The Impatient Gardener: February 2011

23 February 2011

Maximizing storage

Anyone who lives in a small space knows that you have to find storage space anywhere you can. Even people who live in large homes tend to need more storage than they have. But that's the thing about storage: stuff tends to just fill the storage void. How many of you know someone with an empty drawer in their house? I'm not sure I've ever heard of such a thing.

Anyway, prior to the renovation, we were seriously lacking in bedroom storage space. We had one small reach-in closet that only accommodated my clothes. Mr. Much More Patient's stuff was relegated to the guest room closet. And while that's not that big of a deal (he didn't seem to mind), it would be nice for a guest to actually have a place to hang their own clothes and should that room ever be used on a more permanent basis, he'd certainly have to get his stuff out of there.

We also had a dresser/armoire type thing in the bedroom. I bought it at a big-box store as an assemble-yourself unfinished furniture piece. Thinking back, that may have been my first DIY project. I have to laugh now because I saw a segment on Martha Stewart's show about how to paint furniture and I did it exactly as she did. I mean, I even used the same colors because I wasn't sure it would "work" if I didn't.

This photo was taken the day the renovation started. The blue dresser/armoire thing on the front patio was my Martha Stewart-inspired DIY project. I hated that thing. It, the gross chair and whatever else was sitting on the patio was headed for the dump.

When I put the thing together I didn't even realize that drawers should be square. So they never stayed in the glides right and constantly fell out. I couldn't wait to get rid of that thing even though several people were horrified that I threw it out (I couldn't donate that piece of junk to someone else to lose their mind over).

Dressers, however, are expensive. I actually picked up a nice one at Goodwill that is almost identical to one John and Sherry from Young House Love bought. That's still sitting in the garage though. Instead, we had the awesome craftsman who build our banquette for us, build the world's biggest built-ins for our bedroom. Because there is a sort of recess in the wall created by the angled roof for the shed dormer, it really does feel built-in, rather than like a massive piece of furniture jutting out into the room. Since it also incorporates a small window seat, we can get by very nicely with just a bed and two nightstands as free-standing furniture in the room. More furniture would fit in the room, but I'm really enjoying the open space after living for so long in an itty-bitty room.

OK, so I know you're thinking that the window seat looks really shrimpy, but I plan to put a four-inch cushion on it like we did in the kitchen because it's super comfy.

Mr. Much More Patient was worried about creating a "tunnel" around the window, so we opted for open shelves on either side of the window. A small television fits in the lower set of doors, and bookcase-type storage is on top. It's pretty tall and won't be very easily accessible, but we felt like we needed something to bridge the units on either side of the window. What do you think?

It blows my mind that we went from a crappy dresser with drawers that didn't close to NINE amazingly huge drawers on full-extension glides. I can't even imagine the joy of a world where you can actually see what's in the back of the drawers. Oh and they are automatically closing hinges. BOOM! (Or actually not boom because that's what the slow close is all about.)

We also were able to squeeze in a mall walk-in closet. If you live in an older home or a small home or especially an older small home you know that a walk-in closet is the holy grail of storage. Ours is far from palatial at roughly 6 feet by 5 feet, but it'll do the trick. But I'm a big one for maximizing storage and the worst atrocity that can be done to any closet is to stick up one high shelf and one rod. That sort of configuration wastes so much space. Most clothes that we hang in our closets are short, either shirts, skirts, jackets or pants folded over a hanger.

Do you know how hard it is to take a picture of a tiny closet without a wide-angle lens? Yeah, it's pretty much impossible, but this is as you look into the closet. The wall angles pretty steeply toward you here, so there are two shelves and then two pull-out shoe holders underneath.

I also detest a lot of closet organizing systems. Those white metal shelves with the big brackets holding them up are pretty unsturdy, but my biggest beef with them is that it breaks up the hanging part into little chunks so you can't slide clothing back and forth. And some of the particle-board systems you can find at the big box stores look so cheap and the shelves start to sag after awhile.

To maximize space in our old reach-in closet I bought an Elfa system from The Container Store. I used their design help which was nice since I'd never actually seen the system in person (a friend had recommended it) and didn't really know how it worked. That system at least doubled my storage space. So I knew I'd go with the same thing in our new walk-in.

This is one side of the closet. There is hanging space for long items (like dresses), a couple of shelves, and then a short hanging bar with a shelf above it.

We didn't NEED this, but I really, really wanted it. It's a gliding tie and belt hanger. Love it. You can also see in this photo how I customized the fascia. Normally it only fits between the shelf brackets, but I used a coping saw to cut out an area for the bracket and then just attached it as directed.

OK, I'm not sure it's the most practical shoe storage method, but damn it's cool.

Of course savvy shoppers should know that The Container Store runs a 30% off Elfa sale every year from the beginning of January to the middle of February, so hold off until then because it can get pricey quickly. The thing I like about the system is that the only thing you mount to the wall is the top bar. Everything else hangs from that.

I'm not going to get into a big commercial on Elfa because, well, they aren't paying me to or giving me free closet samples, but I really do like this product. I designed the closet myself this time because I had a much better understanding of the product. I also installed it myself, probably in about five hours or so (not in one sitting). This time I went for the 16-inch deep shelves, more for the accessory possibilities than the actual storage opportunities. And I did by a few things that maybe weren't entirely necessary, like the wood fascia (which I had to customize for my closet because they only work with certain length shelves), the tie and belt pull-out and the pull-out shoe racks.

I know you're all looking at that shoe storage area and think I'm nuts but for some reason I never got that whole female shoe gene. I have probably six pairs of shoes and usually wear only two of them. So I don't need a lot of storage space for them.

Anyway, putting this whole thing together was my first step toward living in a much more organized fashion. And with all the storage space we now have in our new master bedroom, not only will we both be able to keep our clothes in the same room, if we do run out of space it truly means it's time to clean out the closet because there's no way we should have more than we can hold in this space.

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21 February 2011

It gets worse before it gets better

Like a lot of projects, painting the stairs is one of those that has gotten a lot worse before it can get better.

Let these pictures serve as a lesson. Any time you feel like skipping some prep steps in a painting project remember this:

Not exactly inviting you upstairs are they?

At some point in our house's history some previous owner decided they couldn't stand the dark finishes everywhere so they whipped out their paint brush and painted everything they could. For that, I thank them, because I'm not sure I could have seen the charm of the house if it weren't for that. Still, I'd like to find them and hunt them down and force them to come undo all their damage. Apparently they were so eager to paint that they skipped the whole sanding and priming process and just stuck paint over stain and polyurethane. And that was the last thing that stuck, because the paint certainly didn't.

The knots in the wood on the risers bled through the paint and looked nasty. If you kicked the riser on the way up the stairs (not an uncommon occurrence), paint would fall off. I made it worse by not checking what kind of paint was used on them and putting water-based paint over the oil paint right after we bought the house. So I decided if I was going to paint these stairs (which they badly needed after the trashing they took during the renovation), I was going to do it right.

And that meant removing all the loose paint--most of it -- and sanding them thoroughly. So that's what I've been doing for awhile now.

The little paint flecks are from the paint scraper, but when I went in there with joint compound knife I was able to scrape sheets of paint off in some places. Let this be a lesson, kids: sand and prime before you paint!

After sanding, I spot primed the knots with Zynsser BIN shellac primer and I'll prime them all with Benjamin Moore's Fresh Start primer. This might go down as one of the most tedious projects I've done on the house, but I am looking forward to a beautifully painted staircase.

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15 February 2011

Events to help you get your garden on

Who wouldn't want to be standing on that bridge overlooking this amazing garden?

Now that we spent last week dreaming about gardening (you were dreaming, right?) you can continue the dream by going to a flower show or gardening seminar, which have a tendency to pop up all over the place starting next month or so. If you can't garden at least you can listen to someone talk about it, right?

Last year I went to the Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza in Chicago. It was a great day that allowed a glimpse at some of the new plants and a chance to listen to some great speakers. So I was thrilled to find out the PWOLE is coming to Milwaukee (my back yard) this year. And of course I'm going (and I'm trying to drag a few friends along this year too).

Kerry Meyer
I've actually heard all but one of the speakers who are scheduled for the Milwaukee stop before. Kerry Meyer is Proven Winners' program director who spoke at the Chicago event last year. Her talk was really interesting and hit upon some of the new plants that we'll see coming out in the years to come as well as how PW makes the plants we're all buying in stores. Hopefully she'll offer a glimpse into the newest introductions this year as well.

Superbells Blackberry Punch: one of the new introductions I'm most looking forward to this year.

Melinda Myers
Melinda Myers is another speaker for the Milwaukee event. She's the local gardening guru (although she had a show on PBS for awhile that I think was broadcast at least regionally if not nationally). Although I've heard her before she always has an interesting take on gardening and she's certainly an expert on the challenges of gardening next to a giant lake.

Tim Wood
Tim Wood was one of my favorite speakers at last year's PWOLE. He is Spring Meadow Nursery's product development manager so it's his job to find the coolest shrubs around. Last he spent a lot of time talking about hydrangeas (and you know I love hydrangeas) and was really patient with all the audience questions. (Most of which involved questions about how we can grow beautiful deep blue hydrangeas like you see in Seattle and New Zealand here in zone 5. The short answer is that you can't. Not yet at least.) I think shrubs might be the area of plant creation that is most interesting right now. It's not so much creating new plants as it is creating better shrubs that look better, live longer and are easier to care for (which I think is the hallmark of a good shrub; if I wanted to worry about nitpicking a plant, I'd buy a rose). I can't wait to hear what new shrubs Tim's going to talk about.

Chaenomeles speciosa Double Take 'Orange Storm' is a new shrub I hope to hear more about.

Those are three great speakers, but I'm positively thrilled to hear P. Diddy.

P. Diddy

No, not THAT P. Diddy (the guy who is now called Puff Daddy and could barely speak at the Grammy Awards because he had so many gold teeth in his mouth).

This P. Diddy:

P. Diddy (aka P. Allen Smith)

P. Diddy is my little pet name for the king of all things gardening: P. Allen Smith. I loved watching him create his "Garden Home Retreat" on the banks of the Arkansas River. I especially like the virtual makeovers he does on his show, but I think it would be great if the people who receive one would send in photos of the "afters." And then what I really want to know is how many people he employs to help him manage that massive property.

The PWOLE is making four stops this year with different speakers featured at each event: Atlanta (March 4), Seattle (March 18), Milwaukee (April 8) and Toronto (April 15). Last year there were a ton of product giveaways, great containers filled with new Proven Winners introductions, lunch, shopping and best of all, a day filled with a little bit of garden dreaming.

If a seminar-type program isn't your thing, consider hitting up a flower or garden show.

Here are a few upcoming events:

February 23-27 Northwest Flower & Garden Show 
February 24-27 Connecticut Flower & Garden Show
March 5-13  Chicago Flower & Garden Show
March 23-27 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show
March 6-13 Philadelphia International Flower Show

Almost every region in the country hosts a garden event this time of year. It's a great way to get new ideas for your garden before you're too busy to want to leave your garden. You know as well as I do that come May you'll be to engrossed in gardening to leave for anything more than a quick run to pick up another bag of compost and some beer.

So what do you think? Any plans to attend a gardening show or seminar this spring?

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10 February 2011

Garden inspiration

I've mentioned Houzz enough here that you're probably all familiar with it, but if you're not, you really should check it out. It's been incredibly helpful during our renovation and I still reference my "ideabooks" there regularly.

The way I use Houzz is to search a particular category and just save the photos I like. I may not be sure what I like about them (although if you are you can leave a note on the photo), but I save them anyway. That way when you're stuck on a particular element you can get a much better feel for your style by just looking to see what the photos you liked have in common. When I was on my fourth bathroom wall color in search of the perfect gray blue I went back through my bathroom ideabook and realized that almost every bathroom I had saved had very neutral wall colors. There was only one blue wall out of about 50 pictures I had saved. I painted the bathroom a super light grayish-tan called Gray Mist and I love it.

Since we're celebrating gardening week here, I thought I'd show you some of my favorite pictures in my landscape ideabook over at Houzz. I'm not sure why I love some of these photos but I'm sure to refer back to them over the coming months as I plan out some new landscaping in the back yard. Houzz doesn't have the most extensive library of garden photos (and they tend to air on the more contemporary side) but it's the easiest place to look for them (landscape designers take note: put your work up on Houzz).

 I thought it might be fun to share some of these photos now, when I truly have no idea what I'm going to do back there, and then we can look at them later and see where I subconsciously or consciously drew inspiration from.

Click on the picture to be taken to Houzz for more information.

Laguna Contemporary Tropical contemporary landscape

Ray Johannes Landscape Design, Toronto - Stone Pathways traditional landscape

Projects traditional landscape

Garden  landscape

Frenchflair traditional landscape

Exteriorscapes contemporary landscape

Tropical plantings tropical landscape

Entry Path traditional landscape

Bungalow eclectic landscape

Magrane Associates Landscape Design and Landscape Architecture traditional landscape

San Anselmo Mediterranean garden mediterranean landscape

shwa  landscape

Natural dry-stack wall with bedded Perennials contemporary landscape

There are certainly a lot of different looks going on here. See anything you like?


08 February 2011

Plant tags go high tech

For many of us gardening is welcome escape from the excess of technology that has because a necessary evil in our daily life. Gardening at home is as simple as it comes. Use basic tools. Dig in the dirt. Put a plant in the ground and water it. It's nature at its finest.

And I would argue that that's one of the best parts of gardening. But there are times when a little bit of technology is a great thing.

Imagine yourself at your favorite local garden center. You're looking at a pretty little hosta when across the way something catches your eye over in the annuals section. It is a brilliant clear blue flower and you've never seen anything like it before. You run over to check it out and start reading the tag. You will probably find about a 15-word description, that it likes sun and how big it gets. But you don't know if it will bloom all season, or if it will fade out in heat. You're not quite sure what plants would compliment it in a container. You're left with two options: buy it and take a chance or go home and research it further and then hope it's still available when you get back to the garden center. Of course you could always ask an employee, but what if you went on Saturday and every employee is up to their ears in people asking questions.

I'm thrilled to say that this scenario is now a thing of the past. Proven Winners is now putting QR codes on their plant tags. If you don't think you know what a QR code, you've probably seen the digitized little squares before, perhaps in a magazine. Using a smart phone, you scan them (I downloaded the free "Scan" app onto my iPhone) and are immediately taken to a "microsite" on your phone for that plant. There you'll be able to read much more about it and see photos. In other words, you're going to get a lot more information about a plant than they could ever fit on a plant tag.

Wanna give it a try? OK, go get a QR scanner for your phone. There are tons of apps out there for this, some paid, some free. The one I downloaded seems to work just fine and got good reviews. Now activate your app and just hold your phone's camera in front of the code on the tag below. It should take you right to a site with container gardening tips (obviously on the real plant tags it will take you to a site about that plant, but this one is just a generic one to show you how it works).


That was fun wasn't it? Do you want to try it again?


That one will take you to Tim Wood's blog The Plant Hunter, which you can now read on your phone. Pretty cool, right?

See? A little well-placed gardening technology isn't such a bad thing after all.

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07 February 2011

Gardening Week begins

Since most of the country is buried under a pile of snow, gardening seems like it's so far off we could cry. So this week is Gardening Week at The Impatient Gardener. I'll be posting only Gardening-related posts, but if you want to know the latest on house stuff check out the Facebook page because I'll be updating reno stuff over there.

You know it's going to be a good weekend when you open the mailbox on Friday and find the latest issues of both House Beautiful and Fine Gardening. I can think of four magazines that I absolutely love. I work for one of them (so I'm required by law to love it), and I also love Coastal Living (although it's getting a bit thin these days).



So which one did I reach for first? Well, it's February, so that means I'm totally dreaming about gardening.

Between getting two great magazines in the mail and an awesome Packers victory in the Superbowl, I couldn't ask for much more.

Anyway, Fine Gardening got me even more fired up for gardening season. To give you an idea of where I was before that magazine showed up, the other day a Facebook friend who lives in a part of the country with much nicer weather posted that she had spent most of the day weeding and I was overcome with jealousy. You know it's bad when you want to weed (someone please remind me of this in June).

In honor of my need to weed, I'm laying off the renovation posts this week and I'm only talking about gardening stuff. There are a few things going on at the house, but I'll fill you in on those some other time, because this week I'm thinking about spring.

One of the articles in Fine Gardening was about composting. I love composting and I even have a book that's well over an inch thick on the subject, but the fact of the matter is, I don't have the time or energy to dedicate to tending my compost pile. What I loved about the FG article is that it simplifies the process. Any organic matter will turn into compost if you give it enough time, but the trick is get enough of the stuff quickly enough to be useful in your garden. The FG article advocates a very loose guideline for compost, which I love. Six parts of "browns" to one part of greens. Layer it all up, water in between each layer, mix every three layers. That is the kind of thing I can handle. I'm just not up for setting up a string of compost bins a mile long to accommodate various stages of compost. And with the new compost bin I got last year, I hereby resolve to be more attentive to my compost, but not too attentive.

The other article in Fine Gardening that I love is a primer on garden design by Ann Stratton. This is something I've struggled with, and I bet a lot of gardeners would say the same thing. Knowing how to grow a plant and select the right plant for the right spot is completely different from designing the overall look of a garden and I think the latter is something that either comes from formal education or trial and error. This is why a lot of great gardeners hire garden designers.

I can see the design flaws in my gardens. I have a serious lack of structure and all-season interest. I used to plant in singles instead of drifts (I've been correcting that over the years). I lack repetitive elements. I know that I need those things, but how to incorporate them can be a challenge.

So I spend a lot of time reading books and magazine articles on garden design (you can see some of the plant IDs from the article here). The article in Fine Gardening mentions a concept I don't think I've heard before but I love it and when I saw the accompanying picture it made perfect sense to me. It's the triangle rule. That is, try to plant similar things in a triangle.


In the photo above (from the article; you can go online to see the specific plants in the photo), see how the iris in the bottom right corner is repeated on the opposite side of the path about halfway up and then again on the right side of the path further along? Doesn't it just feel like it is escorting you down the path?

I love this design idea and I will definitely be incorporating it in to some of the new gardens I'll be working on come spring (and some of the old ones too).

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