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Posts from the ‘Yard’ Category

Still House Lott lockdown

When the weather is nice, we like to let the pups spend long hours outdoors where Louis shreds the contents of the recycling bin and Meg skulks around wondering why nature doesn’t have couches. Our newly painted fence keeps them safely contained in the yard, but both Weezie and I worry about inattentive visitors not fully latching the gate and providing an escape route for puttering pooches. To allay these concerns, I ventured onto the Interwebs in search of a stout, lockable gate latch, preferably operated with a key to avoid the hassle of a padlock.

Enter the Iron Aldrop Latch from Van Dyke’s Restorers:

iron aldrop latch

This thing looks like it belongs on the front door of Neuschwanstein: simple, no-nonense, and more than a little medieval. Best part? The keys are skeleton keys. Instant keyring gravitas.

Installation began by carefully laying out the latch mounting loops and hasp locking bar.

fence latch layout

Before installing the second mounting loop, I made sure that the latch rod was level and moved freely.

fence latch level

Once the latch was attached to the pickets, I closed the gate and marked the spot where the rod hits the fence post. I drilled a slightly oversized hole into the fence post to accept the rod in the closed position, using a scrap piece of plywood to keep the drill bit centered.

drill jig

Finally, I inserted a short length of copper tubing to protect the hole from weather and wear.

iron aldrop latch

The latch locks securely, with a satisfying click. Built with few moving parts and solid components, I expect it to keep our menagerie safe for many years to come.

Insect elixir

I got some nice feedback about the photo I posted on July 4th of some beautiful yellow flowers growing in our backyard.  Since then, the blooms have multiplied and are apparently full of the butterfly equivalent of crack:

butterfly yellow flower

All day every day butterflies (and bees and hummingbirds) swarm around the prolific yellow blooms.

insect elixir

I’ve asked several people what sort of plant this is.  The best guesses so far have been swamp daisies or some sort of sunflower.  But neither of those seems exactly right, at least based on my amateur Google research.  Each stalk is around eight feet tall, with large, jagged leaves that emerge from its sides.  For most of its growth cycle, it looks like a weed on ‘roids.  The flowers are daisy-like with numerous yellow petals around a dark orange center.  It’s clearly a species that thrives in full sun.  Last year the blooms weren’t nearly as impressive, but have improved since I removed the walnut saplings that surrounded it.

Can anybody ID this plant?

If it ain’t rodents, it’s ruminants.

Recently, perfectly elliptical patterns of trampled vegetation began appearing in our lawn. It was like a midget UFO was using our yard as its personal landing spot. But, the true culprit was revealed when I pulled into the driveway one evening and a startled deer fawn leaped from the underbrush and sprinted for cover. Unable to jump any of our fences, the fawn paced the perimeter of the yard until its mother appeared at dusk, taking cautious glances at her offspring from the shelter of the neighbors’ trees. I propped a gate open, and a few hours later the family was gone.

I figured that the incident would cause the animals to steer clear of our yard for awhile. But this weekend, I was outside one afternoon and saw the same fawn quietly lounging by the fence in the front yard.

deer fawn at fence

Mom was nowhere to be found. I was a bit perplexed by this behavior until a little Google-ing taught me that deer daycare consists of parking your kid somewhere (anywhere will work, apparently, which explains the flat spots in the lawn), giving them the “stay put” signal, and literally high-tailing it to the nearest patch of woods.

Perhaps deer like the adrenaline rush of being discovered because the fawn and its posse have visited our yard several more times over the past week.  And they made it clear why deer fencing is so tall.  In the picture below, I caught one of the animals mid-flight, effortlessly leaping a retaining wall from several yards away.

leaping ruminant

Capable critters, yes. Smart? Certainly not.

At least they don’t try to live in your attic.


Pretty ordinary #009

There’s not much I don’t like about magnolia trees. Their thick, waxy leaves, low-hanging, climbable branches and attractive shape make them a favorite feature in any southern landscape. We were fortunate to inherit two enormous, aged specimens with the Ordinary House. They sit in an ideal habitat at the bottom of the yard, on the banks of Stillhouse Creek. For the past few weeks, they’ve been particularly beautiful, as their huge, creamy white flowers emerge for a late spring show.

magnolia flower

Pretty ordinary #008: Memorial Day edition

What makes a white picket fence so universally appealing?  Is it its association with our idealized notions of American domesticity?  Or maybe just the visual allure of a crisp silhouette standing in contrast to the world around it?

Whatever the reason, the color white is key. We had a new fence installed just after we moved in last August and left the picketed portions to weather over the fall and winter. The fence looked okay, but wasn’t particularly noteworthy, at least until this weekend. I knew this dreaded day was coming, the one when I had to start the tedious process of transforming hundreds of feet of ho-hum unfinished yellow pine to eye-catching bright white. There’s really no good way to paint a fence except one…picket…at…a…time. I know how Tom Sawyer felt.

Over the weekend I managed to paint the five sections of fence directly in front of the house. If you’ve walked by and counted how many are left to go, please don’t tell me, I don’t care to know.

Technically, I’m staining the fence with an opaque acrylic stain called Rubbol, by Sikkens. The product covers well enough to make this a one-coat job, a must for my sanity. Sikkens is well known in the building industry for durable clear coat products, so I’m hoping this stain will stand up to the elements for many years to come.

On this Memorial Day, I share this unquestionably American image of our colonial house with its white picket fence, and offer my sincerest thanks to all those who fight to keep my American dream alive.

white picket fence


Wisteria wars

The yard of the Ordinary House has been owned by wisteria for years. I cut one vine last fall that was nearly 8 inches in diameter at its base. It’s an absolutely beautiful plant while it’s blooming in the spring, but it gets out of control fast and is nearly impossible to eradicate completely. I didn’t reach all our vines before they produced fuzzy seed pods that fell to the ground, dried up and deposited nickel-sized seeds all around the yard. I figured that a handful of the seeds would sprout come spring, but baby wisteria plants are popping up everywhere. The photo below is proof of how tenacious wisteria’s grip on your landscape can be.

wisteria sprout

I estimate that the plant pictured here is less than a week old. In that time, the seed has sent out a thick, well-developed root system and three clusters of leaves. When you see this, it’s easy to imagine how a vine can grow to eight inches think and extend to the top of a 50-foot tall tree. I’ve also learned that you can’t casually fling wisteria cuttings to the ground. Nearly any portion of the plant seems to be able to take root if it comes into contact with bare soil. I managed to get the bulk of the vines cleared, but I expect the last 10% to linger for years before they’re completely gone.

Espalier vous?

While this year’s gardening tasks will be mainly aimed at keeping the vegetation in check, it’s hard to resist popping a few new plants in the ground during these warm early-spring days. And while I’m no green thumb, I’m no less ambitious in the garden than I am in the house. I tapped this enthusiasm recently and started a long-term project that I hope will eventually bear fruit – literally.

I started with this beautifully aged brick wall that edges our terrace:

brick wall

I drilled some holes in the wall:

brick drill holes

I stuck some lead anchors in the holes:

lead anchor brick wall

I screwed a stainless steel eye bolt and shackle into the lead anchors:

eye bolt and shackle

From the shackle, I hung a section of concrete reinforcing mesh and planted a Kieffer pear tree just in front of it:


And then I chopped the top of the tree off:

espalier begins

I know you’re probably thinking that I’m really missing the point of this whole gardening thing.  But if all goes well, in the next couple weeks new shoots will form on the tree’s trunk just below the cut.  While the shoots are still pliable, I’ll bend them and tie them off to the metal mesh. And after a few years of attentive pruning, I’ll end up with an espalier (ess-pal-ee-ay) tree.

Espalier is the art of growing plants in a formal pattern against a wall or other structure. The technique was perfected in the Middle Ages as a way to maximize fruit production in small spaces, particularly in the cool climates of northern France and England. The wall retains the sun’s heat, lengthening the tree’s growing season and ripening the fruit more quickly. Espalier was also popular in America in Colonial times, with many fine examples on display in Williamsburg.

My tree will eventually have three horizontal tiers, or cordons. In my dreams, someday it’ll look  like this:

pear espalier

This is not a good project for those who need instant gratification. It’ll take three or four years to fully shape the tree, but ultimately I think the effort will be worth it. Especially when I can pluck a juicy pear directly from a branch just outside the back door.