We get terrific light through the big south-facing windows in the kitchen, and the house has blessedly high ceilings (which were being negated by the paint job going only up to the dark picture rail), so it just needed to be brightened up and unified. We decided to paint all the walls white and the trim throughout a luscious ivory that looks like fresh cream, doing one room at a time and only moving furniture and belongings into any given room after it had been painted.
The photos I'm including here are of the bay window in the living room. This room was a dirty tan color sponge-painted over wallpaper that was coming off the walls, so it had to be stripped first. The top photo was taken after the wallpaper was removed; the bottom after it was all painted. So this is representative of what the whole house now looks like.
Well, all but the kitchen. The kitchen was the only room that was white when we got here. It's an addition (dating probably to the early '40s and updated in the '80s) and the plain, narrow trim in there doesn't match that of the original house. So not only was the room white, but so was its already mismatched trim. In other words, it screamed "addition!" But by the time we got the rest of the house painted, we were sick of painting and it was time to go out and start weeding. So it has remained in its inherited state -- until today.
It's very slow at Bob's office this week so he took today and tomorrow off and spent today tackling the kitchen, at long last. The impetus was that a week ago we got to go to Lodi and pick up the shelf our awesome friend Don built for the empty corner of the space, which will hold all of the things currently still in boxes! So as soon as we're done painting the kitchen, the shelf can be installed and those final boxes can be unpacked. Pictures when it's done.
When Bob first began clearing the side yards, back in March, he found the most wonderful garden spirit buried -- literally -- at the base of the raggedy pine tree near the back corner of the house. (He was removing the evil ivy that was climbing that tree at the time.) No part of it was visible, and it was under enough dirt that I'm certain the previous owners never knew it was there, and maybe not the ones before them either. Anyway, he dug it up and wedged it in one of the folds in the trunk of the elm tree. Yesterday morning I found it face down in the dirt, having fallen from its perch.
So Bob had a better idea. He reworked one side of the big rock bed circling the elm, and now the rock man is an integral part of the bed. It looks wonderful. Bob's a genius.
On the subject of garden spirits: There's also a gargoyle in the elm. It's been there long enough that the trunk now has a death grip on it.
Between arriving home from work last night and sitting down to eat his dinner, Bob had a surprising burst of energy, which he used to build a screen for the funny little window over the bathroom sink. It's a strange treat, this window, and everyone who visits automatically reaches to open it. Now we can actually leave it that way!
Today's assignment was to build and dirt-fill the vegetable beds and we did it but in the middle of that particular batch of hard labor, the mailman dropped off a big, mysterious box. We stopped to cut it open, far enough to discover that it was a gift of succulents from our endlessly generous friend Kat. Much as we wanted to see what each roll of brown paper contained, we agreed to leave it as a prize for finishing up the task at hand. As happy as we are with our shiny new vegetable beds, they paled in comparison to the treasures in that box.
Two aeonomium plants, which Bob is a particular fan of, and an aloe. My agave collection is being rapidly gained upon by the aloes, my latest fixation, but also in the box were three absolutely exquisite agaves, giving the agave team yet another leg up. The biggest of these plants (seen in the lower left photo, above, and at left in the top photo) is an agave, probably 2.5 feet from crown to tip, marked simply "americana," and while I don't know it's particular name, it's one even Bob knew I've been coveting I have been only moments away from snagging the one at a nearby tree nursery. It has magenta spines! There's also a parryi, one of the very best agaves (upper right in the top photo). I have a parryi in my collection but it's tiny and a very slow grower (in addition to not being very big at maturity, I don't think), so I'm thrilled to have this relatively large one. And then there's the beauty marked Agave attentuata 'red margin' (lower right pic, and top center of big pic) an agave I've never even heard of. The photos don't begin to do it justice. Attenuata, as many of you know, is among my very favorite plants on the planet. (I currently have four of them.) Attenuata is spineless and I don't mean that as an insult whereas this 'red margin' gem has terminal spines along with the red. And it's more artichoke-y in form than the basic attenuata. It is stunning.
A serious treasure trove, this box.
OK, a glimpse of the indoors. There is only one bathroom is this little house of ours and it needed the kind of work that would involve removing the toilet, so it could only be done in the brief window between when we took possession of the house and when we had to be able to live here — making it job number one. So it's also the first of the interior spaces to get a photo album, over there on the right.
(I wish the photos were better but the light is challenging and our camera is worthless. Perhaps someday I'll be able to update with better images.)
It comes as something of a surprise to me, but the most urgent part of the garden, for me, is the potager. The past few years, I've planted both summer and winter crops (with the exception of one winter in Napa) and it pained me to pass this last winter with no homegrown sugar snap peas, and no idea when I'd be able to plant vegetables again. But as of today there are vegetables in dirt and I am greatly relieved. I've started a photo album documenting the development of what I hope will be a fabulous little kitchen garden. It's got a ways to go, but click the link over in the right-hand side to watch it progress.
The first thing we did when we set foot outdoors was clean up the front yard, taking it from views like this to more like this, and removing a half-barrel, a toilet and two cattle troughs along the way, all of which were being used as planters in the tiny space. (We haven't done much of anything with the front since cleaning it up—we'll be coming back to it this fall, lower backs willing.) We did love the troughs, though, so we relocated them outside the back gate, in the alley, where they greet us as we come and go from the house and, we hope, amuse the city workers across the alley. Because of its location, we've taken to calling it the secret cactus garden. We're inordinately enamored of it, perhaps because it was the first mark we made on the exterior.
The morning glory was one of the things I fell in love with when we came to see the house (the other being the angel's trumpet outside the bedroom window). I'm a sucker for a morning glory.
(Please excuse the pile of concrete remnants—the result of demolition in our little parking bay. It's gone now.)
This lovely prune tree (Prunus domestica 'Sugar,' as it happens) is a good emblem of what's going on in our backyard. Had you visited the garden as we bought it, you never would have seen this tree. Like everything else, it was lost in a roiling sea of plants. In this case, it was growing up through the middle of an elm sucker that was approximately the size of the neighbor's garage (which is the structure you see here, behind the tree). In addition to the engulfing elm, it was surrounded my numerous additional fruit tree saplings, none with enough room to grow, some without enough sunlight. And at its feet was an incredible tangle of groundcovers and weeds, growing up through a crazy mosaic of rocks and brick remnants and so on. What we've been doing back there for a couple of months now is clearing it all away, saving only those few trees (and a plant or two) that are worth saving, ensuring that they're well-placed and can get what they need to thrive.
We've sent five trees to Kent and RJ's new house and taken four truckloads to the yardwaste dropoff, in addition to hauling hundreds of bricks, river rocks, large stones, and pavers in a variety of sizes and shapes—the result of which is what looks like our own little landscaping supply, under the deck and alongside Bob's studio.
I'll try not to bore you with too many 'before' pictures or the whole exhausting (thrilling) process, apart from what I've just said, but at this point the canvas is blank and under preparation for what is to come.
I had the best of intentions back in November when I started this blog — the intent to provide imagery (and a small amount of narrative, if I can control myself) for those farflung friends and family curious about all the work we're doing on this old house we bought last August. Unfortunately, we spend every spare minute doing all kinds of hard work on this old house we bought last August, which hasn't left me much time or energy for populating the blog. But my determination is renewed.
I know it'd be nice if I started with all the interior work, which is what we were focused on from the minute we took possession until sometime late this spring, but since then our attention has turned outward — we've begun the extensive and laborious reclamation of the yard — so that's where I'm bound to begin. I promise to add thoughts and pics on the interior soon. Suffice to say: We've painted everything white.
Now, about this garden ...