Secret Garden Overhaul Part I

The first time I saw the house it was the beginning of spring and the overgrown garden was in full bloom. Pink camellias, azaleas, Japanese laurels, holly, morning glory, and dainty purple blooms of vinca covered the garden. Ivy crept across the brick walls and spilled out onto the crumbling brick path. Neglected for the past seven years, I had to duck and weave to avoid being hit in the face with leaves and branches. It didn’t matter. Walking through the rusted wrought iron gates, I couldn’t even tell I was in the city. Church bells tolled softly in the distance. I believe I used the phrase “secret garden” not once but several times. Cut to one year later, after six months of landscaping, all I can do is shake my head and laugh. Secret garden? Ugh…so dumb and naive.

My appreciation and respect for gardening has grown immensely. I’ve learned it’s not as easy as buying a plant, digging a hole and putting it in the ground. You have to consider zones, types of soil and PH levels. Is it a full sun, part sun, or shade loving plant? It is a high maintenance plant? Will you spend hours pruning, or picking slugs off of it? Then there is the garden layout and design. There is so much to consider before buying plants!

I didn’t know much about gardening. So I checked out books and a gardening DVD from the library. The gardener in the video walked through several gardens and was giving tips and recommendations for certain plants, flowers etc. The very last garden he walked through was absolutely gorgeous, and I thought, “I want my garden to look just like that.” He speculated the owner probably spent a good three to four hours a day maintaining the garden. Um…what?! The more I learn it’s become obvious why gardening seems to be a popular hobby for the retired.

So I had to be honest with myself and address unrealistic expectations. Easier said than done. Shopping at a nursery and starring at the dozens of colorful and beautiful flowers its so easy to talk yourself into anything. I would love to be the gardener in that video, spending several hours a day toiling away in a beautiful and high maintenance garden. Will I ever be that gardener? No.

I planned out the garden and decided on low maintenance perennials. I figured, with my limited gardening skills, these would have the best chance of surviving. I also liked that they would come back every year and I would only have to fertilize and handle basic maintenance.

The other consideration was sunlight. I loved that the trees provided privacy from my neighbors, but it created a lot of shade in the garden. Only one area gets full sun, and only for a few hours. Therefore, I would have to find part or full shade loving perennials that flowered.

Overhauling the entire garden was going to be quite an undertaking and I decided to tackle it one section at a time. It was hard to tell what the original garden design looked like. Ivy, vinca and other vines were growing into the majority of the shrubs and smothering them. So first and foremost, the ground covering needed to go.

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Once the ground covering was ripped out, and I discovered that only three feet of the brick border was still somewhat intact. Luckily, the back portion of the garden was filled with bricks which I dug out to rebuild the brick border.

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I planted three azalea bushes. I picked bushes on the smaller side to give them room to grow into the space, plus let’s be honest they were cheaper. Next, I cut and laid down weed barrier fabric and mulched. Weed barrier fabric is not cheap, but its sooo worth the money! It has saved me hours in weeding.

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This corner section had been taken over by some sort of grass, and mosquitoes loved it. I hated it. So it was removed along with the interesting small section of wood fence, and rotting bird house.

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I planted two blue hydrangeas, put down barrier fabric, mulched and rebuilt the brick border. I left the Japanese Maple, and other small tree. I think its a Crepe Myrtle, but I’m not 100% sure. Regardless, it provides shade for my hydrangeas and the butterflies and bees seem to like it.

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Eventually, the hydrangeas will grow large enough and help hide the odd empty space between the brick wall and my neighbor’s fence.

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I cleared this entire area, including the large Japanese Laurel. It was in an odd spot, and the fact that it wasn’t centered in the flower bed annoyed me. Plus I already had so many of them in the garden, did I really need another one?

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This area of the garden only gets a few hours of morning light, so I chose perennials that thrive in part shade. I tried to get a decent picture, but either it was too sunny or dark. So here is a little bit of both lol.

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I planted pink and white mountain laurels, tree peonies and wisteria that I am attempting to train to grow across the fence. I learned that this is where patience comes into play. I could have gotten larger more mature shrubs, but it would have cost a lot more money. I decided to wait and see how they grow into the space next year before adding more.

Tree peonies can take up to two years to bloom, but when they do the beautiful plate sized flowers are worth the wait. Ditto for the wisteria.

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By the time I started working on the area by the gardening shed it was the end of July and very hot and humid. I was pretty much over landscaping at this point, but it was an overgrown mess and I couldn’t bring myself to leave it the way it was. I cleaned it up a bit, ripped out the ground covering, put down mulch and rebuilt the flower bed border.

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Among the vines and overgrowth, I discovered a small camellia tree and decided to leave it there. Its amazing to watch how quickly new growth appears now that its getting some sun.

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I also decided to leave the shrub that was directly under the dining room window. It has large sharp spikes hidden among the leaves, and is the perfect deterrent for uninvited guests. I just trimmed and cleaned it up a bit.

The tree stump needs to be removed, but I’m putting that off until the spring. I have no plans to plant anything there this year so I’m going to leave it alone.

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I planted a hosta in the small square flower bed next to the shed. That particular spot gets virtually no sun, so its doing quite well and has even sprouted a few flowers.

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The bushes that separated my yard from my neighbor’s were dying from neglect. Like everything else, ivy and vines were smothering it. This picture was taken in early March, but as spring progressed, the situation wasn’t improving.

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I wasn’t sure if they could be saved, but replacing them was not in the budget. I ripped out the ivy and vines, trimmed, fertilized and watered. They have improved slightly, but I’m still not happy with it. It doesn’t help that my neighbor allows ivy to grow into the bushes from his side. I can’t do anything about that, so I think this is as good as its going to get.

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I’ve been toying with the idea of ripping out these bushes and putting up a fence. It would provide better privacy, and I could plant more appropriate shrubs in its place. Next spring of course. Clearly I’m going to be busy next spring.

Its odd, this is the only spot in the entire garden that gets full sun and Japanese Laurels are planted there! Japanese Laurel is a shade loving plant, and the leaves turn brown in the sun. I think red roses would look nice. Any suggestions?

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I discovered that the light post was purely decorative, but I liked it anyway and decided to keep it. Well that…and its cemented into the ground so its staying put for the moment. I gave it a good cleaning and painted it black to match the rest of the wrought iron in the garden.

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I found extra fencing in the basement and decided to incorporate it. It got a good sanding and a coat of black Rust-Oleum paint.

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The existing wrought iron outside needed a little more work, and also got a fresh coat of paint. This also included the fencing on the second floor terrace.

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This post only focuses on the front half of the garden. There was so much that was done, I’m splitting it up into several posts. Part II will focus on the back half of the garden, which looked even worse if you can believe it. You can see a portion of the overgrown jungle in the picture above. If you think this before photo is bad, wait until you see the after! Part II coming soon!

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Cat Lady

I was under the impression that the house had been vacant for close to a decade, but I was mistaken. Stray cats had taken over and claimed the property as their own. Two cats had laid claim to my front porch, and three more had taken over the garden as their territory. *sigh* Termites, cave crickets, and now cats. Awesome.

They didn’t appreciate the newcomer, and showed their displeasure by reminding me who was boss. Several times I stepped outside…and into cat poo.

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They would spray and mark their territory all over the garden. The last straw was seeing large clumps of cat hair stuck to my patio chair cushions.

I’m sure there are benefits to having an outdoor cat population. I’ll admit I have not seen a rat, NOT ONE, since I moved into the neighborhood. If you’ve ever lived in Baltimore City you are aware how impressive that is. I’m sure part of the reason are the cats.

I also learned about the pros and cons of indoor vs. outdoor cats from a very long and unnecessary thread on my neighborhood Nextdoor site. Apparently, several of my neighbors have “outdoor cats” and lets them roam the neighborhood.

Regardless of your stance on cats, I don’t want my patio and garden smelling like cat piss all the time. So I needed to find a way to get rid of the cats without harming a possible beloved family pet.

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I called this one Gandalf. RATS SHALL NOT PASS!

First, I tried using coffee grounds. I read that this would keep the cats away, and fertilize my yard. I saved my coffee grounds and when I had enough, spread them around the yard and porch. Coffee grounds does not work. I found a cat hanging out under my shrubs, laying right on top of a pile of them. He just starred at me as I walked up to the porch. Mocking me and my coffee grounds.

Next, I tried moth balls. I put moth ball packets under the cushion chairs and in containers around the front porch. It worked! Apparently cats dislike the smell of mothballs and it keeps them away.

It was time to defeat the backyard brood. I didn’t want to go wild with the mothballs in the garden because frankly I don’t like the smell either. I had read that gardens often have plants growing in it that attracts cats. Considering how overgrown the garden was it was definitely a possibility. So I cleared out all of the overgrown ground covering and bushes in the backyard.

This seemed to solve my cat problem! Without the overgrown brushes and ground covering to hide in they had moved on. I haven’t seen or smelled evidence of cats in weeks!

 

Laundry Room

Laundry room may be a bit of a stretch at the moment. Perhaps laundry corner is more appropriate? The house had a washer and dryer in the basement, but they didn’t work. The basement had flooded at some point and they were ruined in the flood. My washer and dryer were sold with the house, so I was out of luck. I’d have to buy new appliances. I decided to take advantage of the latest holiday sale and purchased a washer and dryer from Sears. Total cost, including delivery, was less than $700!

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The basement walls got a coat of white paint to brighten the space, and the floor was painted gray. Please excuse the dish rag curtain. Once the basement is spruced up I’ll invest in better window treatments LOL!

I’d like to turn this area into a proper laundry room with tile and cabinets, but the washer shares a wall with the Outhouse. Since I plan to turn the Outhouse into a half bath it makes sense to wait and renovate both at the same time.

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Over the weekend I checked out the Cedar Grove United Methodist community flea market in Parkton and scored a new laundry tub (with a nice faucet and hook up) for $15! Mine is covered in paint and has seen better days. I plan to install the new tub in the next few weeks. It was a beautiful day to ride around and check out the other sales and farmers markets in the neighborhood!

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When I purchased the house the basement had a cave cricket infestation. Apparently, these ugly and frightening creatures thrive in dark moist places and jump at their predators as a defense mechanism. Enter my basement, specifically the laundry tub drain and the area near the basement door.

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First day of renovations, I turned on the faucet to clean a paint brush and four of these suckers jumped out of the drain and into my face! I screamed bloody murder. At the time I didn’t even know what they were! *shudder* The crickets would migrate up to the kitchen drain, and it became a habit to wave my paint brush over any sink to avoid getting a face full of cricket.

Luckily the infestation was easily taken care of by spraying bug spray around the foundation. I also purchased a dehumidifier at Lowes to help rid the basement of moisture. By the time I moved in the cave crickets had been eradicated.

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The basement continues to be an ongoing project, and as the opportunity arises a little is getting done here and there. In the meantime, I get to enjoy my new washer and dryer!

Make it Work – 2nd Floor Bathroom Renovation

The second floor bathroom was a no-brainer. Gut it. The wall tile was yellow with age and had a giant crack running across most of the room. The floor tile was dingy and also had multiple cracks. Oh, and the pipes to the shower were rusted and didn’t work. Yup, this has to go…or so I thought.

My budget allowed me to renovate the kitchen and bathroom, but I’d have to make compromises for both. The other option was to renovate the kitchen, exactly how I wanted, and hold off on the bathroom. I chose to renovate the kitchen.

I was stuck with this. On the plus side, anything I do (including cleaning out the former owner’s toiletries) would be an improvement. I would have to channel Tim Gunn and, “make it work!”

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Rugs, shower curtain, medicine cabinet, wood toilet seat and the rest of the clutter was tossed. Luckily, the bathroom is right above the kitchen and the rusty pipes were replaced when the kitchen ceiling was ripped out. The wallpaper was removed and the wall patched. Finally, the room got a fresh coat of primer and paint.

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Even after a good cleaning and fresh coat of paint the bathroom still looked pretty rough. Something had to be done with the dingy wall and floor tile.

I looked into purchasing a Rust-Oleum Tub and Tile Refinishing kit at Home Depot. The refinishing kit was a little pricey, and I’d have to purchase several to finish the bathroom. I also thought about hiring a company that does ceramic tile refinishing. I did this at my last house. It looked great, but cost $600.

Dilemma. Is it worth it to spend several hundred dollars on a bathroom I plan to gut in a year or two? I decided it wasn’t. I could use that money toward one of the many other things around the house that needed to be fixed.

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I painted the bathroom tile using white outdoor paint I had left over from my front porch. I figured if it holds up outside, why wouldn’t it work in the bathroom? Next, I traced the trim line using black floor paint to help break up all the white.

The floor tile was painted with a white floor paint, similar to what I used for the concrete basement floor. It made the cracks in the floor much less noticeable. Inspired by the ladies at Classy Clutter, I toyed around with the idea of stenciling a pattern on the floor. Since this is only temporary I decided not to, plus stenciling the uneven cracked floors would be a nightmare.

I kept the original light fixture over the sink, but painted it silver. The bulbs were swapped with large antique ones that I left uncovered. It gave off more light, plus it just looked cool. The hole from the medicine cabinet was covered up using a mirror purchased at Home Depot. 

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The paint I used was left over from other projects, so I ended up spending less than $50. It’s nothing fancy, but it got the job done and I don’t have to look at dingy tile for the next year!

Beach House Added to “The List”

This past spring, and most of the summer, has been all about landscaping and unfinished house projects. After a year of non-stop renovating it’s no surprise I’m feeling a little burned out. I was perusing the Young House Love blog (its awesome, check it out) and came across their post DIYing vs. Living In Your Home & Enjoying It. It was a good reminder that renovations don’t happen overnight, and sometimes you need to step back and take a break. A vacation was in order! I headed to Ocean City, Maryland for a few days of relaxation.

Does anyone else have a “vacation list?” I’m not referring to places you want to visit, but AFTER you come back, you have a list of things you want pertaining to said vacation. Usually this list is filled with terrible ideas that are financially unattainable.

After college I went to France and came back obsessed with buying a vespa. Turns out vespas are expensive, plus I live in Baltimore City so it probably would have been stolen within a week.

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I spent two weeks in Italy and had to have an espresso machine. Why? Who knows?! At the time I didn’t even drink coffee that much.

Earlier this year I spent three days in Deep Creek, Maryland and a chic cabin was added to the list. I think a rustic weekend getaway is a necessity, don’t you?

BTW, please feel free to share your vacation list…hopefully its as absurd and ridiculous as mine!

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After a week in Ocean City I’m adding beach house to “the list.” The condo I was staying at was within walking distance to Fenwick, Delaware and I would walk around the neighborhood several times a day. I had convinced myself (but apparently not my scale) that walking was enough to work off the Ocean City essentials…Thrasher’s fries, Dumser’s Ice cream, and Fisher’s Popcorn. So I would walk and drool over the beachfront houses.

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My favorite houses though were the tiny run down bungalows that would pop up every couple of blocks. These were more in my price range (HAHAHA!) and I would mentally fix up each and every one.

Clearly, it would need a new roof. What if the exterior was painted a gorgeous navy with white trim! Window boxes! Of course, it would look dreadful without them.

LOL, if only it was that easy…and also my reality.

In addition to planning my future beachfront development business, I sat on the beach and read a few books, which I’m embarrassed to say has been rare since I got cable and internet. I especially enjoyed Mary Kay Andrews’ Fixer Upper, a book “about one woman’s quest to redo an old house..”

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I felt like I was reading about my own renovation, except this one was funny and stress free. The main character, Dempsey Jo Killebrew even inherited hundreds of National Geographic magazines. If you’re looking for an entertaining beach read and like DIY this book is for you. I liked it so much I also read a few of her other books featuring Weezie Foley and BeBe Loundermilk, a Savannah antique dealer and her best friend. These characters have a whole series and are entertaining reads. I tend to fall into a rut of chick lit and political thriller novels, so please share if you have any good book recommendations!

I’m back in town and vacation is officially over. I’m happy and relieved to report that landscaping is almost complete! Garden post coming soon!

DIY Botanical Print Wall Decor

This spring I’m seeing a lot of botanical designs, mostly as vintage inspired wall art. I love this trend as it adds pops of color to any room. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything vintage.etsy gnosispicturearchive

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I decided to use this as inspiration for my own decor. Digging through the boxes of books I acquired with the house I discovered the Golden Nature Guide to Familiar American Wildflowers, published in 1950. The illustrations were perfect to create my own botanical wall décor.

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My kitchen nook has a very large plain white wall, and for months I had been debating what to put there. The colors in the botanical prints would pop against the white walls, but it is also a nice transition from the kitchen nook to the garden.

First, I did a little research to make sure I wasn’t ripping apart a rare or valuable book. Next, using a craft knife I cut away the binding to loosen and pull out the pages. I decided to group the prints together by color, and picked out my favorite blue, pink, and yellow/orange prints. I put them in black float frames purchased at Michael’s.

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I went back and forth if I should keep the descriptions of the flowers at the bottom of the page, or cut them off and just display the flower print. I decided to keep the descriptions for now. I kind of like that you can tell that the prints came from a guide book.

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The great thing about this is that I have hundreds of flowers prints leftover and with these frames I can switch out the prints anytime I feel like a change.

Door & Brass Hardware Restoration

The security door, front door and hardware looked like the rest of the house…rough. Structurally (aside from the crack in the front door) they were in good condition. Nothing a little patch and paint couldn’t fix.

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I wanted to keep and restore the original solid brass hardware. If I had to replace them, the new hardware would most likely be brass plated and wouldn’t come close to the same quality.

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I attempted to clean the hardware by polishing it with Brasso, but it didn’t make a bit of difference. The hardware would have to be professionally polished and lacquered. The hardware was removed and dropped off at Brassworks to be restored.

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In the meantime, the crack in the front door was patched and the entire door was given a fresh coat of Sherwin Williams Exterior black paint in semi-gloss. The security door also got a fresh coat of Rust-Oleum gloss black paint.

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Brassworks was quick and did an amazing job! It looks brand new! Plus, it cost less than $250. If I had to buy new hardware, a door handle alone would have cost me that much! By salvaging the front and security door, and not buying new, I saved $2,000.