Rooftop gardening in Chicago

We are finally getting settled in our new house. And with warm weather, it is time to set up the gardening here.

In the beginning….

Completely empty rooftop deck

Yup, that’s right – it is a whole lot of nothing. But that is the beauty of the thing. It is a full, non-shared rooftop deck that we can devote totally to gardening. Yea! That is such a luxury in Chicago; there is nothing to fix or re-do from previous owners, because the house is brand new. And even better, there is a second deck just like this one in the front of the house where we have some tables and a seating area so the entire back deck can be entirely devoted 100% to gardening (and bees, but that is the next step – more on that later.)

The first year involves a lot of work that won’t have to be repeated, including setup of a gardening work table, setting up the raised beds and filling them with dirt. The raised box setup required hauling four very long and very heavy boxes up to the third floor, which was not much fun. My spousal unit, however, is very adept at gauging how to tilt things to carry them up steep and fairly narrow flights of stairs so that we don’t bang up the walls too much. Anyway, once up there, the setup was pretty quick and easy. So now we have this:

Raised cedar gardening beds

The ceramic pots will have flowers and other bee/butterfly attracting plants. The cedar beds will be entirely herbs and vegetables.

Next step is getting the dirt up to the roof. We have calculated the dirt requirements and it will take 70 cu. ft. of material to fill these planters and the ceramic planters on the front deck. Yikes! That is a lot of going up and down the stairs, so we are going to get some help with that hauling project.

More pics to come when the dirt is in!

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I love Halloween – actually I love the month of October and Halloween is in October, so there.

The neighborhood we live now appears to be very keen on the holiday as well. I have seen some really great stuff up and down the street while out walking the dog.

First there was this gal:

WitchShe has these great mechanized arms that stir the cauldron. She is HUGE and really draws attention. There are groups of people standing around on the sidewalk every time I walk by.

These people’s neighbors, not to be outdone, put up this:

Scary-PumpkinAnd that guy has a twin brother:

Second-Scary-PumpkinBecause you can never have too many giant scary pumpkin heads hanging on your house. The total effect is this:

Two-Scary-PumpkinsBut in this neighborhood, apparently you are just lame if you don’t have a gigantic Halloween display. So then this week, these guys show up:

Huge-SpiderI love the charming fall wreath in front of the creepy butler and the ENORMOUS spider. Not what you would expect really.

And one more – just down the block:

SkeletonWish I had a child to take out trick-or-treating Saturday night. Because you just know that anyone who put this much into their decorations is totally going to give out the full sized candy bars!






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Lost in a really good book? Well, it’s been a while….

I love a good book. In the winter, nothing beats curling up on the couch next to the fireplace with the dog in my lap and reading a really good book.In the summer, the drill is reading on the screened porch at night while listening to cicadas and frogs in the background with a glass of iced tea close at hand.

I enjoy reading just about anything except sci-fi, anything by Graham Greene and LITTLE WOMEN. I got roped into that one as a child and it is full of the most one dimensional characters ever imagined. Meg is always Meg and never does a non-Meg thing in her life. Jo is always Jo, etc. And Marmee – don’t even get me started!

As for Graham Greene, his stuff is just too dreary and depressing – I don’t care that he is considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, blah, blah, blah…. I don’t like his books.

A couple of years ago I joked that I was re-reading Anna Karenina in hopes of finding that maybe Anna and Vronsky wouldn’t be such annoying narcissists this time around. I was joking but really even though great books remain constant, I think that each time we read them we may be in a different place and may perceive the characters or the story in a different manner. So theoretically Anna could have been different, but sadly she was the same irritating twit as ever.

My next serious read is a re-read of some Jane Austen – her major novels are always great. I read them over and over again – usually two a year.

Meanwhile, my current obsession is the cases of Department Q – a Danish crime series written by Jussi Adler-Olsen. A bit gruesome at times, but really good stories for what they are. And as soon as those are finished it’s off to Emma!


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4th of July island love

What’s not to love about the quintessential Nantucket 4th of July? Gorgeous weather – not too hot, not too cold; lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner; those ubiquitous gorgeous blue hydrangeass-Hydrangeas; people everywhere with cute kids and dogs – it’s the best.

I’m sad now thinking of it as I am back in Charlotte where the temp is, and has been, in the high 90’s for weeks on end. I really need to get out of here and go live somewhere a bit more civilized.


s-Nantucket-GardensAlthough I suppose hibernating in my den until it is cool enough to get back outside isn’t so bad. It gives me a chance to upload gorgeous pics and dream about being back on the island!




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No sellouts here…..

My youngest son is a ceramics student pursuing a BFA; he just finished up his second year at Alfred Univ in upstate NY, the mecca for all things ceramics. I have always appreciated what my son is able to create – he is quite talented and artistic, but remember this is his mother speaking. Of course I am going to love his work and think he is amazing. But seriously, he is good at what he does and he loves it.

2012-09-27 14.52.05

People  often “commend” my husband and me for “encouraging” our kids’ artistic endeavors and ambitions, which I find really humorous. Having spent many years in a corporate environment I regarded a “prison”, I would never try to force anybody to do anything with their life that is not their passion, especially my kids. I believe that as parents, my husband and I need to dose them up with a realistic view of how tough it might be to support yourself being an artist or a photographer or a musician or whatever it might be, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. I preached to both of my boys their entire lives to not be corporate “sellouts”, taking on a career just for the money. So, as my husband points out, I sure got what I asked for because both boys are off into creative pastimes. The oldest is happy as a clam with his work and extremely self-sufficient. He is doing what he loves and is really good at it. The youngest is hopefully on his way. At any rate, he is indulging in what he loves.



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Not just the top layer

I spilled some protein shake down into my gym bag and the smell finally got so bad I had to dump all the contents and clean things up. It was really manky!

I am a very organized person. In fact, I do personal organizing professionally for total strangers who want their stuff straightened out. But I have my blindside like everyone else. There are a few things I carry around all the time and just totally overlook the absolute mess going on inside. Case in point – the spousal unit bought me a new travel bag for my birthday. My old one finally was too far gone to make another trip. So I now have this cool new Filson carry on duffle that will probably last me until I am too far gone to make another trip. But I put the new one aside for about a month because I knew the transfer process would involve several layers of detritus going back many years and many, many trips.

I finally got that sorted out this weekend because it had been pouring down rain for 4 days and I had done just about every other thing I could do inside. I pulled out all the corkscrews I’ve been accumulating (the ones NOT confiscated by TSA), old hotel receipts from all over the place, unmarked keys, travel size toothpastes that are so tiny you need 6 of them for a weekend trip, some really crumbly protein bars, a pair of headphones that don’t work, a handful of international plug converters for various countries, and some of those white cotton travel socks the airlines give you when they strand you overnight somewhere.

Most of this stuff was thrown away with the exception of the travel converters and the corkscrews. My younger son once commented as he rummaged through my bag looking for a snack that he wouldn’t want to be stuck with me and my travel bag when the zombies come. Apparently he wasn’t impressed with the corkscrews. I think he was starving and was searching for something a bit less nebulous and slightly more useful in the near term.

So the gym bag contents looked like this:


The offending smelly objects were some gloves left over from cold weather, a headband, and some boxing hand wraps that smell pretty rank even without being saturated by a spoiled protein shake. There were also an inhaler from Jan 2014 when I had bronchitis, candy from a goofy Crossfit workout in Halloween 2013,  band-aids, jump rope, gym cards, and another bunch of old schedules and receipts.

I gave the bag a shot of Febreze once it was empty and threw everything fabric into the wash. Everything else was tossed.

After re-loading I think I am good for another couple of years until this bag wears out or has another drink mishap.


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No Mo Mowing!

I am 100% on board with the no-mow lawn concept. It is completely ironic that we spend tons of money and time on sod and on fertilizer and on sprinkling systems for the sod just to get grass to grow so we can (usually) pay somebody else to come and cut it every week or so all summer long.

I attended the Davidson Horticultural Symposium at Davidson College a couple of weeks ago and most of the speakers this year are proponents of no-mow lawns. In fact one of the afternoon break out sessions was titled “Beautiful No Mow Lawns”. One of the morning speakers, Margie Ruddick, is an award winning landscape architect with international installations and her speech topic was “Wild by Design”. She has a book coming out soon by the same title and her idea is to let what happens just happen. I like that to an extent. Ruddick lost me a bit when she showed slides of her own front yard; it was just a bit scary. She believes that if a weed shows up in her yard it should be nurtured and allowed to thrive there. Her neighbors have called the “weed police” on her several times. So, she is just a bit overly zealous and too much of a purist/naturalist for my taste, but I like the general idea!

Our front yard is pretty well shaded by three large willow oaks, the Quercus phellos, that ubiquitous and iconic tree that epitomizes the streets of older Charlotte neighborhoods. These are the same trees that are aging all together and dropping limbs and entire trees at an alarming rate on unsuspecting heads and cars. For the moment, ours are upright and gorgeous and they pretty well shade the entire front yard. A couple of years ago, I dug up all the grass that wasn’t growing very well anyway under those trees and planted ground cover – Asiatic Jasmine and St. John’s Wort. It has been a slow process; these are not the most energetic ground covers and have been taking forever to fill in the space. Losing patience last summer I added some hostas and ferns around to try to make the space look more lush and not appear as if I had just killed everything because I was too lazy to mow.

That takes care of the front yard; the back yard is a different story. The space between the house and the studio is covered by patio and one side is entirely a planting bed. The area beside the studio behind the garage is the fenced vegetable garden. Our lot is fairly deep for a middle of the city neighborhood and there is actually a good bit of land behind the studio – half is tangled and wooded and makes for great privacy from neighboring houses behind us. The other half is still rather anemic looking grass which I attempt to mow occasionally and hire people to come in and mow when I get tired of it. We jokingly refer to this as the “back 40”.


This is the “Back 40” in its current state

My new project is to turn all of the back 40 into a meadow-like area covered with wildflowers, thereby eliminating mowing FOREVER on this lot. Just received 2 pounds of wildflower seeds from Eden Brothers Nursery over in Asheville and spread that around. Of course it didn’t go nearly as far as I planned, so I will probably order another pound or so. Another benefit in addition to the no more mowing thing is that the flowers will hopefully attract bees, birds and butterflies. I just hope the birds aren’t attracted until AFTER the flowers grow – fingers are crossed that they don’t pick up all the seed NOW!

More pics to come if colorful blooms start happening back there! Especially if it turns out looking like this:

Wildflower Meadow


Which is OF COURSE my vision!

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Tis the season!

I have been traveling a LOT lately – this past weekend was my first weekend in town for seven weeks. While I LOVE to travel and have been doing some fun stuff – welding classes, glass torch classes, visits to Palm Springs, Mexico, Chicago, Austin and Texas Hill Country, it is REALLY great to be home for just a minute or so.

So, Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday were devoted to weeding the backyard and putting pine straw mulch around everything. It looks so good! Now I’m just waiting for the Winghaven plant sale in early April to fill in things that have died over the winter or just plain old empty spots. If I find a empty square foot, I will stuff a plant into it!

First things first however, the spousal unit helped me put up 4 new bluebird houses this weekend. If you live in North Carolina (or really anywhere, thanks to the Internet), the best bluebird houses are made by Dan Finch of “Homes for Bluebirds“. I bought these 4 ($20 each), put them up and am hopefully awaiting tenants. Not sure about the bluebird nesting “season” – I just hope I wasn’t out traveling around too long and missed the whole thing. I will keep you posted!


We put two on garden posts and the other two on free standing posts in the back yard.

These cute bird houses are super easy to install and are shipped with “idiot-proof” instructions.


Other additions this weekend include two new hummingbird feeders to add to the one we have had since moving here. I recently attended a “Horticultural Symposium” at Davidson College and one of the speakers completely recommended this model – they are called the “Perky Pet Grand Master” – hilarious name, but I fell for the sales pitch, so we now have 3 total hummingbird feeders.

The little red cup on top of the hummingbird feeder is filled with water to drown ants who trek out into the feeder. I found that at my local Ace hardware store a few years ago – we were having a terrible problem with ants and this little item totally cured that!

Also have seen NO hummingbirds yet, but they should show up soon!


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Keep calm and love Texas

Oh yes – I forgot – one recurring theme of discussion during the aforementioned Texas weekend was:

What is your ZOMBIE plan????


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Keep calm and love Texas

I just got back from four days in Texas – flew down and met up with a friend from St. Louis. We spent the first day in Austin just exploring and visiting a great friend of ours who has just moved to Austin. The rest of the trip was in Hunt, which is smack in the middle of the hill country. Two great friends, also formerly from St. Louis have moved to a place in Hunt. And everybody has a “place” there, usually with a cool name attached.

I am completely enchanted. I love everything about the place; the people are friendly, the Guadalupe River is the most gorgeous shade of blue, and there are wild critters everywhere. I love the people’s sense of connectedness to the land. Everybody from the retired CEO’s to the the big bubba rednecks is concerned with water conservation and efficient land and wildlife management. Lights at night are discouraged in order to avoid “light pollution” – it makes the huge sky seem even bigger. The locals are proud and very devoted to the area – and it is a beautiful place!


The daily agenda was just getting up early, exploring all around, staying up very late drinking wine and catching up on EVERYTHING! Way too many topics to share them all, but here is a quite concise summary of the weekend discussions:

1. How to deal with scorpions

2. It’s not IF you will hit a deer with your car, it’s WHEN

3. Goat farming is hot

4. Snakes are not hot, yet are everywhere

And one pressing issue as yet unresolved, but waiting for update pending our friend’s attendance at an informational meeting this week:

1. What to do about the feral hogs that are EVERYWHERE

We are already planning our next trip out there – in July. This weekend was beautiful, but the mountains, trees and river had this surreal look due to a late winter ice storm. We are anxious to see the place with stars sparkling in the sky at night and hot sun all day long!


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