Unruly Gardener Becomes Bored. Messiness Ensues.


You just never know what will happen when your beloved Unruly Gardener runs out of things to do, but you can be pretty sure a lot of clean-up will be involved.

It’s already been two months since I was on my SoCal vacation, and even though the yard hasn’t needed much, I haven’t been doing much writing either. It’s not unusual for September to be the doldrums of our summer, heat followed by more heat until we’re all pretty tired of heat. It’s like March in New England: you just want this tedious weather to be over.

Also, as soon as I returned home, Floyd took off for his Wild Ride and Camping Adventure (please, I don’t want to know anything about possible combinations of mummy-style sleeping bags and sidearms). Life on my own seems to involve a lot less housework and a whole lot less laundry, and with nothing to do in the yard it came to pass that while he was gone I developed an itch.

Not the dermatological kind.

Sadly enough, at my age such yearnings rarely involve pirates, black-clad bad boys, or handsome strangers. I didn’t even think about driving to any one of ten thousand available bars. Clothes shopping induces more suffering than it relieves, by far. There aren’t any casinos nearby and I dislike casinos anyway. Can’t imagine it would be any fun going skydiving alone.

No. I went to the paint store.

In keeping with the Domino Theory of House Projects, there is never one trip to the paint store. First there is the preliminary browsing trip, the one that involves holding paint chips up to the sunlit window and returning home to tape them to various surfaces. A certain amount of looking through magazines, Pinterest, and the Benjamin Moore website is carried out. Then there is the trip for little sample bottles, and here is where true commitment starts. Because once you have smeared a swab of paint across a wall, the Rubicon has been crossed: there is nothing for it but to proceed.

I’ve painted enough walls to know that noDSC_0180 matter what paint I’m using, at least two coats will be required in order to achieve the “true” color I have so blithely purchased. (I do not want to talk about my formerly dark red dining room and how many coats of primer and paint it took to transform it to a color called “Soleil.”) Because our bedroom is obviously furnished, and because the carpet is relatively new and shockingly expensive, I decided to tackle one wall at a time, giving each wall two coats before moving on to the next expanse.

Much to my astonishment, I managed to drop a mere two drops of paint on the carpet, and was easily able to render them undetectable. This is something, coming from a person who usually manages to drop at least one container of paint or at the very least one paint-soaked brush wherever color transformations are taking place.

Taupe walls became blue walls, my mood IMG_0411improving by the minute. The newly painted bedroom required a few auxiliary touches like ripping out the vertical blinds and replacing them with pleated shades; running out for a white blanket and white bedspread to complete the blue and white beach house illusion; and putting some window film up in the adjacent bathroom (just like Mary has, it should go without saying.) I’m very happy with the transformation.

The window film is just translucent plastic with a leafy pattern. It adheres perfectly to wet glass, the only challenging part of the chore being accurate cutting. The window faces east and lets in very pretty light, rendered even prettier by the absence of those horrid vertical blinds. There are a number of stained-glass varieties, but I didn’t feel the need – the sun makes nice enough colors out of trees and a wooden fence, I think.

Where I ended up drawing the line in this particular interior decorating extravaganza was at trim. Our house came to us with a kind of southwest attitude, which means roughly forty-three varieties of the color “sand.” While much of it has been dealt with, the fact remains that our interior doors and trim still sport a version of off-white-eggshell-Sahara or whatever you call it.

Me personally, I believe in blindingly white trim. The whitest white B. Moore can formulate.

But trim = oil-based paint, and if it seems like I can make a mess with water-based paint, you can only imagine what happens when I am forced to deal with real true old-fashioned not-going-anywhere-for-at-least-a-couple-of-decades paint is involved. Plus, the prep and clean-up give me a royal pain.

My paint people fixed me up with what they call a “hybrid,” promising I could get away with just a normal cleaning and one coat of primer as a base for the new truly white coat; but I decided to postpone that array of festivities until school is out for the semester and my free time multiplies. We shall see, folks, we shall see.



The next series of paint-store sojourns entailed exterior paint, I’m afraid. Talk about a commitment. It’s hard enough for me to choose new glasses, let alone colors the outside of my house will show the world for the next decade. I was significantly cheered by the decision to have someone else do the painting; and my fundamental attitude toward this house and its neighborhood turned ultimately helpful: I really didn’t care very much. Pity the poor painters who kept asking where I wanted this color or that one; apart from the big back wall and the garage door, I just didn’t care. It was very freeing.



The only rough moments came with the front door, one part of the project I conscripted for myself. First, carrying it to the garage even with Floyd’s help annoyed my back for a few days. Second, the red wasn’t really what I had intended.

It’s pink, Cooper announced at his first glance.

Yeah, well, it’s not as dark as I thought it would be, I admitted. Floyd’s not going to be thrilled. But not caring is one of the most helpful attitudes one can possibly assume under such circumstances. Floyd might not love a pink door, but he seriously doesn’t love bugs in the house; so up it went, and there it hangs.

I don’t think it’s really too pink…

Unfortunately there was still a dearth of yard & gardenIMG_0428 chores. What else could I possibly turn my clumsy hands to?

Perhaps fortunately, I’d sent off for a lovely set of shiny stainless steel interchangeable knitting needles. I prefer “circular” needles (short needles connected by a thin plastic cord of whatever length your project calls for) whether I’m knitting in the round or not, because it’s so much easier for my used-up old hands to hold them. But now that I had all these circular-knitting possibilities in front of me, why not try knitting a sweater in the round?

Life is so much easier when no purling is involved. Many happy days were spent just doing the knit stitch around & around. Now that the armpits have been reached and I am forced to knit and purl, life has lost some of its glow. Sigh.

IMG_0406I cannot tell you what possessed me to start manufacturing clay tips for the agave plants in the sidewalk garden. We all know that agave possess spikes designed to travel swiftly and easily through a badly placed hand. I often worry about neighborhood children – let alone our own grands! – scootering and biking so close to potentially lethal objects. Many people decorate their agave with ornaments at Christmas time; why not create decorative tip protectors that would span the seasons?

So Grandson #2 and I took a trip to Michael’s and picked up air-dry clay, then set about making various shapes and piercing them with the hairless end of a watercolor brush. I set them to dry for a couple of days, hit themDSC_0050 with a couple coats of spray paint, and decorated a few with shiny glass circles. I think I am beginning to understand the appeal of the hot glue gun.

Although I’d initially planned to polyurethane them all against the elements, who can wait when bright shiny objects are involved? These prototypes have survived a few rainstorms now, and although I probably should have held out for the clear coat, by now you know me well enough to imagine where my thinking has gone.

Obviously, I need a kiln.

I confess a deep ambivalence toward “crafts,” finding the whole concept mildly embarrassing. I once knew a woman who made holiday brooches out of turkey wishbones and tiny feathers. Around the same time, I knew several ladies who’d gotten together and made centerpieces out of cheese graters and artificial daisies. Unless one is younger than fifteen, I sort of don’t understand the appeal of stenciling, scrapbooking, projects involving rubber stamps, or making jewelry out of the kind of beads you can find at a place like Michael’s.

So tell me the impulse to make a wreath of magnolia leaves is different. Please.

For years I’ve entertained the notion of a reallyDSC_0005 high-quality wreath for the front door. Something herbal, woven with lavender and bay leaves, faintly aromatic and bearing suitably pale flowers among green and gray-green foliage. But for all my impulse purchases (LifeProTip: Never, never, never, never, never memorize even one of your credit card numbers. Never. It seems like a good idea at the time, but trust me: this is not a good idea!), I have never pulled the trigger on one of those wreaths.

I can’t even remember where I first saw the magnolia leaf version – it could have been A Beautiful Mess (http://www.abeautifulmess.com/),  it could have been Food 52 (http://food52.com/). But there they were: vivid, full, with foam bases or woven twigs as their starters.

Who has two magnolia trees? Who has A HOT GLUE GUN? Who has, apparently, way too much time on her hands?

IMG_0419Apparently I do, and holidays make the best excuses for doing crafty things I would ordinarily avoid like the plague. Grandson #2 and I arranged dried flowers and grasses and sparkly purple foam pumpkins in a wonderful steel bowl Floyd made over a year ago. The bowl has sat empty all this time, waiting for me to do something with it. I could fill it with Snickers, but that wouldn’t be prudent. It’s too heavy to use as a popcorn bowl, and the steel probably isn’t food-grade.

So, a bunch of autumn-looking stuff, with generous sprinkles of glitter to conceal the foam base and create a cheerful sparkle for a radius of roughly three yards. Like the needles of real Christmas trees when their time is done, glitter has a way of lingering. Halloween will fall on a Friday this year, I believe, which means we stand a good chance of having a bunch of trick-or-treaters. You know how it is these days: you can hardly predict whether you’ll have six or a hundred.

It must be the case that all gardeners like to make things, for what is a garden if not a made thing? I imagine other gardeners, when there isn’t much to do among the plants, make plant labels and fences and potting tables and greenhouses. Real gardeners doubtless make jars of colorful food items, garlic braids, bundles of herbs hung upside-down from the ceiling. I myself personally would make agave tip-protectors and flower pots, if I only had a kiln.

I like living in a house with hand-made things: Floyd’s great furniture, the numerous east Texas quilts bearing a possibly infinite number of tiny hand-placed stitches, paintings devised by small dimpled hands. Every hand-made object has a story and a person behind it – or persons, if you want to think of our quilts. For example, the “Boston Common” quilt in our guest room came with a sheaf of note pages listing the names of the women who had shown up for the quilting sessions.

Since it has taken a couple of weeks to summon the wherewithal to complete this post, the magnolia-leaf wreath has gone brown as magnolia leaves do. I’d thought of spray-painting it white, or spraying on some glitter for the holidays; instead it now graces the side-yard gate right beside one of the magnolia trees.

If I don’t get this post posted, I’ll be writing about putting in bulbs and what to make for Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll leave you with one image from the sidewalk garden, Monarchs on their way south. It’s not a great photo, but they are quite camera-shy and tend to erupt in a big explosion when I get a centimeter too close. I have no good excuse for not taking the time to set up the tripod and telephoto lens, but I will say it is pretty wonderful to stand in a cloud of butterflies.







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