Feb 14

About Last Summer

I’m sit­ting here with seed and plant cat­a­logs scat­tered around—Plant Delights, Botan­i­cal Inter­estsBaker Creek, Cook’s Gar­den, John Scheep­ers…My Lee Val­ley 10-Year Gar­den Jour­nal is open to Feb­ru­ary. My Excel spread sheet plant inven­tory is open on my com­puter screen. The col­lec­tion I affec­tion­ately refer to as my Seed Vault is on the floor under my desk, threat­en­ing to over­flow into Seed Vault Two.

I’m bun­dled in a bulky sweater, fin­ger­less gloves and my warmest Ugg shoes. I hardly remem­ber what sum­mer looked like last year.

Potager in June

Potager in June

I know it was green. I’m pretty sure it was green. I remem­ber pick­ing toma­toes, cucum­bers, tiny mar des bois straw­ber­ries, Bright Lights Swiss chard. My hus­band and I spent many evenings under the stars fin­ish­ing din­ner and drink­ing wine, lis­ten­ing to the crick­ets and watch­ing the bats dart across the night sky. I can remem­ber the smell of freshly mown grass and basil pinched between my fingernails.

Gosh, my feet are cold. I should to make some hot tea.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

Zebra Swal­low­tail Butterfly

Oh yes, we had lots of but­ter­flies last year. Mon­archs, zebra swal­low­tails, east­ern tiger swal­low­tails, red admi­rals. I didn’t know the name of some of the but­ter­flies and moths but loved them just the same. I remem­ber won­der­ing why the mon­archs seemed so skit­tish and the east­ern tiger swal­low­tails would almost let me touch them.

celeste fig tree

Celeste figs

Oh, that’s right. All those celeste figs! So many I hardly knew what to do with them all. I stood next to the tree and popped them right into my mouth.

Maybe another pair of socks would help warm my feet.


Oh, the birds! That’s right. Our hum­ming­bird feeder had a lot of busi­ness last summer.

I should bun­dle up and go top off the bird feed­ers now. That bird­bath could use some hot water to melt the ice too.

Lemon grass in the foreground

Lemon grass in the foreground

So much lemon grass! I remem­ber I was glad I only planted one since it nearly crowded out the cone flowers.

And the aspara­gus was fill­ing in nicely. I think we can pick some more this year.

Asparagus berries

Aspara­gus berries

Ah yes. There was color too. Pur­ples and blues and oranges and yellows.


It’s awfully cold in here. Maybe I should just turn up the heat for a lit­tle while.

Oh, that’s right. It’ll be bet­ter soon.

(Click on the pho­tos to embiggen.)


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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most people’s garages aren’t all that attrac­tive. Unless you’re one of the 1% who has a ware­house garage with sparkling stain­less steel cab­i­nets and shiny painted floors or are one of those weirdly dis­ci­plined peo­ple who don’t ever let clut­ter get out of hand, you prob­a­bly have a garage cor­ner or two that wouldn’t qual­ify for an Archi­tec­tural Digest spread.

Our garage is no excep­tion. We have a two-car garage where we actu­ally do park two cars. We don’t have a shed because my fam­ily has a very bad track record with sheds. In my fam­ily, once you get a shed, you soon have to have a shed for your shed. Then your shed’s shed needs a shed.  I fig­ure I have that crazy shed-junk-hoarding-gene that would kick in if we had a shed. So, no shed.

I tell you this so you will under­stand that our garage must also serve as stor­age for all my gar­den para­pher­na­lia, chicken sup­plies, bird food bins, recy­cling bins, lawn mower, power washer—well, you get the idea. It’s not even a roomy two-car garage. But we just can’t go down that shed path.

As part of the Lowe’s Cre­ative Ideas “Address the Mess” chal­lenge, I decided to give one of those cor­ners a makeover. Just like on TV!

So, here’s the before.

Not pretty. We do a lot of out­door exer­cise, so there is always an impres­sive col­lec­tion of run­ning shoes by the garage door. The tow­els are for wash­ing cars or dry­ing off wet dogs and hus­bands. All that mess on top of the frig is for the chick­ens. I buy canned corn from Wal­mart at $.67 a can, which goes a long way toward explain­ing why they fol­low me around like pup­pies and come when I call. And, as you can see, I save egg shells. They get crushed up and added to the gar­den once that bucket is full. (Yes, I know it’s full.)

I decided to paint this sec­tion of the garage wall as a chalk­board and do a bit of mov­ing around. Using sup­plies from Lowe’s, here’s what I came up with.

Bet­ter, huh? With a new shelf I was able to relo­cate other frequently-used items near the door. The open-wire shelv­ing means less mess col­lects on the shelves from our run­ning shoes. Bul­letin board squares pro­vide a handy place to post my Good Bugs/Bad Bugs cheat sheet and also any other lists or mag­a­zine arti­cles I want to keep handy.

But the coolest part, in my opin­ion, is the chalk­board wall. I can use it to write sea­sonal mes­sages, to-do lists, wel­come mes­sages or just to draw new art­work as the mood strikes.

This was my first expe­ri­ence using chalk­board paint. I found that it went on amaz­ingly well, requir­ing only a sin­gle coat with a roller. I had to be care­ful not to go over the painted areas too much because once the paint was down it was easy to pick it back up by rolling over it too much. This wall took just a lit­tle more than a quart.

Once you paint your wall, wait at least three days before writ­ing on it. If you cover the whole chalk­board area with chalk and erase it, it will have more of that chalk­board look and less of a black wall look.

What did all this cost? Here are the numbers:

Black wire shelv­ing — $79.97

2 quarts chalk­board black paint — $25.96

5-piece paint roller kit — $12.98

Bul­letin board squares — $8.99

Dec­o­ra­tive wood mold­ing — $25.17

White trim paint — mine

SUBTOTAL — $153.07

Lowe’s 10% mil­i­tary dis­count — $15.31


I think it’s a great invest­ment! Of course, now the other three cor­ners of the garage are cry­ing out for their own makeover. What do you think? Isn’t this a great way to address the mess?


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Garden and food writer Robin Ripley is co-author of Grocery Gardening. Her new book, Wisdom for Home Preservers, is now available from Taunton Press. Bumblebee is about her life in rural Maryland, her garden, cooking, dogs and pet chickens. She also blogs about food and chickens at Eggs & Chickens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thank you for visiting.


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