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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Raised beds & Edging materials

Raised garden beds...  There's a million and one reasons why, where and how, here's a few of my ideas. It was many years into my gardening craze before we built the raised beds I longed for. Rock and stone hold a fascination for me, I remember many walks with my Dad where he'd find a cool stone and put it in his pocket (I still have a few!).

Stone walls last longer than wood and many other materials. If built well they are also much sturdier. My new neighborhood here in Centerport is chock full of amazing rock walls I'll be photographing in the spring. This opening shot was in my old garden, one of my favorite spots, built with Pennsylvania wall stone. (Hey, there's one of Dad's stones right on the top ledge!)

Of course there's many different building materials to edge a bed with besides wall stone. Brick was popular at one time and if you have free bricks laying around, they still will work. A word of caution here, bricks will move easily and slowly sink in to the ground so you need to dig them up every few years. 

(Now how many of you were looking at the planted shopping cart instead?)

Here's another side of that Pennsylvania field stone wall in my old garden. We had some old local boulders that were found when digging a nearby foundation and I was so happy to be able to incorporate them in the design. 

Raised beds like these are easier to weed as there is much less bending but there are also negatives. Chipmunks delighted in tunneling throughout these beds and the soil also dried out much faster than nearby beds at ground level so required extra watering.

There will always be extra stone left over from a wall installation. In my case I simply laid them out in a wandering line near the back of my property. As a weed barrier I put newspaper under them. It worked well for years and had a nice rustic, tumbled look in my shade bed.

 From this angle you can see how haphazard they were. A tap by the lawn mower and they were soon in a slightly different formation but that's the exact look I wanted.

The front entrance of our driveway had been edged with boulders that came out of the hole for the foundation of our house. They had been there for about 35 years when we moved in. As a shade bed filled with tree roots it was a challenging spot but once I figured it out it was incredibly rewarding.

The most creative edging I've ever used was old pier pilings being ripped out of a neighbors garden. We simply put them in a curvy "S" pattern on their end and they were wonderful. If I was building a garden today here on Long Island I'd be combing all the curbsides taking the 2' log rounds that everybody has lined up from Hurricane Sandy. What a perfect building material!

 Across from my old house were these beautiful newly built beds at my friend Cynthia's house. A simple design and I was oh so jealous. How silly of me :-) but there's nothing like seeing all that naked soil and dreaming of what can be planted there.

Down in the Carolina's I managed to take a picture of simple block edging. Here on Long Island we call these Belgium blocks. The soil isn't raised very high at the front but gets higher in the back.

I tried the same thing with a few blocks I had beside my garage. One problem I had here was grass growing up between these blocks so I had to go out and find a top of the line weed digger...

As you can see, she worked very hard at digging up those weeds. Nothing would get in her way!

 Today if I was going to go wild and crazy I'd try something totally different. Looking through my photos for these edging materials I stumbled across this on and thought to myself that it would be so cool to edge a bed with a few rows of clay pots in graduating sizes. Just fill in behind them, fill the pots with all kinds of cool succulents and Voila!

Ah well, this is the time of year to dream!

This post is a milestone for me. Number 400 here on Melanie's Old Country Gardens. You can scroll and click along the sidelines under "labels" and find all kinds of different things. Hope you enjoy reading as much as I love writing.

Full of thanks, (and Thanksgiving leftovers)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hurricane Sandy...the day after

As the world knows, the north eastern region of the USA was struck by Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012. These photos were taken as the storm subsided, October 30th. I've continued taking photos and will share them in a timely fashion.

This first shot was taken right in front of my house, facing the corner of Garfield and Jackson Crescent.
Power was out here by early afternoon.

This was the first time I have ever been alone during a storm and frankly, I was scared. Dinner though was an adventure. I took some left overs from the fridge, cooked ravioli, pulled pork, homemade tomato sauce and put it all in a frying pan with shredded mozzarella on top. YUM! Thank goodness the top of my gas stove was still working.

As I walked the neighborhood Tuesday morning this was the first house I saw with a tree upon it. Only 3 houses away from me, reality struck home and the tears began to flow. Tears of sadness for my lovely new neighborhood, tears of sadness for the unknown world (no contact via phone/internet/tv/radio) and yes tears of relief that my little cottage was still whole.

By the time I saw this house I had seen many others in similar distress. For some reason though I thought this house was occupied by a family with children and I didn't want to imagine a child's fear if this monstrosity came crashing upon one's bedroom.

The root systems in some cases were enormous, almost more to deal with than the trees themselves. These were large healthy trees.

We had little rain with the storm, it was a blessing for us. We would have lost so many more trees if the grounds were saturated. Look close and you'll see how dry the soil under this root mass is just as the storm was leaving our area.

It was hard to venture far from home on October 30th. The winds were still strong, squalls blew through and there was an underlying sense of "what might yet come".

A few blocks down the road the aftermath on Coolidge stopped me in my tracks. I only had my phone with me on that trip but had to snap another photo.

We were lucky to have power at my bank in Islandia so I had to be there the next few days. In the next post you'll see photos I took a few days after the storm.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Step onto the road...

"You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to."  Gandalf (JRR Tolkein)

With much of the fall foliage gone due to Hurricane Sandy, I took advantage of today's bank holiday and went on a hike.

 The first stop was Twin Ponds park right here in Centerport. Just a small walk around one of the ponds, but enough to whet the appetite for more. The sun came and went behind big fluffy clouds and cast the most delightful hues through what was left of the autumn foliage.

 The ground is quite saturated in spots, the moss was the most jewel-like green tones I've ever seen.

From there it was a quick drive out to Sunken Meadow State Park. Apparently I wasn't alone in wanting to spend today outdoors, the park was packed with families!

 One of the advantages to Sunken Meadow is there are walkways through wooded areas, walkways through beach scrub and bird sanctuaries and of course, the beach front itself.

I was so taken by this rock growing next to the gnarled tree trunk. It made me think of Treebeard from the Lord of the Rings and his gravely voice saying "with rock and stone..."

This tree stopped me in my tracks, I took multiple photos from various angles. The twisted trunk shows the full force of the winds from Hurricane Sandy. I had to apply an antique enhancement to get the true feeling I had while standing in front of it.

 The grassy meadows seem to stretch on forever. It's easy to feel like a great photographer when you have water and skies like these.

 The beach had already been cleaned well after the storm with only the usual pebbles and shells to be found. I only saw two of these, an angel wing for my friend Lorene.

Driving out the park at the end was a reminder of what is really going on in our world. A sea of tents, trucks, mobile kitchens and tankers. Linesmen from all over the USA and Canada plus the National Guard are sleeping here and many other similar locations. My heartfelt thanks to them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Centerport, my new home

Welcome! It's about time you dropped by to see the place :-)

As promised, here's some images of my new little cottage in Centerport, New York (north shore of Long Island, between Huntington and Northport).

Not everything in my life has changed. As you can see, Calie-the-wonderdoodle still greets any visitors that have managed to find out my little hide-away. At six years old though, Calie has grown a bit wiser. She'll stay on the front stoop if I ask her unless a dog is being walked right along our fence line.

This is the cottage, the whole thing. As you can see, there's not much to it but more than Calie and I need to put a smile on my face. 2 bedrooms, kitchen, living room, bath and dining room downstairs, one room upstairs. Life is simple here, I can clean house in one evening!

We have a corner lot. Since each house on my street has only 2 homes, I guess we all have corner lots! The street is only 5 blocks long, so we really are well tucked away from the rest of the world. I love the views out of all my windows, I see flowering trees and shrubs and darling cottages in each direction.

Here's the other side along with the little side yard. Upstairs is a single room my daughters have set up when they are here. At 5'9" poor Lauren can only walk down the very middle of the room. Ouch, banged my own head once too often up there!

I brought what garden accessories I could, probably more than I should have but some just couldn't be given away or left behind. This antique chimney top came back after a wonderful trip with my friend Chris and I will drag it where ever I go.

There's a little garage although I don't use it. My landlord has the most incredible antique red tractor stored in it! A little fish pond is there too. I've put my money pot by that pond, as close to the rear left corner of the lot. The wealth has begun to flow although not cash, just lots and lots of peace, happiness and laughter.

Now here's the real treasure, just 3 short blocks (super steep down hill) is the beach! Sunday I sat there with a beer in hand (pure heaven) and watched this darling Dachshund walk along the water edge side by side with a slowly gliding swan. They continued like this for at least 5 minutes!

I've always loved birds and we have so many here but I will admit I was surprised at just how many swans are on our water. There's easily 30 of them out at one time.

The tide here changes pretty drastically. Our sand is well kept but when the tide is all the way out there's always some green sand. I spent as much time as possible there last summer but didn't go for a swim. Somehow the water doesn't appeal to me that way.

Lots of locals have kayaks and that is something that I am very interested in trying! As you can see, when the tide is out the opposite shore is quite close. We're surrounded with little coves and beaches so a kayak would have plenty of places to visit.

Hope you liked the tour! My new camera came today so soon there'll be lots of garden shots.


Friday, March 16, 2012


Getting back in to "writers mode" takes quite a bit of self reflection. Everybody has their own style or way to do things. For me, writing was something I used to do on a regular basis and it worked best if I sat down at the same time every day.

I'm a morning person, evenings are quiet time, usually spent with a book and rarely spent writing. Now that I work full time in a bank, finding time to write has been difficult. Thanks to my new MacBook though I have discovered the perfect solution. Simply bring my Mac to work and get used to writing on my lunch hour.

Yesterday was a tough day at work and I must say that posting to my other blog Melanie's Perennials was the best tonic ever!

One task I've been working hard at is going through all 396 previous posts (wow, not too shabby!) and making sure they have been labeled. Without a label on the post, they won't show up on the side bar here for you to be able to read. So I urge you to scroll and click away, more than 300 of those posts are already labeled and by the middle of next week all should be up and ready to go.

I've been thinking that once a week I might simply post a direct link to an old post that I find timely or amusing, what do you think about that idea?

Side note: How cool are these Saxifraga stolonifera (Strawberry Begonias)? They were growing in a small corner in my old garden. As many times as I tried to move them to another spot, they would not take anywhere else. Hopefully they continue to thrive without any added maintenance.

Of course the word "maintenance" also applies to physical work in the garden. The little town of Centerport that I live in is along the water on the north shore of Long Island. The land is hilly, most property lots are quite small with many homes being built into hillsides. Having a lawn is not a possibility in many places, instead we have huge Oak trees.

This photo was taken after Hurricane Irene hit last September. Most of our streets were totally impassible, we were without power 5 days (not too bad in comparison with some others). The gardeners in my neighborhood will find quite different growing conditions this season. The scars are still visible and some areas that were totally shaded will now get several hours of direct sunlight. It will be interesting to see what the season brings us.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Testing for Photos

Over this past weekend I took on the Herculean task of downloading 20,000 photos to my new MacBook. While my children have been Apple users for years, this is a new venture to me.

Trying to find my way through that maze of photos is daunting, although I'm sure I'll eventually learn ways to catalog and file those images to make things easier.

For now it's just easiest to steal a few shots from late winter 2008 (a file that popped up quickly :-))

The wonderfully mild winter here as been a boon to Pansies that smart gardeners planted this past autumn. One never knows what to expect though, especially after last years record breaking snow falls.

I am missing my Hellebores dearly. Wish I had thought to bring one or two here, maybe I'll hit a nursery or two this weekend and see what I can find. They should thrive well here in the shady gardens of my little cottage.

Snowdrops are up all over my neighborhood. None are on this property, right now there's a few crocus here and there but no Galianthus. A home near me has a nice mass planting of them along with some nice fancy Chickens that roam the tiny yard.

My dog Calie is fascinated by those chickens and when ever we walk past the house she has to thrust her nose through the chain link fence trying to catch a glimpse of them :-)

This post was mostly to test out grabbing and posting photos. Hope it works out!


Friday, March 09, 2012

A new beginning...

Well here goes, a toast to new beginnings!

Old Country Gardens has moved, not the site itself but the gardener. It took longer than I expected and was oh so much harder than I imagined but it's done.

Don't know if this will reach any of my past readers or if we are all starting on this new page. This post will be a short one, hopefully it will explain enough.

After a couple of years of painful divorce proceedings, the family house and gardens (my Old Country Gardens) were sold this past October. Due to the woeful housing market, it had almost been sold several times before that so I basically moved out and abandoned the gardens in the spring of 2011.

While I only relocated a few miles north, my whole world has changed. Instead of a large house on 1.3 acres with sun and shade gardens, I now live in a darling little cottage, 2 blocks from the beach (north shore of Long Island), on a postage stamp lot.

My girls are off, one living in New York city and one in college in Staten Island (also New York city) so most often it's just Calie-the-wonder-doodle and me. We rent this adorable home so can't make major changes to the gardens. Luckily they are chockfull of heirloom plants and my landlord welcomes any ideas I have.

The soil is coarse, sandy, rocky, not amended at all and most of the property is shaded by huge old Oak trees that are limbed up high. Last year I barely maintained the potted plants I brought along. The good news is I took the time to watch each season here and now I hope I know what I'm working with.

Stay tuned, our winter has been wonderfully mild and I took a few photos that will soon be posted here.