The Oak House Garden 2023-Notes and Plans

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Going on the Midtown Garden Stroll last week was such a treat and such a treasure trove of garden ideas. If you haven't seen the gardens, you can click to see Part 1 and Part 2.  One thing I left with was a much deeper appreciation for azaleas.  I inherited quite a few when we moved here.  I really wanted to rip them all out and plant hydrangeas.  In fact, I did take out the ones in my front garden...kinda regretting that now.  But so glad I didn't take out the others--for two reasons.  One, the existing ones look a lot better with a bit of TLC, and two, the deer would have chewed the hydrangeas to nubs.

April 2023 | Pre-Pine Straw

These are more azaleas from the back of our property.   All gifts from the previous homeowner!

Look at these same shrubs back in 2017 (pre-sod!) much bigger now.

I think when you garden, getting it right is something that takes time.  You learn over the years what works in your light, your soil, and with your wildlife(hehe!).  Some things die, some things have to be moved, and some things have to be reimagined.  It takes patience, which I don't always have, and trial and error.  

Honestly, I've been a little, no very, irritated about my garden this year.  I was sick a good portion of the early part of the year, so spring cleaning was delayed and took way longer than usual.  I lost plants in The Artic Freeze, in fact there's still a few half-dead Pittisporum I need to take out.  I needed to transplant lots of plants.  Weedy, choking vines had overrun large sections of my garden even suffocating two of my snowball bushes.  And I couldn't seem to get pine straw laid for the life of me. 

However, literally as I was writing this post over the week, I finally got my pinestraw!  And now everything seems alright in the garden.  It never ceases to amaze me how that fresh straw elevates everything.   I fought weeds and seedlings all spring trying to prep.  Some are still under the pinestraw, but it's  like a fresh coat of paint for the garden.   Below is literally day one on the mulch, so it still needs a good rain to settle it down.

I'm always studying my own garden and trying to learn from a variety of other gardens and gardeners.  
Below are some of the things I've learned and want to apply:

Notes from the Gram

Jess @youcandoitgardening is of my favorites! She walks you thru doing so many tasks in caring for your garden from pruning to dividing plants, reshaping beds, and transplanting.  I would almost describe her as a Garden Surgeon.  I could never imagine cutting into someone and taking something out.  But we need surgeons, right?  We need their skill and whatever quality they have that allows them to stomach that.  With plants, sometimes I can be too 'precious' about 'oh, I don't want to break a stem'.  But not Jess, she just matter-of-factly gets in there and divides, prunes, and transplants them with a confidence that plants are far more resilient than we give them credit for and that they can take it and will heal and thrive.  One of my favorite videos of hers is How to Save Money on Plants, her ruthless division made me chuckle!  I'm linking to her website You Can Do It Gardening here as well.

Another of my favorites is Mary Beth @mcdaniella.This post  gave me the answer to what I felt has been missing from my garden.  Winter structure!  In the winter, the deciduous trees and shrubs are bare.  The left side of my yard didn't have any significant evergreens.  And the four little shrubs I had planted were killed in the Artic Freeze.  So I've really been trying to re-imagine how to achieve winter interest that flows around the entire garden perimeter.  Her account has so many beautiful pictures of her garden that looks beautiful year round.

Other lessons:

Plant in large swaths and sweeps and clumps for impact.  
I have to take into account the scale of my garden.  Planting 2 or 3 plants plants or flower in a row will not have impact in a large yard.  Especially viewing it form the deck or street.  Clustering or sweeping sections of the same plant will give it more presence.

PRUNE the azaelas!
Azaleas, I think, by nature can get a bit leggy.  I'm imagining pruning will encourage branching and a fuller plant structure.  I am such a hesitant pruner and I do appreciate a more relaxed/natural garden aesthetic, but the azaleas I saw on the garden stroll are encouraging me to prune.

Amend the soil, not just the hole.  
I think a lot of my plants aren't thriving because they are surrounded by hard clay beyond the initial planting hole.  

Harvest more native georgia stone from my personal rock quarry
I think I sort of forgot how many rocks were in the back section of my yard, lol, but I want to get more of them out of there and use them for lining and extending the pathways, etc. I saw lots of stone lined pathways on the garden tour this past weekend, so I feel like I'm on the right track.

(New stone harvested from my 'quarry'; love the color!)

This area is what I call the 'back woods' of the yard.  I've been rearranging it over the past 5 years, but I like where it's headed.

(My first rock pathway; created in 2018)

Strategic fencing
I'm debating the use of 'strategic fencing' to create more privacy for the garden, since I'm on a corner lot.  Instead of doing one long fence down the side of the yard, I'm considering installing sections of fence up against existing natural shrub fencing to create screening and keep out deer, and to preserve the natural beauty of the side yard. 

Notes to self
I need to pretreat the weeds in my wooded area in Jan/Feb next year, because they takeover and create so much work to pull out.  Every year I tell myself I'm going to do this, and then forget.  

Outside of these things, I have grass that has struggled because of shade and perhaps soil quality.  I did have the trees limbed up quite a bit two years ago, but may try to re-sod one more time before giving up.  I put down grass seed last year, but it did not fill in.

I got my first Rhodies this year and am looking forward to seeing them grow over the years.

Of course garden work is never finished, but it's oh so enjoyable when everything is alive and you have fresh mulch and it's not to hot.  Ok that's all, I hope you get to get outside and enjoy a bit of nature wherever you are!
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1980's Master Bath Reno-Tile Work

Friday, May 26, 2023

Oh man, I started writing this post like three month ago, and life caught up with me.  I was on the struggle bus all of February not feeling well.  I left off talking about the hiccups on the project.  (If you haven't seen that post, it's here.  You can also see the design plan and demo here.) It's nice to have the perspective now and have the room finished, well 95% done. 

I'm happy to report, the bathroom outlets got rewired (for a fee of course...grrr) with the correct guage wire and passed inspection.  I fixed the butchered doorway with a lot of wood filler and caulk.  And the doors did indeed need to be cut down.  And after all the handwringing and scheming on how to bring the floors back up to right height...they are still not level.  

But for now, let's talk about the tile...this was glorious after living with the demo-ed space for a month!  Who am I kidding?  It was glorious after living with the original, unusable shower for nearly 7 years!  No, but seriously having the tile go down felt like a corner had been turned.

I knew I wanted marble somewhere in the bath.  I really wanted it in the shower, but ultimately admitted that it would not be practical for us personally.  Also, it's a bit of a splurge to have marble, so I wanted to use it where it would have the most visual impact.  The view above is what you see from the bedroom, so the flooring was the winner for the marble tile.

Can you believe all this tile came from Home Depot?!  For the walls, I used basic white ceramic tile, but I used subway, bullnose, chair rail, and liner tile to create interest.  The shower floor is black penny tile.  And the main floor is a classic black and carrera marble basketweave.  I'm in love!  I agonized over what tile to use for the shower floor.  I think the black perfectly bridges the gap between the marble and the white subway tile walls!  

Ok after my tile guy finished, it was on me to complete the vertical paneling and carpentry so that we could install the vanity and have the plumber back to install the tub and plumbing fixtures.  NGL...It Took Forever!  But, I will be back with that update.  What do you think?  Was the floor the right choice for the marble?

Floor Tile: MSI Marble Basketweave (Note: This was a beautiful tile with a great price, but is only sold by the case online, so only full cases can be returned.  Also Home Depot only has a 30 day return window on online orders.)
Shower Floor Tile: Daltile Charcoal Penny Tile
Marble Shower threshold: Floor and Decor | Carrara White Marble
Marble Shower Threshold Face/Front: 4x12 Marble Tile (those 4 pcs of tile below the threshold)

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The 10th Annual Midtown Garden Stroll-Part 2

Monday, May 22, 2023

I'm back with the second half of our garden tours on the 10th Annual Midtown Garden Stroll.  If you haven't seen Part One click here.  It has my several more of my favorites from that day.  Below is the garden I left off Part 1 talking about it's color palette.  Isn't it beautiful!  This was our last tour on the stroll before it ended at 5pm. And it was a wonderful tour to end on.  But let me show you a few others we toured before ending up here.

Myrtle St | Garden #13

We left Penn St and went over to Myrtle St for the final three gardens I got pictures of. 

Myrtle St | Garden #12

Taking the steps up into this garden you were greeted by a charming brick walkway, with a pea gravel pathway to the right inviting you to tip-toe around the fountain as you headed to the back yard.  This was another shade garden with a lot of different varieties of plants.  This garden seemed designed to be self-sustaining with a large compost area and rainwater tank on the side yard of the garden.  I really wish I had gottem a picture of them both because they were massive in scale for an in-town garden.

Leopard plant with cast iron plant coming up in background

I appreciated the variety of pathway styles and widths in this garden.  Whether of mulch or pea gravel they were lined with stones to hold the material in place.  

Myrtle Street | Garden #14

What a treat to enter this gated courtyard!  Are we actually still in Atlanta or have we been transported to an Italian villa?  It had started to get a bit hot, so the shade of this garden was a cool respite from the heat.
I loved the shape of the pavers and the moss growing on them.  Evergreen clematis draped the walls all along the front side of the garden.

A sloped walkway led to the back of the house which had a large variety of plants shade loving plants along with bamboo.  There was a large drive/patio space that opened up to the back garden. That space centered on an impressive wall fountain with a large turf space that would be perfect for hosting an outdoor dinner reception.  I can imagine 5 or 6 round tables, string lights, music playing and the fountain going in the backgroud!  To enter the back garden, you walked thru a doorway-like opening and entered the turf space enclosed on all four sides by a medium height garden bed of houttuynia.  Again I started talking with the homeowner and have no pics of the back garden, but it was a beautiful space with a distinctly different vibe from many of the other gardens.  Next year, I will do better!

Myrtle Street | Garden #13

Our final stop was Garden #13.  Loved the color palette of this house nestled in with the green as you walked up.  They had pictures showing the transformation from it's original brick and paint colors.  Isn't it the gentlest palette? It's deep, rich, calm, and refined.

The same palette of the main house was carried thru the garden walls and fences creating a cohesive aesthetic between home and garden as well.  You can just barely see below, but they had raised garden beds with wire and wood enclosures to keep, I imagine, squirrels and rabbits from eating their produce.  Great idea!

Stairs leading up to the back of the property allowed you to look back on the beautiful pool and outdoor living spaces.  Between the hanging swing and the lounge chairs, you can't find a bad view.

The neighbor's side yard is the view from the driveway.  It had a lovely collection of azaleas nestled under a mature crape myrtle with gorgeous hydrangeas peeking thru in the background.  I'm taking notes! 

This was a charming, wonderful tour to end our garden stroll on.  

For me, this Garden Stroll was about exploring Atlanta gardens and getting ideas for how to make a shade garden feel full, lush, and well-designed.  I would say it was mission accomplished.  I walked away from this stroll with new-found appreciation for shade plants, the variety of options available, and an actual LOVE now for azaleas.  I am going to do a post soon of my own garden and how it's changed over the years I want to talk lessons learned from the Midtown Garden Stroll and other gardens, and ideas I want to implement in my garden in the future.  And I can't wait to attend again next year, especially to check out some of the gardens I missed on this first go round!
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The 10th Annual Midtown Garden Stroll-Pt 1

My family and I got the chance to visit gardens on the annual Midtown Garden Stroll for the first time this year, and let me tell you it did NOT disappoint!

I had heard about this event via Instagram maybe a year ago, but did not know it was happening this past weekend, until a friend invited me to go.  We, unfortunately, weren't able to go together, but I am so glad she told me about it.  I told my boys they couldn't come with us girls, lol, but they ended up going with me in the end and we made a family day out of it.

There were so many gardens, that we didn't have time to see them all in the 3 hours that we toured.  I thought that might be the case, so I was glad I had browsed thru the tour brochure posted online before hand to see which gardens I thought would interest me most.  I have a shady yard, so I was looking for ideas and inspiration from gardens that shared that feature.  I didn't get pictures of them all, but I will show you some of my favorites.  I wish I had taken more pictures.  I mean, I took 70, and I still am missing some gardens, lol.  There was so much variety of style in garden design and architecture that made it so interesting, and talking to the gardeners about their gardens was the icing on the cake.  Let's begin, shall we?!

Seal Place | Garden #24

Our first stop was this front yard shade garden on Seal Place.  What a great garden to start with!  

This garden could easily be described as the Shade Gardener's Playbook.  If it were music, it would be a symphony.  It it were food, it would be a fully-loaded taco...and I love a fully -loaded taco.  There was so much variety in such a small space!  

(Cast iron plant making a triumphant comeback!)

The composition...the juxtaposition of plants against each other along with the stonework and pathways...le sigh.  It was ALL. SO. GOOD!  This gardener wasn't outside when we stopped by, but they had graciously placed out water, wine(!), and snacks for stroll guests.  Can you get any kinder than that?    Actually, almost all of the homes offered beyond gracious hospitality to us stroll guests which made the tour that much sweeter.

Seal Place | Garden #23

Next, we walked up the street to Sanna's home where, I actually got to meet the homeowner and see another beautiful shade garden.  The more I talked, the less pictures I took, lol!  So unfortunately, I didn't get many pictures.  But look at that gorgeous gravel and brick path.  She shared that this was a DIY project that she had added this year. 

I loved that she had also made use of natural stone found on the property to DIY some of her smaller stone retaining walls.  Many gardeners had experienced plant damage from the Artic Blast we had in December.  She had lost a gorgeous sweep of star jasmine that had been trained up and over her garage door, but the plant was already growing back up the gate (I forgot the pic!).   So I look forward to seeing how far it's grown next year.  But beautiful garden and gardener nonetheless.

After these two stops we hopped back in the car and drove over to St. Charles Place.

St Charles Ave. | Garden #26

Wow.  Let's just start with that.  This garden, no, this property was gorgeous! As we were walking by, the homeowner's little daughter was out front inviting us to come see the garden in the back.  The homeowner, Elliot, and her daughter were a pleasure to meet. My favorite was the front garden because it lie in the shade of a GIANT oak tree, and it was so well done! The front garden featured a parterre with gravel paths and monster-sized hostas in several varieties surrounding a beautiful planter centerpiece.  That was a nice switch-up from the usual fountain. 

It took me a minute to take in that there's no grass.  It can be incredibly difficult to grow grass under mature oaks, so I love that they haven't fought it.  Surrounding the front garden are azaleas, hydrangeas, boxwoods and flowers.  I loved the variety, but also commitment to a tight plant palette.  It creates beautiful interest and order without being overly formal.  This was the second gravel path we saw.  I inquired about maintenance and the homeowner shared that she is able to blow leaves off of it.  

Going thru to the back garden, we could see why it was probably the little girl's favorite part.  The back garden has been recently renovated to be a beautiful family hangout space. 

Trash cans were neatly tucked behind the little enclosure on the left.

The homeowner shared that she had been inspired to create this 'grow wall' after seeing the concept in different spots around Atlanta.  It's newly planted, but I can only imagine how beautiful it will be as it fills in over the summer.  There was a beautiful dining table and chairs just to the left of this area that I forgot to photograph.  But the homeowner shared how she mixed high/low of the table and chairs, which I loved, because it proves that we all love a good bargain!

If you live in Atlanta, you know that flat yards rarely exist.  The homeowner shared that they had leveled out the yard, creating a kids play area and lovely raised-bed vegetable garden in addition to the amazing patio spaces they had created along the entire back border of the home.   An investment that I'm sure they will enjoy for years to come.

St. Charles Ave. | Garden #25

Sadly, I talked so much here to Tom, that I didn't get a single picture of his amazing vegetable garden, but he was a pleasure to meet.  When you go behind his house and see this lot with the garden, it is nothing you would ever expect to see in the city.  I mean, it's great to have a raised-bed planter and grow vegetables and herbs, but my guy Tom is actually growing corn (and a lot of it!) in addition to all the other plants he has.

He shared that he had moved to his home in 1974...just that fact alone means he had a lot of great Atlanta history to share.  One thing I loved was that his vegetable plot featured tiered garden beds lined with stonework that had been rescued from different parts of the city of Atlanta.  I think now we would call it architectural salvage.  He shared that these huge granite blocks were just being pushed to the side of this demolition site and he loaded up his VW Beetle and made many trips back and forth to bring them back to his garden.  What a labor of love!  And he still gets to enjoy it nearly 50 years later.  

Penn Ave NE | Garden #19

Ok, we decided next to get closer to the market and tour the homes where we could just park and walk to many all at one.  I would also add, parking was not difficult at all even with limited residential parking.
Coming up to this garden, I recognized it from pictures I had seen from the event in previous years.  Actually this garden and the house to the left of it provided such a visual feast that it was hard to decide which to go to first!  You walk up the driveway, and you see this.

But to your left, you see this path inviting you to come on over.  Focus Mel!

Ok, we decided to tour this garden first and then go next door. This garden offered a virtual masterclass in training plants.  I think I counted at least 8 different plants trained over different garden and house structures.  There's a vine trained over the front porch.  Wait, let me back up. Ivy is trained as a ground cover over the front garden.

Then there's this beautiful vine trained over the front porch.  I wonder what this is?

Beautiful plant palette

There was this vine trained over the fence.  

Another vine trained over garage.

Ficus being trained over sculptural forms. What a great idea!  I love this plant as a houseplant, but didn't know it could grow outside.

Along the painted cinderblock back wall, star jasmine was trained over a criss-cross wire pattern.  I imagine their jasmine was damaged in the Artic Blast too, but it's coming back nicely.

That one spot where everyone wants to get a selfie on the garden stroll!

Lovely raised planter, but notice the rose being trained against the fence.  And I didn't get a picture, but there was a tree espaliered against the wall to the right as well.

This garden style was definitely more formal, but all of the trained vines and plants made it still feel very inviting and warm.  It had formality without any stuffiness.

Penn Ave NE | Garden #18

Walking back down the driveway of the house above, you begin to tour the garden of this house next door.  This was the home of Susan and Chris who were a pleasure to talk to as well.  This home is DRIPPING with charm.  From the house's color palette, to the plant choices, to the way it's perfectly nestled into the landscape on this narrow lot...this property was garden perfection.  Love has been poured into this property from the edge of the curb to the tip of the back fence.  It was absolutely stunning.

I'm trying to analyze, why did I love this garden so much?  I think because it's a masterfully executed and maintained southern shade garden.  There were so many different varieties of shade loving plants.  I often feel limited because most of the plants I love won't grow in shade, but I am expanding my horizons.  There was so much for me to learn here.

I also love what I call a 'nestle and tuck' know, that cozy, warm, welcoming vibe.  And this house just has all of that to me.  Ok, enough of me going on and on.  Let's see pics!

These were all just from coming back down the neighbor's driveway.

Now we're back at the front of the house and garden.  Let's go up the front walkway, shall we?

A beautiful gingko tree underplanted with gardenia and a shrub behind it that I meant to ask the name of.

There's that pathway again leading back over to the neighbor's driveway.

Gorgeous planters flanking both sides of the porch entrance.

That same pathway from the neighbor's driveway crosses the center pathway and goes down the other side of the yard leading to the sidewalk of this corner lot.  Loved these unique stepping stones!

Gorgeous spreading yew!  I just got some of these plants last year.  Can't wait to see them mature.

Gorgeous azaleas along the street-side of the home leading back towards the rear garden gate entrance.  Their azaleas were so full and lush, it's made me realize I need to embrace pruning more to encourage mine to fill out more.  Also in speaking with Susan, she shared that she uses Hollytone to fertilize her azaleas.  When I asked her how they had fared after the Artic Freeze, she said that some had put their energy towards plentiful blooms and perhaps weren't as full, and others had put their energy into foliage and didn't have many blooms this year.  This was a good perspective to hear, because I have a few azaleas that are looking a bit sparse, and this may be the explanation for it.  All of her azaleas looked beautiful, though.

This lovely little planter was holding the garden gate open, and the chocolate colored plant caught my eye.  I had to 'google lens' what it was.  Turns out it's a chocolate variety of creeping jenny! 

Lysimachia Congestiflora

One final picture, from inside the back garden.  I loved the color of this decking with the red brick pavers.  I imagine that it's wood, but perhaps not had a beautiful, more refined grain to it.  Once inside, I was looking around and started talking to the homeowners, and by now you know what happened.  I didn't take anymore pictures.  But it was lovely as well!

I think I will take a breath here and share the other gardens we toured in a second post since this one is already quite long.  There's about three more gardens that I have to share.  (Psst!--Click here for Part 2) One was behind a gated courtyard.  Like, you would never get to see this garden unless you knew the homeowner and yet here it was open to the public this one day!  And our last stop of the day included an exterior renovation that had the gentlest, warmest version of black and white pallet I think I have ever seen.  I really should have asked them their paint colors.  The best way I can describe it's like they took the sharpness of a square and sanded down the corners.  Anyways, I will share those soon.

We made sure to thank every host we met for opening their home and sharing their garden with us.  I know that it takes a LOT of work and expense to cultivate and grow a beautiful garden.  So, for these homeowners to open their doors to the public and not just invite, but welcome, us in was just so kind.  There was a lot of foot traffic, so I'm sure even with the best of guests, perhaps a few plant stems were broken or inadvertantly stepped on by a guest or two.  But oh, the magic, the inspiration, and the beauty they've allowed us to be surrounded by was a gift this spring!  And I look forward to making this an annual tradition of Strolling the Midtown Gardens!  
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