To Stain or Not to Stain?

Remember what our deck looked like in the fall of 2015 after it finally passed village inspection? I couldn’t stand the unfinished wood look. The treated wood needed some time to dry before we could stain or paint it, so I had some time to figure out which color(s) to use. These were my favorite Pinterest and Houzz deck color schemes. I love the the look of white vertical boards and dark horizontal boards.

 

Then, there was the debate of whether to stain or paint the deck. We read many articles including this article  and this article , and we asked for many opinions. Most everyone we asked said it was better to stain, so we waited for it to warm to the appropriate temperature, and Peter started working. The top right photo shows all the railings and boards done in white solid stain in the evening and the bottom left shows them in the daylight. The middle right photo shows the deck planking still wet with two coats of ProLuxe semi-transparent stain in chestnut brown. The bottom right photo shows the stain as it’s drying up close.

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The next decision to make was post caps. We wanted them to be as low profile and understated as possible. After wrestling with ornate wood balls, white vs copper, solar lights, teck deck, pre-milled measurement vs post milled measurements, we finally found these plastic post caps at Menards for 94 cents a piece. It was a no brainer. After Peter and I left my mom’s for mother’s day breakfast, we made the quick stop to Menards to pick up the caps; we swung by our house to make sure the caps fit and snapped this picture before driving straight at Peter’s grandmother’s house for mother’s day lunch. Peter and I were pleased, and the White Amorn deck never looked better!

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Deck Walkway

Earlier this March, Peter and I couldn’t wait to get outside to work in the yard as the weather warmed up. There were so many things we needed and wanted to do. We needed to stain the deck; we wanted to plant; we wanted to work on the deck skirting; I desperately wanted to work on a walkway that would lead up to the deck steps. This is what the walkway looked like on March 29th, 2016. It was comprised of partially sunken flagstones leading to a partial sidewalk that were both off-center from the deck steps which we decided to place at the middle of the deck instead of off to the side where this walkway existed. I begged for a new walkway, and finally, at the end of March, we started making measurements for the project. 20160329_154959301_iOS

 

Later that day, Peter tore up the sod, set up a level line, poured out crushed limestone and started leveling. This was no easy task because as you might remember from our earlier posts, the reason for the deck in the first place was because our backyard slopes aggressively away from our house – wonderful for drainage, awful for creating a backyard cottage garden sanctuary.

 

Once leveled, we picked out a stone paver tile, and Peter started laying, leveling, settling and setting our walkway. There were a few cold and rainy days that delayed the project requiring a tarp to keep from washing away our level limestone.

 

My in-laws came over to inspect the project when Peter was almost done and suggested he put in a step to transition the walkway into the driveway bumper. Unfortunately, our first attempt at chiseling the stone to match the decline and curve of the driveway looked more like crooked teeth. Naturally, the broken misaligned teeth look was not going to fly for me.20160407_001248709_iOS

 

So a second attempt, using a stone grinder was much more acceptable. We couldn’t blend the end perfectly opting for a level step with a slight lip rather than an uneven step without the lip. We finished it off with plastic paver edging and back-filled with top soil to make sure the new walkway wasn’t going anywhere atop the hill. It looks so much better than the before picture already! I can’t wait to show you what else we’ve done to the deck and landscaping to the create our perfect backyard sanctuary! 20160413_000542210_iOS

May 2016

This is the official 3 year anniversary photo of our home this year taken a day early on May 1, 2016. Peter and I have been working each year at pruning the Japanese maple, and this year, we’re finally pleased with its shape and aesthetic. We’ll probably continue to prune it as it just seems to get bushier and bushier each year…sigh…20160501_205351650_iOS

As the tulip bed started to tire, the purple bearded irises in the east front garden bed started to bloom (photo left). In the west front garden bed, the hint of allium blooms started to take shape (photo right). Both of these photos were taken on May 7th, 2016.

Mother’s Day week, I headed to Meijer to get annuals for our front yard and for my mother-in-law, Jeanne for Mother’s Day. The last couple of years, she’s been asking for the waxy begonias (bottom right of the left photo); however, just this last weekend, she commented on how much she likes coral pink impatiens – I’ll have to remember that for next year. We got my mom an Edible Arrangement; that’s more her gardening speed😉 Peter and I also went to Platt Hill Nursery during their 20% off ceramic pot sale Mother’s Day week and purchased two additional sizes of some pots that we got there last year. I am so glad that they still had them!

Here is everything planted in our front yard. Photo left is the view from our dining room and photo right is the view from our driveway. I had a lot of luck last year with the tuberous begonias, so they were featured again this year in the ceramic containers, planter box and hanging basket. I “thrilled” with spikes and an array coleus plants; I “spilled” with creeping jenny. Last year, I was more conservative with my color theme, but this year, I was a little more adventurous with a variety of begonia and coleus colors. I am not sure if I like it yet. I guess we’ll see how everything looks at the end of the season:)

And of course, Peter and I started our edible and vegetable garden from seed on May 1st, 2016. The top left photo shows almost 100% germination rate of our pumpkins and squash (we eventually did get 100%). The top right photo shows those same seedlings transplanted to larger pots as they acclimate to outdoor weather on May 13th. The bottom left photo shows our Indian corn seedlings on May 13th resting outside preparing to be transplanted to the garden beds. We got 100% germination of the Indian corn seedlings as well – even the seeds that I plucked off of last year’s harvest ears germinated!  We eventually lost one Indian corn in the transplant process, so I germinated another kernel off of last year’s harvest ears and transplanted it earlier today. Fingers crossed – I hope he makes it! The photos at the center right and bottom right were taken on May 26th and show the cilantro and basil that we started from seed. They’ve gotten so much bigger in just one and a half weeks. We’ll be pruning the cilantro tomorrow to use in a meatball recipe for dinner, and hopefully, later this week, we’ll use some of the basil. It desperately needs to be pruned to help with the “bushing out” process. So far, this gardening season has been rewarding. I can’t wait to show you what else is going on at the White Amorn this season!

The Daffodil & Tulip Show

Easter was early this year, Sunday March 27th, 2016. In preparation, I took down our winter mantle display and set up a spring display (top left). Our spring and summer painting is a canvas of Irises in Monet’s garden. I tied together pussy-willows to anchor either end of the mantle, and I purchased small live tulips and daffodils to bring everything to life. After the tulips and daffodils tired, I replaced them with hyacinths which were incredibly fragrant in our home. Outside, evidence of spring blooms started to show in the tulip beds (top right, bottom left), and amazingly, the creeping jenny in the front window box survived the winter in under a bed of greens.

 

The daffodils were the first to bloom, as early as March 31, 2016 for the first bloomer (far left). The center photo was taken on April 3rd, and the final photo was taken on April 18th. Peter and I divided the white daffodils after they tired, so I hope they look just as beautiful if not better next spring.

 

Finally, the much anticipated tulip display started with a simple bunch of yellow tulips on April 16th, 2016. As the days grew longer, the tulips grew more colorful and intricate. We enjoyed the beautiful tulip show until early May at which point purple bearded irises started to take center stage, and the anticipation for alliums grew. I waited for the tulips to yellow and fade, and I just cut them back to the ground this past Memorial Day weekend. I hope the tulips continue to impress year after year!

Spring Clean Up 2016

After the snow melted in the spring of 2016, Peter and I were left with front garden beds covered in a blanket of dead leaves and foliage. You might remember on my birthday in October 2015, Peter and I planted maybe 150 tulip bulbs. I was so worried that the chipmunks and squirrels would get to the them, so Peter covered the area with some netting. This made it so easy on March 6, 2016 to simply roll up the netting with most of the dead leaves on top! 

The tulip bed will be on the west side of the front of the house. This is the east side. The irises are already making their way up in the back row. No hostas yet in front of them, but the skeletons from last year’s mum display are ready to be cut back. 

Here is the west side tulip bed all cleaned up on March 11th, 2016. I was worried last  October when we planted the free bulbs from the mall, that they wouldn’t come up, but here they are! I can’t wait to see if they bloom. 

This is the east side all cleaned up on March 11th. It looks so bare. I can’t wait for spring.

A week later, on March 17th, there’s just a little bit more green on the west side. Much to my relief, I can also see what I think are the alium bulbs we planted coming up. 

The east side is also just a little bit more green, especially with the mums making a strong comeback for a third perennial year. The mums were Peter and my First Gardening Adventure in August 2013. What a great investment; we had no idea they’d continue to return year after year…what little we knew back then ;) img_5471

 

Christmas 2015

As tradition, the day after Thanksgiving, our families ventured out to Camelot Christmas Tree farm. Our First Christmas , we picked a Christmas bush that was much larger than our first year light and ornament supply could handle.  Our second Christmas, we fared much better with our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. I was so happy with it, I insisted that we try another beautifully scarce perfectly tiered Charlie Brown tree. So here’s Peter inspecting our tree before he cut it down (photo left) and our Christmas tree fully decorated with gifts on Christmas Eve (photo right).

 

Our decorations seem to get better each and every year. Last year, Peter and I received the Department 56 Hermey dental office and the Hermey dental school dormitory as gifts. This year, we purchased the Department 56 Santa’s Castle and received the Department 56 Rudolph flying school as a gift. Here they are lined up on the mantle. I can’t wait to keep adding to the collection. 20151225_154326890_iOS

The greatest highlight of my holiday season was my Christmas gift from Peter. I begged him for months, maybe even years for a matching bench to the custom life-edge table he made for me Our First Christmas  married (2013). He wasn’t sure he liked the idea of a bench on only one side of the table and also needed to find the time in his and his brother John’s (a local contractor specializing in custom woodwork) schedule. I had no idea he was working on it, and was completely surprised to find this set up on Christmas morning! I just LOVE it! 20151225_145419972_iOS

The cherry wood is sealed with a clear coat of oil for protection. The table and bench were not stained. Over two years, natural lighting has darkened the table. In due time, the bench coloring will catch up. Isn’t the custom set beautiful? 20160111_144758954_iOS

October 2015

Come October 2015, our front garden was looking wonderfully overgrown – check out all that purple bearded iris foliage in the back row (photo top left). We needed to buckle down and finish preparing for the next spring season, so we dug up some of the overgrown irises, split and transplanted them (photo top right). The White Amorn curb appeal was colorful, tidy and festive for fall (photo bottom). We wrapped our pine tree in the corn stalks we grew; we moved our hay bales and pumpkin signage to the front for more interest on the west side of our home (left of photo bottom); and the mums are popping as the summer blooms tire. We were so proud of our 2015 gardening adventures.


Inside, my husband bought me a bouquet of pumpkins-on-a-stick which I put in a tall vase in the dining room. They look dramatic and festive – so much so that I’ve decided to try growing them in our 2016 garden!

 

October 2015 also brought around my 30th birthday. My friends at the dental office surprised me early with all these awesome goodies. This definitely made ushering in the next decade easier. 

On my birthday, all I wanted to do was work out, go on a walk and plant spring bulbs. Apparently each summer, a local outdoor mall digs up their tulip bulbs and throws them off a truck for the public to take for free! My sister collected maybe 200 bulbs. She shared a quarter of the bulbs with her future mother-in-law and the rest she gave to me! I worried about all the blogs that poo-pooed replanting bulbs like this stating the bulbs were likely forced and would not bloom again the next growing season. But rest assured. It is now the next growing season, and they are blooming! I can’t wait to show you! 

Finally, for my birthday gift, my husband got me this gem! The past two years in our home, I’ve hunted for a milk jug to put in front of our charming cape cottage. At antique stores, they are over priced and never quite the right color. My husband remembered that his mother might just have one laying around. This milk jug (photo far left) had traveled from my in-laws first home in Villa Park to their Lombard home where it hid in the bushes for twenty-five some odd years. My husband fished it out of the large evergreen bushes in his parents’ front yard. He cleaned it up (photo center) and spray painted it my favorite color – teal blue (photo right)! It’s about time to bring this beautiful baby outside for spring!

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Autumn Gardening

Remember this view on August 1st, 2015 after Peter installed A White Trellis for Curb Appeal? On September 26th, 2015, the garden is even more overgrown than it appears here. Also, there are some traditional yellow Stella de Oro daylilies that I have been saving to transplant here, so Peter and I got to work in the cooling September weather. 

Peter edged the garden bed out another twelve inches. I transplanted three of the daylilies at the far east (photo right) end of the garden and two at the near west (photo left) end of this garden bed. Here is a photo of it freshly edged and transplanted. The pink geraniums and yellow begonias are still doing well with the creeping jennies trailing from the planter box. The magenta and lime coleus are looking very impressive for growing only two and a half months in the teal planter pot, and the mums are starting to pop for the autumn. Next spring, Peter and I will need to move the creeping sedum ground cover forward to center them in their space. I just love the look of a freshly edged garden bed! 

This is what the freshly edged garden bed looks like from the dining room window. I love this view with all the blooms. Our lawn doesn’t look too shabby here either 😉

Remember on April 26th, 2015 when Peter and I attempted Improving Curb Appeal with Hostas ? This is what it looks exactly five months later, fully grown and accented with more magenta coleus plants in pots on our window well cover. img_4455

In the backyard, the garage garden (top left) is looking mighty overgrown with the cosmos growing up the trellis. We will not be doing that again next year. We plan to plant sugar snap peas and morning glories there with perhaps some shorter annuals for more season long blooming interest. The east zinnia garden (top right) is popping with purple prince zinnias. We plan to plant the zinnias again next year; however, I will not be too afraid to crowd them so that they might provide support for each other and yield even denser blooms. Finally, in the garden box (below), only the Vietnamese cà plants continue to produce though they too look like they are beginning to tire. It was truly sad to witness the beginning of the end of our successful 2015 gardening season. I cannot wait to see if 2016 will be as amazing!

Harvest 2015

September 13th, 2015 – The day after our family Harvest Party was wet and cloudy, but Peter and I wanted to clean up the garden. We pulled up the pumpkin vines in the yard, harvested the Indian corn and gathered the stalks together to display. Our yard looked like this. 

The little girls at the party were loving harvesting these mini squash because they were more their size, so this is what we had left for autumn decoration. I am disappointed the three “mixed” autumn squash seeds we planted didn’t produce greater variety😒

On the other hand, my mother-in-law gave me some of her Indian corn seeds, and they turned out beautifully. Seven corn stalks yielded seven corn cobs. Of the seven cobs, five had beautiful kernels in differing emerald tones. The two corn cobs photoed on the far right didn’t quite have the right conditions to mature. In our post Vegetable Seedlings Growing Happily at the start of the season, Peter and I hoped for just one nice ornamental Indian corn. To produce five was a great success!
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Our three Vietnamese cà plants were still producing on September 13th. On this day, I collected another ten little eggplants to bring to my parents. Between the two of our gardens at the end of the season, we grew enough cà eggplants to pickle three large jars! Yummm!  😋img_4432

Our nieces and nephews and neighbor girl picked 12 pumpkins, so we harvested the final four. These are the final four pumpkins from our patch. We brought them inside to keep cool in the air conditioning, so they would last until Halloween. We ended up carving the orange pumpkin on Halloween and roasting its seeds. They were delicious. Unlike seeds from giant pumpkins that you buy at the store, these homegrown seeds were light and crispy like a potato chip – just couldn’t have one handful. Earlier in the spring, Peter and I hoped for 4 pumpkins – one from each plant. We consider sixteen pumpkins another great success! 

Here is our baby Apollo Creed checking out this year’s harvest. Like his mommy and daddy, he cannot wait for another growing gardening season to get outside after winter.

Harvest Party 2015

On September 12, 2015, Peter and I hosted our first family Harvest Party! We invited his parents, 5 brothers, 5 sister-in-laws, and 11 nieces and nephews. Everyone contributed to the harvest themed menu: We had vidalia onion dip, spinach dip, pulled pork sandwiches, harvest potato casserole, locally grown sweet corn, cranberry pumpkin  bread, apple pie, caramel apples and other autumn inspired treats from Kilwins chocolate shop. We drank pumpkin beer and warm homemade apple cider. From youngest to oldest, each niece and nephew picked a pumpkin, and one by one, each parent helped their child cut their pumpkin off the vine. 

We had a station set up for the kiddos to color autumn inspired coloring pages and paint their pumpkins.

As the sun set on our party, we gathered to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. 

We had perfect weather for our first official party at the White Amorn. We were so excited to be able to share our harvest with our nieces and nephews. Our neighbor girl Ella was gone during the day, but ended up swinging by later in the night to pick a pumpkin for herself too! I can only hope for another great gardening season in 2016, so we can have more family and friends over to celebrate our harvest blessings. I’m already party planning😉