Thursday, February 28, 2013

Misadventures in Real Estate

As some of you already know, Hubby and I placed our home on the market with the intent to move to North County. I’ve never had a house on the MLS before and boy is it ever eye-opening! In the space of about a month and a half, we’ve had close to 40 showings, 1 open house, and one offer.

Things I have learned in the process:

# 1 Low house inventory is causing frustration on both the buying and selling sides.

Renovated kitchen and property panorama
San Diego County has a smaller number of homes for sale than the historic data indicates. Consequently, buyers are vying for a smaller pool of homes that may or may not meet their must-have criteria. Buying realtors are attempting to compensate by showing their clients a wider variety of homes in a wider variety of neighborhoods. This can sometimes lead to a disconnect between buyer wants and neighborhood reality. For instance, my home in Bay Park is standard to the neighborhood: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1200-1700 square feet interior with 7000-10,000 square foot lots, built in the 1950s or 1960s, and have small bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets. This is typical of the era the homes were built and typical to the style of home: a mid-century ranch. Many prospective buyers want a house with more modern sensibilities: 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a master suite, larger bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets, larger interior square footage of 2000-3000 square feet, and a smaller lot size of ~6000 square feet to reduce yard maintenance. Bay Park homes have little to none of these modern amenities, unless a given home has been updated to that standard. Buyers are frustrated that they are not finding what they want; sellers are frustrated that the buyers are not making any offers. Takeaways: Learn the basic characteristics of the neighborhoods and tailor property searches accordingly. Realize that small inventory may not allow the buyer to meet all the must-have criteria on their property wish list. Buying the right home and selling one’s home may take more time than previously expected.

#2 Home maintenance is intimidating.

Renovated Bathroom
I’ve seen the crestfallen faces of some of our prospective buyers when they see my back yard. Yes, it’s big, it’s lovely, and it’s a heck of a lot of work! Home maintenance, including yard work, is intimidating because it takes so much time and money. Prospective buyers may or may not have the experience to take care of it. Hubby and I have completed a top to bottom renovation in 2 stages and we still have maintenance items that need addressing. But our experience pales in comparison to the reality of owning a home over an extended period of time. In over 30 years of home ownership, my parents have completed multiple interior and exterior paint jobs, multiple termite repairs, roof, window, and interior/ exterior door replacement, 3 bathroom renovations, 3 sets of carpet, refinishing and replacing wood floors, 1 flood remediation, a top to bottom kitchen renovation, and yard work up to the eyeballs (I am sure I’ve missed something)! I dread home maintenance, but it is a reality of home ownership.  Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a maintenance free home, whether brand new or 100+ years old. Takeaways: Accept that things will break and the home owners are responsible for fixing them. Create a contingency fund to address issues.

#3 Don’t allow your assumptions to rule your reality.

As buyers and sellers, people can make all sorts of assumptions about the person or people on the other end of the deal.  For instance, buyers may assume that the sellers are desperate to sell or are under financial stress. Sellers may view a under asking price offer as proof of a buyers inability to afford the home at a higher price. These are not facts, so why do we base our decisions on them? Buying and selling a home is an emotional experience, and many times we get wrapped up in our feelings.  Takeaways: Both buyers and sellers need to take a step back, quiet their emotions, question their assumptions, and take a look at correct data in order to make and accept reasonable offers.

#4 I really wasn’t ready for this process.

I didn’t fully realize how intrusive the process of selling a house truly is. The ease of getting started belied the difficulty of the long haul. It’s weirdly creepy having strangers touring your home day after day. Prospective buyers see some of the most intimate locations of your life: the bedroom, the bathroom, peeking in closets and cabinets, and come into contact with pets. The house always has to be clean for a potential showing and yet there is no time to clean it due to back to back showing on the weekends.  We’ve had comments from buying relators that range from “the house is beautiful” to “this house is overpriced and is in poor condition.” It is hard to reconcile such disparate ideas and no matter how hard I try to ignore the negativity, the comments irk me. I admit my fault in not being ready for this process and I also admit to not coping well with major changes in my living situation.

I am still very much emotionally attached to this house and I have not found another property that meets both my and Hubby’s criteria (again, the low inventory issue). I am scared that I will not be able to recreate my vegetable garden due to location, size, and soil quality. Ultimately, we have decided to pull our house from the market. I look forward to the opportunity to “bloom where planted” and be able to continue tending my vegetables, herbs, roses, plumeria, fruit trees, camellias, fuchsia, sweet peas, nasturtiums, and all my other much loved plants.
Outdoor living - can you spot the cat?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Floral jewelry is a new trend

Joyce Mason-Monheim, a floral designer in Tucson, Ariz., is known for her “lapel art” floral jewelry. Floral jewelry is a new trend in which jewelry made especially for the floral market incorporates  flowers and plants.

Floral jewelry has become more popular because for many special occasions such as weddings and proms, dresses no longer have a place on which to pin a corsage. Mason-Monheim said this jewelry can include wristlets, hair pieces, purse decorations and broaches. She said even small pieces of a plant can be used to accent the jewelry. Once the plant parts die the jewelry becomes a keepsake.
Floral jewelry is a new trend in which jewelry incorporates
flowers and plants.

What's new vs. what's good

An activity for many gardeners during the winter is to look for new cultivars that can be added to their gardens this spring. A current trend in horticulture is to move new plants onto the market in the shortest possible time frame, creating a rapid process of both cultivar introduction and elimination in the market. Information on new and old cultivar garden performance are available from plant evaluation programs conducted by numerous universities, organizations, botanical gardens and arboretums.
Zinnia 'Profusion Double Deep Salmon' is a 2013
All-America Selections Bedding Plant Award Winner
Photo courtesy of All-America Selections


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Quick winter temperature changes can damage trees

Frost cracks are vertical cracks in the stems of trees. On sunny winter days bark will warm up, causing cells to expand in the bark and wood directly below the bark. As the sun sets, temperatures drop quickly, causing the bark to cool and contract. The wood under the bark does not cool as quickly, causing the bark to split.

Frost cracks may first appear on very young trees that have not developed a thick layer of bark. The south and southwestern side of trees are most susceptible to frost cracks. Once damaged, the injured area can split back open on very cold, winter days.

The south and southwestern side of
trees are most susceptible to frost cracks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

National Garden Bureau highlights new products

National Garden Bureau has launched a new program to give hard goods suppliers an opportunity to feature their new gardening products in one easily-accessible location. The program includes two product categories: Garden Gear & Tools and Garden D├ęcor. For this year’s launch, the images and descriptions of almost 30 exciting new gardening products are presented. As more new products are submitted by National Garden Bureau members, they will be added to the website. The new products will also be highlighted in the bureau's e-newsletters over the next 12 months.
Solar-powered illuminated planters are one of the new
products being featured by the National Garden Bureau. 


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

New website offers alternatives to impatiens

If you are concerned with impatiens downy mildew infecting your garden impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) this year, there are numerous plants that can be substituted. Michigan State University Extension has developed a consumer-friendly website (Alternatives to Impatiens) that briefly explains the potential problems with impatiens downy mildew and provides numerous alternatives to Impatiens walleriana varieties, which are susceptible to the disease.
Looking for plants that can be used in
 place of garden impatiens? Check out
 the "Alternatives to Impatiens" website.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Is there a critter digging up your lawn or garden?

Michigan State University Extension reports that skunks, raccoons and moles primarily dig up yards for two things: food and lodging. The time of the year makes a difference in the frequency of digging. More damage often occurs in the spring and fall.

In the fall, animals try to pick up as many calories as possible to make it through the winter. The fatter they are, the better chance they have of surviving. In the spring, these same animals are trying to regain weight, especially if there has been a great deal of snow cover or extremely cold weather. It is possible to identify the culprit by the clues left at the scene of the damage.
Soil disruption by skunks usually occurs overnight because
these animals are nocturnal feeders.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Death of the American Lawn Part 2

Edible front yards are the ultimate expression of the Victory Garden. They are also the most revolutionary reasons for the death of the American Lawn. While a native or xeriscape garden might be more palatable in conforming to established zoning, code and Home Owner's Association rules, the edible garden flies in the face of conformity and places food plants front and center in the neighborhood's sight lines. For some front yard gardeners, this has become a battle ground and a cause, for others, it has become a positive point of contact with their community.

At first glance, vegetable gardens have any unruly appearance if not scrupulously maintained. My tomatoes look pretty scraggly by season's end. Truthfully, my tomatoes are not what I had in mind and an ideal edible front yard candidate. In The Edible Front Yard, Ivette Soler outlines how to choose the correct edible plants to ensure an aesthetically pleasing front yards. She spends a considerable amount of time listing ornamental edibles that will be both pleasing to the eye and pleasing to the palette. Her choices focus on the form of the plant, its flowers, and how well it holds up during the space of the growing season. Hardscape is key; well planned and executed paths, growing beds, and trellises help neighbors over look wilted or spent vegetables. I loved Ms. Soler's approach and would love to build a front yard edible garden using her guidelines. However, I would only go with the front yard edible approach if I was unable to build a vegetable garden in the backyard due to space, poor orientation to the sun, or other issues. Front yard gardens must deal with scavengers, especially of the two-legged kind. I blew a fuse when some one stole plumeria cuttings. Imagine what would happen if they harvested all my fruiting vegetables? Secondly, front yard edible gardens need more constant care. If they are front and center for everyone to see, the gardener will feel obligated to keep them looking perfect. I certainly can't do perfect, especially at the end of the growing season when both the tomatoes and the gardener are spent! I have plenty of space in by backyard for my vegetables. I could turn the front yard into a victory garden, but that will cost me more time than I am willing to pay right now with a full-time job, family and friend responsibilities, and participation in gardening clubs and other hobbies.

Some municipalities find this gardening approach far too revolutionary for their tastes. Recently, Orlando authorities have threatened Jason and Jennifer Helvengston with fines of $500.00 per day until they remove their 25 by 25 front yard vegetable garden. Strangely enough, the authorities are demanding the Helvengstons install grass even though vegetable gardens have a much more carbon friendly foot print than the monoculture of a pesticide and water guzzling lawn. (Please click here for further details in the original article.) Another gardener, a blogger from Toronto, had the opposite experience. As she slowly “came out” as front yard vegetable gardener, her neighbors have accepted and liked her front yard garden. In the right social climate, front yard gardens can connect neighbors, allowing them to meet and share ideas (and food) in the more public sphere of the front yard (instead of hidden away in the backyard). I suspect that rules will continue to be broken and municipal regulations over the content and usage of front yard space will continue to be fought. But there will continue to be more acceptance, especially in a community where people want to know where there food comes from.

So garden on, front yard gardeners! I may not be able to join you at this time, but I stand with you in solidarity for the right to produce one's own food and the right to rethink and change the ideas of what the American front yard landscape should be.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wildflowers and native plants aren't the same thing

Native plants and wildflowers are not synonymous. Gardeners who purchase seed packets of wildflowers and think they are planting a garden of care-free, native, perennial plants are probably going to be disappointed. A wildflower packet might have a few native plant seeds, but the vast majority of seeds are going to be something that blooms and has escaped domestication somewhere.

Many of the seeds in wildflower seed packets are annuals, which means they will grow and flower for one season. If the plants do not produce seeds or the seeds are not hardy in the gardener's hardiness zone, that’s the end of those plants. A wildflower planting can be a one-season wonder.
Many of the seeds in wildflower seed packets are
 annuals, which means they will grow and flower
for one season.


16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 15-18

For the first time, anyone anywhere in the world with Internet access can participate in the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 15-18. Participants simply watch birds at any location for at least 15 minutes, tally the numbers of each species they see, and report their tallies online.

Anyone visiting the Great Backyard Bird Count website will be able to see bird observations being tallied from around the world as well as being able to contribute their own tallies. The Great Backyard Bird Count is open to anyone of any skill level and welcomes bird observations from any location, including backyards, gardens, urban landscapes, national parks and wetlands. The four-day count typically receives sightings from tens of thousands of people reporting more than 600 bird species in the United States and Canada alone.
Anyone anywhere in the world with
 Internet access can participate in the
 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count,
Feb. 15-18.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Notes from the Garden - February 2013

February is the time we begin to have spring-like weather, if only for a few days. The first three days of February were so beautiful, a warm and balmy 72 F perfection. We are back to cooler weather, with rainstorms potentially through the weekend, but I believe that the worst of the cold weather (frost/ freezing in particular) is over. 

February also begins to show signs of new life in the garden. The nasturtiums, true to form, are beginning their bloom; the sweet peas are climbing their trellises, and the roses are turning out new leaves. The deciduous trees are still bare, but there are birds in their boughs picking at bugs. The signs of life pique my interest in the garden and help me mentally plan for the coming spring. Here are some of my signs:

Nasturtium blooms are popping up - not sure what causes the striations, but so uniquely lovely!
My first camellia bloom (planted last winter)
Snowdrops and pink heather are the harbingers of spring.
My first lemons - no more purchasing at grocery store!
Mother of Pearl rose tossing out new leaves
Early spring vegetables: Brassicas and lettuces
Blooming apple and butterfly flowers
Attempting to grow roses from cuttings - so far so good!
Climb little sweet peas, climb!
Calla lilies
Artichokes coming back from dormancy

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Top performing annuals in Michigan State trials

Each year, the Michigan State University Horticulture Demonstration Gardens evaluates hundreds of new annuals grown from seed or cuttings. The performance of each plant in the trials is evaluated bi-weekly by Department of Horticulture staff on vigor, uniformity, ornamental value-flowers and foliage.

Fifteen plants had an average rating of 5.0 (best performer) for the entire 2012 season. This list included a bidens, three gomphrena, two lobularias, an ornamental millet, three petunias, three SunPatiens and a torenia.
Bidens 'Goldilocks Rocks'


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

This year's Perennial Plant of the Year is....

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ is the Perennial Plant Association’s 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year. Polygonatum odoratum, pronounced po-lig-o-nay’tum o-do-ray’tum vair-e-ah-gay’tum, is an all-season perennial with greenish-white flowers in late spring and variegated foliage throughout the growing season. The leaves turns yellow in the fall. The plant grows well in moist soil in partial to full shade.
Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ is the
2013 Perennial Plant of the Year

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Death of the American Lawn Part 1

Have you noticed that the traditional expanse of green lawn is becoming less and less prevalent?  I look around my neighborhood and see so many options: xeriscape gardens, meadow gardens, native gardens, and countless more kinds of gardens. Homeowners are more and more looking to different options for their gardens that provide more visual appeal, are less work, and focus on water conservation. This change comes from three main influences, the ever changing demographics of the cultural landscape, expansion of conservationism into private gardens, and proliferation of growing edibles in private gardens.

In the post-war baby boom of the 1950s, home builders struggled to keep up with the demand for housing. Track homes with wide front lawns grew up overnight and ran as far as the eye could see down every block of new suburban neighborhoods. Young children treated these lawns as one gigantic play area, for these unfenced front lawns made ideal locations for baseball, football, and other lawn field based games. As infrastructure caught up with growth, public parks began to supplant the need for open front yards. The advent of “stranger danger” and other crime into areas made parents less willing to allow their kids to play in the front yards and the streets. Children retreated to the backyard or to parks with adult supervision. Bu the front yard lawns remained, static, hard to maintain, soaking up large amounts of pesticides and water needed to keep them green.

In the wake of the environmental movement, home owners started questioning the need for these  lawns, especially if their children were grown or could play in a neighborhood park. Conservationists and gardening aficionados began looking for alternatives to the traditional lawn and found inspiration in nature. They conceived native style gardens that mimicked native meadow, prairie, or chaparral ecosystems. As housing demands push developers to build on undeveloped land, they can attempt to soften the blow to wildlife by providing gardens that provide shelter and food for birds, blooms to provide nectar to local bees, and plants to help sustain beneficial insects. As my county is very susceptible to drought, xeriscape gardens are very popular. There are gorgeous succulents, cacti, grasses, salvia, palms and a host of many more options that can make a water conserving garden appear lush and green. These particular gardens bloom in late winter to early spring and are a gorgeous site to behold among the dormant background. There are a host of options in taking your garden native; if you wish to research options for your new native or xeric garden, I recommend Beautiful No-Mow Yards by Evelyn J Hadden.

Personally, I have no need for a traditional lawn. When Hubby and I moved in to the ‘ol homestead, we promptly killed the existing small piece of lawn by neglecting to water it. That area is now our mini-orchard containing plum, fig, pomegranate, lemon, and tangerine trees. The ground cover is a mixture of mulch and seasonal wildflowers. When the wildflowers die off, I convert the area to vegetable gardening overflow, growing pumpkins, crook-necked yellow squash, zucchini, artichokes, and cucumbers. We save a bundle on our water bill, so much so that our expense is only about $50.00 a month, and most of that cost is taxes and fees. The vegetable garden has been a true harbinger of the death of the American lawn, but I leave that topic for the next time, as I delve into the idea of the edible front yard.

Xeriscaped garden using agave, flax, creeping rosemary and native shrubs.
Succulent garden with tea tree and other water-wise shrubs
A friend just started this succulent and cacti garden with his favorite species.
Neighbors continue to extend their bird and bees garden that attracts local wildlife.