Friday, March 29, 2013

Trying again

I swear this is the last time. If weather or animals take out this birdbath again, I'm giving up.


This is the $5 birdbath that lost its top after a cat or a raccoon knocked it over and broke it. It had already been broken and glued together once before.


I bought a saucer from Lowe's and glued it to the base with Liquid Nails. I swear if it gets broken again, I'm going to break up with bird baths. Me and watching birds on Saturday mornings in bed, with the curtains open and coffee in hand . . . oh, who am I kidding? I'll probably replace it again. Bird bathing is so adorable!


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The best of times and the worst of times

Last fall, back when I was having the house tested for mold, the guy pointed out that my toilet was rocking and he detected water under the floor in that area. The toilet was rocking when I moved into the house, so Bill and I replaced the wax ring, which was such a gross project that I never wrote about it here. The toilet was still rocking after replacing the wax ring, so I shimmed it with some coins, but that didn't fix it either.

So I bit the bullet and hired a plumber for the first time. I looked on Angie's List even though I don't find it useful. Everyone gets an A+ on Angie's List, no?

"He came and completed the work he said he would. A+!"

It's not great for finding the best of the best and I've felt pressured in the past to leave them a glowing review when their work was just average.

So I picked someone from the multitudes boasting A's all across the board and settled on Nichols Plumbing. He fixed the toilet, which required replacing the lead outflow pipe with an ABS pipe, installing a new flange, and adding a flange repair kit, which drove screws down into our tile.

Have you ever noticed that when someone is charging you by the half-hour they talk a LOT?


Anyway, our toilet no longer rocks. Then, as he stood in my kitchen with hands black from toilet gunk, he placed both hands on my white walls and leaned. So I get to bleach and touch up the paint there. Why do repair people do this?

Because he had forgotten to put me on his calendar he was two hours late to arrive, which meant he couldn't do the second part of the job, installing a line for our ice maker. Four years ago I paid the extra $100 to get a fridge with an ice maker, even though there wasn't a line installed to supply the water. I was so poor at the time that making that decision felt like Sophie's Choice. I could've run the line myself but it would probably take me all weekend. As long as I was hiring a plumber to come out, I thought it made sense to have him do it.

So the guy had to come back out two days later. He initially wanted to just punch a hole through my kitchen floor and run the line that way. I told him I wanted a wall recessed unit with a shut off valve. Buddy, I can inelegantly punch a hole in my own damn floor. I'm hiring a professional because I want this to look good.

Then he suggested installing the unit here, to the left of the fridge. So when you entered through our kitchen door (as most people do) it would be staring you in the face.


So I was like, "How about we install it BEHIND the refrigerator?" You know, where people can't see it?


Then I micromanaged him about how he was going to create the hole in my wall, since we have lathe and plaster. I encouraged him to use a Fein tool like Chris did when he made this perfect hole.


He got out two different stud sensors, made a bunch of pen marks on my wall, then told me he couldn't find my studs and it wouldn't be his fault if he had to open up the whole wall. So I pulled out my stud finder and figured out where they were. I told him, "Open the wall right here. If there's not a stud, it's my fault." And lo, there was a stud!

He did not do such a good job making a hole in my wall. In his defense, he's not a carpenter. Plumbers are notorious for doing whatever is easiest for them, even if it means driving holes through structural beams or creating safety or aesthetic issues. But I was still disappointed.


He got the line run and installed the recessed unit, then tried to hide the chunks taken out of the plaster with caulk.


I know, that's not in the skill set of a plumber but it still bothered me. As we were settling up the bill the pricing we'd agreed on two days prior changed from a flat fee to an hourly fee. He started rambling through the breakdown of the charges and I was like, "I don't care! Just tell me how much I owe you." Then he says, "So I need to know. Are you going to write me a negative review on Angie's List? Because you can see that I didn't charge you for when I had to run and buy that part."

This made me totally uncomfortable. It felt akin to your waitress dropping off your bill and asking, "So are you going to leave me a big or a small tip?" It's unprofessional.

I tried to avoid his question by asking a different question, then went back to filling out the check. He asked AGAIN, "So, are you going to write me a bad review on Angie's List?" and I said, "I don't know." I actually hate writing bad reviews. You never know if you got someone on an off day, or if you're being unreasonable with your requests. I wouldn't want to work for me--I'm super annoying. I wasn't planning on leaving a review at all until he started pressuring me.

I left a mediocre review explaining that everything works but nothing looks terribly good. I gave him a C on everything but punctuality and professionalism. I don't ever want to be the cause of someone losing their livelihood or their health insurance.

I submitted the review, started worrying that the plumber would come to my house with a gun, then discovered that our ice maker was not working, and then something went *pop* in my brain. Greg came home to take me to the airport, only to find me incredibly agitated about the whole situation. He told me he'd look at it this weekend, which was what I was hoping for.

Greg is as handy as the next guy (as long as that guy isn't Norm Abram) but he works long hours, sometimes 70 a week, which means while I play in the garden all weekend he's usually sitting in front of his computer. He doesn't enjoy home improvement or have the time for it. And yet!

He fixed it.


I got a text while at my niece's party from Greg with a picture of our ice bucket. I nearly wept. Apparently the electrical connection had come loose in the back, next to where the water line goes in.

Very long story short: plumbers stress me out, Angie's List is worthless, my boyfriend is the best, and as soon as I recover from stroking out on Friday, we're making Manhattans. Because our freezer makes ice now. I'm pretty sure this is what Obama meant by "winning the future."

Manhattan drinkers: have you tried Bulleit's rye whiskey yet? It makes a dangerously delicious Manhattan. I'm obsessed with it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Oh, happy day!

I took off to California this weekend to celebrate my sweet niece Tabitha's ninth birthday. It was bird themed.

My mom made a cake and cake pops. 

My brother created a jig for his power saw so all the kids at the party could (with help) cut the wood to put together a bird house, which they later painted. He and my dad helped the kids use the nail gun and everything. Don't worry, everything was totally safe.

Photo by Graham Bruce

The only kids who got scared by the nail gun were two little boys. The girls didn't even blink. Just saying.

Photo by Ami Bruce

They also made bird feeders and ate cake pops and at one point every kid in the joint started crying at the same time, they were so amped up on sugar and play. It was hilarious.

As I touched down in Portland I powered on my phone to find a voicemail from Scott saying that he was at Joy Creek Nursery and he had three Chionochloa rubra starts for me.

!!!!

ALL THE SWEAR WORDS! The good ones!

Scott then got a VERY excited and rambling call from me. I take Xanax to fly and I had a glass of wine on the plane, so my excitement was amplified by the fact that I was fairly hammered. And then Greg got a long and winding soliloquy in the car about the goodness of people. I feel like I need to issue a blanket apology to everyone I interacted with on Sunday.

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who searched their favorite nurseries online and in person for me, or who was willing to do it the next time they were there. You made this obsessed little gardener very happy. The garden-blogging community is the best. And brace yourself, Scott. I'm gonna hug you so hard!

Bad lines, bad code, bad blogger.

So the other weekend I decided to smother more lawn, resulting in this mess:


After work one day I decided to smooth out my lines by removing some of the surrounding sod, this time with my edger and pick axe. I decided to free hand it, instead of using a hose to guide me to a straight line or a smooth parabola. And it started POURING, so I looked like this.


And my jeans were soaked through and it was getting colder, so I didn't even get everything done.

Blind children could make better lines.

So it still looks stupid. But! I got my little Cistus 'Elma' in the ground and it's very well watered-in.


I ordered some Linaria reticulata 'Flamenco' after seeing it on Kaveh's blog. I love his blog so much.

Photo source: Annie's Annuals

If I put the Linaria here, this is what it will look like with what's already planted there. I need to check back in with Scott (who designed this whole scheme) so I don't get too off-course.


I'd love to incorporate (my new obsession) red tussock grass (Chionochloa rubra), blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracillis 'Blonde Ambition'), and a yellow echinacea cultivar or some sort, which would result in something like this.


I'm not great with color combinations, so I need to tread carefully. Is the Chionochloa going to be out of place? I think it might be out of place. If you're feeling opinionated, would you weigh in in the comments? 

And if you're having trouble commenting, would you shoot me a message? (heather [at] justagirlwithahammer.com) Loree has brought to my attention that she's getting blocked with Chrome and Internet Explorer but I can't reproduce it on my computer. I think I monkeyed with the Disqus code and made everything worse. How surprising.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Close but no Chionochloa

After trying to steal some red tussock grass (Chionochloa rubra) from Cistus a few weekends back, I've been feverishly trying to locate someone who carries it. I've been annoying every nursery in town and scouring the Internet for online carriers. No one has it.

Last weekend I had to head down to the Bay Area for a work meeting, so I flew in early and my parents and I went to Annie's Annuals.


We were cruising around and enjoying the sunshine when I spotted the biggest, most beautiful red tussock grass in a pot. It was so beautiful that I didn't even take a picture of it. I was too busy plotting to steal it.

I immediately went into super-annoying mode, asking every worker there, "Can I ask you a weird question? Can I take a plug of that grass?" One employee asked me if I'd brought a hand trowel and if I knew that was an option, I would have. I asked another employee, telling him, "I'll pay any amount of money for a tiny plug of that grass!" He was like, "Oh, I'll get it for you," and I went skipping over to my father, smug that being a pain in the ass was totally going to work!

That guy was a liar. Apparently his manager shut the idea down, explaining that the beautiful grass I was eyeing was their mother plant and they'd be using it to make more plants . . . in 2014. She said I could put it on my wishlist and I actually whined out loud to her that I wanted it noooooooowwwww.

The whole point of this is to say, if you see this grass in a nursery will you buy it? I will pay you twice over for the trouble and make you cookies. I was complaining to Greg that I want this grass so badly that I feel like I will perish if I don't get it. Then he was like, "Okay this is actually concerning me. Do you really feel that way?" and I flounced off shouting, "My gardener friends will understand!"

Do you understand? Am I teetering on the brink of insanity? Have you ever wanted a plant so badly you felt like you'd self-combust if you didn't get it?


I mean, come on, that's a beautiful grass.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Poof! Gone.

We are now stumpless. Randy from Chip Away came out on Wednesday and got rid of the mystery stump on the right and what I think is an English yew on the left. I can't recommend him enough if you need a stump removed.


Boom!


And the apple stump that kept suckering back to life?


He had to grind two feet down to get everything but he still managed to leave every single tulip in this area untouched.


That's no small feat considering he had to maneuver this huge piece of machinery through my narrow side yard.


He left me this chunk o' stump that I think is just begging to be planted up with ferns, yes?


And now I have two blank slates for planting!


This area lies in shade and it's right next to the hose, so I'm down with planting things that want moister soil. I know I want an abutilon, maybe 'Hot Lava'? What's your favorite shade plant? Who wants to go shopping?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Garden bloggers' bloom day March 2013

I've been ignoring the weather report lately, just assuming that it's going to rain. Then when the rain stops it's like a miracle. What's going on out there? Why is so bright and warm looking? Oh my gosh, it's the sun!

Crocus vernus 'Remembrance' and C. chrysanthus 'Romance'

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'

Euphorbia 'Blackbird'

Pieris japonica

The other day I was weeding my funny little wheelbarrow planter and, like an idiot, I pricked myself in the finger with one of the agaves, leaving a spike deeply embedded in my index finger. I was so preoccupied with my finger that I didn't even notice that my Pieris was now gift-wrapped. Once I finally noticed that it was blooming I started laughing and laughing. How can you miss that?

Be sure to head over to May Dreams Gardens to see the full show. Thanks, Carol!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The plants now control me and my weekends

It all started so innocently with a plan for a daphne purchase. I'd read on Growing Steady about Sean Hogan's plant talk at the Yard, Garden and Patio show, where he mentioned a daphne that flowers for 12 months.

Oh my god, I could smell daphne all year long! That's my version of the American dream.

So two weekends ago I headed out to Cistus where I picked up the most beautiful plant in the world and two Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata Alba'. The only problem is that the daphne Sean mentioned was Daphne x transatlantica 'Everblooming Alba'. So I called up Cistus last week and asked if they had the everblooming version. They told me they were still quite tiny and not yet out on the tables but they would pull a couple for me to buy. So I headed back to Cistus this weekend and picked them up. While I was there I stumbled on a couple of groups of grasses that weren't yet labeled and didn't have prices on them. I knew they probably weren't for general sale but I grabbed some anyway. When I got to the counter the guy was like, "Yeah, those are for a landscaping job and you can't have them."

They were Chionochloa rubra (New Zealand tussock grass) and Carex dipsacea (Autumn sedge) and I want them so badly it hurts.

Look how beautiful!

New Zealand tussock grass. Image source.

I also eyed a chartreuse bear's breeches (Acanthus Mollis 'Hollard's Gold') but decided to wait on buying it. But! I finally had the everblooming daphne in my hot little hands, and you know what? It doesn't smell like daphne. It smells very good but it's closer to honeysuckle. I'm glad I have it and I'm glad I have two standard daphnes to get my fix in the spring.

I'd been planning to put the daphne to the left of the front door, in a planting bed I'd build sometime this spring. When I moved in there was a rhododendron here with a bunch of buried bricks marking a curve around it.


The weather was really nice on Saturday so I thought I'd start clearing the sod and bricks from this area. The soil level was all over the place and graded toward the house, so I had to fix that.


Then on Sunday I headed down to Oregon Decorative Rock and picked up some edging stones like I used in the agave berm and some quarter-ten crushed basalt. I started leveling everything and laying the stones down . . . and then I got tired and hungry and decided to go plant shopping instead.

This is a tricky spot because very close to the house is almost always in the shade and it gets partial coverage from the eaves, so toward the house is drier. As you get to the outside of bed it gets sunnier and wetter, though it's still in shade for the hottest part of the day.

I ran down to Portland Nursery and picked up a Mahonia x media 'Charity' and three Carex dipsacea. Suck it, Cistus. I got my autumn sedges!


BUT. I had decided that I needed some Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold' here. It tolerates drier conditions than the straight species and it would brighten this dark area up. Portland Nursery didn't have any 'Hollard's Gold' so I went back to Cistus (40 miles round trip). For the third time in two weeks. Global warming? MY FAULT. I'm so sorry.

I planted three because I'm impatient. Anyone who grows Acanthus mollis is tsking right now because they get big and they tend to spread and three is so unnecessary. At some point during the planting of this bed I pulled a muscle in my back, so now I'm miserable and my bed will be buried alive by bear's breeches.

And the daphne? It's so little you can barely see it. The mature size is 5x5 but it may get eaten alive by Acanthus mollis before then. I also tucked in the new hebe I bought at Joy Creek.


I still need to get more rock and finish the base layer, add a second layer, then top everything off with gravel. I also want to reposition the bear's breeches a bit. I was trying to keep them in the shade band, hence them all being squished together. I've since read in a few places that Hollard's Gold can take quite a bit of sun, so I'm not as worried about them getting scorched now.


Then I need to remove more sod because the area adjacent to this bed will be the new pathway to the backyard. But first I need to rest up my back a bit (it's getting better!). Send Advil. And go ahead and chastise me for planting so many bear's breeches. I can take it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What was I thinking?

Before

My front yard looks so DUMB right now.

After

I'm trying to slowly smother the lawn under my dogwood, in increasing small sections, hoping not to stress out a very old tree. I'd probably be better off using a deep layer of wood chips but I thought that would look weird. So instead I used two smallish cardboard boxes and some yard debris bags to go underneath a layer of compost in this strange pattern. Doesn't that look so much better than a layer of wood chips?

I don't know what I was thinking. I wish I could use a sod cutter but the dogwood roots are just too shallow for it.


That strange half-circle of compost is where a previous owner had put down a circle of bricks to better show off the sewer cleanout that sits in the middle of our lawn. It was planted with daffodils. We removed the bricks and I kept rolling my ankle so I filled it with compost.

In this newly smothered area (from here on out know as "the meadow") I'd like to plant a huge swath of Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition', a grass that I saw at Wind Dancer and I'm still kicking myself for not purchasing.

Image source: High Country Gardens

The good news is that High Country Gardens was purchased by American Meadows so their wonderful stock is still available to us in the event that I can't find this grass locally.

Also in this area (somewhere  . . . ) I'm going to put this baby.


This is a Cistus 'Elma', one of the plants Maurice talked about at the Yard Garden and Patio show. It's evergreen with beautiful red stems and sticky leaves that emit a wonderful fragrance when the sun warms them. So even when it's not covered in beautiful white flowers it still smells good.

Image source: Joy Creek Nursery

It's also drought tolerant and incredibly hardy. And it was $8.50. I'm so excited about this guy.

The bigger picture for this area includes continuing this pathway that goes behind the agave berm . . .


. . . through the meadow, where it will spread out to accommodate a bench or a large boulder or some sort of sitting device under the tree. And the path will continue to the backyard, so you can theoretically do one large loop through both the front and back yards.


The meadow will be expanded with more grasses and drought-tolerant perennials. I want to build up a small hedgerow to the right of the dogwood tree to create a little privacy for the seating area. By the house smaller shrubs and perennials will go in. Behold, my MS Paint skills!


So I have a plan but my neighbors probably can't tell. My hope is that everyone is so distracted by my neighbor's strange burial mounds that they don't even notice my crappy smothering attempts.

I don't know why.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bursting with failure

When I moved into my house all the doors had padlocks on them, which was . . . disconcerting. Padlocks on the bedroom doors and a padlock on the door leading to the basement were the creepiest. And all of the doors has long scratches covering them.

If you know me at all you can guess that my mind went to absolutely terrible places with this. Some half-goblin/half-human monster was locked in the basement . . . her goblin mother would scratch at the door, trying to get in . . . This is why I don't watch American Horror Story anymore.

So I looked online for some reasonable explanation and found documentation that the fire department requires banks to padlock all the doors in foreclosed homes. That's the story we're going to go with, for my sanity.

The scratches on the doors weren't so noticeable until I painted the doors glossy black. My theory is that a previous owner had a dog that would scratch at the doors, causing these marks. That seems more likely than a human scratching, right?

Right?


When I painted the bathroom door I took the time to fill the gouges with wood filler and sand everything smooth. It looks great! The weekend before our dinner party I decided that I should re-paint this door (which leads to the basement), as well as the rest of the bedroom and hallway closet doors. Greg had just bought a new tube of wood filler but it wasn't the soft stuff I'd used before. It was seemingly made of concrete. But I didn't know this, so I overfilled all my gouges so I could sand it down level after.



And then I started sanding. And sanding. And sanding. And ALL OF THE SWEAR WORDS. Sanding.

I spent an entire Sunday trying to sand these down, working with the vacuum and the air purifier and still there was dust everywhere. And you know what? My door now looks like this.

With the contrast upped. It's very obvious in real life.

Like someone flung blood all over the door and we painted over it (I might be watching too much Walking Dead?). So the plan is to take it get dipped-and-stripped and to start over. With the nice soft wood filler and an electric sander. Outside.