Our European Adventure – Part 1

Here’s a little unsolicited advice:  Keep your passport current.  You never know when you might need it.

Chris and I had been planning to take our little trailer, the June Bug, on a trip along the Oregon Coast in September.  But then we stumbled upon a last-minute screaming deal on a Danube river cruise.  And, unlike the screaming deals I’d seen in the past, this one offered a free cabin upgrade and some prime sailing dates – including late-September.  We’d been wanting to try a river cruise, and this was our chance!  So we jumped on it.

It was an eight-day cruise, and I started thinking about how silly it was for us to travel all the way to Europe for only eight days.  No, we needed to add things to this trip to make it worthwhile. 

So we did.  And we came up with a crazy little itinerary that made sense only to us.  But since we visited a few out-of-the-way places along with some more popular stops, I thought I’d share the highlights.

This post is only for fun.  It doesn’t delve into the mechanics of how we did or found certain things, or how we kept the trip affordable.  I’ll be sharing a lot of those details later in a “Travel Tips” post.  

So for now let’s get to the fun stuff!

Bacharach, Germany

We would be flying into Frankfurt, Germany and arriving mid-afternoon.  Since we’d probably already be tired when we arrived,  I wanted us to spend our first night somewhere charming and fun – but close to Frankfurt.

Well, the little village of Bacharach, on the Rhine River, is only about an hour’s train ride from Frankfurt.  And we could catch the train right there at the airport.  Once we figured out the slightly confusing ticket vending machine, we were on our way!

That short train ride transported us to a whole different world.

Bacharach Germany
Bacharach on the Rhine River.

When we arrived in Bacharach, it was late afternoon.  We were determined to stay up until at least 9 p.m. to adjust to our new time zone.

We dumped our luggage off at the B&B, which was located on a hill above the town center.  Our host recommended a little-known hike that started across the street from the B&B.  It wound through the vineyard hills and ended up in town. 

Who could resist that?

Bacharach’s history of wine trading goes back hundreds of years.  And the vineyards themselves seemed very old, with ancient-looking stone steps that lead workers to the terraced vines.

Stone steps on a vineyard in Bacharach

Several ancient towers dotted the hillside.  The hike went right through some of the towers.

A tower in Bacharach, Germany

In the vineyards around Bacharach Germany

The sun was getting low in the sky by now, and we reached town just before dark to enjoy a late al fresco dinner.  Not bad for our first part-day in Europe.

Bacharach Germany
Is Chris yawning in this photo? We had been awake for about 30 hours by this time.

The next day, we rented bikes from our innkeeper and rode along the Rhine River.  I had been dreaming about doing this since we first decided we were going to Bacharach!

As we rode, we saw castles on the hills along the Rhine.  We stopped at the one our innkeeper had recommended:  Rheinstein Castle. 

Rheinstein Castle

Rheinstein Castle was built in the 1300s.

Rheinstein Castle, the Rhine River, and the terraced vineyards beyond.

Later, Prince Frederick of Prussia owned the castle, and it was renovated.

But now the castle is open to commoners.  And for us, it was definitely worth the stop.

Rheinstein castle.

Strasbourg, France

We headed to Strasbourg next because Chris had been wanting to visit that city for some time.  Strasbourg is located just across the border between France and Germany.  

And that border has shifted several times in the past.  So the city feels as much German as it is French.

The outskirts of the city were unexceptional but, once we got into the old town center, we found a college town with both old-world charm and a youthful energy.

Strasbourg
Charming storefronts abound in Strasbourg.

 

La Petite France, StrasbourgThe La Petite France neighborhood in Strasbourg.

 

Strasbourg

Strasbourg has a huge Notre Dame cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg). Construction began in the 11th century and continued for several centuries after that.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg at night.

Actually the photo above doesn’t really show how massive the cathedral is.  Check out the photo below to see how huge just one entryway is!

One thing I hadn’t realized about Strasbourg is how much water there is.  Several forks of a river with the funny name of Ill (yes ILL) run through the town center.

Strasbourg

We took a sightseeing boat cruise – a great way to get acquainted with the highlights so we could come back to them later on foot.

Strasbourg is a very user-friendly, walkable town.  There were an incredible number of charming restaurants and cafes, and several museums, within walking distance of our hotel. 

Strasbourg

We try not to eat too many sweets, but on day two of our visit we caved in and tried a local pastry at a charming patisserie.  Plums were in season, and this pastry, some sort of plum torte, did not disappoint.

Budapest, Hungary

So we’d started in a small village (Bacharach), moved on to a medium-sized city (Strasbourg), and now we were headed to a big city – Budapest!

Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest
The Hungarian Parliament Building from Castle Hill.

To me, Budapest was a study in contradictions:  It was gritty yet glamorous.  Stunningly ornate architecture sat side-by-side with stark Communist-era buildings.

Even the name Budapest is, in a way, a contradiction.  The city that is now Budapest was once actually two cities:  One called Buda and one called Pest.  Buda was on the west side of the Danube, and Pest was on the east side.  

And the two sides of the city are as different as night and day.  The “Buda side” is clean, quiet, classy, and set on hills.  This is where Castle Hill is located. 

Budapest
The Buda side from the Danube River

The “Pest side” is bustling, flat, noisy, and, in places, decaying.  But the urban decay is embraced.  Pest is home to the “Ruin Pub.”

Sooty, quirky ruin pubs are popular nightlife attractions in Budapest. 

Ruin Pub, Budapest
Csendes ruin pub

But I also enjoyed visiting Budapest’s rooftop bars.  There was a wonderful rooftop bar just around the corner from our hotel.

From there, the city was all around us.  And at night, it’s gorgeous.

Budapest at night
The Hungarian Parliament Building.

 

Chain Bridge, BudapestThe Chain Bridge.

 

Chain Bridge, Budapest
Lions guard the Chain Bridge.

Budapest takes advantage of the thermal springs it sits on.  Soaking in a thermal bath in Budapest is a highly popular passtime.  We spent a relaxing afternoon getting massages and “taking the waters” at the beautiful Gellert Bath and Spa.

Gellert Bath and Spa, Budapest
The lobby of Gellert Bath and Spa.

But it’s not all fun and games in Budapest.  The city is steeped in a rich and sometimes sad history.  A small memorial museum on the grounds of the Hungarian Parliament Building help us remember the unsuccessful 1956 Hungarian uprising.

The Hungarian flag with the Communist coat of arms cut out was a symbol of the 1956 uprising.

And Heroes Square pays tribute to the important figures that shaped Hungary for over a thousand years – including the seven Magyar chieftans who, with their armies, conquered the area in the ninth century. 

Budapest

They are widely considered to be the ancestors of today’s Hungarians.

At this point, Chris and I had been on our own in Europe for over a week.  But that was about to change, because it was time to start our river cruise right there in Budapest. 

And that is where we will pick up in my next post.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

Resources:

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Rick Steves’s article about Strasbourg, which appeared in our local newspaper, is what caught Chris’s interest and ultimately took us there.

Had it not been for my Rick Steves Germany guide book, I probably would never have learned about Bacharach. 

And we would have been lost trying to navigate the confusing world of Budapest’s thermal baths without our Rick Steves Budapest guide book. 

 

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Fall Decor Inspiration

If you’re one of my regular readers, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything lately.  That is because Chris and I have been in Europe for the past three weeks!  For someone as fascinated with history, old-world charm, and architecture as I am, it was a dream trip.  Of course I took a million photos, so I will be sharing some of them with you soon.

We just returned, and I am way behind on my fall decor.  So in this edition, as I sit here wide awake at 4:30 a.m., I would like to share some fall decor ideas from seasons past.

Bulbs are Beautiful

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Last fall, my Mom removed some of her crocosmia plants.  She offered me a handful of the dried plant stalks that she’d pulled out of the ground, bulb and all, so that I could use the seed heads in floral arrangements.  

But the bulbs and roots looked so interesting that I decided to use the whole plant as decor.

Fall decor inspiration: Crocosmia

It was simple:  I filled a shallow clay pot with floral foam and then covered the foam with forest moss.  I inserted a small bamboo garden stake in the middle and then secured the crocosmia stalks to it with garden twine.

I loved the look of the bulbs and winding roots.

Fall decor inspiration: Crocosmia

A Creepy Planter

A couple of years ago, I discovered a very interesting plant called a cushion bush (Calocephalus ‘Silver Stone’).  It became the centerpiece for my creepy little black-and-white Halloween planter.

For more on this planter, check out this post.

Gleaming Pumpkins

For a look that goes past Halloween and into Thanksgiving, I gave some mini pumpkins a gold leaf finish.

 

And I touched up a few birch leaves with the same treatment.  For more on how I did it, check out this post.

 

I found that gold-painted leaves are an elegant addition to Thanksgiving tables.

A Festive Fall Dinner Party

While we’re on the subject of festive tables, one of my first posts shared a lovely fall dinner table that my Mom had created.

But let’s go outside now.

A Hoppy Harvest Wreath

When making a wreath, I like to shop my own yard for material. A few years ago, I made a silly wreath using only hops.

Haunted Hatchlings

I’ll never forget the time that a nest of goofy, terrifying haunted hatchlings landed on our front porch.  

 

This look was fun to create, and it’s explained in this post.

A Lazy Woman’s Fall Front Porch

Last year, feeling lazy and thrifty, I shopped my house and garden for fall decor.    

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

I used what I already had on hand:  Pots, urns, dried flower heads, berries, and fall leaves.   

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

 

 

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

To my surprise, a strawberry plant I was keeping behind the garage was popping with fall color, so I moved it to the front door.

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

On the other side of the door, a begonia plant was starting to wind down after blooming all summer.  But its show wasn’t over yet.

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

As we got closer to Halloween, I changed the look just a bit.

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

Okay, I splurged a little with this fun new pillow cover that I’d found on sale at World Market.

Fall decor inspiration: Halloween pillow

Skeletons and pumpkins worked together to ward off the uninvited.  This is about as scary as we get around here.

Fall decor inspiration: Halloween lights

As you can see, I was too lazy to even remove the tag from the skeleton lights.

But now I need to get cracking on my fall decor for this year.  See you again soon, and I will share photos of some of the cool things we saw in Europe!

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

Sources:  

  • Floral foam and forest moss were used in the crocosmia arrangement.
  • The premium leafing finishes that I used on the gleaming pumpkins are made by Precious Metals.  There are 8 colors available.
  • For the black eggs that the haunted hatchlings emerged from, I just painted clean cracked egg shells with a roughly 50/50 mix of Mod Podge and folkArt acrylic craft paint in Wrought Iron.  The Mod Podge helped strengthen the egg shells a bit and also added a nice sheen.
  • I love the Victorian skull pillow cover that I found at World Market.  I don’t know if they will be carrying it this year, but I do know that changing out pillow covers is one of the easiest ways to decorate for Halloween.  Etsy has a ton of fun Halloween pillow covers that go from farmhouse to frieghtening, and everything in between.  

I think this one by PamperedHomeDecor is especially fun.

 

 

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The Centerpiece That The Squirrel Planted

The only thing better than growing your own vegetables is having a squirrel do it for you.

Earlier this summer, I noticed a vine growing under a manzanita shrub. The large leaves told me that the mystery vine was something squash-related.  Over the summer, it wound its way through the branches of the manzanita.  The vine seemed to thrive in its location – a location I would never have chosen for it. 

How did it get there?  I can only speculate that a squirrel buried the seed last winter.   I waited to see exactly what the squirrel had planted for us.

White Pumpkins!

Thank you, thoughtful squirrel, for supplying me with one of the most popular fall decor items out there – white pumpkins!  Well, white-ish anyway.

white pumpkins on the vine

A Quick Centerpiece

Recently we decided to host one last dinner on our back patio.  The table we use is long and narrow, so we couldn’t have a bulky centerpiece. 

And I avoid using floral centerpieces outdoors even though it looks so dreamy on Instragram and in magazines.  In the real world, flowers can attract bees to the table.

The white pumpkins were not quite ready to harvest, but I decided to sacrifice one to use in a simple centerpiece.  

pumpkin centerpiece

I tucked a few hops in around the pumpkin.  

pumpkin centerpiece

You might be wondering what in the world the pumpkin is sitting on.  No it’s not a candlestick – it’s what’s left of this urn after it took an unfortunate tumble.

I hate to waste anything.

Lighting

With my centerpiece done, I just needed to come up with some after-dark lighting for the dinner party.

So Chris and I wound a couple of strings of lights through the frame of a patio umbrella to make a quick chandelier.  

DIY patio lighting

We secured the strands with clothespins.  Next time, we will come up with a more elegant method for attaching them.

And Chris set a couple of his vintage Coleman lanterns in strategic locations.

Coleman lantern

With our heat lamp cranked, and using some of these tips to help keep bugs away, we all stayed cozy and comfortable.

Goodbye Summer

Chris’s first attempt at smoked ribs was a success, and one of our guests brought a wonderful blueberry pie.  

patio party

 

 

patio party

Seems we always try to squeeze in one final patio dinner before the summer ends, and this one went off without a hitch – thanks in part to one very talented squirrel.

Sources:

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Wondering where I got those crazy dinner napkins?  I made them using batik fabric quarters (also known as “fat quarters).  The fabric quarters are just the right size for a dinner napkin, and I simply double-hemmed the edges. 

But for anyone who doesn’t like to sew, there is a lovely assortment of handcrafted batik napkins on Etsy.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

 

 

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A Rusty Bed Spring Becomes a Trellis

Procrastination

Back when my brother was still a bachelor, I helped him get rid of a few things that were cluttering up his basement.  One of those things was an old steel bed spring that had been left there by the former owner.  Judging by its size, it was probably from a child’s bed.  

I thought it would make a fun garden trellis if I painted it, so I took it home.  I stashed it behind some bushes along our driveway fence – just temporarily, of course, until I had the time to paint it.  

That was about 10 years ago.

Earlier this summer, when Chris rebuilt our driveway fence, he came across the bed spring – still sitting, unpainted, where I’d left it.  The steel had rusted over the years, and the rust looked (to me, at least) more interesting than any type of paint. 

Sometimes it pays to procrastinate.

DIY trellis from an old bedspring

Finding Inspiration by Accident

It was time for me to either do something with this piece or give it away.  But I couldn’t think of where in the garden we could actually use it.  

Where, oh where . . . 

Chris propped it in front of our greenhouse  just to get it out of the way.  

Voila! It was almost the perfect width for that space.  And its vintage industrial look worked well with the greenhouse.  

Now it was officially no longer a bed spring.  It was a trellis.

DIY trellis from an old bedspring

 

But we (and of course by “we,” I mean Chris) had to figure out a way to attach it to the greenhouse.

 

Attaching the Trellis to the Greenhouse

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Our goals:

  • Of course our number one priority was to not disfigure the greenhouse in the process of attaching the trellis.  Impact on the greenhouse had to be minimal.
  • The trellis should stand straight and be secure.
  • And no potential for rust stains on anything.  So the trellis shouldn’t actually come into contact with the greenhouse or the bluestone pavers that were installed a couple of years ago.

The Solution

To keep the rust off of the pavers, Chris built a wooden frame around the  bottom of the trellis.

 

Near the top, he used two L brackets to attach it to the greenhouse.  And for this he only needed to drill three small holes into the greenhouse frame.

Now the trellis sits a couple of inches out from the greenhouse, but it is securely attached.

DIY trellis from an old bedspring

 

And it will be easy to remove if ever, in the future, we look at it and say, What were we thinking?

 

All Done!

I moved my potted mandevilla over to the trellis.  I used plant clips to attach the vines without harming them. 

DIY trellis from a rusty vintage bed spring

 

Now it looks as if the plant has been growing there all along.

 

A DIY trellis from a rusty vintage bed spring

 

A DIY trellis from a rusty vintage bed spring

 

In winter, the mandevilla will live inside the greenhouse, and I’ll have fun putting Christmas lights on the trellis.  

Other Details

I just love to dress up my dollhouse – I mean greenhouse!  Our house and garage are both from the 1920s, so my goal is to make the greenhouse, a recent addition, look like it’s been here all along.  It’s fun to add touches like this trellis and the brick veneer I did a couple of years ago.  Some additions, like my burlap greenhouse shadesthe industrial-inspired lights that my brother made, and the addition of a small trailer sink, also add to its functionality.

In summer, the greenhouse sits empty, having done its job in fall, winter, and spring.  Container plants surround the greenhouse.  This year, that included a few fun succulents – a couple of which had spent this past winter in the greenhouse.

Echiveria with lobelia

 

Sedum

 

succulent

In two rectangular pots alongside the greenhouse, I mixed zinnias and salvia with rainbow chard starts.  This should be a nice transitional look from summer to fall. 

Zinnia and salvia with Swiss Chard starts.

 

Zinnia and salvia with Swiss Chard starts.

In late fall, once the zinnias and salvias start to crash, I’ll remove them and let the Swiss chard really take off.  At least that’s the plan.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not intended as tutorials.  No greenhouses were harmed in the making of this post.

Sources:

Our little greenhouse is a Sunglo.  

 

 


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A Garden Update and a Found Treasure

Back in June, for about twenty minutes, I thought my garden looked almost perfect.  We’d cleaned the flower beds and mulched, and everything looked so fresh and orderly.  But now, with the dog days of summer upon us, the garden is once again an out-of-control monster.  

But that’s okay. There are birds and bees everywhere, and they are happier when I leave things alone.  

Amid the chaos that is our garden, there were a few things that went right – things that I enjoyed this season.  So I thought I would share them with you.

We’ll start with my most recent addition to the garden.

Found Treasure

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On a walk in the neighborhood, Chris and I came across this footed ceramic pot that someone had kicked to the curb.

It had a few chips, and I didn’t like the color or the heavy glaze.  It was also top heavy and not very stable.  Still it had possibilities.

Ignoring the advice of several family members to leave it be, I sanded the pot with 400-grit sandpaper.  The sandpaper didn’t have much of an impact on the heavy glaze, but it did leave tiny striations. 

Then, hoping to etch the glaze even more, I sprayed it with the home made rust accelerator (basically a DIY acid) that I used to make my DIY soup can planters.  I’m not sure if this step actually did anything.  (Note:  When working with any acid, be sure to follow all recommended safety precautions.)

Then I sprayed it with Rust-Oleum Universal Advanced Formula in Oil Rubbed Bronze.  This spray paint is said to work on wood, metal, plastic, masonry, and more.  I can only hope that “and more” includes glazed ceramic.

The paint adhered well to the pot – with no runs.  Only time will tell if the paint actually holds up on glazed ceramic, but I will be bringing this pot indoors in winter to protect it.

Summer garden design

 

I turned it upside down, placed a potted plant on it, and used it as a plant stand – which is what I had in mind for it all along.

(As an aside: Since this Rust-Oleum spray paint is made to use on plastics, I also tried it on a small resin pot.  The result was not the same – too dark and shiny for my liking.)

The Front Porch

Earlier in summer, poppies and Spanish lavender were blooming near the front porch steps.

summer garden
Poppies and Spanish Lavender

In the flowerbed on the opposite side of the steps, birds enjoy the new birdbath that I found at a statuary for only $30. 

The birdbath was damaged:  It originally had two clunky butterflies attached to it.  But one was broken off.  So once I got the birdbath home, Chris removed the remaining butterfly.  No big loss since the butterfly looked more like a moth – or even a bat.

 

A couple of new decor items – a pillowcase that I’d purchased at a farmer’s market in Hawaii and an outdoor rug – give our front porch a bit of a tropical vibe.

Summer garden design - tropical front porch

 

This is my favorite place to sip coffee and feel guilty about not doing more yard work.

The Back Patio

My favorite place for sipping wine is our back patio.  It’s cool and quiet here on summer evenings.

Summer garden design

 

 

summer garden

 

 

Summer garden design

 

Little Details

Sometimes it’s the little things that add personality to a garden.

For months, these sweet, tiny flowers have been blooming in our front walkway.

Isotoma Blue Laurentia fluviatilis

The little cuties have spilled into the lawn, where they are short enough to escape the lawnmower blade.

Not as long blooming but almost as cute, these little bellflowers like to surround this potted quince.

My garden chair has a new cushion this year:  baby tears.

Summer garden design

Meanwhile, lavender and lysimachia are working together to swallow this urn.

Lavender and lysimachia

Lots of plants withered in the heat this summer, but my mandevilla, which I overwintered in our greenhouse, has been blooming like crazy for months.

Mandevilla

Near the back door, plume poppies lean toward the sun.  They must love their location, because they’ve been such a reliable perennial.

Summer garden
Plume poppies

I grew zinnias from seeds and planted them in front of the plume poppies and the Bishop of Llandaff dahlias.

Summer garden
Zinnias

I got the zinnia seed packet last fall at a country vegetable stand, and the packet contained a fun variety of seeds.

Zinnia

A Little Progress

Since I began writing this post, I’ve trimmed a few hedges and dusted off some walkways.  The garden is still chaos, but I’m feeling much better about it.

 

Summer garden design

And it really didn’t take me that long.  It was a good reminder to me that having the right tools makes all the difference. 

I used my Ryobi 18v cordless hedge trimmer and my Ryobi 18v cordless blower.  These tools are probably not for heavy-duty jobs, but for my needs they work because they are lightweight.  A rechargeable battery means no annoying cords or smelly fuels.  I use the same battery for both tools, and it’s easy to move from one tool to the other.

Summer Dreams

But that’s more than enough about yard work.  Warm summer breezes are meant for downtime, dreams, and daydreams.  Here is what has me dreaming today.

The attainable dream: 

Although I love the tropical pillowcase I found in Hawaii, I can’t help admiring these four watercolor/bohemian pillowcases.  And what a great deal for a set of four.  

The “I can dream, can’t I?” dream:

If our porch was just a bit bigger, and I was just a bit lazier (yet also somehow richer), I would want a daybed swing similar to this one.    Mint julep anyone?

Thanks for coming along today on this little tour of our garden.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not intended as tutorials.

 


Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

Our Kitchen Remodel Series
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What To Do With All This Bamboo

The fence along our driveway has been on borrowed time for years.  Whenever we had a windstorm, it would whip and shake.  We would joke that the only thing holding it up was the bamboo growing on either side of it.

So this was going to be the summer that we (and of course by “we” I mean Chris) finally replaced it.  

But I had mixed feelings.  I loved the weathered look of the old fence.  New wood just wouldn’t be the same.

Happily, Chris and the neighbor we share the fence with decided to take an Earth-friendly (and budget-friendly) approach by rebuilding it instead of replacing it.  They only replaced the posts and runners that were rotted, but they re-used the old fence boards – at least those in good condition. 

Usually DIY projects wind up being more difficult and time-consuming than expected, and this was one of those rare cases where the opposite happened.  And the best part, as far as I’m concerned, is that the fence still has that rustic patina that I love.

Bye Bye Bamboo

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Of course, to access the fence, some of the bamboo growing on the west end needed to be removed – a lot of it in fact.

And it looked so beautiful.  Some of it was gorgeous black bamboo.  I removed the branches and left the canes.

Bamboo

We gave some away and kept some. 

I’d already been using our bamboo for plant stakes, especially the more interesting bent canes.

Bamboo stake

But what else could I do with all this bamboo?

Bamboo Projects

I was a little obsessed with the black bamboo, although I’ve been told that most types fade after they dry – just like other bamboos. 

But I wanted to use it anyway to make a little trellis for a jasmine vine growing in a 10-inch pot. 

An Asian-Inspired Trellis

I cut two 38-inch canes that would serve as vertical stakes, and five canes at lengths of 18, 16, 14, 12, and 10 inches as the horizontal runners.

I used my sewing pattern cutting board to space the canes exactly as I wanted them, and then I marked them with a felt pen for assembly later.

Simple bamboo projects: Spacing the canes

Then I suspended the vertical canes between two chairs and used Super Glue to attach the horizontal canes.  The Super Glue was not intended as a permanent adhesive – only as a way to hold the canes in place until I could tie them together.  

Tying them together, as I learned, is called lashing.  I found this helpful video and, after practicing a little, this method of lashing became etched into my muscle memory.

But the whole thing was going too smoothly, so I had to complicate it.  Instead of the waxed lashing cord used in the video, I decided to use the caning material I already had on hand from the time I revamped four rattan chairs.

 

 Bamboo projects - lashing

I’m sure the caning material was not nearly as easy to work with as lashing cord would have been.  But I think it gave the trellis a fun look.

Simple bamboo projects: Asian-inspired trellis

It will be interesting to see how long the black bamboo actually stays black.

A Dahlia Fence

Now that I knew how to tie lashing, there was no stopping me.  But for my next project, I would keep it simple and use plain old jute twine.

Last fall, I planted some dahlia tubers that my neighbor gave me.  I didn’t expect the plants to do much in their first year, but they have exploded.  By the time I realized they were getting out of hand, it was too late to stake or cage them without doing more harm than good. 

So I decided to make a little bamboo fence to hold them back from the walkway.

I built the fence in place. I pounded three 36-inch canes into the soil, spacing them about 23 inches apart.

Then I used garden tape to suspend the horizontal canes from the vertical canes on either side while I tied them.  I made sure everything was level and evenly spaced.

Simple bamboo projects - dahlia fence
Holding the canes in place while building the fence.

A half hour later, voila!

Simple bamboo projects: completed dahlia fence

Simple bamboo projects: completed dahlia fence closeup

I have plenty of bamboo left, so I’m looking for ideas.  If you have a good bamboo project, leave a comment and tell me about it.

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Mom’s Secret Garden

My mom, Erika, has always been able to look at something and see possibilities.  One example is the elegant portico that she designed.  It completely transformed the look of her mid-century rambler.

So maybe it’s not surprising that she was able to look at a patch of dead lawn and a few scraggly juniper bushes and see what no one else could:  A lush secret garden.

It’s taken me so long to write about Mom’s backyard transformation because we’d been hoping to find the “before” photos.  Sadly, we haven’t had any luck with that.  I wish I could show you just how desolate this area was.  And it looked tiny.  Not only that, it looked like it belonged to the house next door. 

But there is a surviving “before” photo of the side yard.  In the middle of the photo, you can see the juniper hedge and the dried grass.  

The most interesting feature here is probably the fire hydrant.

The Challenges

Let’s take a look at the major challenges Mom faced with her back yard:

1.  Uninteresting

The back yard consisted mostly of a neglected lawn and some ugly juniper shrubs with weeds growing between their branches.  It was not a place where anyone would want to spend time.

2.  Shallow depth

The back yard is long but very shallow.  It measures about 22 feet from the house to the property line.  

3.  Lack of privacy

There was no privacy and no visual separation between her garden and the neighbor’s.  

4.  Poor soil

The sandy soil dried out quickly.

The Goal

Mom wanted to turn this shallow chunk of land into an outdoor area that would be an extension of her home – somewhere to entertain and to relax.  It needed to be private, beautiful, and interesting. 

Her Plan

Some serious hardscaping needed to happen.  She wanted:

1.  A fence between her yard and the neighbor’s;

2.  In front of that fence, planting beds with new, rich soil;

3.  A curved stone retaining wall to contain the planting beds;

4.  A cobblestone patio between the retaining wall and the house;

5.  Gravel pathways on either end of the cobblestone patio; and

6.  Interesting garden structures to mark the end curve of each pathway.

Quite an ambitious plan.  Some people may have consulted with a garden designer or drawn up formal plans before taking on a project like this.  But Mom knew that if she could just find the right landscaper, she could simply collaborate with him or her.

She interviewed several landscapers.  Some of them didn’t seem to be listening, and others wanted to change her plan.  But she finally found one that “got it.”

A Secret Garden Evolves

One of the earliest “after” photos, a snow scene, shows the low retaining wall and the still-tiny new plants.  I remember what struck me when I saw the new landscaping was how much deeper the back yard looked.  

Backyard snow scene

I had assumed that a fence between Mom’s garden and the neighbor’s would make her back yard look even smaller, but the fence actually had the opposite impact. 

Still, the new fence was a visual distraction, so Mom had an idea.

Treating the fence with a dark stain made it recede into the background.  And, after the plants matured a bit, the dark fence would work as a quiet, neutral backdrop for them.

After the hardscaping was done, Mom took her time finding the right garden structures to place off the gravel pathways.

At the end of one pathway, she installed a charming gazebo.

 

An early photo of the gazebo.
Backyard gazebo
And more recently.

And off the opposite path, a three-tiered fountain.

Fountain

 

I always look forward to the warm season and relaxing on Mom’s back patio.

 

 

Back patio looking West

When Mom moved into the house, her dining room had a window facing the back yard.  She has since replaced it with a French door so there is a wonderful, easy flow from her dining room to the back patio.

It’s a great place to soak up the sun.

Gracie with her favorite toy.

The stone retaining wall looks timeless.

Retaining wall

Stone retaining wall

 

The most recent addition to her back yard landscaping is this little path.

garden path 1

Which has already softened to look like this.

Garden path2

She used a fun mix of materials, including broken concrete, for the retaining wall.

Now in Mom’s back yard, eye candy is everywhere.

sedum on rocks

 

Angels and Azaleas

 

Hanging begonias

 

Chinese lantern

 

Glass Float

 

pedestal planter

 

Hydrangea

 

Roses on gazebo

 

watering can

 

There is so much more to see here, and these photos don’t really do her garden justice.  Still, I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of Mom’s back yard. She is a gracious host, and we’ll be visiting here again.

Erika in her garden.

Disclosure: Affiliate links were used below.

As you may have guessed, Mom has many talents.  She has published two novels:  Cries from the Fifth Floor, a paranormal thriller, and Year of the Angels, an historical fiction novel based on her childhood in Germany during World War II.  So if you get a chance, visit her Amazon author’s page or her website.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only.

 



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My Budget Spring Garden

In my previous post, I promised my readers that I would be sharing something special very soon.  Alas, this post isn’t it.  No, I’m still working on photos for that “something special.”  But in the meantime, I’m sharing a few ways that I save money while still feeding my main gardening addiction:  Beautiful plants.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we never know if we are going to have a warm, sunny summer or if we will be disappointed again.  But for avid gardeners, hope springs eternal.  This time of year, plant nurseries are packed with resilient optimists like me who are stocking up on their favorite annuals.  I can almost hear Mother Nature laughing at us in the background.  Ha ha, those fools!

I used to spend a small fortune on my plant addiction.  But now, with a little planning and a lot of luck, I can save money and still have my beautiful annuals.  Most of it involves using my greenhouse, but an enclosed porch or even a sunny window would probably work well too.

A few ways I’ve been saving money are:

Taking Succulent Cuttings in Fall

A few years ago, when I visited Cousin Lolli in Fort Bragg, California, she gave me cuttings from some of the beautiful succulent plants she had in her garden.  She warned me that they probably would not be winter hardy in the Pacific Northwest.

These succulents grow a lot in one summer, so rather than move the whole large plant into the greenhouse in winter, I just took cuttings from each one.

Succulent cuttings

Then I simply put the cuttings in soil and kept them in the greenhouse over the winter, watering them occasionally.  They sprouted roots and thrived with no special care.

Recently, I moved them into clay pots and placed them back outside where they will make attractive, easy-care container plants for months to come.

Succulents with Spanish lavender

 

Overwintering Begonias

Last season, my favorite container plant was this big begonia next to my front door.  It grew on one large main stem – into the shape of a small tree.

Begonia and Coleus

Even in fall, it looked interesting.

Begonia in fall

Overwintering begonias has never really worked for me before but, after this begonia died down, I just put it, pot and all, under the potting bench in the greenhouse.  Once in a while, I would remember that the pot was there and give it a little splash of water.

And . . . nothing happened for a long time.

But now the begonia is slowly making a comeback – along with the baby tears that were planted around it.

Begonia emerging

Soon it will go back to its place on the front porch.  It will be interesting to see how it grows this year.

Baby Tears

I used to buy four-inch pots of baby tears every spring to use in containers and garden borders.  I love this sweet little ground cover.  Early last fall, though, I dug up the baby tears from my garden, put them back into four-inch pots, and kept them in the greenhouse.  There, they thrived all winter.  I divided them several times, and my pots of baby tears increased.

Recently, I planted most of them into the seat of this garden chair.

garden art chair

Here they will expand and eventually make a nice cushion for the seat – hopefully.

More baby tears are still in the greenhouse.  I’ll use them in containers later.

baby tears

Baby tears do sometimes overwinter outdoors in my climate, but they die down a bit, so it’s nice to have these more mature plants to start the season.

Geranium Starts and Lobelia Packs

Geraniums in four-inch pots can cost upwards of $3.  That doesn’t sound like much unless you want quite a few – which I always do.  So I buy the little two-inch starter plants – which this year were 50 cents each.  Then, in the greenhouse, I move them into four-inch pots so their roots can develop.  Same story with lobelias.  I buy them in pony packs and then re-pot them.

geraniums

Placing geraniums and lobelias (or almost any summer-blooming annual) outside before the weather is warm enough only stunts them.  But protected in my greenhouse, it doesn’t take long for these starter plants to reach the size of their larger, more expensive counterparts.

Overwintering Fuschias

Fuschia plants are easy to overwinter – even in a garage window.  Last season this plant graced my shade garden.

Fuschia

In late fall, I just removed the clay pot from the “pedestal” it was sitting on and put it in the greenhouse.

Bonus Thrift Tip:  Turn a tall pot upside down and use it as a pedestal to elevate a planter. 

The pedestal you see above is actually a tall, broken pot turned upside down.

The break is turned to the back of the flower bed where no one sees it.

Making an elevated planter

And a garden stake pushed through the middle and into the soil keeps the pot from tipping.  The stake also secures the clay fuschia pot once it’s set on top.

My Garden Now

These overwintered plants just need a little time and patience now, and they should thrive.  But while I have you here, come and see what else is going on in the garden.

We’ll start in the greenhouse where my little coleus seedlings are growing strong and fast – even though they are just starting to show color.

Coleus seedlings

I am a little disappointed that I’m not seeing more variety in the leaf patterns so far, and I’ll probably use a different brand of seed next year.

 

 

This year I’m growing Pomodoro “Lilliput” tomatoes.  They are said to be compact, disease-resistant, and good producers.

Tomato Seedlings

I’ve since moved the tomatoes into larger containers, using the tomato-growing tips I learned from a dear old friend.

In the garden, things are just starting to gear up.  I did splurge a bit on this new birdbath for the shade garden.

Birdbath

I love it because it looks like it’s been here for years – like something we might have discovered one day while we were cleaning out the garden.

The Corsican hellebore is always spectacular this time of year – for months actually, starting in early January.

Corsican hellebore

Another upside-down pot, topped with a square saucer, makes a cute, low-maintenance planter.

Violet planter

While my back was turned, violets took over the pot and spilled into the soil.  More power to them.

Sweet woodruffs have moved into the flower bed above the dry stack wall.

Ssweet Woodruff

And near the shed, bishop’s weed is trying to swallow my new garden edging.

Bishops Weed

When the perennials start to pop, the flower beds will become even more chaotic. It’s a very casual and accidental garden.  But having some structure in the form of a few well-pruned trees, manicured hedges, and a neat lawn helps to balance all that chaos.

Bay leaf tree
A bay leaf tree shelters a birdbath

I will be sharing more of our garden as the season progresses.


Sources:

Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used below.

Our Greenhouse:  To learn more about our little Sunglo greenhouse, check out Our Greenhouse page.

Pest Control (Hopefully!): Last summer we had a wasp nest on the side of the house.  We don’t like to use chemicals to repel or kill insects if we can avoid it.  So this year we put this “Get Lost Wasp” visual wasp deterrent under our eaves.

Get Lost Wasp Insect Deterrent

It’s not the most attractive thing to look at, but at least it blends in.  Wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets are said to be territorial.  They won’t build a nest where one already exists, so this product (in theory) deters them because it looks like an insect nest.  It was fairly inexpensive, so we thought it would be worth a try.


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Unplugged in Arizona

It’s healthy to unplug sometimes.  It gives us a chance to slow down and actually see the beauty of the world around us.

Recently, we took a little sun break to Arizona to visit friends and relatives.  So I wouldn’t be tempted to play around with my blog while I was there, I decided not to bring my laptop.  Once in Arizona, I only checked email and Facebook occasionally (and not in front of our gracious hosts) – just to make sure I wasn’t missing something important.  And I didn’t post anything to social media.  I didn’t even want to.

And I found that the longer I stayed unplugged, the happier I was.

I was free to be in the moment and fall in love with desert blooms, the saguaro cactus, and all the soft shades of the Sonoran Desert.

Of course there was no way that I was not going to take photos of all this beauty.  But I figured photography was still okay since I prefer to use a camera instead of my smart phone.  Visiting friends and relatives took us to parts of Arizona that we might not discover on our own.  So today I’m sharing photos of my favorite places.

Casa Grande

I like to learn about the history of places we visit.  And at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, in Coolidge, the history goes way back.  We saw the ruins of an advanced farming community built by the ancient Sonoran Desert people – including the huge and impressive great house that inspired the name Casa Grande.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The tiny person to the far left in the photo gives you an idea of how large the  great house is.

Before the ruins were declared a national monument, visitors sometimes left graffiti behind.  And even though graffiti on a national monument is less than ideal, it made me think about all the visitors who had come here over the ages.  Here, history is layered.

Graffiti from 1871 in the great house.

The modern-day residents of Casa Grande are the owls that nest in its walls.

Great horned owls nesting at Casa Grande.

Other ancient structures dot the landscape.

A structure at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Saguaro Lake – Butcher Jones Trail

Near Phoenix, relatives took us on this beautiful hike.  We set out early to beat the heat.

But it was worth it.  This six-mile hike had it all.

Stunning vistas,

Saguaro Lake.
Saguaro Lake.

Wildlife,

Turkey vultures near Saguaro Lake.
Wild horses near Saguaro Lake.

And that icon of the Southwest, the beautiful and fascinating saguaro cactus.

Saguaro Lake hike.
Blossoms on a saguaro cactus.
Saguaro cactus.
A dead saguaro cactus.

Prescott

Our first few days in Arizona were spent on our own exploring Prescott.

Prescott was once the capital of the Arizona Territory.  It has a colorful past, and Whiskey Row, with its vintage taverns and saloons, is a fun place to visit.

The Yavapai County Courthouse, built in 1916, sits in the center of it all.  In its basement is a small but interesting display about crime, justice, and punishment in old-time Prescott.

Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott.

We stayed at the Hassayampa Inn.  Built in 1927, it is located in the heart of downtown Prescott.

The lobby of the Hassayampa Inn.

Our room was small, but it had a view of Thumb Butte and large windows that actually opened for ventilation.  The service at the hotel was outstanding, the restaurant was good and, while we were there, the bar had live music every evening.

We did several hikes in the area, but my favorite by far was in the Granite Dells area – the gorgeous hike to Watson Dam.

Scrambling over boulders was well worth it.  Even with a few other hikers on the trail, it felt remote and peaceful here.

Granite Dells.
Watson Dam hike.
Watson Dam hike.

My Favorite Souvenir

DisclosureAffiliate links are used below.

Back in town, we explored the many antique stores that were dangerously close to our hotel.

Did I need another vase?  Of course not.  But this vintage fan vase is my favorite souvenir from the trip.

Back home, I just plopped the tulips in it and they practically arranged themselves.

My new find made me curious about fan vases.  So to learn more, I did a search of vintage ceramic fan vases on Etsy.  I was surprised at the variety – everything from unique to beautiful to tragically ugly.

Plugging Back In

It’s time for me to come clean and admit that I still used my smart phone navigation app on the trip.  But then I put the phone away again.

And now that I’m back, I’m trying to be more thoughtful about the way I use my screen time.  After all, time is precious.  So I’m simplifying some things and restricting myself on others.  I’m challenging myself to go for longer and longer stretches of time without looking at my smart phone.

I’m already happier for it.

Thanks for reading my ramblings about screen time, Arizona, and fan vases.  I promise to have something very special to share with you in my next post.  Stay tuned!


Sources:

I took most of the photos in this post with our Canon PowerShot SX280 HS.  I like it for travel because it’s more compact and portable than my good SLR camera, yet for such a small camera it has a great zoom – far better than my smart phone.  Those turkey vultures were pretty far in the distance when I took their photo!

It’s an old model now.  If I were to replace it, I might get the Canon PowerShot SX620, which has an even better zoom.

 


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A Mason Bee Update (AKA, the Tale of Beatrice)

Around this time last year, I wrote all about our experiences in keeping orchard mason bees.  To read my original post, click here.

Insects aren’t usually my thing, but “our” mason bees are very much the exception.  I’m fairly certain that our bees are cuter and smarter than anyone else’s.

A mason bee preparing for landing at the bee house.

And since a new batch of our babies – I mean bees – will soon begin hatching from their cocoons, I thought this would be a good time to share an update on how they did last season.

But first . . .

Mason Bee Fun Facts

There is so much to know about mason bees, but here are a few fun facts:

  • Female mason bees are black and can easily be mistaken for flies.
  • Mason bees are considered solitary bees because they don’t live in a hive and don’t protect a queen.
  • We don’t need any protective gear to keep mason bees, and we never have to handle live bees – except Beatrice.  You’ll meet her later.
  • Mason bees are spring pollinators.  In our area, they start hatching from their cocoons around early April and are active only until about June.
  • Most mason bee varieties need sun and a  temperature of at least 55 degrees to fly.
  • In our garden, they lay eggs in the nesting tubes and wooden nesting blocks that we provide.
  • They fill each nesting tube with eggs, sealing each individual egg in with a mud wall to protect it.  Each nesting tube can house around six to eight eggs.
  • The eggs hatch into larvae and then spin themselves a protective cocoon where they develop into adult bees and hatch the following spring.
  • In late fall, we harvest the cocoons and keep them safe in a spare fridge until the following spring.
A mason bee at the entrance of a wooden nesting block.

Our Bee Numbers

We started the 2017 season with around 180 cocoons – 150 of which were from our own “crop” of cocoons from 2016, and 30 of which we got from Crown Bees.

By the end of the 2017 season, those bees left us with a whopping 305 new cocoons for the 2018 season.

 

What We Did Differently in 2017

2017 was a great year for our bee population.  We don’t always have that kind of success.

One thing we did differently was that, to prolong the bee season, we placed our cocoons outside in two increments:

We placed 20 cocoons outside on April 3, and we put the rest of the cocoons outside on April 8.

Chris put them in a little cardboard box with escape holes, similar to the boxes he made for this year’s cocoons, and strapped the box to the top of the bee house.

Cardboard boxes with holes for releasing cocoons.

When the little guys hatched, they could find their way out of the box and start living their busy bee lives.

In the bee house, Chris carefully arranged nesting reeds mixed with natural sticks of varying sizes.  This really appeals to the bees because the sticks serve as landmarks to help each bee find the nesting tube that she is filling with eggs.

Mason bees working their nesting tubes.

A Mishap

About a month into the 2017 bee season, most of the cocoons should have hatched – but there were still a few unhatched ones.

Chris moved the cocoons into a small clear plastic container, hoping that the extra dose of sunlight would awaken them. The container had holes drilled in the top so any hatched bees could emerge.

Then he strapped the plastic container to the bee house.

Then one day, I was outside and I noticed to my horror that the container had fallen to the ground – face down.  The top had come off, and the remaining cocoons, and one hatched bee, were trapped in the plastic bottom.

It was a sunny day, which was good for the cocoons.  I lifted off the container and watched as a few bees emerged from their cocoons, warmed their wings, and took flight.

This was a real treat since I’d never actually seen bees hatching from their cocoons before.

A newly-hatched mason been amid hatched and unhatched cocoons.
A mason bee hatching from a cocoon.

Apologies to anyone who thinks these photos are gross.  I might think the same if I didn’t know these sweet, docile bees better.  While I was sitting on the ground right next to them and taking photos, it never even crossed my mind that they would try to harm me.

 

The Tale of Beatrice

Later, Chris put all the unhatched cocoons back in the plastic container and put them on the porch to soak up the last rays of sun.

But the cocoons sat motionless – except one.  A single bee was slowly gnawing its way to freedom.  I could even hear what sounded like tiny chomping/scratching sounds.

A mason bee struggles to get out of her cocoon.

But progress was slow – too slow.  Chris carefully opened the cocoon for the bee.  It was a larger, black bee, so it was most likely a female.  She was very weak, and probably very hungry.

Chris put her on a flower to soak up some nectar.

Beatrice crashes on a flower.

I thought it would bring her luck if we gave her a name, so we called her Beatrice.  But Beatrice wasn’t doing very well.  To make things worse, it was getting late, and dark clouds were moving in.

Going on a tip that Chris had read, we soaked a cotton ball in sugar water and placed it on a small plastic lid.  Then we cut the flower that Beatrice was sitting on and put her, flower and all, on the lid with the cotton ball.  We placed the lid on top of the bee house and anchored it with a large rock.

Beatrice feeding on sugar water.

Beatrice could soak up sugar water and then, if she had the energy, find shelter in one of the bee house nesting holes.

The next day was cool and wet – and the bees were inactive.  Beatrice was still alive and clinging to the sugar-soaked cotton.  We added more sugar water.

The following day was warm and sunny.  And Beatrice flew away!

It’s not unusual to have a few cocoons that don’t hatch for various reasons.  We checked the remaining cocoons, and none of them contained live bees.

Beatrice was the last bee of the season.

A Second House

Beatrice might have been the last bee to hatch, but there were still plenty of bees around – and they were starting to run out of places to lay their eggs.

Most of the nesting reeds in the bee house were already full of eggs – with mud walls neatly sealing each entrance.

Mason bee nesting reeds almost filled to capacity.

Chris quickly built another bee house for them – a simple design but it did the trick.

Building a simple bee house.

Our Current Cocoons

We will be setting our current batch of cocoons outside soon. We are phasing out the wooden nesting block because we noticed that the bees much prefer natural nesting reeds (which are different from bamboo reeds, which we have been told by experts to stay away from) for their eggs.

Mason bee cocoons.

The variation of size always amazes me.  Females tend to be larger than males – in some cases much larger.

Mason bee cocoons.

We added a third bee house this year.

New bee house with this season’s cocoons in the cardboard container above the nesting reeds.

I can’t wait to see these little guys buzzing around our garden soon.

 

This post is for entertainment only and is not a tutorial. Mason bees are not suitable to all climates.


Resources

Disclosure:  Affiliate Links are used below.

Interested in learning more about mason bees?  Here are a few resources to get you started:

  • The Crown Bees Learning Page is packed with interesting information on the orchard mason bee and other native bees.
  • Crown Bees BeeMail Newsletters are an excellent resource for anyone currently caring for mason bees.
  • The Mason Bee Revolution, Dave Hunter and Jill Lightner.
  • The book The Orchard Mason Bee, by Brian L. Griffin, was our first resource when we began researching mason bees.  Although we have moved on from some of the advice in the book, it was an entertaining read that helped us understand these little creatures and get started.

Bee Houses and Hotels

I would love to replace our oldest bee house with something more attractive, and I’m inspired by some of the charming bee hotels and houses on Etsy.  

This one is especially cute.

If you decide to purchase a bee house, keep in mind that mason bees prefer nesting reeds that are at least six inches long.  I see many bee houses out there that are too shallow and the nesting reeds are too short.

 


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Our Kitchen Remodel Series
Our Master Bath Remodel Series
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My Shop
Dan’s Workshop
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Our Little Sunglo Greenhouse
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Garden Design
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