For a while there, I was fearful for the daffodils sprouting up around the city—sure, it’s been a mild winter, but a last-minute snowstorm could crush their little blooms! But it’s going to be a downright balmy 70 degrees tomorrow…they’re probably home free.
Even though we’re apparently skipping spring and jumping right into summer, I can’t help but crush on this sweet, citrusy tulip arrangement (via Angela Hardison). The paper flowers look so lovely suspended above the lush blooms. Inspired to recreate this look at home? Snag some lanterns from pearlriver.
I think there’s something really rejuvenating about sinking my hands into soil, but dirt’s definitely not a prerequisite for happy plants. Last weekend, I checked out a presentation by Windowfarms, a company that designs hydroponic growing systems designed to help landless urban farmers harvest produce.
Here’s how it works: aspiring growers build (or buy) a contraption rigged up with recycled plastic bottles, plastic tubing, and an air pump. Water travels throughout the tubes and deposits liquid nutrient solutions to the plants, which are nestled in mesh containers surrounded by clay pellets. A pre-fab setup will run you back about $100.
Think that hydroponics is only synonymous with pot? It’s actually at the forefront of the “farm-to-fork” movement, which champions locavore eating habits. Just pluck a basil leaf from your window and wrap it in some fresh mozz. The Times published a piece about trendy soil-less methods last summer.
Windowfarms might be a great option for cramped urban dwellers, but are they better than planting in a container or a bed? Yields for small crops like herbs are pretty comparable to other growing methods, but—at best—you can coax some dinky squash and tomatoes: anything else is too heavy for the frame.
Have you tried hydroponic growing techniques? What did you think? Any converts?
Mason jars are one of the most versatile home décor items around—and, at about $1 a pop for used jars, they’re a great tool for a budget crafter to have in her arsenal. I’ve rounded up a few ways to turn your jar into a garden.
This hanging vase craft couldn’t be easier—or yield a prettier product. All it takes is a little Modge Podge, a sweet image, foam brush, and wire or twine. Check out the how-to on GardenMama.
Any kind of glass jar can be transformed into a terrarium. Toss in some pebbles, activated charcoal, potting soil, moss, and a wee plant, and you’ve got a gnome home on your hands. Some friends and I made these out of recycled pasta sauce jars, but you could easily use a pretty blue mason jar for something a little more special.
Spray painted mason jars make great party centerpieces. Find step-by-step instructions over at Lovely Little Details.
If you’re a little wary of retina-searing metallics, try a different hue. I painted some jars a buttery yellow, which has been great for everyday use.
Mason jars also make great planters—just make sure you throw pebbles in the bottom to help drain water and prevent the roots from rotting. These pastel-colored jars with bunny decals are perfect for spring, and look great holding delicate alyssum.
Do you have any genius uses for these all-purpose containers?
Wanna see something amazing? Put some bulbs in water. They’ll sprout slowly, developing roots and little hints of buds, and then—all of a sudden—eye-blink quickly. One day, seemingly overnight, you’ll have full-blown blooms…all without soil. And if you have a kiddo (or just a sense of curiosity), it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate how plants grow: put the bulbs in a clear glass vase, and you’ll be able to see every stage of the process. Get some expert tips for forcing blooms here.
Growing things is an optimistic gesture. You don’t plant a seed unless you think you’ll be able to see it sprout and grow. I lined the windowsills, bookshelves, and mantle with carefully-tended pots. I photographed the plants’ progress through the seasons like a proud parent making a family album. But then I stopped being able to care for myself, let alone the living things I’d grown.
A year ago, when I graduated college, moved across the country, and slaughtered my first ivy, I felt like I had failed at adulthood. To me, being a grown-up meant knowing how to fix things: a leaky faucet, a loose fixture, a browning leaf or wilting flower. Butchering the plant despite my best efforts to keep it alive brought back to the surface deep-rooted anxieties I’d tried to bury beneath the musky, peaty soil: I didn’t know how to be an adult. If this plant couldn’t survive in this new, unfamiliar place, how could I? If I couldn’t nurture it, how could I sustain myself?
Slowly, I learned. It wasn’t elegant. I scorched pots trying to make risotto, and plucked cactus spikes from swollen fingers following a poorly-conceived potting session. I’ve cobbled together a (very) modest income through a hodgepodge schedule of part-time jobs. I’ve learned to make a mean stir-fry out of whatever’s in the fridge. But I still feel like I’m winging it. Maybe, instead of learning how to flourish, I’ve just learned how to not totally keel over.
This fear got worse when I got sick. One day, I fainted. A few days later, I threw up. The next thing I knew, I had infections in both of my kidneys, a fever of 104, a heart rate of 200bpm, a catheter, and countless IVs. I couldn’t get myself better. I took my prescriptions, I rested, I hydrated, I slept, and got some exercise. It didn’t matter. A few weeks after my first hospitalization, I was back again, and worse than ever.
I started having dreams about all of my healthy, green plants shriveling around me. All of the leaves I’d cultivated shrinking sadly off the stalks and collecting on the floor, ever-increasing evidence of my black thumb and inability to take care—of myself, or of anything else.
But sowing seeds is an inherently forwarding-looking activity, and I haven’t gotten less excited about what’s on the horizon. I’m feeling better. I’m still pretty tired and weak. 100 applications later, I still don’t have a full-time job. But I’m smart, resourceful, and, suddenly, pretty damn good at container gardening. Sometimes I still feel like a kid playing dress-up in an adult’s clothing, but I’m starting to think that’s natural—just as natural as my plants continuing to grow, and bend towards the light.
DIY Wall Art
A few years ago, the now-defunct Blueprint Magazine, the whimsical, accessible home-decor arm of the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia franchise, published a story about creative ways to show off your young child’s artwork. The editors suggested tacking up some protective sheets—the kind you insert into binders—to safeguard each finger painting or sketch and make it easy to perform a quick switcheroo. It made so much sense to me. Kids constantly return home from school toting new masterpieces. It’s pretty adorable to take a walk down memory lane and revisit kids’ projects through the years (case in point: the proto-Cubist ceramic face I made in 2nd grade, complete with misshapen eyes and awkwardly small ears). But it would probably be preferable to be able to complement these retro works with some made after a kid gains enough manual dexterity to actually complete a drawing without accidentally stabbing herself in the palm with a sharpened pencil (and I’ve got the scar to prove it). Even major museums rotate works of art on gallery walls to show off the depth and breadth of their world-class collections. Showing off a kid’s art work throughout the years is sort of akin to ticking off their height on a wall: it’s a record of their growth.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to adapt this art hanging idea to my own life. In some ways, being a twenty-something trying to decorate her own apartment presents similar difficulties. On one hand, there’s an impulse to nest, to settle in, to personalize a space so that it feels like home—a haven, or a safe, soft place to land after a crazy day that’s left you feeling utterly untethered. A part of me wants permanence. On the other hand, I know that there are many changes up ahead: new jobs, new favorite artists, and probably, new apartments. I don’t want to put a ton of holes in my wall when I’m not sure how long this wall will be mine. This part of me wants to be able to pack up and move on to bigger and better.
I think I’ve found a solution. I took the basic Blueprint idea—easily-changeable wall art—and interpreted it to fit my aesthetic. I strung some yarn between two nails and used clothespins to hang photos, crafts, and pressed leaves. This is also a great way to display prints, dried flowers, or beautiful pages from books. It’s easy to change the size and number of objects at any time, without having to contend with a wall that looks like Swiss cheese. Whether getting taller and better at art or just older (and hopefully wiser), this art-hanging strategy makes change easy and welcome.
These big, bold raffia flowers channel autumn’s rich colors. They provide the same last-forever durability as puckered silk flowers, without conjuring dusty doctors’ offices. At $3, these stems are a steal. Score some at From the Source in Greenpoint, and also check out the importers’ handsome furniture made from sustainably-farmed wood.
Being a doting plant mama, I dutifully ferried my babies to safety long before the hurricane hit. When I returned them to their windowsill perches post-storm, I noticed that one of my fuzzy succulents had shacked up with a new friend. His name is Leucocoprinus birnbaumii.
I did some research on my new roommate. These yellow ‘shrooms appear to pop up overnight. They sprout when soil is contaminated with spores. This can happen in soil packaging facilities, or if you introduce a neighboring mushroom-ridden plant. Spores can also travel on clothes, so if you regularly traipse through forests, it’s possible that you’ll bring home some souvenirs. They feed on dead organic matter, like shriveled leaves. Luckily, they’re not dangerous to healthy, living plants. So, pluck dead or dying leaves from stalks or soil, but don’t worry about zombie mushrooms gorging on the rest of the plant.
It’s good that the mushrooms aren’t damaging to the houseplant, because they’re pretty hard to get rid of. These suckers are pretty persistent, and the mycelium are deeply rooted into the soil. If you still want to try to kick them out, there a few things you can do. You can remove all visible mushrooms and scrape off the first few inches of soil. Replace with new soil (preferably from a different bag). Another option is to repot the plant using all new soil. (Note that this might disrupt the plant’s root system.)
The best option might just be to learn to love the mushrooms. Think of the whimsical decorating possibilities: some twee fairy figurines, a tiny gnome dozing under the shade of the bell-shaped cap. I’m going to let nature take its course and make a colorful open-air terrarium full of campy critters. Photos to come!
[Photo from Iowa State University’s Horticulture & Home Pest News]
Rock Me Like a Hurricane
You may have heard that New York has had a bit of bad weather lately. Between last week’s earthquake and this weekend’s tropical storm, it kind of seemed that naturepocalypse was imminent. Frantic news reports predicted the destruction to be caused by Hurricane Irene. Stores sold out of water. The MTA, the main artery of the city, was totally shut down. Low-lying areas were evacuated (except for the chill bros who stocked up on brews and barricaded themselves indoors to weather the storm while wasted). Businesses closed up shop. I bought enough granola bars to feed an entire overnight camp for three summers. Some articles estimated that the wind, rain, and general storm shenanigans would leave billions of dollars of damages in its wake. Shit was poised to get real.
But by the time Irene reached New York, she had hung up her heels and packed it in for the night. Though other cities sustained considerable damage, by the time Irene got to NY, she wasn’t even a hurricane anymore. The big hurricane that would became the moderate storm that didn’t.
When I woke up this morning, the morbid anthropologist in me was eager to get out and survey the damage. I anticipated a sense of post-apocalyptic calm. I expected fallen trees, down power lines, and shattered glass. There wasn’t much to see. Instead, I just encountered other adventurers sleepily emerging from the apartments where they’dhunkered down to wait out the rain. We grabbed some coffees and strolled around, lining up to snap shots of the one huge fallen tree—the surest sign that our careful preparations hadn’t been silly or paranoid (even though I’ve got a few dozen juice boxes and fifty bottles of water to suggest that I might have gone a little overboard).
It’s great that the storm largely bypassed this tiny, crowded island. Irene was more of a drizzle than a doozy, but in case you’re curious, here are some shots from the morning after.