Sunday, February 26, 2012

Landscape Art - -Garden Ornament or Outdoor Tchotchke?

What type of art or sculpture should I use in my garden?

There's a place just off the highway near Reed City where the industrious proprietors spend the winter months carving out wooden garden art with a bandsaw. Silhouetted smoking cowboys languish against a tree near families of jumping frogs.The classic pair of backsides gaily greet passersby, with no extra charge for red polka dotted bloomers. 

Garden ornaments add a uniqueness of personality, sparkle and interest to the landscape.  The range of possibilites are limitless, from gnomes to ganders. What may be too fanciful for the interior of the home plays well in the yard.  Tucked away in a colorful perennial garden, surprises small and large can delight visitors, especially children. 

When art's intended as a garden focal point, here are some considerations:

1.  Site::   Pick an area of the yard which lacks other distraction. Imagine that the piece is the first thing visitors would see, then place the object in an area which will draw immediate attention, then compel the eye to sweep along the rest of the garden, to the next focal point.

2.   Size:   Place the item, then step back to the point where you'll first spot the piece.  Does it look proportionate to the surroundings?  Plants change in size, trees lose leaves, bulbs andbloom and go throughout the year so how will it compare two months to the giant coleus in August?  Think ahead.  Ask a spouse or other willing volunteer to stand in the spot for visualization.

3.   Color/texture:  What is compatible with the surrounding environment?  A white statue against a pale colored home won't pop.  What other items are in the yard.  Mossy verde pieces clash with stark
white if in the same frame.  Try to keep it compatible.

4.   Simplicity:  Don't compete with Mother Nature.  Chose a piece that is simple and elegant.  Statuary, sculpture, stonework, structure.  A stack of flat stones in diminishing size or a soft piece of driftwood are natural alternatives. 

5.   Seasonal:  Change pieces with the season.  Snowmen, Santas, metal birds, are fun to see off season, but only occasionally unless the handle "eccentric" doesn't bother you. 

6.  Location, location, location:  A dramatic piececan be artfully perched at the end of a pathway or in clear view of the dining table.  A favorite urn in view of the kitchen window aligns the eye and adds

The lovely part of garden ornaments is they lack permanence.  They can be moved if the landscape changes or the piece simply become boring.  Today's urethane replicates yesterday's limestone, but is far easier on the lower back.

For those who like to avoid the landfill, one of my favorite pieces was found at the curb.  A broken fountain now operates as a bird bath and drinking fountain for itinerant wildlife.  Still, be careful not to overdo...

Remember, the idea is to enhance, not eclipse the real stars of the show.


Hens and Chicks -- Garden Bouquets are Cheep!

Planting Bulbs -- Pay it Forward

Container Gardens -- Pots on the Spot!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How to Care for Houseplants -- Water, Warmth and Nitrogen Smoothies

Last week he set out for his first solo road trip. Minus his sleepy co-pilot, Dad joked that he'd always driven alone anyways.  But we all know it's not the same.

It hasn't been that long at all.  "I've lost half of me" he says matter of factly when I ask how he is. That about sums it up.  Still, my father is doing amazingly well.  Rarely complains and he's learning to cook.  One night he had us over for a pasta dinner which far exceeded expectations.  But then, so has he this past year. If you'd asked me one year ago to wager on the likelihood that my strapping father's Christmas gift list would have included a cookbook, I'd have put the odds near being kidnapped by aliens.  He needs a little work with his houseplants though.

Carol's twenty year old poinsettia
"I thought they were fake?"  This was the excuse offered as I removed two crumbling poinsettia from atop the china cabinet.  Same fate as the pansies and mums.

The prime culprit is overwatering.  Too much of anything can cause complications.  Outside, in nature, there's accomodation for absorption and run off that's simply not available in the dining room without causing serious water damage.  Dad's plants were swimming in a pool of H20 without life vests.  Well intended, but roots need oxygen--not soggy soil. 

The closest to natural irrigation is the kitchen sink.  Set the faucet on spray setting, and aim lukewarm water at the base of the plant, avoiding the leaves.  Other than fern, which like a fine mist on the leaves, plants all drink from their roots.  Water on the leaves indoors may cause spotting or mildew as drying winds and open sunlight are not in abundance. Leave the plant in the sink overnight. Repeat each three to five days when the soil no longer feels spongy or damp to the touch.

Second is location.  No direct sunlight, but plants can't survive tucked in a dark corner or windowless room either. Rotate the plant each time it is returned from a water break to encourage fullness.

Tropical plants crave steamy conditions so steady warmth and humidity are needed to flourish.

Finally, keep an empty plastic milk or juice container stored below the sink.  Add a teaspoon of plant food, put the lid on and shake.  Every third watering  give the roots a dose of this "smoothie."

The rest is no different as if the plant were outdoors.  Pinch back when leggy, remove spent blooms. 

It's tough to send a teenager further than the supermarket,  much less a lone octogenarian across five states.  There are some things you just can't think about too much.  Overattention can smother tender roots and signal a contagious lack of confidence.  The key, as in anything, is balance. 

Later, the call comes--the happiness in his voice a welcome relief.  An uneventful yet cathartic journey. 

"By the way, did you water my houseplants?"

Articles of Interest:

Perpetual Poinsettia -- How to Care for a Poinsettia

Layered Planting -- Should I Cut Back Faded Bulbs?

Yellow Flowers -- Blooming Sunshine