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Posts Tagged “hydrangeas”

Pruning hydrangeas in winter

By on February 23, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, I decided that the weather was perfect to do some gardening. So I put on my snow boots and winter coat, grabbed a shovel and some pruning shears, and went outside to prune our Annabelle hydrangeas.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Yes, I probably should have pruned these hydrangea bushes last fall (like I did the first time with great success). But in the first few months of adjusting to life with Baby T, garden maintenance wasn’t really at the forefront of our minds, so the hydrangeas were left on their own as fall turned into winter.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

I’ve read that Annabelle hydrangeas can be pruned anytime between autumn and early spring (check out this site and these guidelines and this blog post) because they bloom on new wood. So I decided to put it to the ultimate test and try pruning them in the dead of winter this year. You know, in the snow and ice and freezing cold. That’s not crazy, right?

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Before starting to prune, I had to dig the bushes out a bit since they were buried in a huge snowdrift. I wanted to cut down the branches to about 18 inches from the ground, so I used a small shovel to clear snow from the areas I wanted to prune. I tried not to damage the branches, but I did end up scraping a few of them and exposed the green insides.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

When I had shoveled enough to be able to see what I had to work with, I started trimming. Some of the branches were still bent down and buried under the snow, so I pulled these out to prune them. And I completely trimmed off the few sections where I had scraped the stems with the shovel.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Once I pruned everything down to about 18 inches, I collected all the trimmed branches and put them in a yard bag for pickup later on in spring.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

We’ve had a cold and snowy February here in the Midwest, so when things warm up and melt a little, I’ll check if any stray stems were hiding under the snow.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Hopefully this won’t be another pruning fail like the smoke tree (which we still haven’t fixed yet, by the way!). Is there such a thing as having a white thumb (instead of a green or black one) for gardening in winter? If this risky landscaping move works, I’m going to declare winter gardening (and #whitethumb) a new trend.

Cross your fingers (again) that I haven’t killed our gorgeous Annabelle hydrangea. What do you think – will Annabelle survive?

February 23, 2015

State of the House: Downstairs, outside and more

By on January 15, 2015


We’re almost done reviewing all the progress (and um, lack of progress) we’ve made on our home so far, before jumping into our project ideas for 2015. In our last two posts we looked at the first floor and second floor, so now let’s head into the basement and then outside to see what’s left on our home improvement to-do list.


Basement

Basement Woodworking Studio | Rather Square

Basement Woodworking Studio | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

When we bought our house, the basement was divided into a semi-finished room (used by the former owners as a music rehearsal space) and an unfinished utility area. We haven’t done much to the utility area except upgrade the laundry machines, but John spent some time last year remodeling the other room to be his woodworking studio (pictured above). We definitely owe you a couple of posts on that project! The rest of the basement will be a long-term, small-sections-at-a-time renovation.


Exterior

Repairing Stucco | Rather Square

Built-In Window Boxes | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

Here we’ve got some small projects we can tackle easily (like upgrading the rusty battered mailbox) and huge ones that we’ll have to save up for (like repainting the entire exterior). The front and back entrances of the house are both somewhat dilapidated and will need attention soon – we’ll probably repaint and reinforce them as a short-term fix and then totally rebuild them down the road.


Garage

Garage, Before | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

The garage was built around the same time as our house, so it’s almost a century old. While the structure itself is solid and the roof was replaced by the previous owner, our home inspection noted that the original foundation has become very unstable over time. There are huge heaving cracks in the concrete floor caused by water damage that are getting worse every year. So, inspired by an episode of Rehab Addict, we got an estimate last year to lift up the garage structure, remove the old foundation, and repour a new one. It’s much more cost-effective than building a whole new garage, especially since the current walls and roof are still in good condition. Now that we have a quote, we’re hoping we can get these garage issues addressed before the foundation deteriorates much further.


Landscaping

Front Yard Landscaping | Rather Square

Annabelle Hydrangea | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

Our home’s previous owner spent a lot of thought and energy on the landscaping around the property. But while the ornamental garden, bushes and trees are beautiful, we don’t have enough time or resources to maintain them on the extensive level they require. So we’ve started redesigning the landscaping to better fit our interests and needs. The most dramatic transformation so far has been when John cut down our yews last summer, and we want to continue reimagining this front yard space with more inviting curb appeal.


Energy systems

Installing a Thermostat | Rather Square

Old Furnace, New Furnace | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

Even though our old house has a brand-new furnace, air conditioner, whole-house humidifier, and smart thermostat, it’s still woefully under-insulated, so we lose a lot of heat and energy through the outside walls and attic. We’ve gotten some preliminary estimates to add modern insulation that seem reasonable, but we need to save some bucks for that substantial project.


Whew, it feels like we’ve got enough work on our to-do list to last the next million years! Now we just need to decide what should be given top priority to complete by the end of this year.

What project(s) do you think we should work on first? What’s on your home improvement to-do list this year? Let us know in the comments!

Missed our recap of the first and second floors? Check those out here:
State of the House: First floor
State of the House: Second floor

January 15, 2015

A late summer landscaping round-up

By on August 14, 2014


It seems like we’ve been doing a lot of outdoor work this summer. Some projects were planned, others came up unexpectedly, and one or two were even emergencies. Since we knew we’d be having a new baby at the end of this season, we kept our landscaping ambitions low (in order to prioritize baby-related house updates). But somehow, we found ourselves outside every weekend working on something or other on our little plot of land. Here’s a round-up of what’s been going on.

Yews

Our biggest project this summer was cutting down the eight giant yew shrubs in our front yard.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

John did this work himself with a variety of tools (including a chainsaw) and cleared away all the debris and old mulch, leaving us with eight short stumps and a front yard full of dirt.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

We knew we wouldn’t have time this summer to do any major new landscaping in the former yew space, but John has managed a few small updates. First, he divided some hostas from our backyard (we have a lot back there) and replanted them in front of the stumps. Then he added new wood mulch to the area around the stumps and hostas, creating more of a defined border around the house. Finally, he planted grass seed in the remaining yard space to fill in up to the sidewalk.

Late Summer Landscaping | Rather Square

The grass has mostly grown in well (except for one stubborn patch that we’re still trying to cultivate) and the hostas are hanging in there. Those take a few years to fill out, so we’re optimistic. You can also see a few straggly rosebushes (with no roses) near the sidewalk – we’ve left those in the ground for now, but they’ve never really flourished, and we’ll probably dig them out eventually. Finally, John transplanted some ornamental grass (that he brought from our backyard) around the horse head hitching post – some of it has thrived, some hasn’t. We’ll see what survives this next winter.

Late Summer Landscaping | Rather Square

Now that the yews aren’t crowding everything else out, we’ve got a blank slate to be really creative here. There’s a lot more work to be done, but this is a good start and will hold us over until we have more time to devote to this area in the future.

Hydrangeas

We can’t forget our Annabelle hydrangeas! We’ve got about four of these bushes, and they were kind of big and floppy last summer. They draped over our paved walkway and were starting to block the path, as you can see below.

Late Summer Hydrangeas | Rather Square

After learning more about them last year, pruning them aggressively last fall, and watching them start to come back to life this spring, they’ve really bloomed nicely this summer.

Late Summer Hydrangeas | Rather Square

It was just the result I was hoping for – smaller bushes that don’t block our walkway access, but still lots of big fluffy blooms. So I must have done something right when pruning them last fall (unlike our failed smoke tree experiment). I’m so glad they grew back and thrived this year – they’re some of our favorite flowers in the garden!

Window boxes

Back in June, we bought some leafy vines and coleus plants for our window boxes (instead of planting herbs like we did last year). We hoped they would grow and drape over the sides and look really pretty.

Window Box Garden | Rather Square

We haven’t had time for much upkeep, and we’ve only been watering the window boxes sporadically because of our busy schedules. The coleus plants have held up pretty well, but the vines kind of shriveled and dried up.

Window Box Garden with Vines and Coleus | Rather Square

This is one gardening project that has fallen to the bottom of our priority list as we get ready for baby, but if we’d put a little more effort in maintaining and caring for these window boxes, they’d probably look much better right now. Maybe next summer we’ll have more time to tend to these.

Moss

We’ve got a stone paver walkway that extends the full length of our lot on one side – it leads from the front curb to our back alley. We get a lot of weeds in between the stones and one of our long-term goals is to fill in the walkway spaces with polymeric sand for a more finished appearance. But John noticed some patches of moss growing in one shady spot near the side of the house (you can see it in the 2014 Annabelle hydrangea photo above), and decided to try and cultivate this look for now. It’s really pretty!

Cultivating Moss | Rather Square

We probably can’t grow moss along the entire walkway, because it needs shady and damp conditions to thrive, and most of the walkway gets full sun. But for this one little area, it’s been a fun experiment to encourage a mossy green interlude.

Cultivating Moss | Rather Square

Oak tree

Our large oak tree provides a lot of shade (and pretty yellow leaves in the fall) and helps keep the front of our house cool in the summer. Unfortunately, it has also been providing squirrels with a easy access route to our roof, and earlier this summer we discovered that some of these squirrels had gotten into the empty space above our sunroom. John climbed up a ladder to take a look, and realized that there wasn’t much flashing along the roof line (despite the fact that this roof was just put on a few years ago). So in order to keep animals out and to protect the exposed wood, he installed new aluminum flashing around the entire house.

Installing Roof Flashing | Rather Square

This was one of these projects we hadn’t planned for, but it was a necessary fix. Since John was able to do it himself, we saved a lot of money than if we’d hired someone to come out and do the work.

In addition, he cut back several overhanging branches on the oak tree to discourage future tree-dwellers from migrating to our house. After trimming most of them from the ground with an extendable tree trimmer, he climbed the tree with a smaller tool to get some out-of-the-way stragglers.

Trimming Oak Tree Branches | Rather Square

We’re really hoping that these DIY preventative measures will help keep the roof free of unwanted visitors from now on.

Hornets

Speaking of unwanted visitors… another unplanned project we encountered this summer (and didn’t save money on) was dealing with this hornets’ nest. We noticed it out of the blue one day a few weeks ago, and it was positioned right over our front sidewalk in the lower branches of the oak tree. It was a big safety issue for anybody walking by our house.

Bald Faced Hornets Nest | Rather Square

The nest had to be removed ASAP, but we decided to leave this job to the pros. So we called in a pest control company. Once the guy came out and got a good look at the nest, he told us that we had dangerous bald-faced hornets living there. They can get really angry and aggressive when defending their space (a single hornet can sting someone multiple times), especially when someone destroys their home. So he wore full-body protection, sprayed the nest, and then cut it down while we watched safely from inside the house. It cost us $250 for the removal, but it was definitely not something we would have been able to (or want to) take on ourselves.

Bald Faced Hornets Nest | Rather Square

So unless any further outdoor emergencies come up (fingers crossed!), this is probably all the landscaping we’ll be doing for the rest of the summer. The new baby is scheduled to arrive soon, and we’re focusing on getting ready for that by finishing the nursery and the toddler’s bedroom.

How does your August garden/yard/lawn/trees grow?

August 14, 2014

Spring landscaping in the garden

By on May 22, 2014


Like for most of the U.S. this year, our Midwest spring season arrived later than usual. But after a long long long winter, we’re doing some spring landscaping, and our backyard and all its garden loveliness has finally sprung back to life.

Our Garden Spring 2014 | Rather Square

I’ve talked before about the very beautiful ornamental garden that came with our house… and how John and I are pretty much novices when it comes to maintaining it. We don’t have black thumbs or anything, but we’re more well versed in the art of vegetable and herb gardening than in flower and shrub upkeep. I took some notes during a quick “garden orientation” meeting with the previous owner (who spent a lot of time and attention on these plants) so we do have some information like plant names and a few care instructions. But I was writing so fast and so much that my notes are kind of jumbled.

Spring Landscaping | Rather Square

We’ve done some online research into specific individual plants when we think they need immediate attention. Last summer, John trimmed our boxwood and yew shrubs.

Boxwood Shrubs | Rather Square

Trimming Yew Shrubs | Rather Square

And I’ve done a few posts on our Annabelle hydrangea, which I cut back last fall after reading that would help them grow bushier and more compact.

Annabelle Hydrangea | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas | Rather Square

Hydrangeas in the Snow | Rather Square

Spring came late this year (our brave daffodils bloomed despite an April snowfall), so one relatively mild weekend last month, we went out into the garden to assess its post-winter condition. It didn’t look too bad, but we wanted to clean and trim around the plants while they were still mostly dormant. There were a lot of leftover fallen autumn leaves, broken branches, and dead growth to clear out, so we did a bit of spring landscaping.

Spring Landscaping | Rather Square

Last summer we had a ton of healthy sage, but I also noticed at the time that several areas of this sprawling plant looked dead. So this spring I cut everything back to the main stem. Sage stems are pretty woody, so I used small hand pruners for this. Hopefully some new growth will emerge from the remaining plant as it gets warmer.

Spring Landscaping | Rather Square

The previous owner had told us to “vigorously” prune the smoke tree that grows up next to our dining nook window. So John took that literally and cut quite a bit off before winter set in last year. You can see in the photos below how he pruned everything to the bottom of the window. We waited several months to see if we’d been too vigorous and killed this tree – but luckily, it seems to be growing back nicely. Not as full as before, but hopefully it will fill in again as time goes on.

Pruining a Smoke Tree | Rather Square

John also cut back this other small tree (called a burning bush, because it turns red in the fall) on the other end of the garden next to the garage. It too has been rejuvenating as the weather’s gotten warmer.

Pruning a Burning Bush | Rather Square

And of course, I’ve been monitoring our four Annabelle hydrangea bushes after I pruned them last fall. I posted an update recently when I noticed tiny leaf buds appearing. It’s been a month since then, and these bushes have gotten really leafy! It’s a great sign, but it remains to be seen if we’ll see any actual flowers appear. Fingers crossed…

Spring Landscaping | Rather Square

There are way too many other plants and flowers to mention, but overall things seem to be growing very well. In fact, the garden seems to be on autopilot – most if not all of what the previous owner planted are perennials (meaning they grow back year after year), so they’ve just come back on their own without much help from us. So far we’ve seen lots of pretty colors and leafy growth, such as tulips, daffodils, brunnera (“false forget-me-nots”), lilacs, hostas, chives, ferns, alliums, rhododendrons, and more. Here are some recent snapshots from the last few weeks:

Our Spring Garden | Rather Square

We were able to clear out the debris around plants and trim off any dead wood in a couple of afternoons. Not too bad, and we even had a little helper to fill up our yard bags. She took her spring landscaping assistant job very seriously and collected every discarded twig, leaf or clipping in sight.

Spring Landscaping | Rather Square

But we do have one much larger landscaping project we are planning to tackle before summer sets in. It concerns the giant yew shrubs in our front yard that form a thick impenetrable border around our sunroom. Remember these?

Trimming Yew Shrubs | Rather Square

They pretty much take up the entire front yard, stopping about two feet from the sidewalk (and we’ve got a few hostas and roses currently in this narrow strip of yew-free yard). John had a hard time trimming the yews last year, and they are really overgrown and out of control. So we’ve got some significant changes we want to make to this part of our yard. We’ll talk more details about this in an upcoming post (UPDATE: take a look at our yew renovation!), but here’s a sneak preview of our plans:

Spring Landscaping | Rather Square

So, how does your garden grow this spring?

(linked on Remodelaholic)

May 22, 2014

Spring buds on our Annabelle hydrangeas

By on April 17, 2014


Look what I found budding on our hydrangeas this morning!

Hydrangea Buds | Rather Square
(photo originally published on Instagram)

You may remember that I drastically pruned back our Annabelle hydrangeas last fall, based on some research I did on how to keep them growing big and beautiful for years to come. Not being well-versed in ornamental gardening (vegetables and herbs are more my thing), I worried that this pruning technique might harm or kill the plants entirely. Which would be a travesty – they’re so pretty in full bloom!

Annabelle Hydrangea | Rather Square

Annabelle Hydrangea | Rather Square

Last autumn, I pruned the branches down to about 24 inches or so. It was a little scary, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Pruning Hydrangeas | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas | Rather Square

So imagine my relief and delight when I saw some buds on these branches today! Annabelle lives!

Hydrangea Buds | Rather Square

Does this mean it’s finally spring? (I vote yes!)

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April 17, 2014