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There is that moment with a single picture on instagram, where suddenly you must go find the account of the person who posted.  As it loads, you hope that every other picture is as good at that first one that caught your eye.  And the joy, when you’ve stumbled on a real treasure.

The boxwood and the muhlenbeckia (two of of my favorites) were dancing with he wispy grass (not sure the var) and the purple drumsticks (again, I’d love to to know the actual plant name) and with fingers crossed, I hoped to find more.

Jardin Sur La Seine’s instagram is an homage to contemporary garden design and specifically one inspiring urban garden in Paris.  Follow it to enjoy a chic garden of grasses, floppy white hydrangeas, layers of green, sleek decking, and gravel paths that melt into soft planting.

I can’t help but marvel at the discipline it takes to maintain an almost all white garden.  The restraint required feels akin to walking down the Rue du Bac, and going home with only a simple croissant (but the best croissant you’ve ever laid lips on).  The French are just so good at that type thing!

One to Follow : @jardinsurlaseine

All images by @jardinsulaseine.

p.s. In addition to the purple alliums, I am not sure of the queen annes lace-like white flowers that are trailing down the left side of the image with the red chairs.  If you know what they are I’d love to hear your ideas.

The post Inspired by jardinsurlaseine’s garden of textures in Paris appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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I am so happy to play around with design in a way that I haven’t in a long long time. Years ago, I had a regular feature here that was really just a good excuse for me to play with combining garden products, plants and ideas.

Inspired by fashion illustration, I pulled together garden design ideas and elements that captured the spirit of the woman in the drawing. (You can see some of the old ones here)

I miss this creative exercise and I recently realized that many of you do too. Aside from my old practice of regularly posting before and after garden projects, this is one of the things that readers often mention and recall fondly from my old studio ‘g’ blog.   Truth is, I miss those posts too and I want to bring both of them back.

When I saw this charming summer dress from Merimekko, I knew it would be my first inspiration.  It is so casual and summery, but combines interesting colors and styling that implies a bit of vintage modern chic – Which is something I often want in garden.

Since I’ve reopened my eyes to inspiration for this series I’ve found so many things – from fashion to art to interiors. I can’t wait to share all of my new garden collections with you!

I found inspiration for planting, furniture and accessories in the stripes and lines of the dress as well as the colors (including that awesome brown-red of the model’s hair).   Along the way I learned about rain lilies – they literally bloom in response to rain and I think they have a perfect retro charm.

I also discovered a guy on etsy who makes a whole bunch of different mid-century wood pieces.  His beautiful red wood lounge chair really caught my eye.  And then there is the beautiful La Muralla Roja condo complex in Calpe, Spain that is now on my list of places to visit. If for no other reason than to play with photographing the strangely beautiful architecture.

I’ve been wanting to plant Amsonia in my garden for years but pink muhly grass isn’t hardy where I live, so I would replace it with Imperata rubra like in this image. I think it works equally well and captures the colors in planting design.

I’m curious does the dress inspire you with any garden ideas?  Feel free to share your inspiration in the comments.

All the product links are below the images.

images:

Marimekko Dress, Amsonia and Pink Muhly Grass,  Fermob yellow chair, Double Octahedron ring planterRain Lily Bulbs, Planter pot,  La Muralla RojaMid Century Lounge Chair,

The post Garden Inspiration From a Fresh New Merimekko Dress appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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My garden has temporarily faded into the rather boring doldrums of summer.  Spring came late and really dragged its feet, but its profusion of blooms seemed to evaporate at a normal rapid pace.  I am waiting for the heat of summer to hit, as I patiently wait for the daylilies to erupt and make the garden a whole lot more exciting (next week).

There is however an abundance of leaves. Since creating a full and colorful bouquet right at the moment is a little tricky, I am wondering if maybe some beautiful stained glass leaf panels might be a pretty – if temporary – way to bring in a little greenery from the garden.  I am a sucker for collage of all sorts, so the idea of collaging leaves to create a stained glass effect is, of course, appealing.  But I can’t help but try and think of ways to make it my own.  Perhaps I can find a least a few flowers or petals to press into the design? Or maybe I can add some elements from the pile of magazines that I stack beneath my desk to make an entirely different scene.  I’m looking forward to playing with this one…

The whole tutorial to create DIY leaf mandala stained glass is found over at jojotastic.

photography by Jojotastic, DIY by Hannah Cross

The post How to Collage Leaves into Attractive Decor appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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Bright colorful glass houses are an exciting urban and artistic twist on an old garden standard.  The familiarly known Fruin Farmhouse – also called Kolonihavehus was made by artist Tom Fruin who has also created cool colored glass installations all over Brooklyn, New York (I particularly like this water tower).

Set in North Brooklyn Farms  it is part of an urban garden that also features a vegetable garden, farm stand and event space that overlooks the NYC skyline.  I’m eager to check it out – if for no other reason than to have some fun snapping my own images of this pretty building with the bridge and the city in the background.  North Brooklyn Farms is right next to Domino Park (named for the Domino Sugar Refinery that once held this spot) which is a new 6-acre waterfront park that opened in June of 2018.

Domino park has a playground designed by Mark Reigelman, that is designed as a miniature sugar refinery. Three sections of the playground take kids through an adventure in the sugar refining process that includes ramps, tunnel tubes, conveyor belts and catapult slides. And if they aren’t into all of that, there is a taco shack – because every park needs a taco shack (and a gorgeous glass house). Right?

Has anyone been yet? What do you think?

p.s. I discovered the Fruin Farmhouse from a post at The Stripe – if you want to know more about the red dress and the rest of the outfit – check out the full post there.

images Benjamin Maddox , Matthew Puiglese, Luisa Sheilds-Munie, The Stripe

The post Get Colorful Inspiration from North Brooklyn Farms and Tom Fruin appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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PITH VIGOR | Garden .. by About Rochelle Greayer - 1M ago

I’d love to have a house that has just as many inside window seats as it does outside window seats.

image by Amit Gosher via contemporist

The post Outside Window Seats appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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It’s not my style to obsess about a perfect carpet of lawn but I do have standards for health that are just not being met by the hapless turf that tries to cover the dirt in front of my house. Do you struggle with an area of your lawn? Have you considered that maybe traditional grass isn’t the best option for the area?

My area suffers from overhanging pines, a combo of dry shade coupled with a few hours a day of blazing hot sun and moisture starved and highly acidic soil.  Despite years and countless efforts to establish a healthy (chem-free) lawn – I’ve decided to stand down on the grass and go in other directions.

In the garden, I increasingly find myself taking inspiration from what the land and plants seem to want to do on their own.  Instead of fighting to make things strictly my way, frequently I’m opting to amp up and encourage what wants to happen naturally.

Throughout other lawn areas of my garden, huge patches of ajuga thrive.  I’ve discovered that it is just as easy to grow (and often easier) than grass and it takes kindly to mowing.  But if I miss a mow, it flushes in beautiful blooms of white, blue or purple, depending on the variety. I love it, and I’m not the only one.  This varied version of a lawn is a happy home to countless chubby bumble bees that bobble around with a lively contingent of other pollinators.

This spring, in partnership with Gilmour, I’ve taken on the makeover of my struggling lawn to transform it into something much more special. With the help of their tools that work seamlessly to create a watering system, my outdoor space looks better than ever.

The first step in the project was to remove a giant shrub, cut out a much larger garden bed (that will increase in time) and plant a new Japanese maple as a focal point.  You can read about that here.

I’ve taken a two pronged approach to phase out the grass.  Part of the area will be cut out and replaced with an ever increasing bed full of drifted Oudolf inspired planting and in the other part, I’ve been introducing other plants that will do the work for me and will slowly take over the weak grass.

Despite the look of these lush early spring pictures (wherein the grass actually looks kind of nice) – the truth is, the whole area will soon be dusty and brown as the violas die away in the summer heat and the spring rain dries up.

It is worth nothing that I don’t use an in-ground irrigation system in my garden. It is partially an environmental choice, partially a cost choice and partially a practicality of living on a well water.  I water things when they are new and need help establishing, but after that, plants have to be able to be able to hold their own of they are going to stay around.

Step one started last fall when I lifted clumps of grass and underplanted with a selection of early spring bulbs (Chionodoxa luciliae alba and Muscari Aucheri Blue Magic).  The Chionodoxa will naturalize and increasingly fill the area. I was pleased to see my drifts successfully transform the area early, but if I had to do it again, I think I’d have clustered the muscari closer together since they come in later and now I am having to wait for them to die back a bit before I can begin to mow.

I am also introducing ajuga. Through experience, I know that as the thick matts grow together, the grass will die away.  It will take a few years – but it is far easier than digging out all the grass.

A couple of flats of small ajuga plants spread out evenly  and planted through the existing grass area will quickly take hold if watered in and cared for while they establish their root systems.  These roots will eventually be what chokes out the weak grass. I use the Gilmour Circular Sprinkler with a spike base to get water to my new lawn plants. The shape control feature made customizing the coverage area as simple as ever, and I have to say, the on/off knob on the base of the sprinkler was quite handy for me to get this shot without getting wet! 

Step two has taken a more traditional route that involves a lot more physical effort. I ripped out the grass to make way for drifts of perennials.  

The project is ongoing since some of the plants I want to include aren’t yet available at the nursery and still others I am planting from seed.  That is why large patches are being held by mulch – for now.

When I’m planting a large area like this, I start with sprinkling compost over the top of the whole area.  This way, as I dig in the plants, the compost gets worked in naturally.

My son lent me a helping hand to water in the plants as I finished putting them in the ground.  As he worked he worried that he might be over watering – do you ever wonder that?

To be honest, it’s hard to over water when you are installing plants.  Unless it is a cactus or a succulent garden, most plants need lots of water when they are being transplanted and it is unlikely that you will overdo it.  Moving causes plants stress, as does lack of water – making sure that water is abundant and plentiful helps them to cope so that they can settle and thrive quickly. I’ve used the Gilmour Thumb Control Nozzle with Swivel Connect that features eight different spray patterns to ensure each plant receives the proper amount of water. The swivel connect allows the nozzle to pivot without twisting the hose, reducing the likelihood of getting hose kinks.

I generally water at least four times when installing perennials.  First, everything is well watered before I take it out of its container.

Second – I also tend to water the empty bed before I get started.

Third – Then when everything is in, I water it at least once before mulching.  

And (fourth) after the mulch is down, I water again.  The mulch will help seal in the moisture below, but watering over the top of the mulch will help the mulch to settle and create the weed starving, water retaining crust that your new plants need.

Who remembers those banana yellow sprinklers from the 70’s and 80’s?  I remember watching my mom and the other neighbor moms fuss with those – always getting wet.  They were so complicated to adjust and it seems like everyone watered a lot of sidewalk.

This Gilmour Rectangular Sprinkler is so easy to adjust and has a huge range.  The tabs on the side adjust the width and the rings at the end make it simple to tweak the range of the arch.  It is perfect for the gentle watering needed for newly planted perennials and seeded areas.

I like to use hoses to help me establish bed lines.  In this case, I am not taking the time to really cut a nice edge since I am ultimately going to be removing even more grass.  But even for now, a hose like the Gilmour Flexogen Super Duty Hose  is helping me make a nicer temporary line with the mulch.

This was such a great year for tulips and hellebores.  The cool late spring we have had here in New England was perfect for them and I thought you would enjoy them getting a little camera love as much as I enjoyed shooting.

The irises are my new favorites.  They smell so nice and give me a strong hit of purple in the early spring.  I’ve designed this whole area to have shades of purple blooms flush throughout the summer and into the fall.  So far so good. Later, the stars will be swaths of catmint, agastache, and fall asters. Yellow accents will flush through as well with blooms on St John’s Wort, potentilla, yellow roses and coneflowers.

There is more to come, and things have a bit of growing to do – but I think the ‘after’ shot is a huge improvement don’t you?

This post is sponsored by Gilmour.  

The post My Easy Strategy to Phase out a Struggling Lawn appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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Whose fitbit steps have multiplied in these last few weeks?  I absolutely love watching the fitness numbers tick up as I bustle around the garden, spring cleaning, pruning and installing some new plants. It’s the epitome of the good type of multi-tasking.  

I’ve got a few significant projects that I’ve taken on for this spring season and I am looking forward to sharing each of them with you and hopefully passing on a few tips that you might be able to use in your garden as well.

The first two projects are out in the front of my house.  

For years, I’ve used the planting bed adjacent to my front door as a holding area for new things that didn’t yet have a permanent home.  It is a mish mashed mess that I am tired of looking at. I’m longing for a cohesive design that highlights the house (especially now that it is freshly painted!) and that technically works a lot better than the mixed up beds and the patchy grass that refuses to thrive.

Over the winter I launched two classes to teach garden design and planting design (more about that in future posts) – and I used the area as my demonstration garden as I taught students step-by-step how to  create a master plan and then building off of that, how to create a detailed planting plan, plant sourcing and installation tips.

And now, as spring is finally here and I have a plan in hand – I’ve been in a flurry of garden renovation energy.

Gilmour has sponsored this post and another and I will be using some of their watering tools as I get all these new plants installed.

Before – I’ll share the full after when all the plants are in next week!

Q. Where do you start on a project like this (i.e. replanting a garden bed)?   A. Biggest first. In other words, start with the trees and shrubs.

My plan required removing an extremely established Pierus that was taking over the front steps and blocking views in all directions. It was a sad day to take such a beautiful shrub down – especially as it was in full bloom and the bumble bees were loving on it. As I cut and dug, I was choking back tears at the loss. But I was heartened that as I surgically removed this mother of a shrub, I discovered three babies growing underneath and I was able to transplant them to new and better areas of my garden.  

With the giant shrub gone, I have space to implement my plan for drifts of plants that are anchored with a new and arguably much more interesting focal point – a  Beni Kawa Japanese Maple.

There are a million (or so) varieties of Japanese maple and I encourage you to do a deep dive on the species instead of just settling for the standard ‘Bloodgood’ variety (though they are very nice and you can’t argue with a Bloodgood). I just like to find something more special and unique and in the world of Japanese Maples you don’t have to look too far to find something a whole lot more exciting.

Beni Kawa is perfectly sized for my garden (12’-15’ in all directions) and the thing I love the most is the red bark and the ombre (yellow to red) leaves.  It is quite striking even before it has fully leafed out.

‘Beni Kawa’ Japanese Maple is prized for its bright coral red bark and beautiful leaves.

Q. How do you plant a tree so that it doesn’t die?   A. Let’s just say the devil is always in the details.

I think we all know the basics – Dig a hole, put the bottom of the tree in the hole, bury it, and water it.  Easy. Right?

Zippy is an expert hole digger and gives this wide but not too deep hole a paws up.

But here is where things can go wrong –

Have you ever heard of the $5 plant in the $50 hole?  The idea behind it is good advice. Spend time on the hole and make it good – because a cheap plant can become great if planted  correctly. And tree’s aren’t cheap – especially Japanese maples – so make extra sure you invest in the hole.

The most important element of the hole is depth.  You DON’T want it to be too deep. This is super important.  Here is another garden cliché (that is also good advice) –

‘Plant it high – it won’t die, Plant it low – it won’t grow.’

Err on the side of making your hole too shallow rather than too deep.  And if you get all over ambitious toward that step goal and go too deep, just fill it back in with some of the dirt you dug and mix in some compost for good measure.

A good way to check the height is to use the shovel to measure.  Dip the handle in the hole and grab it with you hand where it meets the ground level, then use that measure to make sure that the flare of the tree is 1-3 inches higher.  That way, once you have maneuvered the tree into the hole, you won’t have to wrestle it back out again to add more dirt beneath.

And here is a little tip for moving heavy unplanted trees around your garden – dish sleds. The kid’s dish sleds are my savior for moving big stuff in the garden.  I can basically roll stuff into them (unlike a wheelbarrow where some amount of hefting is required – and sometimes that is just too much) and then I can slide-drag it pretty easily.  Also – it is easy to roll off into the hole.

Have compost and mulch ready.  I didn’t mulch this project yet because I still have the rest of the planting to come (I’ll share that next week). But here is the order I always follow – plant, water, mulch, water again.  Why water again? A lot of mulches will lock into place if they get a good soaking (they expand a bit with the water then re-contract) which will help them to stay put. If you are using buckwheat hulls or another similarly lightweight mulch it can blow away or move around a lot.

If the root ball isn’t wet, water it before you unwrap it. Trees need lots of water when being transplanted and this helps to keep it intact while you maneuver it to be just right.  

The hole you dig should be wider than the root ball (I go for about 2-2.5x wider) and before you start filling in the edges you should do two things… fill part of the hole with compost, and water.  I fill that hole right up and wait for it to drain out before beginning to refill dirt around the root ball.

My tree is balled and burlapped which means that it was grown in a field and then dug and wrapped up for sale.  This is different than trees that are container grown (meaning they have been in a container their whole lives).  With a balled and burlapped tree you only need to remove the wrapping – you don’t need to worry about scoring or unwinding the roots.  If your tree is container grown, you should inspect the roots and if they are winding around or very dense, loosen them up and encourage them to spread out rather than continuing to swirl (which isn’t good for the health of the tree).

Advice: If you have a choice of a balled tree or a container tree – all other things being equal – I’d choose the balled tree – it is just going to establish better in your garden.

Sometimes with balled and burlapped trees, the digging process caused the dirt to be pushed up the stem.  When up wrap the roots, you may have to move a few inches of dirt away from the stem to re-expose the flares and the graft. The wide part at the base is where this tree was grafted.

Q. What is the flare of the tree? A. The flare is the area at the bottom of the tree where it meets the ground.  

At some point the stem will come down and start to spread out to the sides as the roots go into the ground.  These spreading fingers are called flares and they should NOT be fully buried. If you bury the flares, either when you are planting it or later if you mound up too much mulch around the base, you are endangering the health of the tree.  

Also, many trees are grafted – which means that the grower attached a stronger root stock to a different tree top. This is done when trees are young and helps more decorative trees that maybe don’t have as much vigor to grow off a root stock that is stronger. This gives us a much wider selection of beautiful garden trees that are stronger and healthier.  

If your tree was grafted (BTW – most all Japanese Maples are – as are many fruit trees) then you will be able to see the graft.  Make sure your don’t bury the graft. Sometimes it is a foot or two up the stem, but sometimes it is really low – just barely above the flares – so make sure you keep the dirt well away from this graft too.

Use the fill that you dug out – along with a nearly equal amount of compost to refill the hole around the root ball.  If you have dug grass out (as I have) turn those clumps upside down and use them to back in the hole or tip the tree if the root ball isn’t level.  Grass can be vigorous, but you don’t have to worry that these upside down buried clumps will re-grow – and they can be handy to fill and wedge things into place.

Fill the hole with water and let it soak in before you start backfilling.  Use a sprayer doesn’t blast the roots. Gilmour’s Thumb Control Watering Nozzle with Swivel Connect sprayer has many settings that you can rotate though, put it on the softest one where the water comes out like gentle rain.  This setting is also good for dogs who want a quick drink without feeling like they are drinking from a fire hose.

Q. So now that I have my tree planted – what do I do? A. Newly planted trees need special attention if they are going to survive.

The main reason transplanted trees and plants fail is due to not getting enough water.  Yes, there are other factors (in the case of trees, shock is also a worry) – but mostly it is water.  And when I say mostly, I mean almost always. There is a common misperception that rain and irrigation systems are enough but the reality is they usually aren’t.  You have to water new trees – plan to do this by hand to make sure they get the TLC they need.

Keep the hose and sprayer handy because you need to water new trees often. In the gardening season I tend to get a little lazy and not even turn off the water at the spigot.  A good hose like the Flexogen Super Duty Hose should not leak or drip water – that way you can just use the switch on the sprayer so that you always have quick water on demand.  Also, Gilmour’s Thumb Control Watering Nozzle with Swivel Connect sprayer doesn’t get you and the hose tied up in knots – the swivel head makes it easy to move around without a twisted hose. 

Here is a guide to how often you should water your new tree.

Daily for a week

Every other day for 2 weeks

Then 2-3 times per week for a year.

Got it?  Water, water, water!

If you are watering and your tree starts losing leaves or looking sick – it may have a  case of shock. There are a variety of products on the market for fertilizing trees, but for emergency shock treatment I like a product called Super Thrive.  A little goes a long way (and don’t over do it!), all you need is a few drops mixed into your watering to make a difference. If you are concerned, you could always add a couple drops to the bowlful of water you created before you start back filling. Super Thrive is a liquid and it will dilute in the water and spread through the root ball and the surrounding dirt as the water drains away.

If you think your new tree is in shock, act fast. A few days can make a difference, so try to get it emergency care as soon as you can.

I’ve got lots more plants on the way as I say goodbye to the grass and hello to much better ground covers and plants.  More on lawn replacement in part two!

This post is sponsored by Gilmour. All opinions are my own.

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The post How to Plant a Tree So That it Doesn’t Die appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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“Bees?”

“Bees.”

“…BEES?”

“Yes, bees.”

“You seriously want to get bees?” asks Chris, standing in our kitchen staring at me as if I’d just declared that I wanted to start a blue whale farm in our bathtub. My tangible enthusiasm for the idea deflected off his “Mighty Force Field of Logic” and bounced around the room, further energizing me, yet having no impact on my husband, its intended target.

This should not have been a surprise to him. I’ve always been intrigued by bees. The social order they maintain and the work they are able to accomplish despite having brains the size of a sesame seed fascinated me. I wanted more.

“You recognize the liability involved in that. And how much does it cost to set this up versus the price of honey? One sec…I’ll be right back.”

I knew where he was going. He was going to get the “Whiteboard of Doom,” where calculations are made and where all my fun goes to die. You see, Chris is not just an engineer; he’s an engineer’s engineer. All math all the time. Near-retirement-age engineers who wear double-bridged glasses and keep index card folios in their pocket-protector lined shirt pockets look at Chris and say, “Yeah—that’s my guy.”

When we were moving shortly after our wedding, he packed my wedding dress in a toilet box. A toilet box. Why? Apparently because it was a good fit and made the box an optimal weight. When I told him that was like my packing his beloved laptop in a tampon box, he informed me that was ridiculous because it would never fit.

The problem is, it’s hard to argue with logic (which is why eight years later, my wedding dress still lives in a toilet box). But the excitement I had around keeping bees surpassed logic. What other hobby allows you to observe an entire society right in your back yard, seeing the benefits they provide i your flowers and vegetables and in those of your neighbors?

And as if that isn’t enough, you get fresh honey, beeswax and perhaps best of all, a rockstar answer to the dreaded business meeting icebreaker: “Tell us your name, your title, and oneinteresting thing about yourself.” I keep bees. BOOM. Small talk for lunch officially in the bag.

So I did what any rational wife would do—I ignored him and got the bees anyway.

Really, it was a highly serendipitous affair. The guys across the street were moving and happened to have an old beehive that they didn’t want anymore.

Score #1. Then it turned out that a lady around the corner kept bees, knew where to get them and offered to help me when I needed.

Score #2. A physician friend wrote me a prescription for an epi pen to have on hand just in case.

Score #3. You can’t fight destiny. Let the games begin.

I picked up my bees on Memorial Day weekend. About fifteen thousand little bugs in a screen box a little bigger than a shoebox. Before I could take the bees home, I had to demonstrate that I knew how to install them in their new hive, which was a total pop quiz. Luckily I had been obsessively studying books on bees and had essentially memorized the process. First, you paint the screens of the bee box with sugar water so the bees eat and get full and slow (think post-Thanksgiving dinner). After about a day, when they’ve had their fill, you suit up and prepare to open the box.

Side note here: For most people “suit up” means a full-body bee suit with boots and gloves and a hat. For me and my stubborn New England frugalness, “suit up” means a 15-year-old pair of ratty sweat pants tucked into pulled-up argyle ski socks, a pair of brown crocs, a sweatshirt with the sleeves tucked into bright green rubber dishwashing gloves and a thrift shop 1950s funeral-style hat with a face veil.

But back to the process, once the bees are fat and happy, you bring the box out next to the hive. Slowly you pry the little lid off the box, revealing a suspended metal can containing sugar water that fed the bees for their voyage up from Georgia. Also revealed is a little box containing the queen and a few attendants, just like Lady Mary Crawley in the coach to London attended by Mrs. Anna Bates and Mr. Thomas Barrow. The key to this part is to stay calm and even. Any fast, jerky, or sudden movement could upset the bees, and we all know what upset bees like to do. So here I am in my dishwashing gloves and Jackie O hat about to unleash thousands of bees into the space directly surrounding my face, and any freaking out will only make the situation worse. Fabulous.

Once I had the sugar can and the queen cage out, I removed the cork plug from one end of the queen box, took one of the frames out of the hive box, and rubber-banded the queen box to it. With the cork out, a little candy plug is all that stands between the queen and her populace, and all the bees work to chew that candy to free her. I put the frame back in (imagine the frames like hanging file folders and the hive box like a filing cabinet) and prepared for the next step. The scariest step … dumping fifteen thousand bees in to the hive.

Before we get to that part, let’s backtrack a little. You may have the impression my husband was completely absent from the process since the moment I acquired the box of bees. This is not entirely accurate. Conveniently (for him) we had five friends in town for the weekend. Also conveniently (for him) four of these friends are also engineers, and the other one is a lawyer. You can imagine the symphony of logic and liability that played out that morning. In the battle of whether this was a ridiculous idea or a wonderful idea, it was six against one and I was clearly outnumbered. Until, that is, I showed up with the bees.

When you paint the cage screen with syrup, all the little bees crowd to the front and use their mini bee tongues to lap up the sugar. Because of the width of the screen, they can’t actually sting through it. This means you can run your fingers along the screen and feel their legs and tongues sticking out through the holes. It feels tickly and is really very endearing. Suddenly, this mass of potentially pain-inducing insects becomes a pack of tiny, fuzzy, hungry, big-eyed munchkins that you kind of want to snuggle. I played the “what are you, a wuss?” card to get our visitors to touch the screen and within a few minutes they had come over to my side. Chris was the lone holdout.

As I prepared to dump the giant box of bees into the hive, I looked back at the house. Five eager faces were pushed up against the windows, smiling nervously and giving me the “thumbs up” on my progress so far. One other face was visible through the window, unimpressed but decidedly curious. I took a deep breath, picked up the buzzing box, and tipped it upside down on top of the open hive. About half the bees fell out just thanks to gravity, but the other half needed some coaxing. I had to shake the box—hard. The buzzing intensified and crescendoed and decrescendoed in waves as the box shook up and down. Bees flew everywhere, crawled all over my hands and legs, and buzzed up under my veil.

Since the cardinal rule of this step is not to freak out, I immediately freaked out.

The crawling on my body didn’t particularly scare me, but the buzzing in my face instigated the worst case of the heebie-jeebies I’ve ever experienced. Flinging the box to the ground and shooting up from my crouched position, I let loose an awful high-pitched “eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!” I then proceeded to high-step dance across the lawn like a Lipizzaner stallion in tucked-in sweats while shaking my limbs violently in a wholly ungraceful, possessed-by- the-devil manner. Once I reached the other side of the yard through this bizarre form of locomotion, I took a huge breath. I’d gotten almost all of the way through the process with no stings, and I only had to go back over, wait for the bees to descend down among the frames, and set up the temporary feeder.

So as to retain a modicum of dignity I chose not to look back at the house, where, undoubtedly, my friends were still struggling for air after the laugh-fest my idiocy must have prompted. I put my shoulders back, straightened my dishwashing gloves, and strode back toward the hive.

Surprisingly, all the bees had climbed down into the hive and started working away on the frames. Before they could gather nectar or pollen to make honey, they had to make comb, which provides the cells in which the queen lays her eggs. Their underbellies were shiny with wax secretion, which they pulled off and started to build into hundreds of perfect hexagons. Hexagons are the optimal shape for bee comb, as they provide the most strength and the most cells per square inch, allowing the bees to get the most “bang for their buck” out of the precious wax they produce.

As the workers start building the comb, the queen is freed from her cage. Once she is freed, she goes on one mating flight, where she gets all the supplies she’ll need for a lifetime of laying eggs. She gets one mating session for her whole life and the male bees die immediately after they essentially explode, thus making bee sex one of the greatest bummers in the animal kingdom. But I digress…

Then came the breakthroughs.

“Chris, Chris, Chris! Come here!” I jumped up and down next to the hive waving him over like a little kid trying to get Dad to bring his wallet over to the ice cream truck. “You have to check this out!” A few weeks earlier, he would have declined my begging invitation, but he put on his “I’m not happy about this” face and trudged over: Exhibit A that he was starting to warm. “Look! Look at their little legs—see the bright orange and yellow blobs on them? That’s pollen—they collect it in little bags on their legs and bring it back to the hive. Isn’t that cool?” He leaned in (not too close, mind you) and squinted to see. “Ohhhhh yeah … neat.”

WHOA.

“Neat?!?!” Neat was about a six on Chris’ 1–10 scale of complimentary expressions. This was huge. If he thought the pollen collection was “neat” then what was next? Would it be possible to coax a “nice” or a “cool” out of him? I was willing to die trying.

“Hey, did you know that bees have a reserve stomach for the nectar they collect to bring back to the hive, but if they get hungry mid-flight they can actually open a little valve between that reserve stomach and their regular stomach, so they can use some of that nectar as food?” I knew I was playing with fire with the obvious barrage of fun facts, but I could sense he was coming around and I couldn’t control myself.

“No way. That’s nuts!” NUTS! Nuts was a 7! Progress! I decided to layoff. The disturbance from any further expressions of interest could ripple through the universe, inverting gravity and reversing electron charge, creating a massive black hole of joy where there was once a cranky engineer.

I lay in wait, like a patient lioness stalking her prey. A few days later everything culminated in one glorious moment of reluctant acceptance.

“Hey, check it out,” Chris said, staring up at the sky just above the garage. “All the bees are flying in one line.” I saw my opportunity. “Yeah, that’s the bee highway. If you look you’ll see a line of them going out and a line of them coming in. They have a few paths that they follow out of the hive and they all stick to them.” He tilted his head contemplatively. “Wow. That’s really cool.”

My eyes widened and I nearly levitated off my seat. “So, you like them?” I asked, sensing this was the grand moment.

“They’re not bad, I guess.” Then, with a sly smile, “but don’t push it. “

I’ll take that as a “win.”

by: AMANDA ROTONDO

illustrator: ABBEY LOSSING

This was originally published in Issue #1 of PITH + VIGOR in the Fall of 2014.

The post Save the Bees! Bee Humor From a First-Time Beekeeper appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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It is the first warm(ish) weekend of spring and there is no more snow predicted (whoot!). By Sunday evening I’m hoping to tuck into a lovely holiday dinner knowing that my body earned the extra calories of those au gratin potatoes – having cleaned up countless piles of spring garden debris.

Every spring I seem to want to try styling my patio a little differently for the season ahead. Do other designers have this sort of style ADD? I hope (and suspect) so (right?).  Last year I wanted something clean and modern – where as this year I’m feeling more bohemian and contemplating how to loosen things up a bit.

These garden parasols caught my eye – I’m surprisingly charmed by the chintz.  Don’t ask me why , and I don’t even know that I can legitimately pull off this look. The chintz brings back memories of road trips to country house inns back when we lived in England. Those places never felt as cosy and comfortable as you might imagine – but I always appreciated the dedication to an era of decoration that I previously thought had ended sometime around 1989.  And they always had really nice gardens…which was perfect for me. At the time, I had just started my career as a landscape designer and was so eager to soak up every ounce of this aspect of British culture.

So, to me these parasols by Sunbeam Jackie are a nod to an era. (The era where I learned a whole lot about gardens by driving around England – and the 80’s). The fabrics are all vintage and no two are the same. It is a nod to nostalgia that is feeling just right.

images: House and Garden

The post Found! Pretty Parasols for the Bohemian Garden appeared first on PITH + VIGOR.

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