Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Ugly Spot Solution

If every garden has its hell spot, then a few of mine could inspire Dante to add an extra layer to his depiction of Hades. I have killed a lot of plants in my own personal Inferno. The biggest problem with one of my spots is that it doesn't appear to be the mutant mix of a tornado, high powered laser, and giant blob of boring. As a matter of fact, it appears completely harmless until you make the mistake of creating a garden.



Only the truly deluded would attempt such a challenge. Having been defeated numerous times, I should have crawled into my corner and left that area bare but that is just not the way I'm wired. Stubborn determination gets me out of the bed in the morning and keeps me warm at night. I will not be conquered.




The back side of my house features a boring beige wall and a window that provides a beautiful view into the garden. Do not be fooled by these harmless agents of plant death. The window is tinted with a reflective coating that keeps my house cool in the summer but blasts UV light onto the patio that raises the temperature outside the window by 20 degrees. The boring beige wall sends them leaning toward the sun and becomes a plant smashing wind tunnel during storms. The result is a deep fried, twisty, shattered mess of botanical butchery with an extra scoop of blah. I have been trying to solve this problem for years and have finally succeeded. 


Several years ago in absolute desperation, I hung a thick green curtain on the outside of one of the kitchen windows to block the reflected heat. When the plants perked up and my in-laws were horrified, I knew I'd found the solution. I upgraded it the next year to a beige model I made with water proof sail cloth.



If you're thinking, "Oh Sweet Baby Ray, she did NOT hang a curtain on the outside of her window!" Why yes, I did and it worked just fine. My kitchen was cool and the plants were happy, although still getting bashed by the wind. But after three years of curtains, I needed a solution that would solve the additional problems of wind and boring beige blahness.



The colorful birdhouses help break up the vast expanse of boring beigeness and echo the upright form of the grass. The grass will grow to be about 3 ft tall. The grass under the red house was recently planted and was purchased slightly sizzled, knowing with extra attention it would bounce back.



Miscanthus 'Little Zebra' is a tough drought and heat resistant variegated grass with a natural vase shape.

Know Your Enemy

Instead of working against the wind, I needed to work with it. I decided to use dwarf miscanthus 'Little Zebra' grass in giant pots instead of all the other plants I'd tortured in this spot. The natural movement of ornamental grasses meant they'd flow with the wind, eliminating the mess of broken branches and stems that greeted me after every storm. 

I needed to use a plant with a thick, narrow leaf to reduce the surface area affected by the reflected heat. Instead of burning the leaves, the heat is absorbed by the multiple blades of grass and there's less surface area for the light to hit. The wider and thinner the leaf, the greater the damage. 





The doorknob birdhouses were made by Rebecca Nickols of Rebecca's Bird Gardens according to Audubon guidelines for small birds. Wrens nested in the red house this spring. The red and blue houses were made to order with my own doorknobs and back plates. 

Know Yourself

I love functional art and decided to add to my collection of birdhouses by mounting these handmade houses on heavy poles stuck deep into the pots. The grasses were cut in half and planted  on each side of the support brace. This also allowed me to bird watch from my kitchen window. To satisfy my need for balance, I added two houses to the other side of the patio.




I placed the blue birdhouse tucked away from the steps by the window so I could bird watch from inside the house but no birds have moved in yet. The pot under the Art Deco house is full of seed-grown hollyhocks that haven't bloomed yet.



This was handmade from Colorado pine that had been damaged by pine beetles but was still usable.



The artist who made this house no longer has a website.


This incredible house is made from upcycled and repurposed materials by Ted Freeman of Roundhouse Works and also conforms to Audubon guidelines. Many birds have visited but it's sited too near to the house for it to be chosen for nesting. But it's so interesting, I wanted to be able to enjoy it up close. 




The bronze mailbox holds my small gardening tools.



My metal rooster is hiding behind the cosmos but you can't really blame him. After all, he is just a big chicken.


The view from the top step into the dogwood garden.


Part of  the shade garden


The hammock is a much loved summer spot.


The massive Rose of Sharon

69 comments:

  1. Logical and it looks great so that's a big win. Love all those birdhouses and Zebra grass has been a favorite of mine since I first spotted it in the middle of Prince William Parkway. It returned every year so it should do well for you. I grow it here in Texas as well but it's not as happy.

    Your Cosmos look similar to my Mexican Cosmos but I don't know the botanical name. They are good re-seeders.

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    1. If it can survive the parkway, it can survive my pots! The cosmos were grown from seed and are called Cosmic Orange.

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  2. I think it's a great solution and as they say 'necessity is the mother of all invention'. I love the grasses and those bird houses look very cool!

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    1. Thanks! Every plant I'd put in that area had been smashed to bits. It was so frustrating. The red salvia in the pictures of the curtain was broken down to its base twice. I'm shocked it didn't just give up and die.

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  3. Love, love the bird houses! They add just the right amount of whimsy to the spot. The hammock looks really inviting. I'm afraid if we had one I may never get anything done in the garden. Do you bring your succulents inside over winter or do they do okay in the pots?

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    1. Thanks! Ted and Rebecca will gladly make you a few. :o) The succulents are hens and chicks and they laugh at our winters. However, I do put the ones in the black fruit bowl in a very sheltered spot since the container is so shallow.

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  4. I do love the art of problem solving in the garden, and you worked this one out well. I've had a hard time using grasses in my garden, so it was interesting to see how they solved the issue for you here. Your patio and steps look so inviting and the birdhouses are just the right touch -- nicely done!

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    1. It does feel like an art form with a big learning curve. I used to avoid grasses because I thought they looked weedy but I've fallen in love with them and have added several. Check out chasmathium (northern sea oats), pennisetum 'Karley Rose', 'Fireworks', and 'Piglet', miscanthus 'Morning Light', deschampsia 'Goldtau' and panicum 'Shenandoah'. I love my patio and spend a lot of time there in the summer. It's where I start each day. :o)

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  5. Very lovely doorknobs Tammy!
    I think you did all well and I remember these curtains win in your posts before. Your patio looks comfortable in hot weather . I'd like more heat here!



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    1. The curtains worked very well at stopping the reflected heat. Plus, I liked the novelty of having a curtain on the outside of my house. :o)

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  6. Great solution. You and I have a similar mindset I think: never give up.

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    1. It rarely occurs to me to give up. :o)

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  7. You've obviously had an 'Eurueka!' moment and have come up with the perfect solution Tammy. You and the local bird population must be delighted.

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    1. I had chickadees in the yellow house last year. I love watching them from my kitchen window. I do wish I'd had this 'Eureka' moment about five years ago. It took a long time to figure all this out, which is sad and embarrassing.

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  8. One of the most interesting parts of you, and you have many, is how you attack a problem in a such an analytical manner. I love your flow chart!! Lots of horticultural critical thinking with a brilliant sense of humour and a couple dollops of humility, whimsy and pure fun! Your solution is brilliant and makes me rethink how I plant in certain areas- your back patio is lovely. I love those bird houses!! I look forward to your posts, not only are they interesting and entertaining, I always learn something and get a different perspective . Thank you!!!

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    1. Awww, thanks! I am very analytical, which means I think everything to death. I spend a lot of time in my head. But breaking down everything into parts and then relating that to a whole works for me. I kept seeing this as one problem when it was actually three separate issues. Once I realized that, it was easier to solve. I do wish I'd figured this all out sooner rather than later but at least I got it solved. I gave a single pot of grass with a bird house a trial run last summer before I invested in more plants/houses. When it appeared to be the perfect solution, I expanded into three pots. It also gives the container garden a sense of cohesiveness it was sorely lacking. :o)

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  9. From Dante's inferno to paradiso! I loved your problem-solving chart. (And I know your students must love your classes.) The back area of your house looks beautiful, like something Fine Gardening magazine would be proud to feature. You've found an interesting and attractive collection of birdhouses and the Miscanthus is just the ticket to handle the heat and wind in that area. Kudos.

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    1. WOW! Thanks! My students get frustrated with me when I make them think through their questions instead of rushing over to rescue them but they thank me later. :o)

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  10. Do you hire out as a trouble-shooter? Something like: Have Trowel, Will Travel?

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  11. It's all fabulous--birdhouses and feeders, plants, in and out of pots, all of it. Congrats for solving your trouble spot. Wanna work on some of mine??

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    1. Thanks! If I lived closer, I would. :o) We'd do it together. :o)

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  12. You're going to have to take it down a notch. You're making us other bloggers look like slackers. A flow chart, too? What a funny AND helpful post!

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  13. Very cute, Ricki, "have trowel, will travel!" Dang Tammy, you are a genius! I absolutely love your problem solving flowchart. And your back yard looks gorgeous! You often show us difficult areas, and this one has been transformed into a beautiful spot! I got a kick out of noticing that we have the same garden "bench" on wheels for planting. Isn't that handy? You can put all your stuff in the bottom underneath the seat.....

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    1. I wish I were a genius but I'm really just too stubborn to give up until I solve the problem. My brain is a flow chart so it made sense to me to add one to this post. That bench is a life saver!

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  14. Forgot to tell you...I studied Dante in the original Italian for five years in Rome. I think this is the moment for me to come up with a circle of Hell for those gardeners who mistreat their plants. Stay tuned! Ha! Bet you beat me to it Tammy-:)

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    1. You studied Dante in Italian and you think I'm a genius?? You, my friend, are quite the brainiac!

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  15. that flow chart is amazing. If there was a prize for Flow Charts in Blogs, I would nominate you, Tammy! Your garden's looking great and I love your birdhouse collection. Do birds use the birdhouses? Thanks for the chuckles.

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    1. Thanks! I made it using a website called Piktochart. The birds do love the houses, which is such a bonus. A lot of birdhouses are truly only decorative and don't seem to be made with actual birds in mind. But these have been made with research based specifications and are very easy to clean out. I just love them.

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  16. In-laws are horrified...SCORE!!! I love your flow chart and your scientific notations....Tammy you are funny!
    It was your curtain post that drew me into your blog many years ago and made me add you to my Blog Roll, so don't knock the curtain, you made a fan in Barbados.
    Glad you finally figured out how to solve the problem.
    I too have a wind tunnel at the side of my house, and I've just replanted with different coloured ginger lilies.

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    1. I love the curtains, too. They kept my kitchen cool and it was fun to watch people do a double take. The beige one blended in so well, it was easy to miss. The hooks are still there so if we end up with a horrible heat wave, I can hang the beige one back up.

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  17. Hahaha, just love that chart! Horrified in-laws indeed! (Mine would be, too, as I'm sure they are quite horrified at many of the things I do, but by now know it does no good to say anything.) I love your solution to the problem, and love,love,love those birdhouses! Your steps look so great with the cascade of pots and birdhouses going down both sides.

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    1. Thanks! Anything that horrifies my in-laws is deemed a good idea in my book. ;o)

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  18. The grasses are great and create the perfect backdrop for blooms. Best of all, your patio table looks wine-ready; what time should I arrive?

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  19. Well...I don't think it matters what you decide to do because in looking at these photos you have a great eye and everything is gorgeous. The plants, pots, steps, patio, fantastic bird houses, and the unusual hangars themselves. You have taste, friend, and it shows. :-)

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    1. Thank you so much!! That really feels good. :o)

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  20. Brilliant! Great bird houses, great containers, great plant selection. So, think I could borrow that outdoor curtain for a while?

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    1. Thanks, Jason! I will gladly mail it to you!

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  21. A great solution! Had you considered simply hanging your in laws over your windows? They would block the light but there would probably still be a lot of hot air. The noise would stop eventually but there might be a bit of a fragrance problem after a few days. I guess your solution is better thought out.

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    1. Ha ha ha ha!!! They're very conventional and I'm not so everything I do horrifies them. Using the grasses has a much lower risk of jail time.

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  22. This is why you're a science teacher:) The thought of an equation using wind velocity and UV rays would have made my eyes glaze over. But what a beautiful solution! The zebra grass makes such an attractive backdrop to all the blooming containers one would never know it served a more useful purpose. Love all the different birdhouses--they are really works of art!

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    1. I was an English teacher before I began teaching science so maybe that's why it took five years to figure all this out. ;o) Hats off to the artists who made those houses!

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  23. Your posts always have me laughing aloud Tammy!
    Love your Art deco birdhouse. It is truly a des res ! Hopefully that Miscanthus will stand up to everything that your Wing Tunnel of Death can throw at it !!

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    1. Thanks, Jane! We've had a really stormy summer and the grasses are working their magic.

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  24. I like how you analyzed your problem and came up with a solution. I, too, have a BIG problem with reflected light from big, east-facing windows that fries the top of a Vine Maple--it's burned out he top of the tree at least three times. I can't put up a curtain, as you did, but I am researching for a window film that will do the job. That reflected light/heat really is a significant problem!

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    1. My windows are tinted with a light film that blocks UV light from entering my house, which keeps my house cooler. But the UV light is reflected back onto the garden. I don't know of any films that stop UV light from being reflected. Maybe an awning would work. I considered putting those up, too but unless I put them on every window, it would have looked weird to just have a few.

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    2. CollidEscape--a product designed to reduce bird strikes--is supposed to reduce a lot of glare while maintaining good visibility from inside. I requested samples and lived with it for a while, but wasn't totally sold on the appearance from either inside or out. However, our windows are HUGE and are a big design feature on the front of the house so I am, maybe, a little extra picky about how they look.

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  25. Masterful work and solution Tammy...I love those birdhouses...

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  26. Your metal rooster is a big chicken? Thought you'd sneak that one past me? LOL. You're too funny :)

    PS - Do you know what variety of Hibiscus syriacus you have?

    PPS - Where did you get that hammock? Looks comfy!

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    1. I do love my big chicken! ;o) The Rose of Sharon is Arden's Double and the hammock came from Brookstone.

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  27. I am amazed at your solutions, nothing short of genius, it just goes to show what can be achieved if you refuse to give up! Everything is looking lush and glowing, I especially love your big chicken, lol....and those gorgeous birdboxes with their delightful knobs!xxx

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    1. If I were a genius I would have figured this out in five minutes instead of five years but thanks for the love! :o) I do love a delightful knob. ;o)

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  28. Problem solving a is not a skill many people would think is key to gardening, but it is an essential one. Figuring out what has gone wrong with a planting and coming up with a clever solution is something a gardener is often called on to do. Count on you Tammy to face a problem head on with invention, creativity and a great sense of humour.

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer! That means a lot! :o)

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  29. What an ingenious solution to your problems! I absolutely love how you have arranged the pots on either side of the steps. You are one talented lady! I don't do very well with pots as I usually forget to water them so I've given up on having any for the time being. I'm hoping that will change once the kids are a bit bigger and life is a little less chaotic.

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    1. Thanks but it took a long time to figure out how to make the pots look good, too. :o) Atomic chaos reigned for many summers. When my kids were little, I had one or two pots and usually didn't have time to deal with them.

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  30. First, Tammy, I've got to say that you are magnificently insane! That flow chart is a scream as well as brilliant. So, if I read this carefully, you went without that view of the garden for three years just to PO your in-laws? You go girl! Excellent insights about the type of leaves you needed for plants there. And the birdhouses are wonderful. I especially love the Ted Freeman one; what a wonderful design. Abandon all hope, indeed. Just hire Tammy and embrace the whimsical logic of a motivated garden geek. Great work!

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    1. Awww, thanks!! POing my in-laws was such a delicious bonus I hated to give it up. But my new riverbed also horrifies them so everything's in balance. ;o) The Ted Freeman house was a Christmas money splurge but I just love it. I am a motivated garden geek, for sure! :o)

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  31. Hi Tammy, I wouldn't say my garden has hell spots, sometimes it feels like the thing is one big hell hole; but that's where me and my electric tiller comes in. I'm systematically banishing the dense and sinful clay by churning it up and blending it in with angelic manure and compost, leaving rejuvenated borders full of flowers and virtue in my wake. That' the plan, anyway.

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    1. Then I guess the best compliment for your garden amendments could be, "Holy crap!". Your garden will be incredible. :o)

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    2. OMG, I had to read that twice before I got the joke and at the point realisation dawned, I wet myself with laughter.

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  32. The mark of a good gardener is the ability to meet a challenge and to create a beautiful and functional solution. You have achieved high marks here! I love the choice of the miscanthus and the birdhouses are wonderful. I confess that in my book functional must also be beautiful. You have a very pretty garden!

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  33. Goodness, how very creative. A great post, I did enjoy your problem- solving. A curtain outside the window is certainly original. But I prefer the birdbox and grass idea. It looks so interesting and what a fabulous collection of birdboxes.

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    1. Thanks, Chloris! The birds are living quite well here at the Casa. :o)

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  34. Tammy, your hell space is really beautiful! I did have to chuckle...ok, ok, I downright laughed out loud...at your flow chart! Of course the designer in me wants to add a pergola above those windows to help with the heat. Just a small one... ~Julie

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    1. Oooohhh!! I love the idea of a pergola but I'd have to drill it into the siding. :( My flow chart shows what an enormous nerd I am. I Am Nerd, Hear Me Roar!!

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