tackling the unloading.  Shovels, wheelbarrows, rakes, we had it going on.  At 4:15 I realized that Red would be picking me up in less than an hour for our anniversary celebration -- a nice dinner out and a show at the Winspear Opera House.  I had 45 minutes -- talk about a transformation!  I felt  t e r r i b l e  about abandoning my neighbors working on a project in my backyard -- but reservations had been made, tickets had been purchased, and I really had to go.  I owe them big time -- dinners for some and gimlets for another -- no doubt about that.

It went further than I'd expected -- and it's going to look fantastic.  I'll need more... but it's a great start.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend Update

Wow, this was a busy weekend...  here are the high points -- I will try to post some photos tomorrow.

1)  I volunteered at the butterfly plant sale on Saturday -- so much fun!  I spent the majority of the day chatting with two Master Naturalists while we tended to customers.  I picked their brains all day long about becoming and being a Master Naturalist, and a Naturalist vs. a Master Gardener.  I also bought more plants... although no, I hadn't yet planted the ones that I had bought on Tuesday at volunteer orientation. 

2)  Sunday morning I spent puttering around in the yard.  I removed pansies from an old bed and planted some of my new plants in it, and then put the pansies back in around them.  I set two areas of pavers as stepping stones -- part of my on-going battle against mud. I planted two new plants back by the fence, and while I was there did some weeding around the yoga platforms and raspberries.  It was a blissful day of playing the dirt.  Saturday night I watched the basketball game -- GO MAVS!!

3)  Sunday afternoon my neighbors helped me get a 1/2 yard of decomposed granite!  Much longer story there -- but for now, it's fab, and it was just in time for quite an unexpected rainstorm this morning.  Yay!  I'll probably need 2 more loads to have it cover the way I'd like. 

4)  A neighbor put out a big garbage can to catch rain overnight and emailed me this morning, thrilled and amazed at how much water she collected with so little rain -- and she's definitely committed to a rain barrel.  Love that.