Susan Harris
All about gardening the eco-friendly way, by Susan Harris and 22 other garden writers and experts.

Tools, Furniture, and Stuff

Just look at them in their youth, just not anchoring but commanding that corner of the garden – and so right in their coupleness.  Made of pine, they'd cost about a hundred bucks each, and with a couple of coats of semi-gloss teal, they'd become prime accent pieces.  Plus darn comfortable seating with built-in side tables in their flat, wide arms.  Great design that will never die.

Trouble is, with wood as soft as pine, cracking and gouging happen, and the loving care I gave them in the assembly and paint stage didn't persist through the boring job of patching those gouges and cracks.  Thus, the rotting. 

So after giving 11 seasons of exemplary service to the garden and the gardener, Ye Old Adirondacks are falling down and not getting back up. 

Now gardeners, you all know what that means, right?  The chance to buy something new!  And the search begins – report coming soon.

Yes, it's finally come to that.  First, just admitting that I'd never, ever use it as a fireplace again took 5 years of it sitting there taking up good space on my deck.  (Okay, there was plenty of room on what one neighbor has dubbed an aircraft carrier and I call a roomy deck.)

Then came the decision to turn it into a garden ornament, aspiring to the fake-natural found-shard look.  It looked silly standing upright but on its side, maybe.  At least in May I thought so.  But design-wise there's no right place for it anywhere – anywhere that I can imagine.  See, it's not as if I can deftly move it from spot to spot and assess the look – it's too damn heavy for that.

Then after a landscape architect friend suggested a new focal point in a greatly expanded border, I tried really hard to convince myself that this, finally, was the place to repurpose the old chiminea, then decided that I just don't have the design chops to pull it off.  Or that the whole garden – a lush, green, Eastern backdrop -  is wrong for a big Spanish-style thing.

So yesterday I made the decision to liberate myself and my garden from the burden of this thing once and for all, and posted "Free Chiminea" on my neighborhood Yahoo group, which immediately yielded one taker and a back-up.  Let them try to love it, and maybe even succeed. 

I heard Begley speak to DC’s Green Festival yesterday and he sounded rapturous about his recycled-plastic fence (as ugly as it sounds).   In fact, during the Q&A he was asked what his favorite recycled product was and again, the fence!  So I had to check this out. 

Here on the Timberwolf website are lots of colors and styles and the claim that it’s cheaper than vinyl and comparably priced to wood, but far less maintenance.  And made from at least 90 percent recycled products.

My questions:  Does it look like real wood up close?  And does it come in 3-foot sections for neighbor-friendly front-yard fences?  I’m in the process of having a natural cedar fence installed, so it’s too late for me to consider this option, but readers have asked, so here you have it from the Eco-Actor himself!

This is interesting.  First, I find out my neighbors LOVE the English ivy that’s been hiding my chain-link fence since the mid-80s, and they’re really surprised that I don’t.   Okay, so they have no idea how much work it is just to keep it from covering the sidewalk in one direction and the mixed borders on the other.  And I guess I can imagine thinking that English ivy is pretty, though I sure don’t.  You can tell from this photo, though, that I’ve been chopping the ivy off at its base, killing it as fast as possible, and there’s no turning back now.  (Also, see that bent fence post?  Yep, that’s my driving!  Fortunately hidden by that ivy all these years.)

But then when it became clear that the chain-link fence was going, going, gone, everyone on the street let me know they’d prefer that I have no fence at all, that I leave it open so they can see my garden.  

Now there was once a time when fences – especially the chain-link variety – were commonplace on my street – in fact, all over town.  But that was before gentrification, and these days all those tacky fences are gone – except mine and one other, an ugly white vinyl.  But look how exposed my little front-yard garden looks in the next photo, with no fence to keep the dogs away.  Yep, dogs are the number one reason I’m paying good money for another fence (a good-looking cedar one).  No matter that dogs are always on a leash in my ‘hood.  The dog-walkers pay no attention while their beloved digs in and craps on gardens along the walk, including my curbside garden full of super-tough plants.  Yes, I notice.  I remember.

 But you know what else a fence does?  It creates a space.  Enclosure is a big deal in garden-making!  Not that I want a tall or solid fence.  It’ll be 4 feet tall but much more see-through than the damn ivy was.  Real neighborly-like.

Much to my surprise, digital photography has taken my enjoyment of garden to a new level.  And because now I’m designing the garden with great photos in mind, the result looks better than ever.  

If you’ve come to digital photography recently, lucky you. I went digital in 2001 and ranted endlessly about the frustrations of getting it all to work.  Turns out I’d really never learned Windows and ya know, if you’re on a PC you live or die by Windows.  I finally got on board and have been having a blast ever since. Well, mostly.

The Camera

My first (which I remember far better than my first roll in the hay on the topCanon Powershot550 bunk of a college dorm room) was an Olympus C-2020Z, which set me back over $700 for a mere 2.1 megapixels. Meager resolution, and clunky, too. But those days are long gone.

Then, following recommendations of some wonderful garden photographers, I moved up to the amazing Canon Powershot SD550.  This time I paid about $350 for 7.1 megs!! And it’s small enough to fit into my pocket, any pocket. It even survived being badly abused at the beach about a month after I bought it, so I LOVE THIS CAMERA. 

I’m no technie (no kidding) so I’ll leave to others the exacting job of reviewing it.  I’ll just recommend it.  Reviews are here,and here, Canon’s info is here.  (In you’re in the buying mood I hope you’ll buy it here. and support this site, though.)  I notice on that link that Amazon sells 7.1-megapixel Canon Powershots for $127, which I find amazing.

The Photo Editor

I started out using the Adobe Photo Deluxe Home Edition that came Adobe Photoshop Elementsfree with my first camera, and it was okay for a while.  But if you want to do much at all with your photos – and who doesn’t? – ya gotta move up to something better, and Photoshop itself seemed the way to go.  Or in my case the slightly less gargantuan and much cheaper Photoshop Elements

Again, reviews are here and here and you can buy it here and support this site.  It’ll only set you back 80 bucks or so, compared with over $1,000 for the full-blown Photoshop itself, which has professional-level capacities you’ll almost surely never need.  Believe me, the more consumer-friendly Elements version does plenty.

Speaking of which, it’s still no picnic to learn.  I took an all-day class and it barely scratched the surface of what I needed to know to do the handful of things I need to do with it (crop, adjust colors and light levels, and that’s about it.) The manual wasn’t much help and I’ve found the best source of information to be on line, simply by Googling "Elements crop" or whatever function I need help with.  Good old Google.

Photo Browser

Now you’d think I’d have everything I need after buying the camera and the editing program and I thought so, too.  But for reasons I can’t even remember now I found the photo brower in Photoshop not to my liking, and followed a professional’s recommendation to use iView instead.  It lets me assign little tags to each photo so that I can search for, say, all the images with tulips in them.  Well, that was the idea.  Do you think I’ve actually followed through and done all that tag-assigning? Well, no, but if I ever have time…..  In any event, you can buy it here.

What camera do you use in the garden?  And how about your photo editor and browser?  

So I was listening to the Q&A following the showing of a movie about American elms, part of DC’sHiomedepot Environmental Film Festival.  A panel of professional treehuggers was answering questions from the crowd, a couple of hundred more treehuggers.  Having been impressed by the film’s high praise for the disease-resistant Princeton elm and eager to buy one, an audience member asks:  Where can a homeowner buy one?  Hearing another audience member yell out "Home Depot", the questioner continues, "No, seriously.  I really want to buy one."

So here’s where it gets weird.  The person blurting out "Home Depot" representsElm River Edge Farm in Georgia, which happens to be a major grower of American elms, and he further declared that he’s recently delivered 12,000 of the prized, hard-to-get Princeton elms to Home Depots along the East Coast.  "And they’re really promoting them," he tells us, by featuring them prominently in the stores.  Another audience member pipes up to say "Buy ‘em quick before they kill ‘em," which elicited a knowing laugh from the crowd.

So why DOES Home Depot kill its plants by giving them no care at all?  Like not watering them, even after they’ve placed them in the blazing sun.  Well, the blogging nurseryman at The Golden Gecko in California explains that it’s because Home Depot and other mass merchant stores like Lowes only pay for the plants when they’re sold, so they have no financial incentive to keep them alive.  When they kill ‘em by neglect, it’s the grower who suffers.  So growers are banding together to hire their own plant care staff to drive around to the plant-killing big boxes and water their plants.  Amazing what terms you can negotiate when you have all the power.

Oops.  Looks like I’ve returned to the more familiar subject matter for me or anyone who’s ever shopped there – griping about Home Depot.  We’ve all been there, right?  But just this once, head on over to your nearest plant-killing hardware store and pick up a Princeton elm – quick.