Chatting on the Front Porch: How We Grow


Hello dears...Do come in and join me for a bit.  I have Pink Lemonade today.  Would you like a glass?  If you prefer it less sweet, allow me to suggest making it half and half with water.  That's how I make my own.  Then let us go to the porch and sit to talk for a bit.

I was out this morning working in the yard.  It wasn't on my list to do that, but it was what called to me so that's where I went.  Rufus apparently considers himself a gardening companion which is nice. I enjoy having his company.  In the past it's always been a cat that wanted to accompany me when I was planting but I don't mind a bit that it's a dog now.    We only had words once.  Right after I spread compost over a bed and raked it neatly, he jumped in to lie down.  I'm afraid he was spoken to quite sternly.

There's so much to do, sigh!   Not just in my own yard and home but at the house in town, as well.  Sometimes, when I'm looking at the two spaces and I'm mentally ticking off items to be attended to, I get depressed and weary and think I'll never get it all done. It all needs to be done, truly it does, but in list making, even mental ones, I'm nothing if not overly ambitious.  No short lists from this girl!  The trouble is I often overwhelm myself and then I feel as though I can't accomplish a thing.

I've discovered if I do thirty minutes here and sixty minutes there, focusing on one task at a time, things look nicer, and it all seems quite doable.  I think I'm learning the key isn't to just have a list but to simply DO it!  I'm very motivated once I get something started.  I want to get it finished.  

My greatest fault: not realizing how much real time is required to do a task.  I either grossly underestimate or I totally overestimate so I'll put off jobs that look bigger than they are when I might have already accomplished.  With bigger jobs, I often see the 'finish' in my mind first, long before I can get to it, and that's where I underestimate my time.  I need to do better about writing a list backwards from what I see as the finish, through each step it will take to get to the proper starting point. 

Anyway, I went out to the yard this morning and accomplished far more than I thought I might in just a bit over an hour's time, which brought me neatly up to my goal for an average of 30 minutes of yard every day (except Saturday) this week here at my own house.  I wish I had that much time to devote to the work needed at the town house, but time is at a premium.  Fortunately, just like at home, most of the jobs require only energy and time and not a great outlay of money.  

First, I must make a disclaimer and say I don't really 'do' gardening.  I'm not at all serious about it.  I spend more time puttering and arranging my pots of things rather than actually doing the big work that makes a beautiful yard.  I'm not methodical about planting.  I tend to take what I can get through divisions from my own stock or someone else's yard if offered.  

I love gardening. I'm trying to do what I can with my personal limitations.  It's not that I'm too old or too frail.  I'm strong enough but I liken it to this:  Gardening my way and gardening in the real way is a bit like the difference between walking a mile or two and running a 15k marathon.  I'm up for the former but not at all for the latter!

I have a few plants I've had in pots for years now and the soil has become compacted and hard.  This year I have the task of dividing and repotting many things. They need the old hard compacted soil broken up, the roots loosened up and some fresh soil added in to bring up the nutrient levels.  

I need that occasional spading up about my roots sometimes to give me the chance for new growth and fresh flowering.  I don't want to be so caught in my old place that I choke to death and die for lack of nutrients and room to grow.

Just because something is in a pot doesn't mean I can skip pruning.  That is as necessary for some potted plants as it is to trees and roses.   It's also true of people.  I've been through several 'pruning' stages in my lifetime when people, places, roles, were removed.  Sometimes it was a rather savage cutting back.  In others it was just a gentle removal of deadwood, but all allowed for a greater period of growth and renewal...but not until after I was over the shock of it all!

I've learned that some things grow really well together, in fact, lots of plants enjoy a companion or two but they must be equal in needs of water, sun, and growth habits.  

Aren't those things also true of us?   I'd love to say we're not persnickety about our living conditions but let me ask you a quiet question: how many times have you left someone's home following a visit and said out loud, "I couldn't live like that!  It's fine for them but I'd go nuts!"?  Or you simply felt super depressed by the atmosphere of a home, or super hyped up by it?  How many times have you felt like you were shrinking into yourself while someone else appeared to be thriving?  

Do we as humans have to be exactly matched?  No, no more than all the plants in a pot must all be of the same type.  It's often our differences that make us better individuals.  When we can share an experience without reacting to it exactly the same, we've still shared an experience, haven't we?  Sometimes the differences can be something like my marriage to John.  He's naturally sunny and cheerful and extroverted.  The man has never met anyone he couldn't talk with and he just assumes what he wants to talk about is of much interest to you as it is to him.  Me?  Shy. An Introvert.  Prone to enjoying solo activities.  I carry on conversations all the time...with myself.  And seemingly that's about all the company I require most days!   I can appear to be outgoing but inside I'm calculating exactly how long I have to keep being chatty and cheerful and polite before I can move along, find a quiet corner and recuperate.

However, learning to be polite in the morning and accept the fact, graciously, that my husband is going to be chatty and cheerful even if I haven't punched the button on the coffee machine yet has bettered me as a human.  It has.   Carrying along a book when he's going to stop somewhere that I typically wouldn't go into, means he can chat to his heart's content.  I'm happily occupied in the car or in a far away corner and I don't mind a bit.  

But it's still true that people, like plants, must be of the sort who appreciate a similar climate, similar conditions and have similar enough needs to thrive in a relationship.  John and I share those qualities with the difference that he can and will happily live with light 24 hours a day, sleeping with lights on even, but I cannot.  I really need those separated hours of light and dark.

Anyway, there you have my morning musings upon gardening and growth!

Would you like to see what I've done outdoors thus far?  I'll warn you now, none of it is Pinterest pretty.  I still need to do a lot of cleaning, painting and planting.  But I'm quite pleased with how things have been arranged, since it requires a lot of fiddly work and is the one area where I spent no money, simply used what I have.

For the door wreaths, I reused one I made a couple of years ago to hang on the front door.  I just added the fern fronds to it this year:

 I thought, seriously thought I had two of these in the shed, but I can't find but the one.  It's a lettuce green gingham check fabric and it looks really nice with the bright flowers.  If I find any more of these flowers, I may switch out the red for hot pink.  They are clip-on. I'm pretty sure I bought them at Dollar Tree.  They'd be cute on a hat or flip flops for summer.

Before I show you the back door wreath, I think I'll show you what I've done on the front porch. 

I moved the cafe set to the front porch and removed two of the four chairs down to the patio.  I'll be working on the patio too, in the month ahead but at present, I'm concentrating hard on the porches and the already established flower beds.

It is my plan to paint this set black.  All the furniture will be black.  I want to get chair cushions, too. And pretty plants.  Remember I was just arranging things for right now.  Update: I painted all the furniture except the side table I keep between two of the chairs black this morning.  It will all need a second coat, but I am not quite ready for another black oil paint bath which is what I ended up with today.  FYI: GOJO degreaser works really well if you need remove oil paint from skin and clothes.

In the upper right of the photo, you can see one of the hanging metal baskets. I picked them up at a summer clearance sale at Walmart about 7 years ago I think for something like $4 each.  The chains had broken on both.  We repaired the original chains, but  John and I found the chains weren't substantial enough to really hold the weight of the basket plus wet soil and plants, so we replaced it with a slightly heavier duty one.  I think this year I want to paint these too, but I won't go with black.  I can't tell you just yet what color they might be, but definitely not black.  

I'd like to replace the plant hanger with a pair of iron plant hangers I bought that are fairly ornate.  I picked them up in a thrift store ages ago.  They'd be pretty and useful and give a little extra something to the front porch area.

Then I redid the big old gate behind the ironing board.  

Ignore the cat's food bowl.  She always insisted on eating on the porch railing but she's getting old and actually fell off the railing onto the cement patio, stunning herself and scaring me badly.  I decided then and there I'd make her get used to a new spot.  The ironing board is a safe place for her.  She uses a chair to jump up onto it.

I want to add something more to this gate.  I'm thinking I want some trailing plants in pots to hang in the bare spaces.  I know I can buy a special clip to suit pots for hanging on a fence and this is made of fence material so it ought to work just as well.  Those pink chairs were painted black today, too.

Nothing out here on this porch, or on the back one, is finished by any means.  There's plenty of time to buy plants, clean and make it all pretty.  We want to paint this porch floor this year.  Because of the pet traffic, the sandy soil about our house and the fact that this porch, in rain, is consistently wet I think we've made the decision to just go for the higher cost but heavy duty marine paint for this floor.

I also added a new door mat for the front door. 

I bought this one on clearance last Fall online, for $7 at Bed Bath and Beyond.  I liked it so well, I bought two and seriously considered putting one on the back porch, but I know that Maddie and Rufus are going to lie upon the one at the back door.  I feel a little safer with the one on the front porch as they tend to ignore it.  Misu's kingdom is the front porch and while the dogs are welcome to visit, she generally doesn't encourage them to stay the night, lol.

At the back porch, we'll start with my arrangement of potted plants in the flower bed next to the steps.  I'm not entirely satisfied with this just yet.  I've added a plant stand where two more plants might go.  But I do rather like the lush look I'm beginning to achieve.  I wanted additional height here and so I replaced the old pink metal footboard with a smaller gate that was no longer being used here on the property.

I think the gate will act as a stake of sorts for the gladiolus as they bloom, plus it's taller than the footboard was and offers the visual height balance I was after.

You can just get a peek of one stem of that new Bougainvillea there on the far left.  I put a big trellis there for it to climb upon, and I'm hoping with the full sun that area gets from noon onwards it will thrive there.  So far it has grown inches!  I wanted to sort of block the back view of Maddie's doghouse.  Sigh.  Can't' get rid of it, as I'd like to do but I can at least try and disguise it a bit.

Then I arranged furniture on the back porch.  I have four chairs here, now.  

Originally, I'd just left three here but then I decided to remove the chair I'd put in the back steps flower bed last summer.   It's an all metal chair and didn't really weather at all sitting there for a year but it occurred to me that the smaller scale was perfect for seating between the back door and the tile topped table/desk/former island.  

Why have a chair that close to the back door?  It's very handy to drop a bag of groceries or a handful of items when you're trying to unlock the door!   

I want to use the table for potting and working with cut flowers.  I plan to get a smaller gas grill and it will be handy for a worktable when we're grilling.  I may, in future, move the table down a bit more but right now it's more or less centered to the baby bed springs that hang on the wall above.  If I do move it, I'll move the chair in the near left to that spot.  It will create more of a conversation grouping.

And finally, here's my back door wreath.  Just a handmade grapevine wreath with faux ferns and a strip of that lettuce green gingham check tied into a bow.  It's simple and green and woodsy looking.  

I think I'll like the back porch even more when I get a few more plants.  I'd really love to have ferns hanging in the center of each section of the back porch.  I dream of one day putting up those Victorian looking trim pieces.

I can't show you the one I was actually interested in because it will not let me save the image to my computer but they only run about $10 each.  I'd need 8 for the back porch and would like to eventually do the same for the front porch so I'd need six for that area.  I'll do as I do with most things, save until I get enough to do it.   

I'm aware it all needs work yet, but I assure you I'd rather show works in progress than talk on forever about what I'm going to do and never get it done.   Right now, the front porch looks even worse because there's newspaper on the floor and paint spatters from where I've just put the first coat on all the furniture (though I shall say it already looks better with just the one coat!).   Our old chairs are on the front porch as well because our new ones arrived this morning.

This is the chair we bought, two of them, exactly alike.  I have navy pillows I bought at Aldi that go nicely with the chairs, but I need more pillows for the two gray chairs.  John wants arm covers for his chair and we must buy fabric of some sort to recover the two ottomans.

I've got to go outdoors and track down a package that supposedly was delivered here.  Funny thing...I never saw or heard a delivery truck come up...Guess I'd better tell you all goodbye for today.

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(C) Terri Cheney