OnceUpon a Time, in a quiet seaside neighborhood, there was a little shop with the most charming window display in all the land: Old, forgotten books had been magically transformed into a village of holiday houses. The covers of the books were the roofs, and the pages were the exterior walls. The theme was black and white – printed words on white paper.
I was enchanted with these holiday houses, and I vowed that one day I would try this project myself.
Fast forward three years. And my little niece is shaping up to be a bit of a book worm. So I used her as my excuse – I mean my reason – for making a colorful version of the holiday houses by using a children’s book.
But, unlike the holiday houses, my “Storybook House” would have a door and a window to view interior scenes.
I headed to the thrift store to find a children’s book with charming illustrations of both indoor and outdoor scenes.
Now, this book was going to be cut up, pages torn out, completely reconfigured. So I would not be looking for a rare classic. I found this adorable Little Golden Book, which is still in print.
The book measured 6.5″ X 8″. I would be using the book cover as the roof of the house. I found a box that measured 7″ X 9″ X 5″. It would work for the body of the house.
Cutting and More Cutting
It was time to turn the box into a house. For this, I mostly used a straight edge, scissors, and a utility knife.
The House Frame
I cut away at the top of the box until I had a “roofline” to support the book cover. I folded the two bottom side flaps of the box outward to make the house more stable, and I securely taped the remaining two flaps to form the house’s subfloor.
I also cut an extra piece of cardboard to use as the “floor” of the house. There was an inside lining page in the book which consisted of a charming white-on-pink pattern. I cut that page out and used the Mod Podge to adhere it to the cardboard piece. Now I had a floor with a cute “linoleum” pattern.
Then I measured, drew out, and then cut out a rounded doorway and a split window. After all, there would be a lot going on inside this house, and I wanted it to be visible.
Decorating the House
Finally, it was time for the fun part: Deciding which scenes from the book I would use for my house.
Of course, I looked for indoor scenes to paste inside, and outdoor scenes for the exterior. Then it was just a matter of cutting them to the size I needed and pasting them to the house using the Mod Podge.
It was a very forgiving project – if I messed something up, I just pasted something else over it. After I had everything pasted on, I painted a layer of Mod Podge over the whole house to protect it and give it a satiny sheen.
A Pre-Roof Tour
Here is a little tour of the house before the roof was attached.
We’ll start with the front entrance. Here we can see through to the back wall, where a Dad mouse is reading to his children.
This is inside the front door.
Here we see a bit of the kitchen and, to the left, a chipmunk is peeking in a high window.
Back outside, we can see through a window that a tired Dad bear is giving his cub a piggyback ride, while a chipmunk looks out the window of an apple tree.
And here you can see the little split window that I cut out.
My work is far from perfect, but the roof pulled it all together.
I cut the remaining pages out of the book with my utility knife. I was careful not to cut into the spine of the book. I wanted an intact book cover.
And yes, I did feel a little bad about cutting up this cute book. I’m saving the remaining pages and scraps for possible future projects.
After I had the book cover separated from the pages, it was no longer a book cover. It was a roof. And I carefully glued it to the house using plain old Elmer’s Glue-All and making sure there were no runs.
The house doesn’t really look Christmassy. It could be used any time of the year. But an early winter storm just blew in, and snow is creeping up on the Storybook House.
The interior needed a little light. I would never use a real wax candle in this little house, for obvious reasons. So, I added a battery-operated candle sitting on a thread-spool “table.”
Nervous Aunt Heidi’s Child Safety Warning:
I’m sure you already know that the Storybook House is not a toy. It’s a decoration. But it never hurts to share one of the formulas that I live by:
Babies/Small kids + just about anything = disaster.
And we can’t have that because the kids, the rabbits, the chipmunks, and the bears, well,
They all lived happily ever after.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
I had some fun decorating my front porch for Halloween this year. But, after Halloween had passed, I needed to find new decor inspiration for the porch. And I got it from that old, underrated source: The forest floor.
More specifically, the floor of my woodsy little shade garden. There are plenty of mosses, lichens, berries, and fallen branches there this time of year. And they can be so beautiful.
None of it looks perfect but, to me, fall is all about the imperfect beauty of nature.
I pulled it off and added newer reindeer moss – plus some lichen-covered twigs from my shade garden.
The slice of the forest floor and the rustic wreath should make for a nice transition from fall into winter. So, no worries if I’m slow getting around to holiday decor for the front porch.
But this lichen-and-moss look will stay outside for one reason: Tiny critters. Since most of the materials came from my garden, who knows what is living in that moss. Whatever it is, it (and I) will be much happier if it stays outside.
Here we pick up where Our European Adventure – Part 1, left off: Chris and I had been bouncing around Europe on our own for a week. But now, we were about to meet other passengers to board a ship in Budapest and begin an eight-day Danube River cruise.
That was the plan, anyway. But a few days prior, we had started receiving emails from the cruise company informing us of a problem: Because of the long, hot summer, water levels on the Danube River were low – too low for the ship to make it to Budapest. And perhaps too low for it to even reach Vienna.
It was almost certain, they said, that we would spend the first three nights of the cruise in hotels instead of on the ship. And instead of sailing, we would be going by bus.
I was very disappointed. I had been looking forward to cruising the Danube River, not riding a bus. But every cruise company on the Danube was facing the same problem.
So we checked out of the hotel where we’d been staying in Budapest and into the hotel that the cruise company had booked for us to replace our first night on the ship.
The hotel that the cruise company had booked for us was the Hilton on Castle Hill. It was a five star hotel. And once I saw the location and stepped inside, I started feeling like this was a pretty darn good replacement for our first night on the ship.
Not only was it nicer than anywhere we would stay on our own, it came with a fun history: Although constructed in 1976, it was built around the remains of a 13th century church and cloister.
So little pieces of ancient history were sprinkled all over the public spaces of this hotel.
Next we met our cruise director, Alex, who gave us some good news: Conditions on the Danube had improved. And, although we would travel by bus to Bratislava tomorrow, we could board the ship when we arrived. No second night at a hotel!
No More Going it Alone
From this point on, we were firmly in the clutches of the river cruise staff. I don’t particularly enjoy traveling in a pack or being told how I will spend my day. But we’d been on our own for a while now, so it was actually nice to let someone else do the thinking for us.
And one thing I do enjoy is being pampered. And on a river cruise, that definitely happens!
That evening, all of the ship’s soon-to-be passengers boarded a bus for dinner at a restaurant out in the Hungarian countryside. There, we were entertained with traditional Hungarian music and dance.
I was even pulled from the crowd to mix it up with the dancers!
Luckily they kept it simple for me.
The next day, we headed by bus to Slovakia.
Bratislava, or Pressburg as it was once called, had been the capital of the Hungarian kingdom. Later, it was under the rule of the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Since Bratislava is fairly close to Vienna, it has a strong musical history. This is where Mozart performed as a professional when he was only six years old.
Later, Bratislava fell in (under duress, as our local tour guide explained) with the Nazi regime. And, of course, it fell under Communist rule.
More recently, it saw the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which split into two separate countries: Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
And Slovakia chose Bratislava as its capital city, making it currently the youngest capital city in all of Europe.
Now, Bratislava is enjoying a bit of independence. And, because of a strong auto industry, it is thriving.
To me, the city was a fun mix of old and new.
It has a vibrant and user-friendly old-town district with charming shops and cafes.
And its own UFO (with a restaurant inside) atop a bridge.
Next stop: Vienna! Chris and I had spent several days in Vienna on a previous trip. Since we only had a day here this time, we skipped the guided tour and revisited our favorite place: The Museum of Natural History.
This is where science meets stunning interior architecture.
The displays are interesting and unique. (They even have a coelacanth – that rare fish previously thought to be extinct.) But between the architecture and the Edwardian-era display cases, this museum always makes me feel like I’ve stepped back in time.
And speaking of time, we never seem to have enough of it when we visit here.
That evening, we joined other passengers to attend a concert in a small venue.
We would sail on later that night and wake to a very charming small town.
But let’s stop for a moment here and talk about the cruise ship itself.
Life Onboard the Ship
We were on one of the more budget-friendly cruise lines. In fact, as I mentioned in Part 1, the whole reason we’d decided to do this was that we’d found such a great deal on a river cruise.
Since it was a budget cruise line, I didn’t really know what to expect.
But we were pleasantly surprised. The deal we’d found came with an upgrade to a “balcony cabin” – although the balcony was really just a huge window with a slider. Still, I loved the big windows and fresh air. The cabin was larger than we’d expected and nicely appointed with lots of storage.
Every evening, the schedule for the next day would be waiting for us in our cabin. The schedule made it clear that we would not go hungry: There was early breakfast, breakfast, lunch, tea time, happy hour, a four-course dinner, and a late-night snack.
Between the meals, the tour itinerary, and the onboard activities, we were kept busy.
And we were making new friends. Sometimes we’d spend the day with them, sightseeing, and sometimes we would just meet up later, over happy hour or dinner, to share the experiences of day.
Often, the ship sailed at night, and we would awake to a new location in the morning. I usually left the curtains open so that, whenever I awoke during the night, I would see new scenery.
Sometimes it was just the water reflecting the moon. Sometimes it was a little town.
And sometimes it was a wall of concrete – because there are ship locks on the Danube. Lots of them.
One day while we were going through a lock, I stuck my camera out the window to catch this guy climbing out of the lock chamber.
Now let’s get back to that cute little town where we were headed.
Dürnstein’s claim to fame (besides being absolutely adorable) is that, in the 12th century, Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in the castle here and held for ransom.
The castle is now in ruins and accessible by a hiking trail from the village. To us, it was definitely worth the scramble. We started out early to get ahead of other tourists.
Views from the castle were gorgeous.
And the area was surrounded by vineyards, some of them within the old defensive walls of the town.
Back in town, we wandered the beautiful little streets. Old-world charm was everywhere.
I didn’t have much luck staying out of the shops. They were all so adorable.
But it was time to get back to the ship and sail along the Danube to Melk.
The big attraction here is the beautiful and impressive Melk Abbey, which sits, of course, on a hill above the town.
Touring this huge Benedictine abbey was a fun way to spend our afternoon. We learned about all the aesthetic changes that had taken place over the ages – and why they happened.
From there, we had a spectacular view of the city and river below.
But my favorite part of the abbey was the garden with its lovely Baroque pavilion.
Inside was a darling coffee shop. And although I will show you an even cuter (in my opinion) coffee shop later in this post, this one was a close second.
We chose to walk back to the ship (instead of taking the tour bus) so we could get a quick look at the town. It would have been nice to spend a little more time here.
But we had to sail on.
Our day in Linz was slower paced, which was a welcome change by now. After a brief guided tour, we spent the day with a couple of our newly found friends checking out the town center.
Then we all rode a tram to the church (which is called Postlingbergkirche) that sits on the hill above town.
The tram was filled with locals of all ages ready to enjoy their day – because up on the hill there was also a zoo – and restaurants, coffee shops, and other sweet little discoveries.
Linz is the home of the famous Linzer Torte, and near the church we found a coffee shop where we could sample this delicacy.
I have one more city to show you – Passau! It was raining when we visited, but I still loved this city.
Passau is called “The City of Rivers” because it’s situated on a peninsula where three rivers converge. This strategic location has been populated since at least Roman times.
But the city has an old nemesis: Floods.
The flood gauge on the side of this building shows you how bad it can get.
As you can see, the year 1501 was a humdinger.
With all this water damage, it stands to reason that Passau would have some of the quirkiest cobblestone around. This is not the place to wear stiletto heels!
Passau is home to the gorgeous St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
In it is the largest pipe organ in Europe.
But more importantly, just around the corner from the cathedral, Chris made a surprising discovery. While I photographed the town fountain, he ducked into an out-of-the-way coffee shop to get some change. And what he saw made him come rushing back to show me.
He had found it: The most charming coffee shop either of us have ever seen!
Of course we had to sample their cakes. Research, you know.
And this is where I will leave you for now – in Passau on a rainy day, enjoying cake and coffee in the cozy surroundings.
The final installment of my Europe trip is coming soon. In it, we’ll be driving to two cities that are near and dear to my heart – and I’ll share some of my travel tips!
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
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!
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.
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.
Several ancient towers dotted the hillside. The hike went right through some of the towers.
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.
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 was built in the 1300s.
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.
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.
The La Petite France neighborhood in 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you, thoughtful squirrel, for supplying me with one of the most popular fall decor items out there – white pumpkins! Well, white-ish anyway.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But we (and of course by “we,” I mean Chris) had to figure out a way to attach it to the greenhouse.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, lavender and lysimachia are working together to swallow this urn.
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.
Near the back door, plume poppies lean toward the sun. They must love their location, because they’ve been such a reliable perennial.
I grew zinnias from seeds and planted them in front of the plume poppies and the Bishop of Llandaff dahlias.
I got the zinnia seed packet last fall at a country vegetable stand, and the packet contained a fun variety of seeds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We gave some away and kept some.
I’d already been using our bamboo for plant stakes, especially the more interesting bent canes.
But what else could I do with all this bamboo?
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.
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.
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.
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.
A half hour later, voila!
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.
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.
Let’s take a look at the major challenges Mom faced with her back yard:
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.
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.
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.
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.
And off the opposite path, a three-tiered fountain.
I always look forward to the warm season and relaxing on Mom’s back patio.
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.
The stone retaining wall looks timeless.
The most recent addition to her back yard landscaping is this little path.
Which has already softened to look like this.
She used a fun mix of materials, including broken concrete, for the retaining wall.
Now in Mom’s back yard, eye candy is everywhere.
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.