Archive for May 2014

And We’re Off!

Good afternoon everyone!  I’m writing today’s post from LAX, where we’re ready to board a flight to London and then on to Athens.  As in Greece.  For 2 whole weeks.  Can you imagine???  Who just goes to Greece for a couple weeks?  Not us, that’s for sure.  Nevertheless, we’re Acropolis bound.  The Mediterranean is a daily topic around our house, and between current and upcoming school stints, and then potentially kids and serious (or mildly serious) jobs, this window of time is one that couldn’t be passed up.  So we’ve rented an apartment in Athens, a mile from the Parthenon, and the only plan is to walk around a bunch and eat a lot of food.  That’s it! Maybe we’ll hit up Hydra, or Delphi, or what else?  Ideas?  I’m hoping to keep up on the blog with a few photos, if not mile-long narratives of eating feta.  You know I’m coming home with  some snatched seeds, so stay tuned for that.


That’s all for now. Wish me luck on the flight, I’m a nervous-nelly on planes.  Thus, snacks galore, xanax, funny books, episodes of Veep, and more xanax.  How do you do on flights? No problem?  I’ll say one thing for sure, no thanks on the express jet flights.  I’ll meet you there via horse in a month or three instead.


See you soon!  XO

Lookin’ Fly : Shades of Lovely

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About a month ago I posted a ceiling fan for sale on craigslist for $35.  It functions perfectly and has a tropical look, and in my life $35 can go a long way (a whole month of gas, a whole month of electric, a huge amount of food at Food City).  Well, oddly enough I’ve received at least 45 calls about the fan.  In one single day last week I had 10 calls about it.  It made me wonder why people wanted the fan so bad, and then I landed in that apathetic spot where instead of selling the fan to any number of people ready to buy it, I stored it on the bedroom floor where we have each tripped over it 15+ times and then said terrible things to the poor thing.  I’ve decided that today’s the day, and that it is leaving the house for good…right when I get around to calling one of these interested parties (maybe this evening).

Do you have something lingering like that?  Ready to go, but you need that last half ounce of motivation?

Clockwise from top left:

Calylophus: This is a perennial plant with perfectly lemon-yellow blooms that cover the plant primarily in spring, but can last all the way until fall with some extra sips of water.  The flowers last one day, opening in the morning and closing by evening, followed by new blooms the next day.  If you’re active with dead-heading, the plant will make more flowers as the summer rolls on.

Superstition Mallow: Another new favorite of mine.  This plant has great fuzzy gray-green foliage and perfect buttery yellow flowers, and is also low water and readily reseeds in the spots it finds most suitable.  Amazing!  I’ve seen them get to 3’x3′, but the books say they can get quite a bit bigger (5’x5′).  They can handle a substantial pruning in the summer when they get a little ratty, so there’s some flexibility with the size.

Golden Dyssodia: Aren’t these sweet?  This clump is about 8″ wide and 6″ tall, and looks perfect tucked in between rocks of different sizes.  They have a long bloom period – spring to fall – and are easily grown from seed.  My book says they attract butterflies, but I’ve never witnessed much action.  Have you?

Make your garden beautiful with them and BLTLandscapes. I hope you’re having a productive Monday afternoon.  See you back here tomorrow for another big reveal!  (or a small-to-medium reveal)

Smells Aplenty

I’ve been working on a planting project these last couple days and it has been SO fun.   It makes me wonder why I can’t make a living just planting gardens for people.  No wheel-barrowing of earth, no swinging of picks, no placing of flagstone and boulders – just planting pretty things where the ground is soft and the big design work is already done.  Eh?  In what region of the world can I pursue this kind of position?  The Hamptons?  Laguna Beach?  I’ll live in a tent in some public park and rent a storage space for my tools and the cat.

Anyway, I’ve spent some lovely time with nice-smelling plants during this project, and then thought about how nice it is to intentionally plan a space around fragrance, since I have always like nice smells.  I’m not doing that right now, but maybe in the future?  I would start with these:

Mount Lemmon Marigold:  Heavenly.  I want to become one with this plant.  It’s not the flowers that smell fabulous, but the leaves, and they are just fantastic.  Someday when I become a Very Fancy Person (VFP), I will have a custom perfume made that captures the scent of this foliage.

mount lemmon marigold

Chaparral Sage: Another delight in the olfactory department.  Lots of different sages smell great, but this one is a bit more flowery and really packs a punch (in a non-headache kind of way, I think).  To boot, it has nice foliage, blue-purple flowers, and it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.


Chocolate Flower: The name is no lie.  After leaving the nursery with a few of these in the car all I could smell was chocolate.  Pretty rad!  Other facts: cute yellow flowers, low water, and they bloom spring to fall.  Sold.

chocolate flower

What’s on your list of best-smelling plants?  Rosemary?  Jasmine?  Orange blossoms?

Lookin’ Fly : Fluffy Subtles

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Second update following yesterday’s update regarding the trampoline shade structure curtain: it is now all wadded up sitting on the outdoor table, because not only did the dogs rip a hole in it, they tore the whole thing down and made a nest out of it in the balmy 95 degree weather yesterday (rather than enjoy the shade I was providing for them).  Some days I dream of having zero pets, ya know?


How was your weekend?  Did you do anything life changing?  My girlfriend has been working on a 12 page paper on abortion for her medical ethics class for what feels like years, so that was her weekend in a nutshell.  I think I can fairly state that none of us envy her, and that we’d all rather do just about anything else than write that paper.  Correct?  On the up side, did you see the abortion episode of Veep?  Too funny.  At one point Selena (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) says ““No, no, no, I can’t identify as a woman! People can’t know that. Men hate that. And women who hate women hate that, which, I believe, is most women.”  I might watch it a third time.


Today’s edition of Lookin’ Fly concentrates on things that provide your yard with “fluff” rather than color or structure.  I want to add more of this stuff to my own space because 1) it hides the open dirt, which there is a lot of, 2) birds love the cover, 3) I think it cools the yard a bit, or it at least gives the illusion of less heat, and 4) the more fluffy stuff there is, the better everything else seems to do (more shaded ground, more nooks and crannies for seeds to start, everything mixes together and becomes a happy family).


Clockwise from top left:


Some Kind of Buckwheat – Oops, I thought I knew the name of this, but nope.  Anyone?  Eastern Mojave buckwheat?  Either way, it’s truly lovely.  It gets these big, umbel-shaped flowers that come on tall stalks above the plant and they last for quite a few weeks in the spring.  In the fall the pine-like succulent leaves get a hint of red/orange coloring.  I have mine wandering about with different agaves, penstemons, and snake weed (coming up in this post).


Quail Bush – This is a great addition to any yard that needs some filler material.  Quail bush grows quickly, has beautiful silver leaves, and  provides food and cover for birds.  Books will tell you that this shrub is anywhere from 3-9′ tall by 6-12′ wide.  I don’t know what to say about that huge size range – maybe plan for somewhere in the middle (6’x9′).  Don’t you love the silver foliage?


Snakeweed – My plant book has these kind words to say of snakeweed: “From the point of a land manager or a conservationist, snakeweed is a worthless plant, not even useful in retarding soil erosion.”  So maybe I should not be singing its praises?  But the thing I love is that right now it’s super fluffy and green, and soon it will be covered in tiny yellow flowers that almost seem to glow.  Other times, probably mid-June, it gets much more of a dormant look (brown).  But don’t we all feel a little crusty by mid-June?


Four Wing Salt Bush – My world has been turned upside down today, because for two solid years I thought this bush was desert almond.  I even went back to the nursery and bought two more desert almonds because I loved this one so much.  Wrong!  It’s Atriplex canescens (quail bush is Atriplex lentiformis), and now that I finally know what it is, I think I’ll plant three or four more in the next few weeks.  I would guess that they’re usually a 4’x4′, but I’m sure you can find huge specimens where they get a lot of water.


Does your yard need some fluff?  Maybe your yard needs anything and everything beyond flat dirt?  If so, I suggest starting with rain harvesting basins, then trees, then fluffy stuff, then anything else (flowers, cacti, etc.).  Soon enough you’ll have you’re own happy family of plants and creatures.



The Sunday Snatch featuring Firecracker Penstemon Seeds

I want to give a quick update on the curtain that goes with the trampoline shade structure:


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Thanks guys.  So much for having cool stuff.


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Alright, I’m gonna go ahead and admit that I found myself unprepared for today’s snatch.  So I just went into the yard and zoned out until I came up with a plan for how to get more of these next spring, because they are delightful:

fire cracker

Firecracker penstemon, Penstemon eatoniiis native to a huge portion of the West, though it’s most common from 3,000 to 8,000 feet elevation.  Mine do well with a few extra sips of water now and again, but I know other people who totally neglect theirs and the plants are still happy.

After they’re done blooming the flower stalks dry up, like so:

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This is the perfect time to grab up the seeds, especially because the birds will eat a good portion of them in the next few weeks as they drop (I’m all for sharing, but I’m pretty sure the number of mourning doves in the yard doubles by the day and they seem to eat 24/7).  The harvesting portion of this snatch is very basic: grab some scissors, cut the stalks, try not to shake them around too much while you’re cutting them or a lot of the seeds will spill out.

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Then, when you’ve got them on a work surface, shake like crazy until you end up with a big pile.

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After you’ve got your seeds ready to go, you can try multiple approaches to getting them to germinate.  I tried:

1) planting them in old potting soil in a handy Ikea seed tray (going to get new soil sounded like a lot of work on this 95 degree Sunday afternoon), which I will water twice a day for many weeks.

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2) Sticking them in Jiffy Peat Pellets (I broke the greenhouse portion long ago, but I think it’s too hot for that by now anyway), which I can get away with watering more like once a day for a few weeks.

fire cracker 7

3) Cold stratifying them in a damp paper towel in the refrigerator, which will carry on for a couple months until I take the seeds out and put them in the remaining Jiffy Pellets.

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4) Taking the dried stalks and placing them directly in a mulched basin.

5) Gathering a baggy full of seeds and saving them for the first winter rain.

Next year I hope to have ten times as many of these plants.  I’ll update you as to whether any of these methods work!  Crossing my fingers.

The Finishing Touches

Before we start today, let’s play a game called “reveal your mental dysfunctions to the world.”  It’ll be fun.  It’s nice to know how nutty other people are so you can feel good about where you’re at on the crazy scale.  I’ll go first.


1 – I have a sizable fear of Home Depot.  More specifically, I’m quite sure that it’s not safe to have all that heavy stuff stacked way up high, and I’m also sure that I’ll be in Home Depot when there’s an earthquake.  It’s an unfortunate affliction, because this is almost the only store that I regularly visit – sometimes 5 or more times a week depending on the type of job I’m working on.  So if you see me there and I’m dodging about, eyes bugged out, hands covering my head like I’m running through a mine field, now you know why.  Probably best not to stop for a chit chat.


2 – While I love avocados, I cannot look at an avocado pit without thinking about choking on it.  It gives me the heebie jeebies, big time.  I have zero idea how this mental illness came to be.  Even thinking about them as I type this gives me a swirling fright.


3 – I have a REM sleep disorder that causes me to do things like dive out of bed, pick through my girlfriend’s hair to figure out if she’s a gorilla, and yell obscene things regarding the need to exit the building ASAP.  It’s sort of the pits.  Just when you think you’re settling in for a nice, restful sleep, things get all kooky and ridiculous.


Your turn!


Other things on deck:

Today’s song.  Don’t you find her captivating?

Things I’ve asked the Google this morning:

“Who is Sean Hannity?”  (no thanks)

“Should I be watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ‘Cosmos‘?”  (for sure, right?)

“What’s up with the new Michael Jackson album?” (I think I’ll pass)

“Am I truly a millennial?”  (yes, but very nearly the oldest of the old millennials)


Alright, here’s the big unveiling you’ve all been waiting for!  Here’s what’s happened since the last post on this gem:

*I added the 10′ diameter ceiling tarp.  I thought I could get away with securing only half of the grommets to the circular tube, but tarps are floppy and it would have looked a little sad that way.  So I secured 4 of the 13 grommets by drilling eye bolts through the tube and then used 3/16″ wire cable and cable clamps to connect the two points.  For the other 9 connections I just used the cable and cable clamps because drilling gets old.  In other words, 4 connection points are fixed and 9 are able to slide back and forth a bit (but not too much).


shade final 5

Next I added the essential west-side curtain.  I ended up going to Harbor Freight because they sell affordable canvas drop cloths (and affordable everything else).  The thing I discovered about this store is that everything is seemingly sprayed with some kind of horrible petroleum/BPA/pesticide mist.  Right?  I needed a gas mask just to do my shopping.  The canvas smells super bad, and it gave me hives after 5 minutes of messing with it (I had to install grommets so it could be hung as a curtain).  Maybe consider another source for this material.  Anyway, this one is 9×12 and it covers about 1/3 of the perimeter, which is perfect for now.  As it gets hotter I may add another one for all-day shade.

shade final 2

shade final 3

Then I installed some grommets at the bottom of the cloth and secured them with tent stakes because the wind was crazy-makin’ yesterday afternoon.  This way we can enjoy the shade without having the cancer cloth swirling around our faces.

shade final 1

After the sun went down, I tied up the cloth so we could watch the bats and enjoy the evening air.  I think it will have a longer life if it stays tied up when not in use, don’t you think?  Either way I’m sure our summer sun will chew it up with no hesitation, maybe even in one season, but for now it’s working great.  If you have thoughts on more durable fabric options, let me know.

shade final 4

Alright, time to build your own!  We’re coming up on the upper 90s this weekend, so prepare accordingly.  Send me a picture when you finish, I would love to see how you do it.

P.S.  Thanks for all the awesome messages yesterday regarding the big switch.  It’s scary to plunge into something new!  So it’s nice to have a few words of encouragement.

May Day and the Big Reveal

Are you celebrating May Day?  I will be celebrating by moving a couple tons of gravel into place.  Call me if you care to join.

First off I want to share this lovely saguaro bloom with you.  Isn’t it fabulous?  Every single year I find it absolutely perplexing that these flowers come in a huge bunch out of the top of the saguaros!  It’s nuts.  I got up on the ladder, face-to-face with this guy, just so you could revel in its glory with me.

saguaro 1

So I have some news.  I think most of you already know this bit of information, but I’m going to pretend like I have a throng of readers that are hanging off every word right now.  You have to get your kicks somehow.

I’m going back to school!  Again!  As in, a second round of graduate school for a whole new profession!  I know.  It’s crazy.

Here’s the thing.  As I’ve mentioned, sitting at a computer is not for me.  I know there are tons of people out there who would love to have an office job (I meet them every day – guys doing piping and masonry and all kinds of hard labor jobs) and so a small part of me feels guilty for having that opportunity and not taking it.  But the reality is that landscape architecture is a serious desk job – one that requires sitting in a cube, eyes glued to autocad/photoshop/sketchup/ArcGIS/email for 50-80+ hours a week. Like so:

al gore

(P.S. that’s Al Gore if you can’t tell.  That whole setup looks a little “A Beautiful Mind”-ish to me, right?  Just jokin’, love ya Al.)

You see, I was romanced by graduate design school.  We had colored pencils and trace paper and intellectually stimulating group projects.  We stayed til 3am at the design studio, coming up with world-saving solutions.  We gave great presentations and got huge pats on the back for ideas and graphics and ambition.  I found it to be life changing.  So no regrets with that part of things.

But, there’s something I might have done before embarking on 3 years of hard work like that.  Given a do-over, I might have planted myself in a landscape architecture firm for a few months to check out what the daily experience actually entails.  It’s a sensible thing to do before choosing a profession, yes?  Well, I didn’t do that.  Instead I did this summer program at Harvard for people who think they want to study landscape architecture, which included not only the colored pencils and fancy paper and life-changing camaraderie (not a computer in sight for 6 weeks), but the intoxicating atmosphere and prestige of an Ivy League school!  WHOOPS.  Not an indication of reality.

So instead of practicing “real” landscape architecture, I have been doing my own gardening and landscape design gig.  And I’ve loved it.  I love the physical aspect, the exposure to varying weather (hot and sunny, not much variation), the ability to change things at any given moment, and the opportunity to work with really cool people who care about their own contribution to a healthy environment.  But there are some serious downs to this gig.  It’s hard to make decent and reliable money.  The physical labor gets really intense, bordering on injurious many days.  And if I were to grow my operation, it would mean more time managing and less time doing.

Landscape architects do fabulous and important work, and I’m so glad that there are people out there who are good at it and who want to make sure we have well designed environments.  But I’m finally going to take this moment to fully speak my mind after holding it in for years:  I find it to be dreadful.  Okie doke?  So that’s the end of that.

I could go into a whole new story about how I landed on my next chosen path, but currently we’re at 640 words, so let’s skip most of it.  I’m starting a master’s degree in occupational therapy at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee in September!  And the smart news is that I’ve both talked to a bunch of people in the field and shadowed a bunch of people in the field, and there is no part of me that feels skeptical about the daily experience of doing this job.  I hope to work in schools where I can use gardens as part of the therapeutic process, and maybe do some consultation work that brings together universal design standards + fun schoolyards + ecologically sensitive interventions.  Eventually, my girlfriend, about to pursue a master’s in speech language pathology, and I might start a small private practice clinic that brings therapy together with gardens, animals, art, music, community activities, and other holistic health elements.  It’s a long-term vision, but it finally feels like the right path.


SO first check this site chouprojects.com!  This is getting terribly long winded.

This last piece is important.  I’ll continue to do landscape design and installation during May, June, and July, and would love to get round-the-clock jobs up until we set sail for Milwaukee.  So if you’re in the market, or if you know someone who is, I would love to talk.  Give me a ring!  Send me an email!  Drop a note by carrier pigeon!

Carrier Pigeon

Thanks for tagging along on the verbose ride today.  Tomorrow: interesting and pertinent information relating to landscapes, I promise.

(Okay, last thing, I double promise…it turns out I love blogging.  Nerd!  Any ideas on how I can continue?  Cat-in-Milwaukee blog?  Hit me up.)

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