Monday, March 30, 2009

Buffalo Garden in Garden Ideas and Outdoor Living


Another Buffalo garden hits the national stage in the Spring 2009 issue of Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living, a Better Homes & Gardens special interest publication. The 8-page story, titled In-Town Seclusion, explains how gardener Mike Banks made his wedge-shape yard more beautiful, private and useful with good garden planning. His secret to success? Dividing the yard into individual spaces, which flow together naturally.

This gorgeous space is literally, in downtown Buffalo, in the shadow of city hall, with large buildings just a block away. It is made up of "new Victorian"-stlyed brick homes built in Buffalo's historic West Village in the 1980s.

The cover is NOT Mike Bank's yard, but it's a great looking very colorful cover.

The article features an interview with Mike, a "before & after" photo of the wedge-shaped, 700 sq. ft. garden, an illustrated map of how he designed & planted the space, soil tips (especially important for city-dwellers), a "How to plant this bed" list of plants, and a side for bar rules of great garden design. Also, in the resources section in the back of the magazine, there is a plug for Garden Walk Buffalo.

Mike's garden leans heavily on foliage for its impact, which makes for year-round interest, as opposed to annual & perennial flowers to make a visual impact. He gets color from a variety of coleus as much as from any particular flower. And he spends virtually no time deadheading. A decided plus for low-maintenance gardening, since his job involves much travel.

Mike Banks is a former organizer of Garden Walk Buffalo and is a great fan & supporter of the tour, now the largest garden tour in the country.

I've been by this yard dozens of times, but have never seen it from inside the yard. I'm going to have to hop the fence and get inside sometime. Or stop by Garden Walk and see it for myself.

The photos, by Toronto photographer Andreas Trauttmansdorff, are simply stunning. Andreas made this tiny, odd-shaped lot look expansive and intimate at the same time. If you get a chance, it's worth checking out his website, just to see some of the gardening photography he's done. He's been to Buffalo a few times now, on assignment for Better Homes & Gardens and will be back, we hope. The BH&G producer (and scout and stylist) for the story was Donna Talley. The writer was Julie A. Martens

Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living, which traces its history back to 1940, is the oldest special-interest gardening publication in America. This Spring 2009 issue is available on newsstands now. I picked up my copy in the checkout aisle at Wegmans.

Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living editor, Luke Miller, is a Rochester, NY native. He's also got a vegetable gardening blog, Smart Gardening. It's brand new - please visit and leave him a comment. Tell him you want to see more Buffalo gardens featured in Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living because you can't get enough of them!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Night Lights V - Fun Lights!



Last installment of my Nightlights Week of lessons. I wanted to add what lighting schemes I've utilized to a post, but it seemed like way too much to do in one post. And to do an occasional post wouldn't have much of an impact. So a week-long series made sense for me. I also wanted to see if anyone out there had any other clever ways of incorporating light into their yard/garden/deck/patio. I'm always looking to steal ideas.

Did you know that on roman-numeral-faced clocks, tradition has the fourth number read as IIII, as opposed to IV? It's an aesthetic design decision to balance out the VII on the opposite side.

This last post is on fun lights - totally unnecessary, unfunctional, unneeded and unusual lighting. The king of which, is my uber-cool projection clock. I saw this more than 15 years ago in Germany. It was on the ceiling of a store and was projected on the floor. I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. It was $500.

The actual projector, projecting.

I started searching for it on what was then a dial-up modem, pre-Google. I found $500 versions. $650 versions and plenty more in the $1,000+ range. Too rich for my blood. Then, on a lark, last year, I went looking for it again. SCORE!! $50 at the Discovery store. Sorry, they don't have them any more. You can get their less expensive digital cousin, but it doesn't compare to this roman numeral, sweeping handed beaut. And to make the deal even sweeter, I forwarded the link and costs & product number to Mom, and, lo and behold – I got it for my birthday that year.

It usually sits inside the house at the top of my stairs, projected onto the immense wall that goes up the stairwell. The space is so large I have no artwork that would do it justice, but the clock can be as large as I want it to be. It is designed to be an interior clock, not weatherproof and not intended for outside use. But it hates to miss a party and a chance to shine, so it ends up outside if fair weather is predicted. It makes a great conversation piece and is a wonderful reminder for guests for how late it's getting.

Found these lights on the Internet less expensively than we had been seeing them in catalogs.

More fun lights include the umbrella lights on the umbrella. It breaks my rule of see the light, but not the bulb, but they are not obnoxious . They are specifically designed, spider-like, to be attached to the underside of market umbrellas. These were another internet purchase, which saved beaucoup bucks over the similar light sets we were finding in stores at the time. They light the table just enough for dinners which get devoured out here almost every evening of the summer.

Another fun light we have, which is not in the back yard, but greets people coming to the back or just walking by the house are these draping lights inside our front three windows. We bought them and set them up for Christmas one year and liked the m so much, we kept them up, on timers, to go on every evening and off around 11 p.m. We've gotten many great compliments on them from neighbors. From the inside they look great inside our rainbow-colored gossamer-looking shears.

The draping lights from inside. This was Valentine's Day a few years ago. Our then-seven-year-old made dinner for us. Chicken noodle soup, hot dogs microwaved to perfection and cucumber, pepper and strawberry salad. We've not let her make a meal since.

I also just purchased two rock-looking solar spotlights. I'm not sold on them yet though. It throws off a blue-tinted light that doesn't look good with the amber glow of all the other lights. And I have to find the right place to put it. Maybe in the Harry Potter Garden.

More fun lights I'd like to add include a star-projector to project over the hot tub. That way we can see stars when the stars aren't out. I also have a neon sign of my last name. I just have to figure out a way to not have it look tacky (like a beer sign or something). I designed the sign 25 years ago at my first job out of college, designing neon patterns at a neon sign shop. I'd like to put that somewhere near my grill, attached to the house.

Monday was the Safety Dance. Tuesday was Ambient Light. Wednesday was Tub Lights. Yesterday was Fire light. I hope my posts have illuminated your week. Got any good novelty light ideas I can incorporate into my evening plans?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Night lights IV - Fire



They're actually not candles but rechargeable electric votive lights. But even at this close you really can't tell can you?

Me likes fire. It's elemental, basic and dangerous–lighting up a candle or a kerosene-laden tiki torch. Mostly the danger comes after I've just filled a tiki torch and have all that black greasy stuff on my hands when I go to light, what is essentially, a bomb on a bamboo pole.

Fire takes a couple forms on the summer-time deck/patio. Fire is more mood light than anything else. It doesn't light paths or work as task lighting. And on a wooden deck with curtains, on the back of a 112-year-old wooden house in a tight-fitting neighborhood of wooden houses, we tend not to take too many chances. We can't have a fire pit (city codes) although we can have a fire pit with a grill over it with hot dogs (cooking over fire is legal). A city fireman told me this. I don't write the laws, I just abide by 'em.

This candle holder isn't lit in this photo, but it's a way cool, multi-tiered, and wraps around the umbrella of the umbrella table (I envision the wooden umbrella pole going up in flames). It was a father's day gift the same year as the sand-cast candles that melted all over the tablecloth while sitting in the sun.

First is candles. I have, on each of the uprights to my arbor/trellis thingys, a votive candle holder. My disclaimer here? They aren't real candles. They are rechargeable electric candles. I'm not stupid. Lighting candles outdoors and expecting them to stay lit is unreasonable and unproductive. For any candle holder not on a table or anywhere near where people can see them easily, I use the rechargeable candles. I do think they're tacky on tables and near where people can see them. For that, I prefer real flame. There's nothing better. But for the illusion of flame, without the frustration? I love the rechargeables.

The Moravian candles over the hot tub.

What's better than starlight? Also using candles are the Moravian lights over the hot tub. The spa is a significant part of the evening deck and the stars add little light–but lots of mood. And we can't have anything electric over the hot tub. Another city ordinance. This one makes sense.

Tiki torches (not lit) in front of the mirrors on the patio. If the guests are lit, I prefer the torches not to be.

I use the tiki torches, sometime by the deck to ward of bugs, but usually they're across the way, on the patio, in front of the mirrors (photo at top), which looks cool.

Another fire feature I have, not in the garden, but indoors, is the "candelier." It's the light of my life. I've seen these in plenty of magazines over the years and have always wanted one. Another item added to the Christmas list (with links, product numbers & shipping instructions) a couple years back, found discounted and discontinued (thanks Mom).

Our candle budget is nearing TARP bailout proportions. But doesn't it look cool...I mean...hot?

It's above the dining room table, and, when lit, is all the light we need for dinner. We've gone as far as buying a candle mold and making candles, to keep up with our insatiable candle habit. this Throws off an appetizing glow for dinner parties. I have deemed only white, unscented, pillar candles are allowed for aesthetic (and asthmatic) reasons. No rechargeable electrics here. Since it's my desire to own this, I am charged with keeping the glass base dust-free. I try. I installed it, so the other rule is there can be no swinging from it. I fully expect it to come crashing down during some dinner party as it is.

Dripped candle wax, fingerprints & dust. Fortunately you can't see all that in these photos.

Any other lights incorporating fire I should be thinking of? Flame throwing dragons statues are out of the question.

Monday was the Safety Dance. Tuesday was Ambient Light. Yesterday was Tub Lights. Tomorrow? Fun Lights.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NightLights III - Tub Lights




The spa during the daylight. It's very private and the night lighting acceuntuates that.

The hot tub/spa is the one part of the deck that gets used year round, no matter the weather, or feet of snow on the deck. The blizzardier the better for a hot soak. So lighting gets used even more often here. And, knowing that soft light is more flattering than harsh, the emphasis is on soft. I've yet to find a light that makes people look thinner, but I'll keep trying. Another consideration here is that no electrical outlets or fixtures can be above or around the tub.

There are three lighting "options" here. 1). Lighting in the soffit. 2). The underwater lights built into the tub, and 3). Moravian star candle lights above the tub.

Soffit lighting's on a dimmer. For those romantical moments that have yet to happen.

The soffit lighting follows my mantra of, "see the light, but not the bulb." I added a "false" wooden beadboard ceiling three inches below the existing ceiling to what was a former porch, now the roof over the tub. Between the soffit and the ceiling, around the perimeter, I added, you guessed it, rope lights, rope lights, rope lights. Rope lights being one of God's greatest inventions, after rice steamers. These lights, not wanting to attract unneeded attention from neighbors, are on a dimmer switch, so they can be very subtle. The switch is also near the ceiling and far from the tub. Don't want any kids trying to stand in the tub and turn on the lights. Well, depends on the kid.

We don't usually turn on the tub lights. You can see yourselves sitting in water. And who wants to watch themselves sit in water?

The tub came with a variety of colored lights, and settings, built in. It's got basic red (looks like lava), green (looks like green beer), purple (looks like purple water), yellow (looks like pee–rather disconcerting to soak in) and blue (looks like water). There's some soothing colors in what the tub sales people refer to as "light therapy." It can subtle change through all the colors, or any two colors, like from green to blue, which is somewhat therapeutic, I guess. Another setting allows all this to happen at a rapid clip. We call it "disco setting." It's annoying. Only the ten-year-old likes it.

Candles above the tub. If these fall, you get a concussion and slight bleeding, as opposed to electric lights, where you'd get a concussion, slight bleeding and electrocuted.

The last bit of lighting is the Morovian star candles above the tub. They're there just for mood. They don't spit out enough light to count for anything, especially when seen from below. But as you get into the tub, you can see them and I guess it helps set some sort of mood. They look good, unlit, during the day too. That's a plus.

For a past post about the installation concerns & costs of a hot tub, visit here.

Cooking in the dark is just too risky. This beats holding a flashlight in one hand and a spatula in the other - you'd have to put down your drink.

I didn't know where else to put this light. It's not a tub light, but it is on the grill, nearby the tub, so I put it on this post. It's my grill light. It's been frustrating with the grill in this new spot on the deck. It used to be near the back door and the motion sensor light helped in seeing what I was cooking. Now it's in a spot on the deck with all my subtle, soft, demure, ambient light–and I can't see a damn thing. This falls under the category of task lighting, which I don't have a post on, since cooking at night is the only task I have for lighting. It attaches to the grill and is weather-proof and battery-powered.

Monday was the Safety Dance. Yesterday was Ambient Light. The rest of the week? Tomorrow is Fire and Friday is Fun Lights.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Night Lights II - Ambient Light




The deck, in blinding daylight, too harsh for serious drinking.

Today's lesson? Ambient light. My rule of thumb here is that you should see the light, but not the bulb. That should be the mantra of any lighting design, interior or exterior, I think. This is my favorite part of lighting in our garden/deck/yard/patio. And how to achieve this? Rope lights, rope lights, rope lights. I love rope lights. They're God's second best invention, after the dishwasher.

Rope lights are attached to the backs of all structural beams. I see the glow, the neighbors, unfortunately, see the entire rope lights.

I ask my family for rope lights every year for Christmas. They're affordable, easy to find, and sold year-round. There is one hitch though. The size of plug can differ from size to size, length to length and brand to brand. If you'll be buying multiple ropes to string around, make sure the male and female connectors are compatible. I would suggest the same for newly-engaged couples as well.

The patio in harsh daylight. I guess that's good for the plants.

I have rope lights BEHIND all the uprights on my arbors/trellises. They are UNDERNEATH the eaves of the garage and BELOW the lip of the deck, around the outside of the deck. From nearly any vantage point, you cannot see the rope lights, but you can enjoy the soft glow they throw.

The patio at night. Those are tiki torches in front of the mirrors. They look great lit, with their reflections.

This light glow permeates almost all of the deck & patio area and provides more than enough light for walking around and in many cases, still see the plantings, or create dramatic silhouettes from them. I like it most where they are hidden above and below the fruit tree espalier – it highlights the espalier nicely. And the lighting at the base of the Rocket Junipers really makes them look like they're going to take off.

Where the rope lights sit on top of the rose trellis above the garage, it provides a glow that makes people wonder where the source of light is. To me, that's a sign of success.

The rope lights above & below the diamond-shaped espalier. Makes the sculptural trees look even more so.

There's also some solar lights, the kind you'd put along a path that provide some glow amongst the plantings. In most cases, they're behind feature plants, such as a grass or other plants that look good in silhouette.

The other ambient light I would like to add to the yard would be some soft spotlights positioned in the tops of my few small trees, shining downward to provide dappled lighting on the ground. I've always thought that looked like moon light.

The espalier during the day. impressive but not awesome.

We only turn the lights on when we're out there for dinners, have guests or are having a party. They do not automatically turn on with a timer. That seemed like a great waste of electricity, and, in an urban setting, we try to be aware of light pollution for neighbors. We have one neighbor that has their white Christmas lights hanging off their fence on a timer and the lights are on year round. They don't even use their back yard except for a couple times in the summer. Their dogs do though, barking and crapping. I want to snip the cord on these lights. I refrain though. I try to be good. It's difficult.

The rope lights resting atop the rose arbor/trellis above the garage. Makes great shadows on the ground. It'll look even better if those roses ever cover the arbor.

Any other ambient lighting tricks you've got to share?

Yesterday–Safety Dance. The rest of this week? Tomorrow is Tub Lights, Thursday is Fire and Friday is Fun Lights.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Night Lights I - Safety Dance



Here you can see motion sensor #1 and street lights that keep the side yard and playground area lit.




Motion sensor #2 is by the back door and really helps to find that keyhole at night.

This house is in an urban setting, so safety lighting, specifically motion-sensor lights, are a must. This house has three, a spotlight and a porch light attached to the house and one motion spotlight attached above the garage door.

These, in addition to the sidewalk streetlights, keep the house well lit and not too attractive to nefarious characters. It's also a great bonus that the porch light by the back door lights up on its own for late night-arrivals after gallivanting.

Pain in the butt to install, but really helps the deck look custom-made and more special, not to mention there's a lot less falling off the deck.

Also, to aid in drunken stumbling around the deck area, there are small lights inset into the stair risers (see photo up on top). These are a must. They're also a major pain in the ass to install on an existing deck, especially if they were never planned in from the beginning. These weren't. Crawling under a deck is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for overweight, middle-aged people that don't stretch enough. Or claustrophobics. Note for next time, hire a teenager. These lights do add immensely to the ambiance of the back yard, so they were worth it.

Motion sensor #3, above the garage & potting bench. This one also creates great shadows on the ground from the trellis/latticework above the garage door.

Well, if you are going to install lights like these, don't cheap out like I did. I bought some "economical" little copper-colored louvered lights from a store to remain unnamed (Home Depot) that are so cheap, that if you accidentally kick them, the metal bends and closes up the louvers the light's supposed to come out from. Let this be your warning that it's probably worth it to spend more than I did.

The garage, in better light, during the day.

Do you have any other ideas for safety-specific lights I should be employing? These tend to work fine, but I'm all for finessing what I've got. Short of having to crawl under the deck.

The rest of this week? Tomorrow is Ambient Lights. Wednesday is Tub Lights, Thursday is Fire and Friday is Fun Lights.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Magic or deception. And what’s the difference?


Disney’s Land Pavilion (EPCOT, Disney World, Orlando) offers two different presentations of the greenhouse. Both are entertaining and informative, although one is theatrically dramatic, even deceptive, to illustrate a point.

The boat tour takes you through the tropical greenhouse of rice, sugar cane, peanuts, cacao, bananas and a 59-foot peach palm

"Living with the Land" boat tour

The first is the “Living with the Land” boat tour through the greenhouse. The gist is educating about innovative growing techniques - hydroponics, vertical growing, specialized irrigation, aeroponics and aquacell growing of aquatic animals for food. The “visuals” – 9-pound lemons, massive cucumbers, immense pumpkins and more – without explanation, achieve this magical, mystical, fascinating, awe-inspiring trip into the future of vegetable gardening.

Vertical growing saves on space. These rotate in a circle in order to get proper amounts of light all around.

"Behind the Seeds" walking tour

This walking tour through the greenhouses, lasting about 45 minutes, gets into more detail. The tour is totally worth it, starting out in the entomology laboratory with a quick lesson (with gross visuals), on harmful & beneficial insects. The maintenance of the gardens are handled as organically as humanly possible, although, only as a very last resort, they will use any man-made materials to eradicate disease or pests. They do have a lot invested in these greenhouses.

They also let us know that they have some pollinators, but depend on pollinating by hand in this controlled environment. Pollination by soft-bristled brushes by hand seems labor intensive, but it beats having to deal with the bugs plants usually depend on for pollination. Can you imagine pollinating your yard by hand?

15-pound cucumbers? Nope. Not-great-tasting winter melons.

The tour explains hydroponics in depth and introduces you to the record-setting Chinese 32,000-tomato tomato tree. The greatest benefit of hydroponics being the excelerated rate of growth. You get to see the creation of Mickey-shaped cucumbers, watermelons and pumpkins. There’s a quiz on spices by scent (only one other lady and I could identify Allspice – it is a spice and not a collection of other spices – that’s what most others thought).

The 32,000-tomato tomato tree.

Our guide happened to be an intern specializing in fisheries, so she was most comfortable talking about the growth and care of the alligators, catfish, tilapia, sunshine bass and American eel, which are all production “crops” in this context.

They are working on bonafide research for organizations such as the USDA, as well. The one experiment they would talk about was the work on growing more disease-resistant, shorter citrus trees.

This special tour cost is $14 for guests 10 and over, and $10 for guests 3-9. Same day reservations can be made at the tour desk on the lower level of The Land or you can book a tour in advance – 407-939-8687.

9-pound lemons? Nope. 9-pound pummelos, which is an average size for a pummelo (they have a nearly 2-inch peel.

The deceptive part is the difference between the two tours

On the boat tour, they don’t tell you that the 9-pound lemon is actually not a lemon that size because of their growing techniques or special blend of nutrients. It’s a pummelo (Hirado buntan) a large lemon-looking fruit native to southeastern Asia and an ancestor of the grapefruit.

The substrate for much of the hydroponics at Disney is rock wool, a mineral fiber, similar to perlite.

The huge cucumber-looking plants suspended from above are not cucumbers, but Winter Melon (Benincasa hispada), a gourd with not much flavor on its own.

This is aeroponics – the spraying of nutrients onto plant roots not grown in soil or any medium at all. This is the preferred method for all gardeners in outer space.

The 100-pound pumpkins (shown in the photo at top) are a special variety known to grow large under just the right conditions. The pumpkins here will never get as large as the record-breaking pumpkins grown up north because they need a greater differential in temperature from day to night than the greenhouse can accommodate.

Hydroponic lettuce growth makes for fast growing lettuce with quick crop turnover. Look, they slipped us a mickey!

All vegetables grown in the greenhouses, as well as much of the fishery livestock, is served in the Land Pavilion restaurants – now THAT’s locavoristic - they don’t even leave the building!


Nutrient-laden water is fed at the top of this spiral garden, gravity provides the water distribution with all left over water coming out the bottom being sent back to the top with no loss of water at all.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It's the details...


In the category of ways to make a garden more fun for no or little cost - I saw this little detail on the Blackrock Riverside Garden Tour here in Buffalo this past summer. A simple way to have fun with finials.

Friday, March 13, 2009

DaVinci's Garden

This is a favorite old post, created before I was on Blogger. I repeat it here to save & catalog it on this new site. Sorry if you've read it before.

DaVinci brought with him a little bit of Tuscany when he moved to Clos-Lucé Manor House, Amboise, France, at the end of his life and created this garden, a couple hours southwest of Paris, in the Loire Valley. The Mona Lisa hung in this house for a while. It seemed so anachronistic to think DaVinci lived here. I always picture him in Italy doing renaissance-y things for the wealthy–not in France, in a medieval manor house in the country. Of course, the house is now a museum filled with to-scale reproductions of some of his inventions, crated by IBM. Completed with requisite café and gift shop, natch.

Leonardo said, “A well filled day gives a good sleep. A well filled life gives a peaceful death.” After only three years here, he died in 1519 and is buried in the Chapelle St. Hubert on the manor grounds

After having read the books on secret messages hidden in Da Vinci’s artworks, I wonder if there’s a secret message designed into this garden for us to decipher.

FAVORITE THING: Knowing I was in rooms where one of the world’s greatest artists, a genius visionary, lived. He died in the bedroom, which is part of the self-guided tour. It gave me chills.

Beyond the manor house is a very pleasant trail through the woods. Along the trail are exhibits relating to the woods and Da Vinci’s works and experiments. His famous square-ish parachute hangs from a tree. His military tank was created full size and is a blast to play in. There are audio stations, as well as interpretive signs at each of the 12 interactive sites in the woods.

If you'd like to see other photos of the house & woods, please visit here.

Know any genius gardeners?

Clos-Lucé official website

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