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we did it: making a garden trellis from old knob-and-tube wiring

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marytrellis3There’s nothing I love more than gardening, but our narrow side yard was pretty challenging. Houses in our 1940s development are just a few feet apart, so while a six-foot fence gave us much needed privacy, I was stumped on how to put it to use without going broke buying trellises. Then I saw this video by Organic123 and knew that concrete reinforcing mesh (remesh) was the affordable answer! We picked up several 42”x84” panels at Home Depot for $7.20 apiece.

The next challenge was how to attach the remesh to the fence, since vines need a little space to grow up through the trellis. Fence posts work great as a natural spacer, but we were working with the flat side of the fence. But then my husband had a stroke of genius at one of our local architectural salvage places: use ceramic insulators that were once part of outdated knob-and-tube wiring. Not only did he find a whole bucket of them, the two-piece insulators were practically ready made, since they were originally designed to hold electrical wire. We used a sawzall to cut through the old bolts that held the two pieces together, used new screws to attach the insulators at even intervals to our fence, fit the remesh down between the two pieces, then tightened the screws into place.

The resulting trellis has a great, industrial chic look that the ceramic makes a little more finished. It immediately transformed the most neglected part of our yard into one of my favorite spots. And not only do we love it, but our scarlet runner beans, Virginia creeper and raspberry vines do, too.

Turns out remesh is great for all kinds of garden projects. Here are just a few: chicken coops and fences, a freestanding trellis using rebar, wire towers for tomato plants, and my favorite (maybe I’ll try this next), a charming trellis tunnel.

gnome eating garden monster: cute, but will it keep away the squirrels?

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One of the nice things about being a parent with kitschy tastes: You can blame your kids for anything overtly silly you display in your home. At least, that is the line we would use after putting rampaging Kaiju garden gnome in our front yard. Cast of polyresin, this fierce creature is having a feast with the unfortunate garden gnomes left in his path. We love the giggles he inspires, but will he help with our squirrel problem at all? If only he really roared. $25 at thinkgeek.com.

More Shelterrific gnome goodies can be found here.

a home owner’s tough decision: taking down an old oak tree

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In the four year’s since we’ve been living in the suburbs of New Jersey, we’ve seen the damage falling trees can do. During Super Storm Sandy, one neighbor’s house was whalloped by two trees, one on each side. Neither of them were theirs, but that didn’t make the holes they created any less big. We’ve seen mere limbs fall and smash cars, decks and playgrounds. Just the other afternoon, after a few rainy days in a row, we heard a crackling in the distance followed by a thud. Turns out a tree fell in a backyard a few houses down, hitting a playground that was occupied by children less than a half an hour earlier.

All this destruction has had made us look at the large oak tree in the corner of our front yard in a whole new way. Actually, we learned after consulting several arborists, that it was two trees competing for the same place. One went straight up, the other leaned precariously towards the corner of our house — the corner of the house that happens to house our daughter’s room. But the tree was by no means dead. In fact, it was teaming with life. Acorns littered our yard, delighting the generations of squirrels that called it home. In the summer, it kept the front yard shaded, allowing for hours of sidewalk drawing with little fear of sunburn. The leaves would hang on tight until late October or even November, before falling like a blanket overnight. For the past four years, we have spent hundreds each summer pruning branches and attempting to strengthen the two trees by tying them together with metal chords. Every storm that came through town caused a smattering of limbs to tumble down. One large one was caught on a powerline above and had to be removed by truck. But so far, nothing terrible had happened.

As I mentioned, we called in several arborists. Each gave an extremely vague assessment of the trees and their life span potential. The space they were in is too small for their competing roots. If one fell down it would take the other one with it. But it could be fine. No one was willing to lay their reputation on the line and say not to worry. So… we worried.

Last summer, after the tree specialists said they couldn’t say that the tree was safe, we applied for a town permit to have it removed. They turned us down and I was secretly relieved. Someone else had made a decision for us! We can’t cut it down. This spring rolled around and my diligent husband reapplied for the permit, just to see what would happen. Perhaps the town is worried about the upcoming storm season, or the unusually wet spring we had — because to our surprise they approved the removal. I was hoping we could wait to the end of summer to decide what to do, but it turns out that the tree removal business is booming. Our preferred local vendor told us he was booked through July and August but had a window to do the job if we did it soon. Was he giving us a line? Perhaps, but we went for it. (Note – cutting down a large tree is expensive! Ours cost thousands of dollars and we went with the lowest quote.)

Last week, the tree came down. We set up a web cam so I could watch from my office in New York City. It took two days due to rain, which seemed like cruel torture. I came home one night and the tree was still there, but stripped down of all its mighty branches. The remaining trunks came down fast the next morning. I cried as I watched. We managed to save two stumps that I hope we can dry out and turn into side tables. I was hoping for more, but having the removal company’s price would have been much higher if we needed them to cut us firewood as well. They take the tree and resell its mulch and wood, and that factor is worked into the quote they give you.

The day after our tree was removed, a wild storm hit our area. As usual, I stood listening after each loud clap of lightening, wondering what damage it may have caused. I definitely enjoyed the relief of knowing that at least our house and our family was safe from immediate tree-falling damage.

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Now, in the place of our tree, we have a huge pile of mulch. We spread as much as we could around our yard, and neighbors have been coming by wheelbarrows to help themselves as well. A landscaper will come soon to smooth out the area, reseed it with grass, and give us ideas about what to plant next. I cannot wait to plant another tree! I know until we do there will be a hole in our yard, in more ways than one. What kind of tree will we plant? The jury’s out. If you have suggestions and recommendations, please send them my way.

want it now: fatboy’s heademock hammock

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We can hardly wait until the weather is warm enough to start occupying our outdoor spaces. Our deck and front porch look so lonesome through the winter — especially this year. One addition we may have to make to our porch furniture this year: A hammock for dreaming. This one from Fatboy is not only cozy, but it’s easy to clean and is extra cushy. And, it’s on sale! $386 at AllModern. Sweet dreams of made of this.

Headdemock Hammock in Turquoise

squirrels: if you can’t beat them… feed them in a mini-retro chair

If you’re like us you’ve realized that just about the only wildlife that you can attract around your home are pesky squirrels. They dig in our flower gardens, eat our jack-o-laterns, and even break into our homes. Perhaps it’s time we just threw up our arms and said, okay, you win, make yourselves at home. One adorable way to do that is by hanging this mini retro lawn chair to your favorite tree and offering them a nob of squirrel-approved sweet corn. Would this lead to peace and harmony for the pumpkins on the porch? Something tells me no, but at least you’d get a laugh or two out of it. Mini-retro chair, $20 at Plow & Hearth.