Landscaping: Two Months Later

It’s been two months since we put all of our baby plants in and I’m pretty amped at how they are doing.  Everything seems to be growing well, and taking their turn blooming.  It’s been fun to see the different stages of the landscaping.  Almost all of our plants have flowers, so it’s neat to see the blooming pattern and how the overall feeling of the yard changes as summer progresses.

From the street – 6.27.13

Allow me to walk you through the changes:

4-27-13 – in bloom: azaleas, pig squeak bergenia

5-27-13 – in bloom: azaleas (drying out), astillbe (just starting), abelia (budding)

6.27.13 – in bloom: astilbe (drying out), abellia, hydrangea (beginning buds), butterfly bush (beginning buds)

4-27-13 – in bloom: azaleas, pig squeak bergenia

5-27-13 – in bloom: azaleas (drying out), lamium

6.27.13 – in bloom: lamium, butterfly bush (beginning buds)

4-27-13 – in bloom: minature roses
(weeping cherry bloomed before being planted)

5-27-13 – in bloom: miniature roses, dianthus (budding)

6.27.13 – in bloom: miniature roses (they are making me looks like I know what I’m doing), dianthus, hydrangea (beginning buds)

4-27-13 – in bloom: none

5-27-13 – in bloom: clematis (budding)

6.27.13 – in bloom: clematis (the plant is dying), daylilies

4-27-13 – in bloom: creeping phlox

5-27-13 – in bloom: none

6.27.13 – in bloom: hydrangea (beginning buds)

Distressed Fireplace Mantel Revamp

Before we started building our house, my parents bought a house and started the process of renovating it. One of the rooms had a fireplace with a mantel that they were going to replace. The existing mantel was nice, but didn’t match the look they were going for. My parents told us we could have it if we wanted. We took one look at it and jumped at it! We had big plans for the mantel! Big, big plans.

We wanted to have the mantel installed while the house was being built. However, we were using a company that didn’t want the liability of using our mantel. No big deal, we thought – we’ll just swap it out on our own time. We picked a gas firebox that would work for the opening in our mantel when the time came. Due to meeting the code requirements, we had to have a mantel and hearth put in when the house was built. We opted to install the builder grade mantel and hearth with plans to refinish and install the mantel from my parents at some point. The mantel was moved into our basement, where it sat for almost 4 years. Originally, there was a beveled mirror in the opening at the top. That was removed (to make room for a spot for the TV) and the mirror was used in Anna’s room. Ah, I love a good re-purpose.

The mantel, in its original glory.

We knew that the flooring was going to be ripped out soon with our flooring redo, so one night we got a wild hair and decided to jump on the fireplace project that we’d been talking about for so long.

The mantel and hearth that was put in when we built. Imagine the mantel actually attached to the wall. It occurred to me to take a picture after Alex had ripped it off.

No more mantel!

The mantel revamp was a mult-step process (read: several days in the making). Since we have small children, work could only be done in the evening after bedtime. We started by sanding the whole thing to rough up the surface so the paint would adhere to it. To give you some perspective, the mantel is 8 feet tall – that’s quite a bit of surface to work with. After sanding, we added a layer of white paint as a first layer/primer.

Starting the facelift – sanded and first layer of paint.

Next step was to paint the whole thing brown.

And, we have a brown mantel again.

Meanwhile, we also had to work on installing a new hearth. I wanted something neutral, and I love the look of natural, tumbled stone. I wanted to do a subway tile for the floor and a 1″ x 1″ on the wall. We made the mistake of not ordering anything in advance, so we were stuck picking from the stock that Lowe’s had. We found a subway tile that I wanted, but ended up going with a stacked stone mosaic for the wall. I love how it looks, it just wasn’t what I had originally planned.

I’ve never laid tile before. I must say, I’m too bad at it. Super simple!

She’s all grouted up!

The final steps for the ol’ mantel was to paint it ivory to match our trim paint. We then took a pile of sandpaper to it. To distress it, we sanded down certain edges so the brown paint underneath was exposed. There wasn’t any real rhyme or reason for where we distressed the mantel. Edges turned out really well, as did some of the detailed areas. We distressed some flat areas as well. Basically, I wanted the mantel to look like it had weathered a storm and come out looking antiqued and aged and fabulous.

To mount the mantel, a cleat had to be hung on the wall which was attached to studs with screws. The mantel was placed over the cleat and 6″ lag screws were used to attach the mantel to the cleat.

Okay boys, you install the cleat. I’ll just lift this up here for you.

Once in place, the holes where the lag screws were used had to be filled, sanded, and painted. Filler wood was put in to fill the gap between the upper part of the mantel and the wall. It all had to be filled, sanded, and painted. Caulk was used to seal the mantel to the wall and the mantel to the tile. The wall around the mantel had to be painted because this mantel was skinnier than the previous one. Also, the baseboards had to be replaced because they were now too short.

I can’t lie, we were nervous that it would fall off the wall. The thing weighs about 5,000 pounds. Proud to say that it is still where we left it.

And, some detail shots for those that care.

I want to distress everything now.

Once everything was filled, sanded, sealed, and painted – curtains were returned and the TV was remounted.

It’s official, the TV is mounted.

A short time later, the flooring was replaced (thank you, Jesus) and crown molding was added. We are tickled with the results. The mantel is unique and adds a ton of character to an otherwise plan room. Plus, it looks absolutely charming with all of our stockings hanging on it at Christmas!

Fireplace is on and my boys in red on TV. Go Cardinals!

Prepping for Landscaping

Last summer, we had retaining walls installed to create several landscaping beds in the front of the house and side of the garage.  The beds were put in during the height of the summer heat, so we opted to wait until the Spring to plant.  There was no way I was going to spend a large chunk of change on plants for them to burn in the Missouri sun.  It’s like the gates of Hell around here in July.

I took the better part of a year trying to figure out what plants I wanted.  I realize it sounds fairly easy, but it was a huge undertaking.  I mean, it’s the front of the house.  Everyone sees it and it completely sets the tone for the rest of the house.  Curb appeal is everything, even if you aren’t planning on selling.  Who want’s to be embarrassed when they drive up to their house?  My goal was to be wow’ed every time I drove home.  Nothing like setting high goals!

I’ve never taken on a landscaping project, so I opted to approach it as I do when I’m decorating a room.  I feel pretty comfortable decorating the inside of a home, and I tend to know what colors and designs look good with one another.  I can visualize what things will look like at the end of a project, so I can mentally see what should be put where.  It drives Alex crazy.  Anyway, I started by figuring out the overall feel for the landscaping.  I left a piece of my heart in Nashville when I was there for school, so I knew that I wanted a ‘Southern’ feel.  Afterall, we have a front porch – all that’s missing are some azaleas and a jug of sweet tea.  I’m also a huge fan of color.  I knew that I wanted plants with blooms to add some color to our yard.  Take your boring bushes and evergreens somewhere else!

I started digging deeper into exactly what plants I wanted.  And, this is where is started getting complicated.  You see, there are zones based on the hardness of the soil.  Plants have a certain soil condition (or hardness) that they prefer, so you should only pick plants that like the zone that you live in.  It’s why you don’t see palm trees in Michigan.  After learning that I was in Zone 6, I then had to figure out what plants were down with partying in Zone 6 and which of those I liked.  Adding to the mix, sun exposure also has to be taken into account.  Some plants are sun-loving (kind of like this lady) and some plants love the shade.  Some plants are easy-going and do well with both.  Plants apparently have quite a few personalities.  Our house faces northeast, so our front yard has morning sun and is completely shaded after the sun goes over the top of the house.  As I researched, I quickly realized that I was in over my head.  I knew what I liked, but I didn’t know what would work.  I needed an expert.

I found a local nursery that has been in business since the 50’s.  Frisella’s Nursery is a 3rd generation, family owned business that has an awesome reputation and a massive selection.  I set up an appointment with one of their experts and brought my mom along.  My mom happens to be a self-taught horticulture expert.  I’ve razzed her for years, but she is handy to have around in times like these. We made the trip to Frisella’s armed with pictures of my house, drawings of the beds, measurements, and a plotted path of the sun.

Our first trip to the nursery was in mid-March before the large stock of plants were in or ready to be sold.  Instead of going around and looking at possible plants, we sat down with Babette (one of the owners) and her horticulture books to lay out a plan.  Over the course of about an hour and a half, we discussed the types of plants that should go in each area.  I can’t lie, it was exhausting and rather confusing.  But, a plan was hatched.

About a month later, after the temperature warmed up and the majority of the plants were ready to put on the lot, I met with Babette again.  This time, Babs and I went and tagged each plant that we would use.  We have about 50 plants, so it took over 2 hours to locate everything and pick the best ones.  Babette showed me what to look for and gave me advice on which to pick.  Trees should have a thick trunk, some plants should be full, some plants are picked for color, etc. It was like shopping for landscaping with P. Allen Smith, but not nearly as lame.  The plan was for the plants to be delivered to our house the afternoon before we plan on putting everything in.

After consulting with the calendar, we set this weekend as the date to put all the plants in.  It was tricky timing.  We had to do it before it got too hot, but finding a weekend that didn’t have anything planned was challenging.  We opted to do it this weekend.  To prep for that, we lined up my mother-in-law to come up and help with the kids.  We also made several trips to Lowe’s for supplies.  We needed shovels and trowels and rakes and gloves and hoses and everything else.  We also needed supplies to ‘amend the soil’ (as Babs calls it).  We have a high clay content in our soil, which is highly acidic.  To neutralize the clay, you have to add peat moss, manure, and garden soil.  We made a trip on a rainy day to Lowe’s to grab the bags of dirt.  It was pouring down rain.  We didn’t have another day this week to get the stuff, so I got soaking wet grabbing the bags of stuff.  In my rush, I accidentally grabbed two kinds of garden soil instead of getting peat moss.  We realized it once we got home, so I went back out in the rain to return the garden soil and get peat moss instead.  I looked like a drowned rat when I got home.  These plants better eat up this neutral dirt…