Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mellow Yellow

This weekend while the sun blazed down on the land and most of the population made the most of it Mr Shoestring and I toiled away in the scorching hot sun, painting the doors for the storage units in the sewing room.  This project has dragged on for weeks and weeks, or weekends and weekends rather, and it will be a blessed relief when it finally comes to an end.  Right from the beginning I had a yearning for a yellow room, primrose yellow to be exact.  This proposal did not meet with universal approval.  For instance many friends warned me of the yellow rooms they had had in the past and the difficulty in getting the shade right – an almost impossible achievement apparently, as yellow can easily be overpowering and turn out to be a lot darker on the walls than it looks in the pot.  The man in the paint shop sucked his teeth a lot and said much the same thing, warning Mr Shoestring that “A little goes a long way” and doling out yellow tinter as if it was some exotic and rare poison, not to be trusted to amateurs and likely to cause all kinds of mayhem.  So we were suitably careful in mixing the paint, putting it in little by little and erring on the side of caution.  Needless to say, after the primer and undercoat and the first coat of “yellow” being applied, it looked like a very anaemic shade of cream, virtually indistinguishable from white.  More yellow had to be added.  (I suspect the man in the paint shop was toying with the idea of refusing to sell us any further tinter but overcame his scruples and decided to let us sink or swim, since we thought we knew best.  Possibly he was resisting the urge to call out as we left the store, “Have it your own way if you’re so smart.  But don’t come crawling back to me when your room is the colour of an egg yolk!”).  Finally the doors and walls are painted and a very pretty shade of yellow and now comes the really challenging part – trying to jam all the art deco costumes and stitching supplies back into the room.  Something to look forward to with apprehension and dread, and once it is done I probably will never dare to clamber to the top of the cupboards and take anything out for fear that it will not be able to be squeezed back in.  You can be sure there will be photos of the end result, it will just be a merciful relief to have it over and done with. 

In between the sewing room project (or debacle) there was time to get out into the garden and play with my latest toy, the rotating compost bin.  Ever since they came on the market I have wanted one of my very own but they are fiendishly expensive.  How can something made of moulded plastic be so pricey, I used to ask myself repeatedly as I stroked their smooth black sides in garden centres?  Finally one was reduced to half price at Le Maison Rouge and though it was still $75 I was overcome with desire, threw caution to the winds and dragged my prize home.  Mr Shoestring looked askance at the “some assembly required” and set to with a will, and in no time the job was done and I have my very own rotating compost bin.  (Apparently New Zealanders and Australians are notorious for not reading instructions on how to operate the things they buy, multinational corporations even make special simplified instructions for us because of our impulsive natures/refusal to take instruction, and Mr Shoestring is no exception, he tossed aside the assembly instructions with a hollow laugh and proceeded according to his own inner instruction sheet, which resulted in some uncouth language and a somewhat protracted assembly time.)  The composter was imported from Canada, which would make you suspect it would be a large, rugged and hardy piece of equipment (you know, sweeping plains, huge trees, burly lumberjacks and so forth), but it is rather diminutive and I am sorry to say I have filled both its chambers in one weekend.  (In theory there is one chamber for the compost which is decomposing and one for the lovely rich earthy mixture which has finished composting.)  Mr Shoestring laughs at me as I repeatedly spin the drum and tells me that it won’t make much difference to the speed of making, but still I continue turning it; it is quite therapeutic, actually, and probably good for the biceps as well.  Compost is a fascinating thing, in theory very simple – things just decompose and when they are ready you put the end result on your garden, and it is rich and full of goodness and makes things grow like topsy.  In reality though it is very difficult to get right; I once read a book on how to make it and ended up despairing of ever achieving the balance – not too wet or dry, no weed seeds, no perennial weeds, just the right percentage of “green” and “brown” matter, it did my head in.  In fact I suspect you really need to grow your garden to suit your compost, not the other way round.  Then I noticed a book on compost at the library, this one was full of more than 150 compost “recipes”, I kid you not!  Obviously it is not a thing to be undertaken lightly so in future I shall try not to rush at it in such a precipitous fashion, there will be a more scientific and cautious approach.  But what will I do with all the prunings and old annuals which will accumulate week by week, I wonder?

Having started sowing the seeds which came in the mail (Kings Seeds are wonderful), there is now the pressure situation of finding a spot for the lavateras, basil, and Indigo bean vines which have germinated.  Also the bishop’s flower and the snail vine.  If half these things survive the garden at Shoestring will be a veritable Eden – I had to rip out some plants which were really not quite ready for it, just to make space for the new seedlings … and then of course there was the problem of having no space in the new compost bin to put the ripped out parsley and celery plants, woe is me!  But once started on seed buying it is difficult to stop, I see now there are a couple of other companies specialising in unusual seeds and some of the offerings sound so exotic and beautiful.  Mind you, most plants can be made to sound a lot more interesting than they really are, I once read a description and thought it would be a wonderful addition to the garden, only to realise it was a very common plant with nothing much to recommend it.  I must say I had never noticed the “heavily scented, attractive white blossoms” on the plants in my garden, they were insignificant and virtually invisible. 

Mr and Mrs Peaceable called in to see just what chaos looks like.  They arrived at the perfect moment when we were moving heavy furniture.  Thank you Mr Peaceable, you are a life saver!  Mrs Peaceable donated this beautiful piece of green depression glass to the ever growing collection and it will take pride of place on the windowsill in the sewing room when (if) I get to “dress the set”, which is as we all know the best part of any renovation or decoration project at home.  

The latest edition to the green glass collection in front of my favourite quilt, which was hand made by my mum.  It is a true example of the Shoestring philosophy, each tiny square was hand pieced using a book of patchwork sample fabrics - what else could you do with such tiny scraps of fabric?

Here there was a nasty and stubborn stain which somehow found its way onto the fabric, so an embroidered butterfly now covers the spot

There is a lull in the roses but this new one I planted (if only I had kept the name tag) is very happy in its new home

Canna lilies seem surprisingly controversial - when I mentioned to a friend that I was going to put some in at the garden at Shoestring Cottage (because they had been given to me and would fill up a few holes in the early days) she was aghast at my bad taste.  "No, you mustn't do that!  They are repulsive!" was her vehement cry.  But the leaves are colourful and interesting and look at the curious outcrops on the flower buds of the green one above, I had never noticed these before.

More lilies are opening each week now, this is the star for the week and I hope there will be some blooming over the Christmas holidays.

The leaves of the newly germinated hyacinth bean vine promise great things to come - always assuming the plants survive past their infancy of course!  Slugs have a lot to answer for at Shoestring Cottage!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Back on Deck

First of all darlings, I must apologise for the lack of posts recently; my only excuse is that things have been rather busy with a real estate deal which  went awry, new carpet endeavours and family birthdays.  No, in truth I have been very lazy and that is the main reason for no posts but I shall make up for lost time now.

I am uncertain what type of berries these are - the plant was given to me because its previous owner was disgusted at the thorns - having been sold a "thornless" berry bush.  But they are very prolific and we have high hopes for a good crop.

At the risk of sounding boastful, things in the garden at Shoestring Cottage have been looking as lovely as I have ever seen them.  All those coffee grounds must have had some effect on the soil because things are thriving and it almost seems that you only have to stick a cutting into the soil to have it romp away and start to blossom.  Finally the lilies are unfurling their beautiful waxy perfumed blossoms.

Spurred on by these recent successes the little cold frame in the back garden has been pressed into service and there is a happy looking collection of mixed basil and hollyhock seedlings pushing their way through the earth and now some zinnias have joined them, in the hope of late summer and autumn colours.  Those intense shades are just what the garden needs in the autumn when things can tend to be a bit dreary, so here’s hoping for a 100% success rate from one packet of seeds.  Seed raising used to seem a bit intimidating but after one or two successes there is no holding back and all kinds of seeds will be given a try.  That is part of the beauty and fun of seed raising, for only a small expenditure there are so many plants to be started and giving them away to friends and family is great fun.  (Though sometimes it seems as though not everybody really appreciates yet another punnet of seedlings to add to their garden, it is a terrible shame to waste all that potential.)  Nothing beats the pleasure of opening a new packet and seeing all those hundreds of possible plants to come from such a tiny piece of foil – what potential! 

Spurred on by initial successes from more mundane seed varieties, Kings Seed catalogue was just too tempting to resist - after all, the descriptions verge on being poetical, who could resist the white moonflower with a heavenly perfume or the intriguing hyacinth bean vine and the snail creeper?  Then there is a mind boggling array of dianthus and beautiful old fashioned sweet peas (again with a heady perfume).  Lavatera trimestris is a very rewarding annual to grow as well, with flowers ranging from white through shades of pale and dark pink and we had to try those ones also.

Speaking of seeds and their possibilities, the aquilegias (granny's bonnets) have almost finished flowering now and there is a pleasant sound of their rattling seedpods whenever they are disturbed.  If you would like to have some seeds for your garden let me know and I will send you some.  The seed capsules are very interesting, having between five and seven pods on each capsule and scattering the seed out in a most satisfying way, lovely black shiny hard seeds which spring up in the most unexpected places.  Some friends have already asked me for seeds and it will be good to make a special illustrated seed packet to package it in.  

There is no guarantee of what colours you will have, these plants cross-pollinate prolifically and so it is a bit of a lucky dip, but very interesting all the same.  You can see from the colour variation in these two flowers how wide the range is, there are some nice bicoloured pink/yellow combinations also.

As we were on our way to the markets recently Mr Shoestring was chewing my ear in the nicest possible way, telling me that we really should stop buying unnecessary things for Shoestring Cottage now and that we had enough old curiosities to last us for a very long time.  Of course I agreed and nodded and made all the right noises.  Lo and behold, as soon as we got into the market Mr Shoestring spotted two cocktail shakers which he just had to have.  He already had one at home, so now with his extra two he has the beginnings of a collection.


I had to have a secret laugh and was thankful that it was Mr Shoestring who saw something irresistible after having delivered a lecture to me.  But of course after that I did see one or two things which I had to have as well.  There was this lovely set of green glass dishes with matching serving bowl – perfect for the vintage Christmas day celebrations we have planned – and another pretty plate for hanging out in the garden. 

After my mini-lecture from Mr Shoestring I thought this cup and saucer was very appropriate, and sincerely hope he appreciated it when I presented him with it. 

The latest find in the search for landscape masterpieces (!) is this charming one which makes me think the painter set out her palette and was determined to use every shade of blue and green it contained - and what a marvellous job she did of it!  I have to admit this was very expensive - it set me back $15!

But I just had to have it, I have had a drought of paintings in recent months and was beginning to suspect somebody was competing against me in the market so had to snap this little masterpiece up.

We are planning a vintage themed Christmas this year and this tablecloth should look perfect if we hang up lots of paper lanterns to complement it.

Just a couple more pieces of china to add to the collection - Mr Shoestring could hardly complain after the cocktail shaker incident.