The Impatient Gardener: September 2012

27 September 2012

OK, that's just gross

Don't read this post while you're eating. Unless you are dieting and want a reason to stop eating.

I have sad news to report on the health of the Family Jewels plant. The aphids love it. I have never actually seen a plant so covered in aphids before in my life. From a distance I thought the stems were turning a pretty golden color. And then I got closer and saw this:

That just skeeves me out, although I'd rather deal with aphids than creepy caterpillar-type bugs. Even though this was clearly a massive infestation, I did try my usual remedies. First I hit it really good with a strong blast of the hose. That probably got 75% of them off, but it was really time consuming and wet because I had to hold each stem individually to get on the underside. I waited a couple days and repeated the big rinse cycle, then went through with a rag and a bowl of water and dish soap and manually removed most of the rest of them.

Three days later it was almost as bad. It's OK, really. The plant probably got stressed, making it more susceptible to an alien aphid attack. After all, it's not used to the kind of climate I have it growing in and it has endured one of the worst summers (if you're a plant, awesome if you're a lover of beautiful weather like me) we've ever had. With the weather turning much colder than it usually is this time of year, it's not long for this world anyway. So I'll pull off the seed pods in hopes of saving some seed and then pull it out of the ground. I would have liked to enjoy it a bit longer, but I've certainly gotten plenty of enjoyment from it already this season.

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25 September 2012

Everyone's dirty little secret: the junk drawer

Busy, busy, busy. That's the theme around here lately. The weather took at decided turn towards downright chilly over the past week reminding me of all the things that need to get finished outside before the snow flies.

But you know how you can be flying along checking things off the to-do list and then everything comes to a screeching halt until you get through one really unsavory project? That's what happened this past weekend. I was alternating between gardening and my first upholstery project (can't wait to show you) when everything had to stop. Enter the junk drawer.

We never really had a junk drawer when I grew up (my mom is exceptionally neat). We had a drawer by the phone with a lot of pens, paper and phone books (remember those), but nothing else except maybe a roll of scotch tape ended up in there. At the family cottage though there was a junk drawer that could have swallowed a small child. And that's what mine was looking like this weekend.

The drawer had been getting difficult to close lately so I knew a reorganization was imminent. And then I found myself needing something in that drawer. For a split second I thought about driving to the store and buying a new one (of whatever I needed, I can't remember what it was) rather than face that drawer. When I realized how pathetic that was, I just pulled that thing out and went at it.

And here's the sad state of things when I pulled it out (and I'm pretty sure a bunch of stuff fell behind it when I did that):

Let's take a closer look. At a glance I see plant label stakes, fishing line, sewing needs, hairspray, soil testing kits, a first place ribbon for a dog obedience competition, pinking shears, metal polish, audio cords and a measuring tape. These items should never all be in the same place.

And this is what it looked like once it dumped its guts.

This cute little guy—a piece of driftwood colored with markers—came with the house and I thought he deserved to stay. Poor guy was stuck in the junk drawer and I'm so glad I rescued him.

I pulled out all sorts of stuff that didn't belong in there, including two handfuls of tools that should be in the basement with the rest of their friends but had apparently been stranded upstairs. I also threw out a lot of stuff including any cords that didn't have an obvious purpose (which was all of them), some random seeds. And then I gave the whole thing a good scrub before a quick reorganizing. 

Ah, much better (for whatever reason I took the picture of the drawer sideways so the layout makes a little more sense if you rotate it in your mind).

So fess up: Do you have a junk drawer and what would I find if I opened it up right now?

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18 September 2012

Window box success?

For the three summers that we've had the window box I've been challenged to find the right balance in it. The first year was fairly experimental. Last year I ended up with a texture issue (everything was the same scale). This year I actually worried more about the texture than the color and did OK. What I'm most impressed with is how good it still looks in mid-September. Usually by now the plants have bloomed themselves out completely.

I usually like to change up the containers for fall, but the window box still looks pretty good so I'd be hard-pressed to pull stuff out now.

Last week.

First planted.
Admittedly, the sweet potato vine ('Sweet Caroline') has taken over the center. That was not the intention. In fact there is another Supertunia Indigo Charm planted in the middle of those two sweet potato vines that have grown into one, but no matter how much pruning I did, I couldn't make enough space for it to do much. I chose this Sweet Caroline specifically because it's less of a thug than other sweet potato vines, but as you can see, she's still a bit brutish. That's OK.

I'm particularly happy with the Papyrus 'Baby Tut' that fill the back of the box. I think they are what really helps the texture issue. Because papyrus can be a bit of a water and space hog, I actually planted each of them in a one-gallon plastic nursery pot with the bottom cut out of it and the side split so they'd be free to grown and drink but just a tad contained.

As I've mentioned before, I don't know why I was such a pill about petunias. Somewhere I got in my head that I didn't like them in containers. But I've been so impressed with the two Supertunias I grew this year: Indigo Charm in the window box and Watermelon Charm in the large container by the front door. They never petered out and never stopped blooming.

I also put a couple Superbells 'Lemon Slice' in there, but they didn't perform with as much vigor as the Supertunias did (I blame this on the bossy sweet potato vine). And the purple sweet potato vine (Sweet Caroline Bewitched) is a lovely little plant that kept that amazing color. I expected it would cascade down, but it remained bushy. I'll use it again in a place where I'm looking for a bushy habit rather than a trailer.

Pot Incorporated photo/design
I have to give credit where credit is due. I got the idea to use the Papyrus 'Baby Tut' in the back (which I think is key to the entire box, especially because it stayed low enough that we have a good view out the kitchen window) from Pot Incorporated (who was responsible for many of the containers featured in Fine Gardening's special Containers issue). I used to feel like using other containers for inspiration was somehow cheating and I would try to recreate a similar look with completely different plants. I have a new view on that now: copy the parts you like and play around with the rest. Works for me.

How did your containers turn out this year?

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14 September 2012

PG-13 plant touching

The plant feeler-upper strikes again.

Look how big the family jewels are getting!

You might recall my PG-13 plant touching moment from last year:

P.S. I'm not totally sick, I swear. I'm just a toucher. I touch everything. It's a good thing I discovered Internet shopping because store employees would get irritated with me for touching, rubbing, feeling and inspecting every item of clothing on a rack. Plus, I like to think that plants want a little petting every once in a while too.

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12 September 2012

Dear Canon bigwigs

Dear Canon bigwigs,

Since I'm sure you're readers of The Impatient Gardener, you've probably noticed that the photography on the blog as of late has not been, um ... award-winning. The main reason for that is that the Canon Rebel XTi that I have occasionally used in the past is borrowed from work and lately it has been needed at work a lot. That means that I'm left to take pictures only with my iPhone. Those pictures are OK, but let's be honest: Photoshop can only do so much.

That's why I wanted to let you know that I'd be happy to test one of your new EOS-M mirrorless cameras when they come out in mid-October. I'd be happy to report back on it, but you could also just follow the blog to see what kind of great photos I'd produce with one of those in my hands.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about providing one for blog use, hit the contact button at the right. My readers thank you, as does my iPhone, which can go back to being a device used for everything BUT photography.

My sincere thanks,

P.S. Pretty please?

11 September 2012

Changing up the chairs + a chalk paint review

A prudent DIYer does some testing when they work with a new product before jumping right into the real deal. I bet that would be really boring to read about. So, as a favor to you, when I decided to use chalk paint to redo my kitchen chairs I jumped right in with both feet and in the process I learned a few things that a prudent DIYer might not have. Well, they would have, but they would have learned them on a scrap piece of wood and what fun would that be?

Have you heard about chalk paint? It is all the rage in blogland. And I am nothing if not a sucker for the latest and greatest thing. But here's the interesting thing about chalk paint in the blogosphere: most of the people writing about chalk paint are getting it for free. I'm not suggesting that they are singing the praises of this stuff just because they got it free, but I know that the expectations for a product that you get free are a lot lower than one you pay $34 a quart for. Yes, you read that right: $34 a quart. It's crazy expensive (and I am used to buying pretty expensive paint). The good news is that you really don't use much.

I'd like to say that what really attracted me to chalk paint was the beautiful finish, which is sort of a low luster, and certainly that was part of it, but what really appealed to me was the fact that chalk paint is purported to be relatively prep free. It appealed to the lazy person in me. And the one who posted that long list of projects I want to get done inside a few weeks ago.

The white, highly distressed Windsor chairs in the kitchen came with the house along with a really cool round table with a built-in lazy Susan that had to go when we put in the banquette. I never cared much for the chairs and I've always found them to be rather bland.

Then, on one of my late night/very early morning hours-long flips through Houzz (seriously I can stare at that app for hours on my iPad; it's not healthy) I found this picture and knew that I needed aqua kitchen chairs.

So here's another problem with chalk paint: there is a very limited color palette. But the good news is that you can extend the color range by mixing in one of the two white colors offered. Use Old White for a more antique look or Pure White for a more modern look. Or, if you're like me, just use both. OK, this all sounds well and good and even fun for crafty folk, but I'm no artist. One of my biggest frustrations is that I have a very hard time understanding color, no matter how much I want to. I can't tell you anything about undertones or hues or what colors go into any other color, so mixing colors willy nilly is a bit scary.

And for as much reading as I did about chalk paint, I never read the one main thing I found out about it: it dries a LOT darker. So that's how I ended up with bright baby blue chairs.

The chairs were highly distressed; a look I never really cared for. P.S. Someone please come clean our basement.

I had to do a small amount of repair to one of the chairs. Ever-so-innocent Hudson was an incredibly good puppy (as I recall 9 years later, and what dog isn't remembered as a great puppy when they are 9?) but his one transgression was a little recreational chewing on this chair. I just sanded it down with the Dremel and some rough sandpaper and then just gooped on some wood filler. I let that dry then sanded more. I wasn't really feeling patient enough to work hard at it so I was just aiming for it to look good from a distance. Since we keep only three chairs at the table and store the fourth in the basement for overflow seating, this one isn't even seen very much.

The "repaired" cross base.
But let's back up a bit. Everything you read about chalk paint says you can paint right over any clean surface. Well, any clean wood surface. No need to sand or prime. So that's what I did. And that's what I'm going to recommend you DON'T do. Every time I knocked one of those chairs a little bit after I painted it, small bits of paint chipped off. I seriously doubt the finish is going to last too long, but maybe the wax will protect it (we're getting to that).

This picture doesn't show the difference very well, but my first try on the paint ended up really intense. Shown in all the Sunday morning messy-table glory. The box of sugar was not breakfast.

Anyway, since I didn't like the color the chairs ended up, I mixed up more paint with equal parts Old White and Pure White and a little bit less of Provence. And they looked perfect. Until they dried. Again. Since the paint was now getting on them a little thick I had two options: sand them down and start over or try something else to lighten them up just a tad. And you know which one I chose.

First I tried to do a sort of whitewash over the top. Using just a tiny bit of the Old White, a drop or two of Provence and a lot of water, I "washed" the chairs, then wiped off the excess. That was OK, but the white was settling in the crevices a bit more than I would have liked. I wasn't really going for an antique finish ... just a sort of vintage, lived-in look, if that makes sense. And guess what, when they dried they were better but STILL too blue for my taste.

The preferred finish over chalk paint is soft wax and that's really what gives it that pretty luster. I had read that you can add paint to the wax to change the color of it, so I figured I had nothing to lose by adding some Old White to the wax. You need very little wax, so I just scooped out a small amount in a plastic dish and added a small amount of Old White paint to it and mixed it well.

I found the best way to apply it was with these small finish applicator disks I picked up Rockler woodworking when I was in the middle of the office countertop project. Rags always get so bunched up and hard to work with, but these little pads were perfect. I used one to apply the wax very thinly and really rub it in and one to follow up and buff with after it dried a little bit. In all, I did one coat of clear wax followed by two coats of the wax mixed with paint.

Finished chair after waxing.

Thankfully, this worked. Well, I think it did. Maybe I was just forcing myself to imagine that it did because I was so sick of this project (another one-day project in my head that turned into a 10-day project). I think what really helped was buffing out the wax to get that slight sheen. The light reflects differently off them now than when it was just the paint, which is the most matte finish you can imagine.

So here's my personal low-down on chalk paint:

The good:
• Absolutely no fumes. It smells like nothing and that's a wonderful thing.
• Very easy cleanup. It was very easy to clean brushes, my hands, even clothing that had gotten a drop or two of paint on it.
• The finish. I really liked the luster that came with using the Annie Sloan Soft Wax. It definitely is suitable for a more vintage look but it wouldn't be appropriate for a sleek modern look.

The bad:
• Cost. This is pricey paint, but it really does last a very long time and I found it to be very helpful to add a bit of water to thin it out a little when painting. Because of that I think you can think of one quart as more like 1.5 or two quarts, so maybe the price isn't so bad after all.
• For more arty types, this might end up under the "Good" column, but the lack of color options wasn't good for me. Mixing colors isn't my thing and I found it to be much harder than I expected to get the color I really wanted
• It dries WAY darker than it looks. All paints tend to dry a bit darker, but nothing like chalk paint. This made it even harder for me to get the right color.
• Claims of not requiring any pre-painting prep are way overblown. I think you need to at least either sand or prime (maybe both, but probably not) in order to get a durable finish. Still, even if you only have to do one of those two things, you're still better off than with most paint.

One other thing to note that doesn't really fit in either column, but deserves a mention. There are visible brush strokes in the finish of this paint. I used the special Annie Sloan paint brush, which I quite liked, especially for doing the spindles on the chair, so it can't be blamed on that. And in fact, a lot of the comments I saw on this paint were related to the brush strokes. I didn't mind them and some people say that's actually part of the charm of chalk paint. I think it I had sanded lightly I might have been able to make them less apparent or go away all together. But just be mindful of that when you commit to chalk paint.

Finished chairs at the table after waxing. That chair on the end never lays nicely at the table. Shall we see why?

It seems that Rita doesn't think that chair needs to be there, so she just moves it out of her way. See the small vent behind her? Even though the air conditioning hasn't been on  for a couple weeks, she lays there willing it to turn back on.

Totally pathetic, but I do think aqua suits her.

You may remember that in my big project list I mentioned that if painting the chairs worked out, I might repaint the kitchen table using chalk paint. So will I? Well, the jury is out. I'm leaning towards no, mostly because I have a weird thing about matching whites and I highly doubt I'll be able to get the color white I want just by mixing Pure White and Old White. I am, however, totally sold on soft wax for finishing. It seems to be very durable, gives such a lovely sheen and doesn't yellow, which is my biggest beef with how the table turned out. So if I work up the energy to repaint the table, I'll probably do with something like Benjamin Moore's Aura or Advance and then do a waxed finish on it.

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