April 29, 2011

Our Little Balcony Hide-Away

Since the rains have, for the most part, stopped; Michael and I decided to put our little balcony hide-away back in order.  It did not take us long, as we had done much of the prep work over the past several weekends.  I love our little balcony Hide-Away!  When you live in a tiny 540 square foot, one bedroom apartment, you truly appreciate the added living space. 

First Signs of Life!

It was an exciting afternoon in the Secret Garden.  We have been waiting and watching our little garden patch of dirt, since building the planter box at the base of our stairway and sowing the wild flower seeds.  Since we bought them at Grocery Outlet (a discount store), my fear was that the seeds may have been old and would therefore never sprout.  It was a week ago tomorrow that we sowed them.

Everyday this week, upon arriving home from work, I squat down near the edge of the walkway to get a ground level view where I can inspect the soil for any sign of life.  Yesterday, this was what we discovered:

It may seem silly to get so excited about a tiny little green sprout!  But it is in these little things that we delight as we see in them the beauty of the creator of the Universe and the sign of new life coming from what would have been seen as a dead, dry, lifeless seed.  It is a picture of the "new birth" that we who are in Christ have experienced.

"...just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

I do hope, that in a few weeks, I will be posting a picture of our wildflower patch in full bloom.  For now, we wait, water and hope!

April 25, 2011

An Unintentional Delight!

It was not our intention to spend time exploring the Secret Garden this afternoon--it was just a trip to check the mail.  However, I did grab my camera bag and slipped it over my shoulder before we left.  On the way back, we took the path that runs behind the apartment complex and, there to greet us, was a cat.  As we approached him, we noticed a most peculiar thing.  He had one green eye and one blue eye.  I had seen this on dogs, but never on a cat.  I sat down at the base of one of the stairways hoping to get a picture of those eyes.  I only had time to take three shots before the cat decided that he had had enough of our company.

I was delighted that, out of just three shots, I got one where the stair railing ended up dividing his face right down the middle.  You couldn't plan a shot like that!

As usual, Michael and I wanted to know what causes a cat to have eyes of different colors; so, we researched this phenomena.  It is called, complete heterochromia.  The condition most commonly affects white colored cats but can be found in a cat of any color, as long as it possesses the white spotting gene.  (You can google "heterochromia to learn more if interested.)

After the cat left, we headed down the path and decided to walk home via the creek's edge.  Michael spotted a trail of ants and decided to follow the trail.  They started at the base of the trunk of a huge eucalyptus tree.  Michael followed the trail along the dirt, ducking under low hanging oak tree branches, for approximately 45 feet to the base of a fan palm.  We think they were using one of the palms frans as a bridge to cross the creek.

The ants go marching three by three, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching three by three, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching three by three,
The little one stops to climb a tree
And they all go marching down to the ground

We continued along the creek towards home and stopped for one more look before heading towards the landing to our apartment staircase.  Michael noticed that there were many more of the purple flowers that he had seen a week or so ago, growing on the other side of the creek.  We had no real idea what kind of flowers they were, as they are growing in an area you must cross the creek and scale the creek bank on the opposite side to get to.  We could only see that they were purple; but, no detail whatsoever.  I decided to cross over with my camera and take a look up close.  They were beautiful.

I scaled down the back, crossed back over the creek; and as I pulled the weeds from around the bottom of my sundress, Michael brought me over to a patch of weeds and pointed out a tiny purple flower hidden among the foxtails and wild clover.  I zoomed in as close as I could get.  The wind was blowing enough to move this little guy around; but, I was able to get one shot of this weeds lovely bloom.  The flower itself was no larger than a lentil bean.

"Unintentional" can work out quite lovely if one keeps their eyes open along the way! 

April 23, 2011

The $3.99 Beautification Project (Not)

About a week ago, Michael and I decided that we would look for a bag, box or canister of wild flower seeds and that we would scatter them all over the Secret Garden. We were not sure where exactly, or if they would even germinate; but, thought that it would be a lovely idea. While standing in line at the Grocery Outlet, Michael glanced over and there they were. A large box of mixed wild flower seeds. The box said that the seeds would cover up to 750 square feet. We knew roughly how large an area that would be since our one bedroom apartment is only 540 square feet. That's a lot of wild flowers for only $3.99.

After getting the box home and reading the instructions, we realized that it was not going to be as easy as simply scattering them all around the Secret Garden. The instructions said you must 1) rid the soil of all other vegetation (well that wasn't going to happen); 2) break-up the soil (neither was that); 3) rack the soil (You gotta be kidding me); and, 4)  make sure that the seeds get plenty of water for the first 4 to 5 weeks (Well there is no water source downstairs, so you can image what it would take to keep them watered for 4 to 5 weeks).

 So, we brainstormed alternatives: Perhaps planter boxes lining the creek--but, the watering would be an issue that far from the house. Perhaps clay pots going up the stairs to the apartment--but that would mean that I would have to pass a flurry of bees once the flowers start blooming and that is not a remote possibility as I am allergic to bee stings. This morning, while sitting out on the balcony, Michael came up with a great idea.

Remember the Mulberry Tree that grew along the left side of the balcony?   Click here for history  A crew came out,  this past Fall, with chain saws and cut it down.  All that remains is a stump.  Well, at the base of it is a dirt plot that is edged with a wooden retaining wall (on the backside) and a cement path to our stairway along the front. Michael reasoned that if we could find some lumber to enclose the ends we could fill it with soil and sow the seeds. We discussed the cost and the options. Michael then took a stroll around the Secret Garden and found a pile of discarded construction material, metal flashing's, old roof gutters, and, (you may have guessed it) two 2x8's. He carried them over and we found a way to angle them so that they created a very attractive planter box around the lamp post and the Mulberry Tree stump. See picture below:

We were ready to fill her in!  We calculated that we were dealing with approximately 35 square feet and we certainly did not want to spend a bunch of money on soil in order to sow $3.99 worth of wild flower seeds.  Isn't it always the way it goes.  You start out thinking that you will add a little beauty to your surroundings by making a small purchase, and once you get started on the project, reality smacks you in the face, and you realize that this "cheap, little" project will require several more trips to the hardware store.  UUURRGH.

We asked ourselves, "What might we do to save some money and fill the bottom of this planter box?"   We remembered that the winter storms had exposed a large sand bank on the west side of the creek.  So, with a kitchen scooper and a plastic bucket in hand, we headed down to the creek.  I filled the bucket; Michael carried the full bucket to the plot; and, returned the empty bucket to me for filling once again.  After the 6th (or so) bucket full was delivered, I heard Michael exclaim, "Oh dear!"   As I poked my head up put of the creek bed, Michael was holding the handle if what used to be the bucket.  The entire bucket cracked apart.  (Side note: The draw back to living in an apartment is that you do not have a shop out back or a garden shed to go to when you need a shovel, a wheel barrow,  or another bucket.)

We were bound and determined to complete this phase of our project and so I went up stairs and got two cloth shopping bags.  After filling them 5 or 6 times, we had depleted most of the clean sand and were getting down to some yucky smelling stuff.  However, by this time, we had been able to fill some of the deeper areas and had laid a pretty even base in which to pour the garden soil.  Off to the garden center we went.  We purchased 5 large bags of potting soil (recommended by the lady working in the garden center).  We realized that we would need some way to water this patch once we sowed the seed and we did not have a watering can (by the way, there is no outdoor faucet for a hose in our apartment complex).  We went to a thrift shop as I was hoping for a large galvanized steel watering can with the really large shower type head.  No luck.  We looked online and they want almost $80.00 for that kind of watering can.  See what I mean?  $3.99 worth of wildflower seeds and no watering can.

To make a long story short.  We decided to get home and get the soil into the plot.  We probably could have used another bag or two, but were able to cover the entire area with at least 4 or 5 inches of top soil.  Still the issue of "how are we going to water in the seeds?"  Michael went up stairs and I went to Walmart.  After hunting around, I found large plastic watering cans with medium size shower heads for $4.00 each.  I bought two--less trips up and down the stairs.

After a full day of working on our unplanned project we finally finished.  I had originally hoped to find a decorative garden sign at the garden center to stick in our new raised planter box; but, that would be an additional cost.   I did want a little sign so that people might know that this new dirt was a garden in the making.  So, while Michael was taking a short nap, I grabbed my sharpie's and went downstairs.  Below is what I came up with; and, it didn't cost a penny.  I think I like it better than anything I might have found at the garden center:

  I simply wrote with a black sharpie permanent marker on the stump of the Mulberry Tree.  I also nailed a small rhinestone cross (from one of my charm bracelets) in the upper left hand corner of the stump.  I am not sure how long the permanent marker will last--but I can always re-do it if it fades.  Of course, I could go out and buy a wood burning set with all the different size nibs and burn it in 0 which would be really neat; but, there we go again.   I have always said, "Poverty breeds ingenuity".  Well, we are certainly not in poverty; but, you know what I mean. 

Now begins daily watering!  Up and down the stairs with a full watering can in each hand.   It takes 3 to 4 trips to water the seeded area.  I guess, on the upside, that $3.99 box of wild flower seeds will save us from having to pay for a fitness club membership in order to shed some of our winter poundage!  Just watering them will be a work-out we had not planned for or considered.  And it will cost us nothing.

Now we water and wait.  It is my hope, that in a month or so, I will be posting a photo of our beautiful wildflower garden.  Of course, the wild turkeys might discover it and call "the boys" to a breakfast seed feast or the feral cats might decide to use it as a litter box.  None the less-- 

The day was sweet and right in the middle of our labors, the mallard ducks decided to pay the creek a visit.  Michael ran upstairs to get the camera and was able to catch this guy as he was flying away.  It's a blurry shot; but if you look carefully you can see that he was indeed laughing at us as he flew away!



April 13, 2011

An Afternoon Walk in April

It has been awhile since Michael and I have ventured out into the Secret Garden.  It's been almost a year since we moved into this magic place and we have seen the garden transformed with the passing of the seasons.  So much has changed.  The fruiting mulberry tree, that once reached passed the roof tops along the north side of our balcony is gone, cut down to save the cement walkway from its massive root structure.  The Giant Oak, that we watched fall--making a natural bridge across the creek in May 2010 as we were dining with a friend, is gone--chopped into pieces and drug away by the County's maintenance crew just a few months ago, leaving a huge, empty, stark space in the landscape on the western bank of the creek.  The cuttings from the Wandering Jew from North Carolina, that we had planted in three places along the banks of the creek, have all washed away during the winter storms.

Our first year in the Garden was so magical that it almost seems as though it was a dream.  Each month brought new discoveries of things unknown and things unexpected.  Now the Mulberry tree, the one that supplied the fruit last summer for our mulberry and cream cheese stuffed pancakes and gave us front row seats to the antics of the squirrels as they played in the branches, is gone; the Giant Oak that sheltered all the feral kittens and provided a bridge for easy crossing for the skunks at night, is also gone.

It does feel as though some magic has left the garden and that we will find less there to discover, and yet, I can still find great delight in our walks.

We have heard tales that there is a while turtle that lives in the Garden; but that was a tale told by a 9 year old little boy last fall.  I suppose I half believe him; because, I secretly hope to come across that white turtle sitting on a rock at the edge of the creek.  For now, I will be content with the less unusual.

On our late afternoon walk, yesterday, we did find "The Miniature Forest of Wheat and Tares" which was teaming with (probably) hundreds of lady bugs who were competing with some type of beetle for an afternoon meal among the fresh spring growth.  It was a wonderful photographic opportunity as the sun was low in the west and casting the perfect light on the patch of green.

I believe this little guy is a Pedilus lugubris or a Neopyrochroa femoralis
Until our next walk...