Monday, May 30, 2016

And More TransPlants

I've put quite a few more plants into the ground out here since the last post, but first a little update about some of the previous ones. The confederate jasmine fully bloomed a few weeks after I planted it:

I've never seen six-petal flowers on one of these before (typically it's five), but this one has several. Is this the jasmine equivalent of four-leaf clovers?

I mentioned in the last post that the first place I smelled a confederate jasmine was in the Italian countryside. Shoving my face into the open blooms of this new plant in my yard sent me back to Tuscany almost instantaneously. The place, the food, the people, the entire ambience of that time in my life flooded back to me with one smell. This is a way to travel faster than the speed of light. And through time. The drawback is that I travelled back home mere seconds later, and almost as fast.

It took a few weeks, but this vine finally latched onto a tree branch I had pointed it towards. I tugged gently on this twining thinking it might be easy to pull off, but it wasn't; it's already formed a strangle hold around that limb.

The raspberry bush has a few green raspberries on it; I'd say too few. It may be struggling for lack of sun.

I'm not sure I've ever seen baby figs, but I'm guessing that's what these little buds are:

Now for the new plants. I already planted one blueberry bush, but at a local herb farm I saw two different varieties that I decided to get. One is called O'Neal and is supposed to have especially large berries:

The other is called Legacy and is supposed to have especially sweet berries:

A few of the O'Neal berries ripened already, but the next day when I went out to pick them they were gone. I think cardinals ate them. I've caught cardinals loitering suspiciously near my berries on a few occasions.

Also from the herb farm I picked up another mediterranean native, a pomegranate. Group it with the fig for plants in my yard wondering WTF they are doing under a forest canopy in a temperate region of the western hemisphere. I'll tell you why - because I read about you in the Bible and have to have you; Jesus cursed one of your ancestors and now I have its distant progeny in my yard! For the past few weeks at least it has humored me and stayed alive.

Oddly the name of this particular variety of pomegranate is "Russian," though I have no idea why; it is, like the others, native to the mediterranean. It produces fruit, but not as large as that found at most grocery stores (which I think comes from the "Wonderful" variety). 

Since the pomegranate has so far survived, I decided to go even further and try an olive tree. I had never even considered planting an olive tree here until I happened by a few at a local nursery and couldn't resist. At this point it has also survived for a few weeks and appears to be doing okay.

Perhaps being able to commiserate in displacement misery with its biblical neighbors is upping morale. Plant-group therapy.

Did I say fig? Now it's figS. When I bought the brown turkey fig, it was only because they didn't have a black mission. I prefer the taste of black missions. During my most recent plant shopping spree I found a black mission and so had to get it. It was the only one they had and wasn't quite as full and healthy looking as I would like, but it's also doing okay so far.

I wonder when fruit is supposed to mature on this one. The brown turkey figs are already coming in, but this black mission doesn't even have buds.

On that last shopping trip I brought home five other plants, and one was a tree that can grow 75 feet high. But more on that one in a moment. Two of the plants were azaleas - the other two varieties of giants that I didn't have yet (the first was a Formosa, with magenta blooms; the second was a Mrs. G. G. Garbing, with white blooms). One is called - serendipitously enough - Judge Solomon, and will have pink blossoms:

How nice to plant "Judge Solomon" - the builder of the first and greatest God-designed temple in history - in the courtyard of the Church House! Well, on second thought...  Don't judge my architecture too harshly, Solomon. Don't look too close.

The other is called George Tabor and will have blossoms that are both pink and white:

So now, finally, after the first azalea was planted three years ago, the four corners of the courtyard are complete.

The three-year old azalea (upper right) looks a bit thin and puny even next to these infants. If it doesn't shape up I may have to replace it.

Two other plants I got that day are vines, with the intention of growing them over and eventually concealing a chain-link, barbed wire fence along my rear property line. It's an empty lot currently, but from old aerial photos it looks like it used to be a junk yard. Hence the security. So the fence isn't mine, but I don't imagine the owner will mind much if I grow a couple of gorgeous vines over a portion of it. Of course one is a jasmine. I may end up buying one of these every month if I'm not stopped.

And the other is the latest biblically-themed planting - a grape vine.

It's a champanel variety, which I've read is similar to concord. Makes good jam and juice. But I'll probably just eat them straight. I'll let my fenced neighbor know he or she can pluck a bunch on occasion too, seeing as how they unwittingly provided the trellis.

I saved perhaps my favorite planting so far for last. This is the future 75-foot tree - a sugar maple:

It's about my height right now. 69 feet to go! Like a lot of the other relatively rare plants I've picked up, I found this variety of maple at only one store. Lots of places had red maples and october glory maples and various others, but never sugars. Of course any of them would have dramatic fall foliage, and I'm eager to see how this looks five months from now, especially among its evergreen neighbors. But mostly I think I was attracted to this variety because I am a maple syrup addict. So in about 50 years I'll be able to tap this baby and make my own syrup! Can't wait.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


No, this title does not refer to plants that would not be allowed to use their preferred restroom in North Carolina. These are plants that I moved from various other locations to the landscape around my house. Actually in two cases I just moved plants already growing here to a different location on the lot. One died within a few days, and the other seems to still be thriving after a week. I'm not even certain what they are, but a friend said they look like dogwoods. This is one of the few species of small trees I've been considering planting. Both were growing within a few feet of a rear wall of the house. The first I tried to simply pull out of the ground with the roots intact and place in a new hole. The roots came out mostly okay, but after a few days of going back and forth between looking sick and well, it ultimately died. For the other I decided to be more careful and dig the whole root ball out with a shovel and place it in a new hole. For both I applied copious amounts of an organic fertilizer I didn't know could be bought at your local garden store - 100% worm shit. Here's the survivor in its new home at the front of the house, beside the driveway:

Another risky planting I decided on pretty much by impulse as I entered Whole Foods a few weeks ago is a fig tree. I knew this species prefers lots of sun, which is not available on my wooded lot. But I like eating figs, and I like the ancient and biblical history of this plant even more, so I thought I'd give it a shot. The worst that could happen is that it would die and my 20 bucks would have only bought a good learning experience. After two weeks it still seems to be doing fine:

I impulse-bought two other plants at Whole Foods the same day (my grocery cart looked like I was hauling around a rainforest) - a raspberry plant:

and a blueberry plant, which already has young blueberries on it:

I'll probably have to wake up earlier than the birds to harvest any of these berries, or figs, for myself. But I don't mind sharing. There is a blueberry plant that was growing wild in these woods before I even built the house, and since last year several blackberry plants have sprouted up on their own. So I think these berries may do okay. The wild blueberry has been thriving and very productive in its mostly shady environment. I'm concerned about the raspberry though, since the instructions specifically say (as with the fig) to locate it in full sun. I located it in a place that gets more sun than most on this lot, but it's still pretty limited.

I like the idea of an "edible landscape" - not creating a defined vegetable garden, but developing the landscaping with plants that just happen to produce food.

Having said that though, the other trans-plants I put in will not produce anything I can eat. One is a second azalea for the courtyard:

My landscape plan for the courtyard calls for a giant azalea in each of the four corners, each with different colored flowers. So this is the second of the four, placed diagonally from the first, which has magenta flowers. The new one's blooms will be white.

I placed two other new plants behind the house, because they will eventually be full-grown trees, and there isn't really room for more full-grown trees in the front. These are "seedling" Japanese maples, not really even large enough to be called saplings - one green leaf:

And one red leaf:

My interest in these maples is partly that they thrive in shade, but mostly that their leaves provide lots of color, especially in the fall. Currently there are very few trees here that provide fall color. The green leaf maple should turn bright yellow, and the red leaf of course will be red all year round, but I was told they turn bright red in fall.

I saved my favorite planting for last - a confederate jasmine vine:

This already has a few flowers starting to open, which is surprising because the other confederate jasmine vines I've known have bloomed in summer, June or July.

I first experienced one of these in the Italian countryside on a study-abroad trip as an architecture student. There was one growing up the entry stair of the place our class lived for two months of the trip:

The fragrance of the flowers was what struck me most; it's very aromatic, distinctive and sweet. I planted the one at my house at the base of a large tree so it can climb the branches. If I go missing and eventually turn up in Tuscany, it may be because of catching the aroma of these flowers one too many times.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Azalea 2016

In the last post, from last year, I wrote about how the azalea I planted in my courtyard inexplicably produced zero blooms that spring. This year I'm glad to report that it did bloom - though minimally. There were about eight to ten flowers on the whole plant, rather unevenly distributed, and for some reason they all hung towards the ground. Is this a "weeping azalea?"

All I can think of that may have caused the lack of blooms last year is fertilization. The spring after I applied fertilizer is when there were no blooms. The fertilizer was specifically for azaleas, and organic; but perhaps it caused an adverse reaction anyway. Thinking this might be the case, I didn't fertilize after last spring. Maybe the restricted blooming this year is indication that the fertilizer was a problem, and recovery is in process.

And again I'm fascinated by how accurate a symbol this azalea seems to be for my extracurricular creative production over the past year: pretty, but sad and few.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Anti-Miracle

This is a photo of my azalea, the first and only planting at this house so far. Looks normal and healthy, no? Indeed - until you learn that I took this photo on a day this spring when every other azalea in the neighborhood, the region, and I presume this latitude across the earth, was in full bloom. So I thought of this as an "anti-miracle" - an event directly contrary to the natural order that is unwanted instead of wanted. Producing flowers in the spring is in the azalea's DNA, and it's clearly in THIS azalea's DNA, because here's what it looked like at this time last year, which was the first spring after I planted it:

Prior to this bloom last year, I said at the end of a post, "I hope for magenta." I got it in spades.

(The above shot, by the way, is my phone beating the pants off my actual camera at taking close-ups.)

So what happened this year? It obviously knows how to bloom. And it has grown quite a bit in overall size over the past year. Even this spring I noticed that new leaves had formed all over it. But I've looked in vain for a single flower bud. Stress, some have said, can cause plants to skip a blooming season. But I don't see that my azalea would have undergone any stress that the flower-saturated azaleas in my neighbor's yard right across the street didn't go through.

As I was considering this one day on the way home the thought suddenly occurred to me that maybe God performed this anti-miracle to be a symbol of my own lack of creative production over the last year. It wouldn't be the first time God used a shrub to get the attention of a reluctant follower. Indeed I have experienced even more internal resistance to working on this house and blog over the last 12 months than before. Case in point: my last post here was last March, over a year ago - incidentally (?) just before the azalea bloomed for the first (and so far last) time. Unfortunately this is representative of my extra-curricular creative activity in general.

Part of this is due to the chronic nausea that hasn't changed since I described it here. For some reason, there are only two sorts of things I can do during an episode of nausea - sit down and stare at the TV, or anything that involves standing up and working physically with my hands (washing dishes, cleaning the house, cooking food, etc.). The absolute last thing I can do is sit down and concentrate mentally on creative work like writing or designing. So while I haven't accomplished much in the way of projects for this house or blog, I've marked lots of movies off my "must see" list, my floors are very clean, and I've baked lots of tasty pies! But those aren't marks of success for someone who feels called primarily to produce art and architecture. Ironically I've been very unproductive at doing precisely the work I feel most called to do. Design is in my blood as sure as flowers are in the sap of azaleas. And yet we have produced everything but our most prized fruit.

As I also noted in the post linked above, there are significant periods of time during each week when I don't feel too sick to sit and work. In those times (and when not at my day job) I have most often chosen to do something - anything - other than design. This is what I feel guilty for. I don't feel guilt for not working when I'm nauseous, since I don't think (yet) that I'm at fault for the nausea. But every moment of every day when I'm not nauseous or not at work is an opportunity to choose to do something creative, and I haven't.

Maybe my lack of motivation and will (and inspiration, on top of it all) is from God and he means it to force me to rest awhile before starting the next frenzied few years of creative activity. Or maybe that's just what I tell myself so I can escape responsibility. Honestly, I don't know. Nor do I know if my bloom-less azalea is a critical wake-up call from God or just a statement of fact. Or just a meaningless freak of nature.

But here's a post. I can still create something of my own. And the azalea is still alive in the courtyard. Maybe next year.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Medicine Cabinet

Motivated chiefly by the desire to get all my toiletries off the sink, I decided to build a cabinet. So I pulled out a bunch of scrap wood I had stored in a closet, including a box of flooring samples salvaged from the last architecture firm I worked for. I glued the samples together to make the door, and used some scraps from an earlier shelf project to make the box. Here's the door, in the process of drying:

I originally planned to cut the uneven ends to make them straight. But then it occurred to me that, a) there was really no functional reason to do this, b) I would love to not cut wood again, and c) leaving the samples as they are would even better reveal the fact that they are flooring samples. Truth to the samples, I say!

And here's the box:

The vertical supports are mahogany and the shelves are birch. In concert with the house design, the cabinet is all natural - no paint or stain. All the colors of the finished product are natural to the species of wood. The shifted form came about fairly naturally as well - from the short lengths of wood I had, and a strategy for screwing everything together. Shifting each shelf a few inches away from the next allowed room for the screwdriver and my hand to attach each shelf flush to the supports.

After adding a couple of mahogany pieces along the back for wall attachment, and hinges for the door, a friend helped me hang it up:

Look closer now...

...and you can see writing on the back of the door. This is from the wood flooring company that provides the samples; they write the name of the wood species on the back of each piece.

I decided not to erase these - more "truth to the samples." Also this means it's not just a medicine cabinet; it's a tool to choose the wood I want to use for the next project! Feel free to stop by and pick out a wood flooring for your house. Just be warned: prices are not listed (and I'm sure some of these individual samples are worth 10 bucks).

The part of this project that took the longest was not sawing or measuring or gluing, but getting the arrangement of wood samples for the door just right. I laid them out on the table in one arrangement one day, and the next day rearranged them entirely, and the next day rearranged them again. I was going for a visual balance among the various colors. There were also a couple of different widths I had to figure out how to deal with. I ended up putting one 6-inch strip about a third of the way across the door; the rest are 4-inch. The stepping or shifting pattern of each line of samples was intentional as well; each row shifts about a third of a sample length past the next (approximating the "divine proportion" - of COURSE I use that as much as possible).

Here it is all loaded up:

Now to get a vanity cabinet put in under the sink, so I can move this stuff into that and use this one for actual medicine.