Update on the 1750 House: Old Siding, A New Shed and Artifacts Found in the Garden

We are getting closer. Little by little, snippet by snippet, the history of the 1750 house is slowly unfolding. Between three trips to City Hall, one trip to the local historical society, one email to a state senator, and two emails to a special collections archivist, headway is being made in figuring out the timeline of previous owners and past events. So far we have learned that the 1750 House was once owned by a US Senator and also by a university. It once housed a woman-owned sewing business called The Cotton Company, and we’ve learned that the time period between the 1920s and the 1940s played a pivotal role in both the maintenance and the modernization of our Early American colonial.

At this point, tracing the history of the house has only led us back to the mid-20th century – a mere sliver of time in its 272-year-old life. Next week, I’m hoping an appointment with the university archivist will yield some new details and preferably get us over our current research roadblock so that we can dive into stories of life spent here in the 1800s and then the 1700s. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, the house itself is still our most obliging storyteller.

This post features our latest batch of historical finds found in the backyard. It also features our first construction project and the story of how Canada plays a part, literally, in the longstanding history of both the house and the garage.

Let’s start with the found objects. Each of these pieces helps us date things that occurred on, in, or around the property a little more accurately and provides a better understanding of who might have lived here and when. Some of these objects have been found while digging up stones for our rock wall garden beds. Other times, they just magically appeared as we went about our daily activities. On rainy days especially, the earth, when it is soft and soggy has a tendency to reveal a token or two. Poking out of the dirt like presents, they are the ultimate gift of history from the ground up.

Half of an Antique Griswold Stove Damper (circa 1910)

When I pulled this out of the soon-to-be sunflower patch, I thought it was a fragment of some sort of religious garden art because of the cross. As it turns out, it’s half of an antique stove pipe damper that was made around 1910. Patented in 1889 by Matthew Griswold of the Griswold Manufacturing Company, it was used in regulating airflow for a wood-burning stove and was imperative in keeping coals hot and a room warm. Even though the house still retains its original, working fireplace, this damper might be a clue as to how it was heated in the winter months. Incidentally, Griswold manufactured many products for the domestic market, not just stoves. One of their most popular items were cast iron skillets for cooking. Imagine if we found one of those underground!

Vicks Drops Pharmaceutical Sample Bottle (circa 1930s)

This find was one of those that just appeared plain as day, the morning after a thunderstorm night. Measuring just 1.75″ inches tall, it’s a miniature glass bottle that once held sample sizes of Vicks medicine intended to relieve colds and congestion. Available at local pharmacies in the 1920s/1930s, this was like the travel-size version of toiletries that we are accustomed to today. On the bottle, it says Vicks on one side and Drops on the other.

This blue bottle joins another 1930s-era find from the yard – a metal bakery truck toy that we found in the dirt at the base of a tree just off the patio the day after we moved in.

Given the next youthful find below, I suspect that some kids made the backyard a playground paradise during the 1930s/1940s. When we lived in a very old, historic town in Georgia, half a decade ago, we learned all about treasures that can be found around the base of trees. Kids’ toys, teacups, jewelry, and other charms were sometimes forgotten about left-behinds after a leisurely day spent under the shade trees. Left untouched, these objects were overtaken by nature, eventually becoming buried deep in the ground. Decades or even a century or two later they can resurface due to soil erosion, flooding or heavy rains, bringing with them intimate glimpses of the past. So while it is not unusual to find old items near the base of a tree in a yard, what is discovered is very unique and personal to each location.

Marbles (exact age unknown)

Between two very tall cedar trees, these two marbles were found in the mud on two different days. Marbles were no stranger to kids’ play throughout the 20th century but they were most popular between the 1870s and the 1930s. The largest manufacturer of marbles in the world was Akro Agates founded in 1911 in Akron, Ohio.

In trying to date the two that we found, I never realized what an artistic world marble-making was and how varied the types and patterns actually are. Arko specialized in a wide range of beautiful designs, but research any type of marble and you’ll see they all have unique characteristics. Some have thin veins of color, others fat ribbons. They come in crystal clear and also milky opaque shades. Some catch the light like crystal, radiating a rainbow of colors while others are dense and made of solid hues.

The ones we found in the garden are of the variegated-stream variety with a milky base. These two showcase ribbons of one singular color (red and yellow in this case) around the entire marble.

It’s tricky to date these two since they are of a pretty classic design. They could have been made as early as the 1900s or as late as the 1960s. I’m hoping we will find some others to give us a better idea of when they may have been played with here in the yard.

Our next find was a breeze to date, as it belonged to one of the most popular items of the 20th century…

Ignition Key for a Ford Model T (circa 1918-1927)

We found this Ford Model T key, stuck in the dirt at the far edge of our property which borders 32 acres of wild woodlands. Made between 1908-1927, the Model T transformed transportation in the 20th century.

As America’s first car, over 15 million were made in its 19-year run and in that time period, only 18 different styles of Ford ignition keys emerged. The two styles of ignition keys that date from 1908-1918 look more like a cross between a skeleton key and a padlock key…

The first Model-T key. Image courtesy of the Henry Ford Museum

After 1918, Ford Model T keys were made of brass and each key contained a two-digit number on the backside ranging from #51-#74. The key we found is imprinted with the number 68…

Ford Model T key #68

That means it was made sometime between 1918-1927. If the key was fully intact instead of just partially it would have looked like this (minus the “b” underneath the Ford logo) …

In that same area at the edge of the woods, we also found a bumper jack stand and a big swatch of rusty metal seat spring webbing…

We aren’t quite sure if this is all connected to the Model-T key, but we plan on building a fire pit in that area so there will be more excavating to do over there later this summer. Perhaps one day we might discover a whole car!

Pottery Pieces (antique to modern)

Pottery pieces are pretty much an hourly find these days. I think we have pulled enough glass and ceramic shards out of the soil to practically make an entire kitchen full of dish and drinkware. They all range in age from antique patterns to brightly colored midcentury solids. One day we even found a dollhouse-sized mug with the name Sarah printed on it. Although the mug itself is not old (you can find them online here) it might offer a clue as to the name of a little girl who once lived here.

On the kitchen front, the building inspector was delayed by many weeks in getting all of his permit inspections done. So we had to wait patiently for him to catch up before he could come to look at our plans and issue our permits. Luckily, once on-site, he approved all of our already executed electrical work and gave us the green light to officially start framing in the kitchen. In starting that project, we found another architectural marvel – an original peg – from when the house was built in 1750.

This round peg is just one of many that have continued to hold up the framework of our house for over three centuries. It was only when the 1800s-era addition was added in back that nails were used anywhere in the house, otherwise, it was the peg plan from day one. If you remember from our last kitchen update, we saw a few of these during the insulation clean-up project poking through some of the beams in the kitchen. This one was a part of a section of wood that had to be removed so we got to see it up close and free from its wooden surrounds. Measuring in at 2.5″ inches long with a diameter of 1″ inch around, it is lightweight (only 0.5 oz), rough to the touch, contains absolutely no odor, and is super strong when pinched between two fingers.

While we waited for the permit appointment, a new project emerged. In need of more storage space, we added a small shed on the side of the garage to hold all the garden equipment. It is petite in size, but big enough to double as a potting place as well. It also adds some nice dimension to the yard.

In keeping with the house and the garage, we are siding it with the original leftover red cedar shakes and painting the trim a creamy white for now to match the color scheme already in place. Eventually, the whole house, garage and shed will get repainted (a different historical color) but that won’t be until sometime next year.

While framing up the new shed, we found another clue to the house’s history on the backside of one of the shingles…

Bloedel Stewart & Welch Cedar Shingles (circa 1931-1951)

There was just enough legible info on the paper label to do a little research on where these shingles came from. Based in Seattle, Bloedel Stewart & Welch owned and operated a handful of tree farms in Canada during the early to mid- 20th century. This is a photo of one of their mills in British Columbia…

Aerial view of the Bloedel Stewart & Welch mill on Vancouver Island circa 1933-1951. Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.

The shakes for their Red Band series were harvested from enormous cedar trees at their mill in Vancouver between 1933 and 1951. Below is a photograph from the Bloedel Stewart & Welch archives at the University of British Columbia featuring one of their photographers posing with a giant red cedar in 1942. Giant indeed.

Photo by F.A. Fraser. Courtesy of the University of British Columbia.

The company was active between 1911 and 1951, but the Red Band series was in circulation from the early 1930s to 1951. This is a photo of the label completely intact…

Photo courtesy of the University of Washington Special Collections.

From what we can tell, the shingles have far exceeded their lifetime expectation of 40 years, as the ones on the house are still so strong and sturdy. Product reviews aside, finding this hidden paper label was really exciting. Now it tells us that the house and garage were clad in shingles sometime between 1933-1951. We always suspected that shingles were not the original siding but until this discovery, we had no way of knowing when they were added. Right after we found the Bloedel Stewart & Welch label on the garage shingle we found another exciting surprise underneath a series of shingles on the house…

Clapboard siding! That means that back in the 1750s, this clapboard was most likely the original siding. And by the looks of it, the house was painted white. So now we know its original color. Not all houses were painted in the 1750s. Some were left natural. For the ones that were painted, there was only a handful of colors to choose from including (but not pictured here) white, red and burnt red (which is the color of our house).

Photo courtesy of Yankee magazine .https://newengland.com/yankee-magazine/living/homes/history-new-england-house-colors/

The garage on the other hand was originally sided in rough-cut timber underneath the shake shingles, which now makes us wonder if it was even a garage to begin with. Perhaps it was a small barn for animals or an outbuilding for storage or maybe it was where the Model-T was housed.

All this proposes new siding conversations for future deliberation. When we paint the house we may decide to go back to the original clapboard style to keep it as architecturally authentic as possible. And we’d like to keep it inside the historically accurate color palette. So there is a lot to think about between now and then.

Almost finished, the shed just needs the cedar siding attached, the trim along the vintage windows and a back door which will either be a sliding barn door or a set of antique french doors that open out into the yard. Whichever we can source, in that department will make the doorways fate.

More photos to come, once the shed is completely finished. Hopefully, by that point, we will have learned some new history about this old house during our special archives fact-finding appointment. Until next time, cheers to cooler weather, happy gardens and stories from the dirt.

The Colonial Kitchen Garden Then and Now

The gardens of Historic Williamsburg Virginia.

Time, nostalgia, and then necessity. In that order. Those were the key factors that determined how gardens in America were grown in the mid-1700s. By that point, the pilgrims had long landed, settlers were four generations into life in the New World, and creating an independent society was on everyone’s minds.

An 18th century painting of New Milford, CT.

Despite the idea of pastoral food plots, of self-sufficiency, of larders full of carefully tended, joyfully grown vegetables, the reality, surprisingly was that many working-class 18th-century families did not have time to waste cultivating the land into mounds of gorgeous gardens.

Even though garden pests were much fewer in those days than they are today, gardening was still a risky endeavor in the mid-18th century. One bug or one beetle or one dry spell could wipe out an entire season or two of manual labor. Time lost during a century when almost everything was handmade and hand-touched could result in cataclysmic results not only for individuals but also for families, communities, and even the burgeoning nation.

In the centuries before Miracle-Gro and sprinkler systems and lawn mowers, before electric clippers and garden hoses, soil amendments, and genetically modified seeds that were practically guaranteed to grow, gardening was a risky business. And not all were willing to gamble. Since the colonial mindset valued efficiencies and effectiveness, one’s time was much better spent building a building, or a family, or the constitution instead of raising food gardens that may or may not result in something edible. And that really wasn’t the point of gardening back then anyway.

Painting by Edward Hicks titled the Home of David Twining, 1787

The mid-18th century diet, most accurately studied by researchers at Colonial Williamsburg, was almost entirely made up of animal proteins. Surprisingly, just 10% of the foods they consumed came from vegetables. When colonists abandoned the idea of growing their own food because of time, space, or temerity, they turned to local farms to purchase what little plant roughage they consumed.

The vegetable gardens at Moniticello.
Photo of the gardens at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello by Billy Hathorn

Those farms, with the ability, the space, the manpower, and the elite lifestyle to afford a garden in all its splendors and failures were generally ones of upper-class wealth. For this affluent sector, gardening was a matter of refinement and intellectual interest. They could absorb the costs of failed planting endeavors or reap the financial rewards of a fruitful season either way. They also had access to education for leisurely study and experimentation, something not often afforded to the working class.

One of the best examples of early American gardening on a large-scale level is Thomas Jefferson’s Virginian home, Monticello. With an avid interest in horticulture, 5,000 acres to play with and a net worth equal to $284 million dollars today, Jefferson was able to explore the world of gardening from all angles. He made copious amounts of notes and drawings regarding what, where, why and how his gardens were growing…

While it’s fascinating to go through Thomas Jefferson’s notes in order to understand his thought process, methodology, and relationship to innovations we take for granted today, one of the facts that I found most fascinating while researching colonial gardens is not something that can be linked to a specific concept or a system or even a person. It’s much more individualistic. What I learned is that stylistically, all gardens in America from the very beginning were driven by and inspired by nostalgia. And many people’s nostalgia at that.

Painting of forget-me-nots with goblet by Leon Bonvin, 1863

As new settlers immigrated from other countries and other continents throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought with them memories of their parent’s garden, their grandparent’s garden, and perhaps even their own garden that they left behind. A desire to replicate this specific sense of familiarity meant that gardens were not created in America but in fact, recreated, from replicas of what these settlers once knew before in their home countries. Memories of ancestral orchards, ancient hedgerows, favorite flowers, fruiting vines, and heritage foods all acted as springboards for the first wave of garden preferences when it came to shapes, designs, content, color palettes, and layouts for gardeners in the New World. Those longings for other familiar places and spaces were what founded the very ideas of what a garden should and could look like here in America.

Since maintaining a garden was both a status symbol and a sign of wealth, gardens of the 18th century came in two basic styles… cottage gardens and farm gardens. Cottage gardens were small patches of land grown specifically for vegetables, herbs, and flowers with a purpose. Ornamental flowers were not often grown in these petite patches as they were considered frivolous time wasters.

Farm gardens, on the other hand, were the ones cultivated on bigger stretches of land adorned with numerous outbuildings, an ample number of workers, and dedicated areas for kitchen work, pleasure gardening, dairy operations, and large-scale croplands. Organized, efficient, and tidy, farm gardens leaned towards formal decorative designs inspired by European gardening techniques and aesthetics. Most often they were dotted with topiary tree, ornamental flowers, exotic plants, manicured bushes, and lined with brick or crushed sea shell pathways. Attractive garden structures in all shapes and sizes added the finishing touch to ensure picturesque vantage points. Even in the new days of the New World, history bloomed in the garden from other centuries, other places, other pasts. And from those two garden styles forward we never really varied in what we decided constituted an American garden.

The colonial garden that is beginning to emerge in the front and back yard of our 1750s-era house is one of both history and purpose. In an effort to be as self-sustainable as possible we are growing fruit, vegetables, and herbs for cooking, and flowers for fun. While we are not following the formality of hedged colonial gardens, but instead opting for a more cottage garden approach, I am intent on only growing heirloom varieties for an old-fashioned aesthetic and a pretty dose of historic storytelling from the ground up. Here are a few ways we are incorporating history from three centuries into the garden of our 272-year old house…

Heirloom Seeds

With the exception of one newly invented pepper plant developed by the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico, and two flats of marigolds and nasturtiums purchased from our local nursery, in this year’s garden, we are growing everything from seed, using only heirloom varietals of fruit, flowers, and vegetables.

Okra, brandywine tomatoes and bush beans growing up and out!

We were a bit late in seed starting since we didn’t move into our house until April, but so far we have tomatoes, zucchini, peas, beans, carrots, herbs, okra and lettuce growing up in the garden. As of today, the showiest plantings so far are the nasturtiums from the local nursery…

Nasturtiums made a regular appearance in American colonial gardens too by way of seeds carried from England and Holland. Prized then and still now, they were eaten like salad greens… leaves stalks, flowers, and all thanks to their sweet but peppery taste. If you like arugula mixed in with your lettuce, you’ll like nasturtiums too. They also happen to be fantastic pest repellants for squash bugs, aphids, beetles and our daily invader – the pesky slug.

Raised Beds

Colonial gardens in the 18th century were laid out in symmetrical grid styles using raised beds and walkways of crushed seashells in between. Based on the layout of our yard, the lush tree canopy, and the pattern of the sun throughout the day, we also are doing raised beds but not in the same traditional colonial grid format since we have fewer pockets of consistent, direct sunlight throughout the day. Instead, we have built one long raised garden bed that measures 25′ feet (length) x 5.5′ feet (width) x 2.5″ feet (height) in the front yard using rocks gathered from around the property. The rockery aesthetic matches the stone walkway and steps of the front porch.

Newly built and just before we filled it in with all the dirt and compost materials.
Flowers, seedlings and seeds get planted this week, but this is a little sneak peek as to where more nasturiums will be headed.
The tree canopy changes color throughout the day and makes the prettiest shadows in the yard. Two sugar maples live in the front yard. We cant wait to tap this fall for our own maple syrup.

In the backyard, just off the porch, we built a smaller raised bed out of wood that measures 10′ feet (length) x 5.5′ feet by 3′ feet (height). Instead of using just plain untreated boards, my husband experimented wth the Yakisugi method and charred the wood with a propane torch. Yakisugi is an ancient Japanese art form that naturally preserves the wood and gives it a pretty, dark walnut-hued finish.

To add a little softness to the rectangular shape, we built another curved rock wall garden bed on one end where the okra, zinnias, coreopsis, Brussels sprouts, and marigolds are happily growing away.

Rock walls have been a part of the natural historic landscape of New England since the 1800s, and were used as land dividers and fencing following the split rail style fencing that was popular during colonial days. In Connecticut in the 1700s, most of the landscape was covered in trees so everything in that century was made out of wood since it was the most abundant building material. We haven’t yet decided on what kind of fencing we will add to the front yard. It’s a big decision with many possibilities ranging between a picket fence, a rock wall, a split rail fence, or a series of decorative shrubs and grasses.

The greenhouse is only six weeks old but already it’s got quite the little personality.

The Greenhouse

The first greenhouses were built in Europe and the UK in the 1600s, so they’ve been an important garden feature for quite some time. Our greenhouse was found locally on craigslist, just a couple of weeks after we moved in. Still in its original box, it just needed one day of assembly and then it was ready to start growing things.

First day!

So far we are off to a good start. This has been the birthplace of our tomatoes, basil, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, parsley, dill, lettuces, French marigolds, and okra.

It’s also the permanent new home of our three-year-old Southern papaya tree, Pappy, who did not love our move to the Northeast as much as we did and responded to the 9-degree temperatures experienced during our temporary stay in Pennsylvania this past winter by promptly losing all his leaves. Every day from November to April, no matter how much coddling I gave him, Pappy threatened to shrivel up and call it quits. Luckily, the warmth of the greenhouse has him happy once again and back on the road to recovery.

Pappy! Two new leaves grown, a million more to go!

It’s our plan to keep the greenhouse in constant use all year long. With the help of a heater and some neighboring cold frames, I look forward to growing kale, chard, cabbages, and other cool-weather vegetables there this winter.

Rain Barrel

To complete the start of our self-sufficiency model we added a colonial-style rainwater collection barrel to the side of the garage. So far we’ve pumped an entire barrel full of water into the garden as well as accidentally grown a vat of sulfur-smelling bacteria. As it turns out, there’s an art (and a science!) to storing rainwater in a barrel, and there is still so much for us to learn. In an upcoming post, I’ll share the system my husband custom-built to pump the water from the barrel to the garden, which I hope might be helpful for anyone else learning the ropes of the rain barrel watering system.

Future plans for the garden include bee boxes, landscaped garden beds, lighting, and a fire pit, but for now, this is the start of our new yet old colonial-inspired garden. More photos will come as the garden grows up!

In the meantime, while the kitchen is under renovation and we wait for the vegetables to flower and fruit, the grill has been a beehive of action and adventure as we discover and explore some vintage recipes meant for the barbecue days of summer. One of my favorites so far is this grilled potato recipe from 1955. Coming next to the blog, this recipe will add an extra delicious dose of fancy food to your summer soirees. Can’t wait to share it!

Cheers to summer foods, sentimental gardening, and horticultural history! Hope this season is your most beautiful one yet.

The Life & Times of Avi the Avocado and the Annual Indoor Orchard Update!

Last week we got our first taste of the 2020 jungle. The first frost warning of the season arrived early in the week with a chilly 37-degree night. Since that is too cold for all the orchard plants that have been happily sunning themselves outdoors on the balcony all summer long, this change in temperature meant a mass migration of all potted plants from the outside in. It was time for the annual interior decision of where to set up wintertime living arrangements and how best to fit everyone in.

I love this yearly transition ritual with the plants. It not only signals a new season but also it’s close to Avi the Avocado’s birthday (he’ll be 4 in November!) which means Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Also, it’s a great time to check the growth process of the fruit trees. The last time I posted a garden update was November 18th, 2019. It was a different world back then. Not only for us humans but for these city plants too. Last year our orchard round-up consisted of potted avocado, lemon, grapefruit and date palm trees, each grown from seed (except the lemon which was a grafted gift several years ago).

Fitting for the times, just like our traumatic 2020 pandemic year, the orchard plants have also experienced their own turbulent events over the past 344 days. I’d like to say that everyone flourished and that the garden bloomed and blossomed under the extra care from all the stay-at-home attention that quarantining invited. But nature is never that predictable. With every success I celebrated in the potted orchard experiment this year, there was an equal amount of setbacks.

The 20th-century British writer, Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941)  once said, “every gardening failure must be used as a stepping stone to something better.” And so we step. The life and times of the indoor orchard continue, for plants and human,  as we learn and grow together into year 4.  Failures and setbacks aside, there is much to report. Let’s look…

Avi The Avocado

We’ll start with Avi first since he’s the one celebrating his fourth birthday three weeks from now. Last year Avi looked like this…

indoor-avocado-plant-1-avi (1)

He had made real strides in the growth department and was busily filling out his canopy of leaves – especially up top. As of last posting in November 2019, he was 4′ 7″ inches tall and destined for a bigger container that would allow him plenty of room to continue his sky-high stretch.

This is what Avi looks like today…

 

The good news is that he’s almost too tall to fit in the whole photograph. Cheers for growth! The bad news is that’s he’s stooped over, weary and a little bedraggled-looking. Unlike the other plants, Avi has remained indoors all year long, preferring this environment much more than the heat, humidity, and direct sunlight on the balcony. This is odd for an avocado tree. Normally they revel in such tropical conditions. But from the very beginning, when he was just a small sprouting pit…

The start of Avi – November 2016.

Avi has lived indoors and decidedly said he preferred that much more (see previous posts about this behavior here). As of late, he’s been looking so unfortunate I’ve deemed him the family H.S.P. (highly sensitive plant) and can’t help but think he’s feeling everyone’s emotions in the world these days.

 

Despite this woebegone appearance, there have been several successes for Avi this year. He now measures 5′ feet tall (a growth spurt of 5″ inches since last November!), he lives in a new larger container to accommodate his larger size, and he’s completely 100% rid of the pesky scale bugs that plagued him for over two years. I suspect that his current beleaguered state might be due to a nutrient deficiency. Even though he receives a regular sprinkle of organic avocado fertilizer, he hasn’t made any new leaves in months – an unusual circumstance for the once gusto grower.  His latest troubles are an issue affecting some of the tips…

This weekend, I’m going to take him to our local garden center for some advice from the experts on how to get those leaves back up in the air instead of drooping down around his trunk. In the meantime, if any avocado enthusiasts out there have some helpful advice, both I and Avi would greatly appreciate it!

Grace the Grapefruit

As if she was trying to make up for Avi’s struggle or at least encourage him to keep growing, Grace, the grapefruit tree, has done nothing but flourish this year. When I last documented her height a year ago, she was 3′ 2″ inches tall.

how-to-grow-a-grapefruit-tree-2019
Grace in November 2019

Like Avi, she is another one insisting on growing outside the frame. This is Grace now …

At first you might say, she doesn’t look that different.  But she’s not done showing off her portrait yet. This is her too, still going…

And then this is her again – still going and growing some more…

All the way up to the ceiling in fact! To give you some perspective… that’s the tip of a ceiling fan paddle in the top left corner. Grace, I am happy and amazed to say, now stands 6′ 2″ inches! In just two and a half years she has grown to the size of a very tall person!

Initially, I attributed this doubling in size to an energetic offshoot that citrus plants sometimes get. It’s where they grow a random branch in a quick minute, one that gets much longer than the others and gives the whole tree a wonky, wild look. But upon closer inspection, that’s not the case with Grace. This long stem waving above her rounder section of leafy greens is the central trunk growing taller. It’s her way of saying she’s ready for a bigger container (her fifth one so far since she first sprouted in March 2018!) As it turns out, Grace is well on her way to fulfilling her ultimate goal of being a few dozen feet tall. Oh my. Bigger pots await!

The mighty evolution of Grace the Grapefruit from seed to tree!

Liz Lemon- The Lemon Tree

While Grace and Avi were determined to grow higher, Liz in 2020 was determined to grow wider. As of last November, Liz looked like this…

 

Liz showing off a bright yellow lemon in November 2019.
She measured 2′ 4″ inches tall and was being pruned into a nice round shape. This year, Liz sustained some wind damage when we went through the terrible tornado in March. Unfortunately, the night the tornado happened, it was also the first night of the season that Liz was moved out to the balcony.  The storm blew through town and loped off all her top leaves like an unwanted haircut. Because of that shock to her system, I didn’t want to prune her at all this year. She needed time to recover from the storm damage, which left her, not only with missing foliage but also with a loose main branch at the base of the trunk. Before the storm, this branch was very strong and firmly rooted. After the storm, it was barely attached at the soil line.  She was ragged and wind-beaten (two things lemon trees do no like at all). But with great aplomb, and a summer of steady heat and sun, Liz went about repairing herself. She now looks like this…

Despite the traumatic storm and the unfortunate haircut, Liz managed to grow an extra inch in height, making her 29″ inches tall now. What she lacks vertically she more than makes up for horizontally. She is twice as wide as last year. I wish I had measured her width back then – but you can see in the photos from last year to this year, in relation to the tabletop, that there is a definite dramatic increase. Her width as of yesterday was 3′ feet across branch tip to branch tip. She is also sporting three almost ripe lemons…

 

 

and a brand new cluster of flowers…

It will be fun to see if these flowers make it all the way to the adult lemon stage over the winter. Typically that is her dormant time, where she hibernates her way through the cold months, so we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Jools – The Medjool Date Palm

Jools, last November 2019.

Jools was a real grower all winter, but sadly, we lost her in the spring. I don’t know what happened to her. One week she was doing fine outdoors in the sun, fanning out her leaves, growing tall, and long, and then mysteriously, the next week she just shriveled up and dried out. Poor thing. I tried to revive her with all sorts of attention, but nothing brought her back. In a final last-ditch effort, I cut off all her palm shoots above the soil line hoping that would refresh her roots and encourage new growth, but that didn’t work either. So it’s back to the drawing board on the date palm front. This winter I’ll try seed starting again and hopefully, I’ll have a new Jools in the orchard to write about next year.

And introducing our newest arrival…

Even though it was disappointing to lose Jools, I am excited to announce that there is a new plant in the orchard to fill her spot. Meet Pappy…

the papaya who was grown from the seeds of a grocery store specimen. 

Pappy was in there somewhere just waiting to grow!

In April 2020, Pappy poked his head above the ground along with a couple of his brothers and sisters…

In May, Pappy proudly declared that he was embarking on this journey of life accompanied by not two, not four, but eight siblings…

And by June, the family portrait looked like this…

Four months later, here’s Pappy now…

Too big to be grown together, at the end of June each of the papayas were separated and transplanted into bigger containers. As you can see Pappy didn’t mind the move at all. Some papayas can be temperamental about transplant, but I’m happy to say that the whole gang – all nine of them did great with the move. 

There are three more members of Pappy’s family tucked inside this photo. Can you spot each one?

As of this weekend, Pappy has leaves as big as my hand, a trunk as thick as a sausage and a stature of impressive height. Measuring exactly 3′ feet tall, he’s already about  1/5 of his natural height. I’m not anticipating that Pappy will get over 15′ feet tall due to container restraints, but I am hoping for at least 10 feet. That multiplied by his eight brothers and sisters and the inclusion of  Liz, Grace and Avi will make a full jungle out of the indoor orchard this winter if everyone keeps growing like they have been.

The pencil is here to illustrate how thick Pappy’s trunk is already! He’s such a hearty grower:)

Even though it will be tricky trying to figure out where everyone will fit, I have my eye on one more little project to complete the green dream team. Over the summer, I discovered a very inspiring book…

that is fueling my next experiment this winter. Indoor tomatoes! The volunteer tomato seed planted by the birds (or maybe the breeze) on the balcony this summer…

continues to grow and bloom even though the typical tomato season is over now. I’m excited to see if I can keep some re-rooted sprouts going indoors for the next five months. It requires no special equipment except for a sunny windowsill and a little extra love and attention. It’s an attempt that Elizabeth, in her book, said was a bit difficult but was definitely do-able, so the challenge is officially on. We’ll see what happens! 

In the meantime, while we wait and watch the orchard and see what sort of tomato tales will spring from this latest garden experiment, if you’d like to read more about the past growing adventures of Avi, Liz, Grace, and Jools visit this post, this post and this post. If you’d like to grow your own Pappy, all you need to do is scoop out the seeds from a grocery store papaya, rinse them in cold water and let them dry on a paper towel for up to a week until they resemble whole dried peppercorns. Then plant them in some potting soil, keep them evenly moist with warm water and watch them sprout sometime between a week to a month later. Keep them in the warmest sunniest place you can find and watch them grow grow grow. And then send me a photo so we can marvel at Pappy’s relatives too.

Last year, blog reader Gloria, shared a photo of her avocado tree that she planted in her Florida garden about the same time that Avi sprouted. As of November 2019, her avocado was  7′ feet tall…

Now it’s up to 8′ feet and just got a recent trim…

It is not bearing avocados yet, but maybe there will be some for her in 2021!

That’s the lovely thing about gardening, isn’t it? You just never know what might happen exactly or even when, but you always have your fingers crossed that it’s all going to work out for the best.  Audrey Hepburn said it most eloquently… “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” I love that. These plants don’t always make life look easy or foolproof but they do always make it look rewarding and hopeful.  

Cheers to gardens big and small, indoors and out. And cheers to Audrey and Elizabeth and the indoor orchard gang for the continual motivation and inspiration.

Now… onto those tomatoes;) 

The Indoor Urban Orchard: What’s Growing Now?

This time of year recipe ideas start floating around the kitchen and vegetables start piling up on the counters. Pie pumpkins and sweet potatoes, herb bouquets and onions, lemons, limes, mushrooms, pomegranates, garlic, apples, cranberries, carrots, celery and what seems like all the nuts in all the world spill out from bowls and plates and baskets as we get ready for Thanksgiving Day. Nestled among all that Autumn bounty is an avocado. Not exactly the first food you think of when talking turkey day fare, but around here the avocado is king of the Kitchen, especially in November, when it comes to a certain someone’s birthday. I’m not talking about the kind of avocado that is small, round and rumply skinned though. Here in the kitchen, the king I’m referring to looks like this…

indoor-avocado-plant-1-avi (1)

It’s Avi the Avocado! On November 22nd, he’ll celebrate his third birthday.  If you have been reading the blog for a few years, you’ll remember that Avi started out as a seed experiment in November 2016. The kind of experiment where you pierce a regular avocado seed with toothpicks and set it in a glass of water and then wait and watch for it to grow into something green like this…

…which he did with aplomb! Months into the experiment Avi sprouted, gained a name and grew taller as each day passed. Three years into life now, he’s survived a move, a very fretful, almost fatal batch of scale, a fall off the kitchen counter and numerous jockeys around the house as he grew, and then subsequently outgrew, each and every perch. In that time, he’s also developed quite the personality – clearly communicating his loathing for the city patio, the wet blanket heat that is a Southern summer, and the blustery winds off the river that perpetually zip and zoom around the city skyline. Instead, in a very unusual flight of fancy for his kind, Avi decided that he preferred the air conditioning, the bright yet indirect light of the indoors and the resting spots that always seem to be in closest proximity to the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Perhaps he’s a gourmand at heart:)  Long story short, Avi began and became the inspiration for an indoor orchard of fruit plants all started from seed.

In today’s post we are checking up on the state of the garden and the four inhabitants that now comprise the indoor orchard. It’s been 15 months, since I last posted about their progress and because Avi turns 3 on November 22nd, this seemed like a perfect time to check-in and check up to see how this indoor garden experiment is faring. Let’s take a peek…

Avi the Avocado:

The last time we checked up on Avi’s growth here on the blog it was mid-summer 2018. Outside the temperatures were hot and humid, but indoors everything was as cool as a cucumber. At that point, Avi measured 3′ 5″ inches tall and had just turned a hopeful corner of recovery from the terrible scale outbreak. When this photo was taken, Avi was just returning to his more handsome, happy, healthy state…

July 31, 2018

Today, I’m happy to share that Avi is still at it. Growing by leaps and bounds, he now measures 4′ 7″ inches tall and his leaves are widening out into a broad canopy…

indoor-avocado-plant-1-avi (1)

In just 15 months he grew 1′ 3″ inches. That’s an impressive inch a month! You can see the dramatic difference in this side by side picture if you use the black framed wall art on the left as a reference point…

avocado-tree-growing-stages

If he keeps growing at this rate, by next Thanksgiving Avi will be as tall as me:) Most thankfully, the scale is almost all gone. Soon he’ll transfer to a bigger pot where he’ll stay for a couple of years while he fills out leaf -wise. One thing I learned recently about transplanting flowers and plants is that you should only go to a slightly bigger pot than what you are already using – otherwise the plant spends all its energy below expanding its roots instead of growing taller above the soil line. The next pot size for Avi will be 12″ inches in diameter which should give him enough room to grow up and out for at least the next year and a half. Like a little kid graduating from crib to bed, Avi will be a true floor plant at that point, not longer able to be carried from perch to perch, an exciting milestone!

Grace the Grapefruit:

Not be outdone by Avi, a little friendly competition ensued between fruit trees. In this past year, Grace also also hit a spectacular growth spurt. She went from this in March 2018…

Grace the grapefruit almost 1″ inch tall in March 2018

to this in July 2018…

Five months later ( July 30th, 2018)

to this in November 2019…

how-to-grow-a-grapefruit-tree-2019

Just over 3′ 2″ inches tall now, Grace grew so fast that she’s been re-potted four times already. I’d like to say that all this robust enthusiasm caused her to literally break out of her planter,  but her current abode was a cracked-then-repaired pot meant as a temporary holder for her. But she’s so happy in her blue space, there she’ll stay until she outgrows it. Meanwhile she’s very busy growing extra everything – skyscraper limbs, big green leaves and sharp thorns, especially on her trunk…

grapefruit-tree-thorns

This is lovely to see, because just like Avi, Grace also succumbed to scale when I was away for a month taking care of my sick dad last January. When I got home, she had lost 70% of her leaves and had so much scale that the local garden center (where I took her for emergency help) declared it the worst case of scale outbreak that they’d ever seen. They also gave her a doomed prognosis, saying she probably wouldn’t make it. If you’ve never experienced scale before, this is what it looks like…(on overdrive as in Grace’s case)…

A series of flesh or clear sticky, jelly-like insects, scale wind up sucking the life out of plants. They are pretty gross looking and can be difficult to both see and eradicate but determined, I loaded up on Neem oil and bottles of rubbing alcohol (a trick I learned at the garden center) and then got to work every few days wiping down each of the leaves and the trunk. The rubbing alcohol kills the scale, and the Neem oil protects the plant from re-infestation. As it turns out, that was exactly what she needed and thankfully, Grace made a full recovery in just a few weeks. Now she’s racing to catch up with Avi!

Liz Lemon – The Lemon Tree

If we were giving out awards for the least amount of drama this year, the award would definitely go to Liz Lemon. By far the most low maintenance plant of the bunch, she just carried on over the past year the way all good lemon trees should – growing flowers, making lemons, filling out. Here she was in July 2018, a sprig of sharp angles…

Now she’s a more stately, shapely tree thanks to some careful pruning and lots of sunshine…

Not as fast a grower as Grace or Avi in the height department, Liz spent her past 15 months growing out instead of up. Coming in at 2′ 4″ inches tall she is the smallest of the household orchard trees but she supplied the most color of the bunch with her bright yellow lemons and her pretty perfume-scented flowers.

Just the other day, she started growing a new batch of tiny little lemons so I’m hoping our yield this year will be greater than last year’s, which produced a total of two lemons. Fingers crossed:)

Jools – The Medjool Date Palm

Finally, the baby of the group, born from seed in July 2018, was the Medjool date palm, who was so tiny it didn’t even have a name yet…

The spike is the date palm!

Four hundred and fifty six days later, the date palm looks like this. Meet Jools…

Standing at just over 16″ inches tall, Jools put forth a new leaf every few months last year. She lost a couple  of green shoots to wind damage over the summer, but apparently that’s not really fazing her, as she just grows another one in its place. Low maintenance like Liz, Jools just requires a sunny window sill and a good dose of water every few days.  When I look at her I can’t help but imagine those grand date palms that grow in India and Egypt – the ones that are big and lush and beautiful and radiate notions of exotic locales and foreign flavors. It will be exciting to see how big she grows over the winter now that she has taken up residence indoors and is out of the wind tunnel on the patio altogether.

Of all the orchard plants, Jools is the one I’ve researched least. There is an air of spontaneity in just watching her grow and imagining what might happen next. The container of dates that she came from was purchased at a fantastic international shop in the farmers market that unfortunately is no longer there. So not only is this date palm named Jools a fun growing experiment, but she’s also a good little memory of a place I loved, but can no longer visit. That’s the cool thing about plants isn’t it? How active they are in our lives… as decoration, as curious living creatures, and as memory holders. Each one is like a quirky little (or in some cases big!) character sharing our space, making it feel natural and welcoming, just like home.

Not every experiment I try turns out to be a successful one. This year I attempted apples (success up to month 5!) and papayas but neither lasted long enough to see the sprouts that start the story. Gardening is a game of chance after all. Somehow that makes the ones that do grow into a Grace or an Avi or a Jools all the more significant. While you are peeling and chopping and cutting stuff up this holiday season in your kitchen, keep your eye out for the seeds, and all the potential and possibility that is contained in those small packages tucked inside your favorite fruits and vegetables.  Worlds of adventure stir inside our kitchens everyday, none more dramatic or miraculous than the lives that feed our lives.

If anyone has started their indoor gardens from seed, please comment on this post and share with us what you are growing and how it is going. One of our blog readers, Gloria, recently shared photos of her avocado tree in Florida, which she started from seed around the same time as Avi began. She planted hers outside, a smart decision thanks to Florida’s ideal growing climate. Three years in, her avocado seed now looks like this…

Wow! An absolute beauty towering over the garden at a majestic 7″ feet tall! Well on its way to being a proper shade tree in her yard, Gloria is hoping that by next year, she’ll be able to eliminate avocados from her market shopping list and instead just pick them right off her own tree. What an exciting thought! Our fingers are crossed that she is flush with avocado by this time next year:)

If you need a little more inspiration when it comes to building your own plant paradise, consider these colorful and beautifully illustrated  mid-century books in the shop. They are packed full of helpful advice regarding citrus trees, orchards, edible plantings and indoor gardening…

They make fun gifts for yourself or your fellow garden lover, and unlike the internet, lay everything out before you all at once, instead of hunting and pecking your way through endless garden sites plant by plant.

If you missed the previous posts about the start of the indoor orchard, catch up here.

In the meantime, cheers and happy birthday to Avi, to all the seedlings out there who grow big with just a little extra dose of love and attention, and to Gloria for sharing her own personal gardening adventure with us:)

Turning Servers into Succulents: A Vintage Re-Invention

 

Eight. That’s how many days there are to go. It’s almost here! Then one thing turns into another. We end and we begin. We change and we grow.  This year, the day falls on a Monday. The exact date – September 23rd.  Then it’s official. The first day of Autumn arrives. How exciting! To celebrate the season, I have a fun new gardening project for all you do-it-yourself-ers out there who like to keep your hands busy in the dirt in the off-season when summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter and the outdoor garden is at rest. It doesn’t require much effort, time or expense but it does call for a little imagination. It will last forever if you want it to and it will make you look at things in your cupboards in a whole new way. Most importantly, it gives new purpose to old items that sometimes get left behind on a shelf or forgotten about in storage.

I’m so excited to introduce the succulent set…

vintage-serving-dish-succulent-planters

…real plants growing out of old china serving pieces. If you’ve inherited pieces of your family’s china and are not quite sure what to do with them or how to incorporate them into your daily life, or if you just want a planter with a little bit of one-of a-kind personality then designating a vintage sugar bowl or a creamer or a serving dish as your new garden vessel is a fun way to go. Let’s look…

This Japanese Majolica creamer is from the 1940’s. Due to some cracks on the bottom it no longer holds water (or cream!) so it makes an ideal container for varieties of succulents that prefer well draining soil. All it needs is a little water once a week and it’s ready to grow. Keep it in the sink for a few minutes and the water drips out through the cracks, then it is good to go until its next watering seven days later.

Vintage sugar bowls like this one above, made in England, fit perfectly into shelves or small spaces. Your very own unexpected mini garden greenspace place!

This vintage coffeepot from the 1940s lost its lid somewhere along its 75 years of travels. That makes it no longer the most suitable vessel for hot coffee but it certainly makes a pretty container for eye-catching flower power in the form of a petal shaped succulent.

With their long shape and roomy width, gravy boats make great table centerpieces. They can usually accommodate more than a couple of mini plants depending on size. For wedding reception decorations, they offer the symbolism and sentimentality of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”

Ideal plants for this type of pairing project, many succulents don’t require a lot of watering and come in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes. As they grow, the plants can be transferred to larger and larger containers like this one – a two-handled vegetable dish from Salem Pottery’s Commodore pattern which debuted in the 1940’s. Because of its larger size it can accommodate up to seven 2.5″ inch succulents or just a few bigger individuals that have outgrown their smaller holders…

vintage-mini-succulent-garden

Authentic crazing, staining and chippy details add interesting, quirky personality to your space that you can’t find in modern day planters. They also easily fit on window sills, ledges, mantles and counter top nooks. Choose one that matches your interior aesthetic, or the colors of your kitchen, or reminds you of a good memory and you’ll instantly add a bit of happy energy to your space. Old dishes love to remain useful helpers. Matching the old with the new creates balance and harmony and reminds us that imperfections are the stuff of life. Beautiful! This antique gravy boat below is over 100 years old but still looks as fresh and pretty as ever thanks to its classic shape.

The trio below have no cracks to worry about so they are ideal holders for succulents and cactus that prefer to be spritzed with water, rather than doused, every now and again. Add some some pea gravel to the bottom of each vessel before adding dirt and certain succulents will be happy with just a tiny bit of water every now and again.

Another possibility is to gather them all up and make a hanging wall display with the help of a crate…

vintage-serving-dish-succulent-planters

That makes an instant collection and an engaging garden that you can cultivate and tend to all year round. Usually all that is required for succulents is bright natural light, a sunny alcove or close proximity to a window.

With all their color choices which range from light gray to soft pink, bright green to dusty blue there is great fun in matching plant to planter and then watching them grow and sprout new additions.

If you need a vintage serving piece to start your garden you can find the ones above in the garden section of the shop. Succulents are available at most garden centers, nurseries, farmers markets or sometimes even the floral section of the grocery store. I recommend getting your planter first, then your succulent second, so that you can determine the appropriate drainage condition, color and shape for plant and planter.

Hope this brings a little fun your way on our second to last Sunday of summer. Cheers to new gardens, old dishes and the joy they both provide:)

 

Update From the Urban Jungle: Where’s Avi the Avocado Tree Now?

It’s National Avocado Day and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to write a post featuring the Vintage Kitchen’s favorite green guy – Avi the Avocado!  When I last posted about Avi, it was February. The days were cold, somewhat scattered with snow flurries and spring was struggling to get its foot in the door.  Avi was recovering from an almost fatal bout of too much tap water and too much sun. Here he was in February…

On the road to recovery!

Now we are barreling through mid-summer.  The temperatures outside are hot, humid and oven-like from morning to night. But not for Avi. He’s inside in the air conditioning, living a healthy, happy existence and growing like gangbusters. In fact, he’s growing so much that he outgrew his winter space and had to be transferred to a new perch…

Avi the Avocado mid summer 2018.

Now measuring 3’5″ inches tall, Avi grew a total of three inches in the past six months in his indoor environment. If he continues to grow at such a pace, he should be close to 4′ feet tall by his second birthday near Thanksgiving.  Isn’t it incredible to think that he was just this small seed a year and a half ago…

and now he towers over Deer Hudson like a magic bean stalk…

Avi the Avocado: Age 1 and 1/2

Still a character, Avi detests the outdoor heat and the all-day sunshine, something most avocado plants adore. But not our guy.  He immediately sags and shrivels if he’s left out on the balcony even for just a few minutes.  Instead, he much prefers the bright ambient light inside, the cooler temperature and the clamor of the Kitchen activity.

You can see from the above photo with Hudson that he hasn’t completely recovered from all his ailments yet as there are still a few minor spotting issues on some leaves, but for the most part, he’s back in good shape. After doing some experiments, testing the effects of sun strength and watering frequency, it looks like the thing that causes Avi the most trouble is the salt in the tap water.  I’ll be back to using distilled water again this weekend to see if those remaining brown spots can’t be corrected yet.

I thought Avi would be the winner in the growth spurt department as far as the other urban jungle garden plants go, but Grace the Grapefruit has been the real surprise champion of the summer season. If you have been following her progress on Instagram, you’ll know that she looked like this on March 15, 2018…

Grace, the grapefruit tree started from seed in March 2018

Almost 1″ inch tall in March 2018

Today she looks this…

Five months later ( July 30th, 2018)

In five months she grew 9″ inches! I’d like to say that Avi was an encourager in that department but he’s inside and she’s outside so clearly she’s a grower all on her accord.

And then there is Liz Lemon, whom I had forgotten to measure when she first joined the family back in June…

But she now she stands a few inches taller herself these days…

The funny thing about lemon trees is that when their new leaves emerge they are very weak. Emerging utterly exhausted, they are limpy, fragile to the touch and so droopy they look like they are in desperate need of everything – light, water, heat, shade, cool air. But after a few days of this behaviour, they firm right up, turn shades darker and develop a more rigid support system. You can see their first instincts in  Liz Lemon’s tallest section of leaves in the above photograph. But in a few days, they’ll look more like this…

All this confidence in the plant growth department has been a real source of inspiration lately. Every time I chop a vegetable or peel a fruit now, I think about all the plant possibilities. My latest batch of recent seed-starting experiments involved apricots and dates. The apricots weren’t successful – they turned moldy before having a chance to do anything exciting. But the dates, now they were a different story. I’m pleased to announce just this week our newest member of the garden emerged…

A Medjool date palm seedling! And she brought along a flower friend to join her (the green spike is the date palm).

I can now understand how Luther Burbank kept going and growing year after year. Nature  is fascinating if you take some time to really study it and see it. In November, when Avi turns two, I’ll share another update on the whole garden gang to see what sort of progress has been made. By then we’ll have a name picked out for the date palm too. In the meantime, if you are celebrating the day with guacamole or avocado toast, stuffed shells or just simple slices in a summer salad, I hope you enjoy all the lovely attributes of your avocado. Luther believed that flowers and plants made people better, happier and more helpful. “They are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul,” he believed. Exactly. Well said Luther!

If you’d like to learn how to grow your own Avi, refer this post here. If you missed the post on 20th-century botanist, Luther Burbank and the potato he made famous, catch up here.

Cheers to seeds that turn into food that turn into gardens all over again!