by Samantha Prust
Last year, my husband and I grew a full-scale garden. We turned our backyard from a place where we watered and mowed grass into a place where we grow our own food. We planted just about everything: beans, corn, squash, melons, broccoli, radishes, onions, scallions, snap peas, zucchini, Swiss chard, garlic, basil, dill, four lettuce varieties, four tomato varieties, four carrot varieties, two beet varieties, two cucumber varieties, two potato varieties, two pumpkin varieties and two watermelon varieties. I also planted marigolds, sweet alyssum and two kinds of sunflowers in and around the garden based on the organic gardening method called companion planting, which recommends planting certain flowers next to certain vegetables to attract beneficial insects or repel or divert harmful pests.
I love the idea of the potager garden: a mixture of vegetables and flowers, utility and beauty. But vegetable plants are also beautiful and flowers are also utilitarian; in the garden, there’s no distinction between the two. I’m amazed at how the plants and flowers we stuck in the ground as seed have transformed to full grown plants that will eventually bear luscious gems that you can eat right off the vine or add to your recipes. Being in awe of how plants grow must be something that all beginning gardeners experience, something that you take for granted if you’ve never tried to grow your own food. Gardening also gives me a chance to be creative, to learn and challenge myself in unfamiliar territory and to get gratification from hard work. Being in the garden clears my mind, gets me out of my head and makes me focus on the here and now. It also has the ability to be meditative and reflective; you never know what you’ll find among the foliage—spiders, ladybugs, bees, and epiphanies. This year is only the beginning; I plan to continue my “garden therapy” for years to come.
Here’s one of my favorite poems, by Li-Young Lee, that says what I feel about gardening much better than I could:
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the joy
at the bend in the road where we turned
toward signs painted peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer,
dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
to sweet impossible blossom.
The photo above is the front yard before our landscape renovations. The photo on the right is after our landscape renovations (with much more to come!)
by Samantha Prust
My first house was in need of some TLC inside, but I conveniently hadn’t thought of the area outside around the house. Sure, I had looked at it. It had a nice big backyard. A crab apple tree, some aspen. I didn’t worry at the time. After chopping down overgrown foliage, it was time to tackle the trees and the turf–or the lack of it. The trees were easy: we just cut them down or hired a tree trimmer for the larger trees. We had a nice dirt yard in the front with some aspen suckers poking through the dried up soil. It was my first big “Uh-oh” moment. I had no idea how to fix it. My first inclination was to get the grass in better shape. Everyone said to use Round-Up to kill the weeds and aspen suckers. I didn’t want to use it. I was adamant about not using Round-Up or any other chemical weed killer because I don’t believe that is right for the environment and only ends up making it more difficult to get rid of weeds in the long run. I wanted a natural solution that wouldn’t compromise the health of our soil. When I met my husband, he was completely on board with my decision to avoid toxic chemicals in our yard. Also, we have pets and it’s not safe for them. We stuck by our rule: No Round-Up. The only other option was hand weeding. I decided it was a great option that would provide exercise, sunshine and some good ol’ dirt under the fingernails. We focused on hand weeding the front yard because that’s what everyone sees. I planted grass seed and fertilized it and it did grow. I used a nontoxic pre-emergent/fertilizer mix that contains corn gluten to kill the weeds before they come up.
The yard was looking pretty good for a couple of years. But the grass soon succumbed to the weeds and the sun baked the grass into an ugly, crispy brown carpet across the lawn. When the grass went dormant, that gave the weeds a chance to grow. I had had it with trying to cultivate a perfect green grass lawn. I decided that I didn’t want the hassle, maintenance, and expense (it takes a lot of watering to get a green lawn in Colorado) of such a lawn, so I began reading about xeriscaping. I had heard of it years before I bought my house, but I hadn’t thought of it as a viable option because I figured it took special gardening skills. I was always very attracted to high desert and native plants, and wanted to incorporate those into the landscape. It was decided: we would have a xeriscaped front yard. I was so excited! It would be a while before we could add any plants. I had to read more and plan out where we would put certain plants. In the meantime, I continued hand weeding. This went on year after year and this year is the first year we are caught up with weeds and have them under control (as much as this is possible). It was a great workout regimen, let me tell ya! We also had to pull up aspen sucker roots throughout the entire front yard.
So, after pulling out those big roots and hand weeding enough that the weeds were under control, we covered the soil with clear plastic. Now, I know they say not to do this, but we were on a mission to kill weeds and this seemed like a sure bet (it worked out great). After we secured the plastic in place with garden staples, we covered the plastic with wood mulch, all of which we got free from asking nearby tree trimmers if we could have their shredded mulch when they were done. They were more than happy to skip a trip to dump the mulch, so they just dumped it in our driveway and we shoveled wheelbarrows full and dumped it where we wanted it in the front yard. We left a space for grass where it was growing the best without any extra irrigation. This method worked great because once the weeds were suppressed by the plastic and mulch, we had more time to focus on getting the grass patch whipped into shape. I concentrated on weeds growing the grassy area and tried to reseed grass there as much as possible.
Finally, as you can see in the after pic, it is much improved. The after pic also shows that we repainted the house. We are still in the process of adding landscaping plantings, but we did plant a tree and a large ornamental pampas grass and a maiden grass, which the photo on the right doesn’t show. I will post another pic this spring when those plants are in full bloom. Slowly the front yard is beginning to take shape as our xeriscape garden. It is one of the most satisfying feelings to plant something and watch it grow and bring beauty to your landscape. I am really enjoying home improvement, especially outdoors!
by Samantha Prust
Before we painted our house exterior, my husband and I used to sing hillbilly banjo music as we pulled into the driveway. It was our way of saying, “Yes, we ARE embarrassed by our house,” and it made us laugh when what we really wanted to do was cry. We also decided it could definitely pass as a crack house. The paint job didn’t look so bad when I bought the house, but after a few more years of wear and tear—spackled spots where we had insulation blown into the exterior walls, scraped off old paint and splotches of new paint samples on the siding—there was no curb appeal to speak of, unless, of course, you’re a hillbilly or a crack addict. It was time to paint.
I had never been fond of the house’s yellow body and maroon trim. For some reason, I don’t like maroon on a house. Yellow is a nice color for a house, but the yellow paint on our house was dull and faded. When it came time to paint the house, I was elated. I gathered paint samples. The one sample that attracted me the most was the Sherwin Williams Suburban Modern palette. Its brochure says, “Your future is bright. With clear, cheerful colors, the 1950s exhibited a new American outlook. The exuberance showed up on the walls as striking shades like chartreuse and organic shapes like boomerangs. Whether you just feel nostalgia for those optimistic days or you want to re-create the period in exacting detail, our Suburban Modern Preservation Palette provides the hues you desire.” Well, that sounds peachy keen, doesn’t it? And the names of the colors—sunbeam yellow, holiday turquoise, pink flamingo, radiant lilac, caribbean coral, burma jade—this was the palette for us.
I had read that you should try to match your neighborhood when choosing a paint color for your home’s exterior and I knew we could get away with these colors because there are houses in our neighborhood painted in these retro hues. However, there are a lot of “normal” colors, too. At first, we decided we wanted the body of the house to be less bold. We chose “beige” on the Suburban Modern palette, but when we tested a sample on the house, it looked pinkish. I thought, I can tell people it’s beige from the Suburban Modern palette all day long and they’ll still say our house looks pink. Not good. So then we thought we’d go with white for the body and burma jade for the trim. Later we decided against that because the house kitty corner from us is white with teal trim. Too close for comfort. We wanted our own style. Finally, we decided to go bold and use burma jade for the body and white for the trim.
Choosing the colors was difficult, but had I known how difficult the painting would be, I would’ve taken another year to choose the colors. My brother was here to help us paint and we couldn’t have done it without him! The transformation was unbelievable. People driving or riding by on their bicycles would shout out compliments: “Looks great!” and “Love the color!” The neighborhood was probably celebrating that we were finally painting the eyesore that had plagued their street for years. Dave and I certainly celebrated, even though we were a little disappointed that singing hillbilly banjo music when we pulled into the driveway was no longer applicable. Just a little.
Here’s an addictive game that’s also good vocabulary practice! http://www.merriam-webster.com/namethatthing/index.htm
I’ve always preferred journal writing over blogging because in my journal I can make mistakes and say whatever I want. I don’t write because I’m eloquent; I write because it’s always been my number one obsession, a kind of tortuous self-therapy on automatic pilot. Even before I knew what I was doing was called writing, I did it. I find solace in it, but it’s also horribly painful. The psychological hold and emotional aspect of the work can be too much at times.
So for my blog, I decided to give myself permission to take a break from my writing obsession and focus on some of my other obsessions—hence, the name “Little Wayward Typewriter.” I have a lot of things I want to write about that don’t relate to writing, editing, or publishing. Some are things that I never imagined I’d find interesting and some are things that have always been my obsessions whether I knew it or not. I like the idea of being able to blog about anything and everything.
And away we go…