Monday, August 13, 2018

Back Porch Redesign: From Bright and Exciting to Cool and Calming

Every good mint julep deserves a good back porch. Last year I painted our screened in porch with gray porch paint. Read about the 2017 porch makeover, right here. 

It was a vast improvement over what was there before but I wanted it to be so much more. I was semi-satisfied with it until the recent garden reno. When there was so much green on the other side of the screen, the white chairs and sparse furnishings were fine.

My goal was to create an authentic Southern back porch. I didn't want Pinteresty signs that said "gather" or anything burlap. I wanted to steer clear of "farmhouse." These bright signs definitely had to go as well.

I can't tell you how glad I am that the zebra grass is gone from this corner.

After I added all that lovely blue/gray crushed limestone it was too much brightness for relaxing. I needed to bring in some coolness and darker colors to foil the glare from the stone. I scored this beautiful patio rug at Target for half off of its 120 dollar price.

I had already bought delightful fabric on clearance for 8 bucks a yard and became obsessed with trying to match the color of the bird. It's much more chartreuse than it appears here. The bold pattern and color of the bird made me feel all French retro.

I have two little side tables that I wanted to be the exact color of that bird.

Originally, I thought this might be a fall/winter project but y'all know how I get. When inspiration hits I can't control myself. Plus it all just kept coming together! I found this vintage wicker chair at an estate sale and it was the color of a set my grandmother had. My authentic Southern porch was getting closer! I mixed up some paint and painted the other chair to match.

I debated whether to leave the Adirondack chairs white but in the end that side of the porch needed a cool weighty color and I chose Annie Sloan's Chateau Grey. As soon as I brushed on the first stroke I knew I'd made the right choice.

The same day I painted the chairs I hit up an estate sale where I found a Victorian birdcage and cute little step stool. The darkness of the sign I painted last year (read about it) was the perfect touch of black on the wall. In the corner behind the vintage wicker is a good old-fashioned box fan.

Here's how it turned out! My grandmother would feel right at home and I love how the color palette evokes style memories from my childhood.  Who thinks I need a table for the center to put our feet up on?

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Spring Honey Harvest 2018 In the Books

raw honey

People are constantly asking me if I have any honey. Once I'm sold out the question becomes "When will you have honey?" 

Some people are more specific. "When will you have (spring, fall, or some with comb)? Everyone has their favorite. I usually remind them that I am not in charge of the bees and their schedule and that "I work for the queen." What I'm doing with the bees is a delicate supply and demand dance, one in which my first priority is to ensure their survival in the coming winter.

When the bees' personal space is full of honey I add a super. That's just a shallower box that goes on top of the other two bigger boxes where the bees actually live and where the queen lays eggs. The bottom two boxes which are larger are called deeps and that entire part of the hive is called the brood chamber or nest. Read my last update from earlier in the season. 

The amount of honey I take from the bees is the honey that they can afford to lose. They don't know how much is enough for winter and never think, that's enough work, let's take a vacation. They eke out all the production they can as long as the weather is warm enough and there are nectar-filled plants available.

This season I had a lot of swarming so honey production was slow. The saying among beekeepers is that you can make bees or honey. If the colony swarms or splits in two, you get more bees YAY but less honey BOO.

I ended up with 5 gallons of spring honey when it was all said and done. The said and done includes harvesting (the hardest part), extracting, jarring, printing labels, and labeling and cleaning up the jars.

Right now the bees are working on creating a dark honey with a lot of complexity in the flavor. Spring honey taste like, well...spring. I always say it's taste like a bouquet of flowers.

It has all the nectar from those first apple, blackberry, clover, blueberry, and honeysuckle blossoms. And it's remarkably clear. I think it's my favorite.

Right now I'm selling the spring honey and waiting for the girls to wrap up the late summer foraging. Normally I harvest honey in October but last year I did it in September because I was trying to finish before my grandson was born.

Gratuitous baby photo: 

Currently, the focus is on keeping the small hive beetles in check and letting the girls get their work done. I'll keep you posted on the fall honey sitch. You can read about my very first honey harvest every here! 

XOXO Y'all!

Monday, August 6, 2018

A Tale of Two Gardens

Our decorating style changes over time. I seriously doubt your house looks very much like it did even ten years ago. But what people often don't think about is that our garden style and preferences can change as well.

Twenty five years ago when I started the garden at this house my dream was a rambly English cottage garden with a riot of color at every turn. I achieved this in my front garden but then planted a Japanese maple and a pear tree that both grew far bigger than I anticipated. You aren't getting a before photo because those pictures were made on film and are in an album...somewhere. 

Rule number one of garden and landscape design: pay close attention to the eventual height of plants and trees will be. Twenty years ago I had no clue and couldn't imagine the spindly things I purchased would grow big enough to shade my entire garden or that the Japanese maple would be as tall as my two story house.

Remember when I tore my shoulder up constructing this little gem? Strong Armed By an Azalea: A Story of Angry Gardening Read all about the subsequent Kardashian marathon here. 

Eventually, my charming cottage dooryard garden became a heavily landscaped shade garden. It's lovely but it is a far cry from where I started. It is, however, really appropriate for a Southern front yard. Hostas. Azaleas. Boxwood. I could practically host the Masters. You know, if I could kill the moles, dig up all the ginormous pine roots in the lawn, and put in an 18 hole golfcourse.

I had that same old world vibe going on in the back for the past few years. Read all about my most recent project here.   But just like the trees out front things in the back just kept getting bigger and bigger. One day last year I was sitting on the back porch and suddenly it all felt claustrophobic.

Did you read The Ruins? Yeah, it was like that.

In the spring things would look neat and tidy. But by August...

This photo is after returning from a two-week cruise to Iceland and Norway.  As you can see when the cat's away, the mouse will plant weeds in every available inch of space.

I started clearing out and moving things closest to the porch last fall. I've told you before how irritated I was by the trellis and gate to the chicken run being off center. But as you know when the last chicken passed on I could remedy that.

I've covered the actual work of phase 1 in this post.  I'm working in sections and the next phase of work has to wait until late fall because I'm going to be moving blueberries and they need to be dormant. I also have an area that will require another ton of gravel and I'm definitely not moving any more crushed limestone in this heat. The squareness of this, the allignment, the formality even, all make me very happy.

And the trellis was moved to create another straight line of sight from the potting shed and to serve as an entrance to the bee and pollinator garden.

Coming up in the next few posts:
Spring honey harvest
Back porch makeover
Plantings for the new garden
Plans for Garden Phases 2 through 347

XOXO Y'all! 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Pen & Hive School is back in Session

Did you think I had died? Or that I'd been abducted by aliens? Or that my husband had finally had enough of my projects and shenanigans and done away with me and buried my body in one of those new vegetable plots in the garden?

Fear not! All is well, though this is the longest break I have taken from blogging in nine years! I think. I didn't actually check that.  

Pen and Hive School is back in session and hopefully, you are feeling better about it than all those sad faces I see following parents in the notebook aisle at Target. Poor things. It's like a bunch of small depressed zombies. Bless their hearts. Except for the kindergarteners. They are excited because they have no idea how long twelve years is.

The good news for you is there's no mandatory attendance here and you don't have to get shots or buy supplies! 

If you have been following along on Instagram this summer then you know what I've been up to but the rest of you may be in the dark. Y'all! My Facebook game has also been super weak! But I have been getting so much done, so what does that say? No. Surely Facebook can't be a time waster...

I'll be back on a Monday/Thursday posting schedule starting Monday, with a garden update.


XOXO Y'all! 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

My Tricks and Tips for Beating the Heat

A post is coming next week with a garden tour and complete start to finish recap of my garden overhaul. The operative word there being haul. I did mention 2 tons of gravel, right? Meanwhile one of the questions I've received from a bunch of people is how am I working so hard in this heat and worse, humidity.

I should start off by professing my love for winter and all things cozy. Roaring fires and stacks of books, hats, and scarves. (sigh)

Here's how to make the best of it if you decide to take on what should clearly have been a fall, winter, or spring project in the middle of July. What project am I avoiding with this one? 

I mean obviously, hire someone. But if you are cheap, like me, here ya go. 



Maybe the most important thing I've done is to get up early, which I always do. I'm generally up at five and when it's getting light at six you can get outside super early. There are two reasons for this.

First, It's cooler. Aren't you glad you showed up for this info you can't get anywhere else? 

Second, as the day heats up you notice it less.

If you are hanging around inside with the AC blasting and you head out at nine or ten to get started the heat can already knock you down in the south. Being out as the temp rises makes a huge difference even if you are just having your coffee outside. So, remember if you have a lot of outside work to do get out and stay out.


I generally get going around six and work until about 10:30. Then I come inside to take the first shower of the day, (Hugo Chavez is rolling over in his grave) and tackle inside chores. Generally, this means spending seven hours on Pinterest ogling gardens the size of Massachusetts, but lately, it has meant slinging, jarring, and labeling honey. On hive inspection days I do have to hit the hives around 11:00 for an even hotter job. On those days I come in totally wiped out.

I'll happily confess to slipping a nap in this afternoon schedule somewhere if I feel the need. 

After dinner, I go back out and work until dark. By dark, I mean about 9:00.


I have a 25 oz. water bottle that I fill up 6-8 times a day. In the morning I put some lemon slices in the bottle and fill it to the top with ice. Top off with filtered water and take it everywhere! You cannot stay out in this heat if you don't hydrate! I start the day with a protein smoothie and often don't have that until I come in at 10:00. I'm not that hungry first thing in the morning and I find that I eat far less when it's this hot. Later I have a salad and dinner is something light. This heat is an appetite killer. How have I lost zero weight?  


I know that you know to wear the lightest, loosest fitting, coolest thing you have. I have worn the same shirt and shorts whenever I was working on this project. Also boots most days, and after the first couple of days when I got too much sun on my face, I ordered this hat from Amazon with the SPF built in. Don't forget your garden gloves!


*I am not recommending these products. I am telling you what I do. 

Now if you want to make all your own goodies that's great. Some days I do that too. However, when I started this project the ticks were bad and the mosquitos were attacking me in swarms. While I occasionally use homemade mosquito repellent you have to reapply often. This was definitely a Deep Woods Off situation, especially for legs. I did not receive a single mosquito bit during this project.

I used Neutrogena SPF 70 on my face. I have an olive complexion and come in between 10:00-3:00 so I don't bother with sunscreen on my body.

When I come in from the heat I spritz my face with Garnier SkinActive Facial Mist Spray with Rose Water. Obviously, I've sweated all the sunscreen off by this time. I keep it in the fridge so it's extra refreshing. I found this product a few weeks ago when my face and lips were super sensitive due to my propolis/beeswax allergy. ( I know, right?) I was looking for something with rose water and found this. It gave me so much relief! I use it several times a day. Again, you could probably make something similar if you have time. I might try to do that myself this winter when I get a minute.

I have to say that after two weeks of this schedule, I feel amazing! An Instagram friend says she calls it the Prairie Girl Workout. I like that.

Stay cool, Y'all! 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

How to Look Entirely Insane at Your Next Garden Club Meeting

Yes, Y'all. These are the lengths I will go to to avoid pulling up the carpet and linoleum (an inside job!) in the guest cottage.

After our last chicken, Fanny, passed away I just couldn't stand the thought of the chicken run laying empty and sad and growing weeds that would surely be enormous by fall. The total garden overhaul started slowly, as most things do." I wonder how this lamp would look on that table" somehow can turn into painting a room and rearranging furniture. Projects have momentum. Or maybe I just have some crazy decorating disease. Let's call it, Well if I'm Going to do That...

I just thought I'd pull up all the fencing that divided the chicken run from the yard and from the garden. So. Much. Fencing. It was just that temporary kind that comes in rolls and with stakes, you pound into the ground. I did not envision the trees that would take up residence along the fence line when I put the fence up. The massive amount of weeding I thought my backyard needed, disappeared when I pulled up the fence. So satisfying.

With the fences gone, I could see new possibilities.  It was wildy beautiful the way it was but man was I pining for more order and definition!

"I mean, for this fall, obviously," I told my husband. I sort of meant it when I said it but already I was feeling itchy for a change.

"Would you help me move the chicken coop?"  He did and in my mind, I was envisioning what could be. I stripped it down to the frame and once it was in its new location I primed it. It made me so happy even though the bottom is rotten and needs replacing. I love the idea of having a ruin in the garden. Can't wait to work on this next!

One of the things that had always really bothered me was that the trellis and makeshift gate were off center to my kitchen window and the main part of the path.

As long as we had chickens it needed to stay where it was. But now...

Moving the trellis meant digging up the Confederate Jasmine and Carolina Jessamine beside it. Along with tons of weeds. It also meant finding just the right spot for it.

It now sits at the entrance to the bee and flower part of the garden.

It only took one morning to get the job done. I felt so much better with that major annoyance solved. I cleared out the rest of the weeds over the next couple of days and dug a new path. Then I was looking at the old path.

Wouldn't it be nice if they were uniform? You know it would. I'll admit that when I look at this picture now I do think it looks cray cray. 

I tore up the old path. At this point, my garden looked like a construction site.

Did I mention my love for reclaimed brick? I've been collecting them for 30 years.

I've had a lot of people ask me how I can work in this heat and humidity. Here's the rundown: 

Get up at the crack of dawn and start working.

Work until the sun gets on this area of the garden usually about 11:00. 

Take a shower and put on clean clothes, eat, spend the next 7 hours pinning dreamy gardens on Pinterest. 

In the evening put work clothes back on and work until dark. Sometimes I wash my work clothes in between shifts because...ew.

Three words: Deep Woods Off. 

Ticks are bad this year and at the times when it's most comfortable to work there are swarms of mosquitos. 

Three more words: sunhat. sunglasses. boots. 

I was a normal person the three words would have been: GET SOME HELP.

It took me about a week to get ready to order the gravel which arrived on Tuesday and I spent the day moving into the pathways. I still have a long way to go, because of course, I have more ideas!

The gravel (crushed limestone) is from Nature's Earth Products I ordered this over the phone and they offered to deliver it right then! I wasn't ready for a driveway full of gravel but they came the next day. Fantastic customer service and I was surprised at the prices. Why get one ton when you can get two for the same delivery price? 

Here's how Phase 1 turned out! I'm super happy about it!

Also, I think I'm going to find a couple of hard-working young men to help me finish the gravel part after recognizing some physical limitations of being 53 yesterday. Yes. I am saying it will take two males half my age to replace me. I felt amazing while I was doing the work on Tuesday but the next morning I had chest pains from my Mitral Valve Prolapse which hasn't happened in several years. I'm going to admit I might have overdone it.