Saturday, April 16, 2011

Step-by-Step Instructions for Making a Conical Topiary

***Guest writer: DH***

In order to fulfill my wife's promise to enable other wives to talk their husbands into building chicken-wire cones, here are the instructions:

First, you'll need your better 75% to instruct you how tall and wide the cones have to be. It's always best to double-check those dimensions, preferably after a few days have gone by idle (idle means that the wife is still thinking about it and changing her mind while fruitlessly trying to telepathically let you know how they are no longer supposed to be 24" by 8").

Next, understand that a cone is a three-dimensional object. You may be familiar with other 3D items such as beer bottles and pool sticks. Now, in order to make a 3-dimensional object out of 2-dimensional chicken-wire will involve deconstructing the cone into a flat shape. Contrary to your initial thoughts, a cone rolled out flat is not a triangle. Go ahead, cut a triangle out of a piece of paper and roll it up, I'll wait.

See, the base isn't level, isn't it. Now, throw out that first attempt before your wife sees you doing this. After all, the blog entry told you it's not a triangle, so you shouldn't have attempted it in the first place. A rolled out cone actually looks like a triangle with a concave base. (Note to wife: insert picture here. I hate this $%*@&# Google editor and I am not fooling with images anymore.) However, trying to get the correct measurements of the chord (the base of the triangle) and the segment (the concave portion at the bottom) based on only the cone's base radius and height involves 1.5 hours of your precious ESPN-allowance and the use of 3 to 4 online calculators.

One can make a nicely shaped paper cone by drawing a circle on the paper, cutting the circle out and then from that circle remove a 90-degree triangle. Rotate the corners of the remaining 3/4 circle and voila... Now, this will require you to have a roll of chicken wire that's slightly wider than double your required height (the exact size of chicken wire required depends on the size of the base and calculating the aforementioned height again requires 3 online calculators). In my case, our chicken wire was 48" wide, which meant that I could not use that technique, as I needed about 51" of circle diameter.

However, one can also create a cone from the discarded 1/4 circle cut out above. (Yes, fish it back out of the kitchen wastebasket. If you're lucky, none of your kids' food leftovers came in touch with it.) You need a little bit of overlap ideally, but it works. I suspect that the person who suggested using 3/4 of a circle to create a cone while 1/4 is actually sufficient owns a significant amount of shares in Georgia Pacific.

Finally, let's get back to the chicken wire project. Chicken wire and paper are not quite equal in terms of their physical properties. Your wife will insist on using chicken wire because it's more durable than paper. However, a chicken wire cut is more dangerous than a paper cut. Watch out, get gloves and cut some corners. Or actually, forget about cutting corners. The less you have to cut out of chicken wire, the sooner you're done and the less risk of poking your eye out. Just cut out a square with sides a little longer than your required height (the wider the base, the more allowance you need to make). Just make sure that one side of your square is concave (recall the base of the cone requires it).

Then, take the corners adjacent to the concave side of your square and tie them together. OK, now, remove the chewing gum (it won't last) and tie them together with chicken wire scraps. Once the base corners are connected to each other ensure it looks circular (unless your supervisor directed you to create a different shape than a cone. In that case, stop what you're doing and find a blog post that addresses your needs).

With the base corners securely fastened, start rolling one of the top corners as tightly as possible inward and downward. The tighter you can roll it, the better the cone's top will look. You're going for a thin point, although that probably won't work out (as chicken wire isn't the same as paper). Keep rolling it up, while correcting the shape of the cone's sides to keep them straight. Repeat as many times as necessary, call your significant other to inspect, and catch the end of the game.

Tip 1: Pretend you don't know where the scratch on the car came from. It's unlikely your wife will actually call CSI to match the scratch to the chicken wire you used. Blame her for it next time she swings the door open too fast.

Tip 2: Further pretend you can't type. That way, you won't have to share your experiences with other husbands and get them in the same limbo.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Guess Which Irises Are Bloomin' Now

Louisiana and Siberian...

Conical Ivy Topiaries

I've been lusting after ivy topiaries for the front porch for a while now, but was not prepared to pay the hefty price tag they carry. So I decided to make my own. I just didn't know where to start.

I scoured the garden centers for wire forms, but apparently they don't carry them around here. While in Montgomery yesterday, I visited Southern Homes and Gardens (love that place) and a nursery worker suggested I make one out of chicken wire. Bingo, I have tons of the stuff at home. So I bought two small ivy plants for good measure. Finally making progress.

Once I decided on a conical shape, I drafted the DH to help me after the kids went to bed. I imagined we'd don some gloves, cut up and 'paste' with floral wire and be done in time to watch a few episodes of Golden Girls. No such luck. The hubby wanted to make them 'right' and to this end, we spent and hour and a half looking up math formulas and creating paper templates.

During this exciting quality time, I found a craft blog which suggested cutting a circle shape, then cutting out a quarter of that circle to make the cone. But as this method employed (dare I say it) estimation over the use of a scientific calculator, it wasn't good enough.

Eventually we (and by we I mean him) figured out how to calculate the arc, apothem, and chords to make the cones. (I will have to let him post the steps for other poor souls looking to make them right.) The actual making of the cones took all of 10 minutes, but the pride my husband felt in succeeding cannot be measured.

Thanks hon. I love that you're a perfectionist and they look great. And you still know how to show me a good time. :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lessons From Seasoned Gardeners

Today marks one week since a friend and I visited a church member to help divide Queen Anne & Boston ferns (some of which I got to bring home), and ficus plants. For those of you who've never wrestled out pot bound ferns from tapered pots, no-easy-feat.

Having been devoted to bulbs and seedlings the last last few seasons, I am throughly unaccostomed to treating plants like wayward toddlers. Ferns and ficuses are super resilient. My previous experience watching a Kimberly fern being cut with a reciprocating saw made what we did seem graceful.

The three of us used an axe, butcher knives and a v-shaped weeding tool to rip out and into the ferns with all the fury we could muster. As for the ficuses, 1/2 to 2/3 of the root balls were simply sawed off to regenerate the plants. Who would have thought?!?

That gave me the courage to 'regenerate' my own ficus which was seriously pot bound. The hubby and I lifted it out and I sawed off the bottom half, added fresh soil and repotted it. Done.

I waited a week to post this to make sure everything survived. The ficus is thriving. The Boston ferns had the most body to them, and while a few fronds dropped (I assume from transplant stress), new fronds are coming up. That's always good. They make great additions to the front porch area. The Queen Anne's didn't drop any fronds [surprisingly], but haven't put out any new growth that I can see. They were a bit thin from the start from being so root bound, but the leaves are greening up. For now, they're in the garage. I would express doubt that they will make it, but then I think back to the Kimberly Ferns that are doing so well. I suppose the lesson here is not to doubt someone who is brave enough to take an axe or an electrical tool to a plant.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Garden Surprise

Since my blueberries and blackberries have blossomed and began producing fruit, a most welcome side effect is the appearance of beautifully colored butterflies in my fruit/veggie plot. Most flutter away when I approach, but this little fella continued to hang around. Even while I raced inside for the camera.

It's a beautiful Yellow Swallowtail. I hope it comes back.

Kimberly Ferns

Still making progress. Yay!

Monday, April 4, 2011

We Could All Use a Calcium Boost

Since digging up my vegetable garden last fall, I've been saving egg shells and other kitchen scraps to incorporate at the bottom of my vegetable holes this year. Seriously, there's more ziploc bags of frozen goop in my freezer than food.

Yesterday, I finally get my tomato and bell peppers seedlings in the ground, and wouldn't you know it...I forgot the kitchen scraps in the freezer! I so need a tumbling composter because out of sight, out of mind.

At least I worked in a tub full of compost, humus and potting soil so they're not totally defenseless. I even had the foresight to plant marigold seeds around the tomatoes since I read the flower smell keeps tomato hornworms at bay. Guess we'll see.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

It has to be the seeds.

I don't know why I'm having such trouble growing things from seed this year. My second round of thyme, dill, zinnias (which any idiot can grow), forget-me-nots and California poppies have failed again! The only thing that's showing healthy growth are my Cosmos, the seeds from which I got as a freebie in some junk mail offer to join a gardening club. AM-SO-FRUSTRATED!!!


I'm so excited to show how well my crinum bed is developing. (To call this a crinum bed really isn't fair. There are stella d'oro lilies, firepower nandina, tulips, daffodils, spider lilies, 3 types of asiatic lilies and Louisiana iris.)

My two-year old asparagus roots have finally sent up shoots. I had serious doubts for a minute (more like a month), when almost overnight, shoots appeared everywhere. As excited as I am, I'm a bit frustrated at the conflicting information I read about them online. Apparently my plants will last anywhere from 5-50 years. Talk about a wide margin of error. Well, I paid $5 for the bag of roots. Asparagus runs about $4/lb at Wal*Mart. If I score at least a pound from my bushes next year, I'll be happy.

As for the fruit trees, if you look closely, there are tiny pomegranates and plums developing. Yay! Just need to focus on keeping the birds away now.