Sunday, June 24, 2012

Repositionable Garden Decor, or How to Make the Most of a Few Good Pieces

To further expand on last week's floral suggestions for your Gothic Mourning Garden, this week one would like to bring up the topic of garden decor. As has been previously mentioned, the grounds surrounding the Gothic Mansion are almost half an acre, and while a good portion of that is consumed by the Mansion itself, there remains a substantial amount left to fill with plants and garden fixtures. Because of this, locations for the ornamentation have been carefully chosen to provide the most impact, generally in areas of the highest use.

To begin, the side entry to the front yard, which has been prettied up for the Fedex, DHL and UPS delivery people, in the hope it provides enough of a distraction they won't notice how far it is to the front door. The concrete bird bath is quite heavy and is one of the few fixtures that stay in the same location year-round, looking equally lovely in the winter covered with three feet of snow. An attempt was made to match the new fence post finials to the weathered fence by staining them grey, but as is apparent from the photo, that didn't work quite as planned. It has been tossed around that maybe the posts should also be stained, but since it's really only noticeable in the winter after the Virginia Creeper has died back, perhaps not really that necessary after all.  

Side Entry, Facing West

Side Entry, Facing East

Another area chosen for the display of a large amount of garden decor is around the pond, as a good portion of a nice day can be wasted away watching the Koi, likely a sure sign of one's advancing age. Besides the Koi, one can also watch the two cement gryphons, the two sections of rusted fleur-de-lys fencing, and the two gazing balls. Although the insomniac  has an unexplainable aversion to displays of even numbered objects, two gazing balls and two sections of fence were all the budget allowed for, and only two of the available griffins were appealing. Why does it seem that finding a decent looking gryphon these days is so difficult? And when one actually manages to locate something suitable, they're generally far too expensive for those of us on a limited budget. These two were purchased at the local Calgary Farmer's Market, at a very respectable price.

Gryphon I

Gryphon II, Gazing Ball II

Along with the Gryphon Display is the Body-less Head Display, each with a small Gothic-looking iron stake as a backdrop. And although one hasn't exactly investigated the following theory in depth, it would seem likely that garden centres would be thrilled to rid themselves of broken or headless statuary that only appeal to those with, shall we say, Darker Tastes.

Spot the cherub's head ...

Mirrors really are a wonderful idea in the garden, and should be positioned to reflect a beautiful view. Both of the following examples picked up at garage sales, which seems appropriate since they're both currently hanging on the side of the garage.

Garage Sale Mirror I

Garage Sale Mirror II

Next is a Faerie Condominium, built by the spouse so as to avoid having to deal with a stump uprooted from somewhere on the grounds. The creation of the Condo also managed to use up some old door plates and knobs at the same time, thereby putting a small dent in the spouse's Collection of Useful Stuff saved in the garage (and  the shed, and  the basement). As you can see by the sagging verandas on the condo and the bird-feeder's state of disrepair, one should never rent to squirrels - after a few fermented berries they become extremely unruly, and on the whole make very bad tenants.

Started out as a Faerie Condo,
but currently used by the
squirrels as a Jungle Gym ...

Another rental property
destroyed by the tenants ...

The insomniac  has a difficult time throwing anything away, which explains why the bird-feeder ended up on the ground as another piece of garden decor, and how the original fireplace surround from the Gothic Mansion ended up rusting at the back of the shed, adding (one hopes) to the ambiance of graceful decay one is attempting to create in the garden. The spouse is threatening to add a door of some sort to the surround, muttering to himself about “portals to the Faerie world”, or something along those lines ... 

Former Fireplace Surround

Broken items or unused pieces of pottery all eventually end up somewhere in the garden, and nothing looks nicer than inexpensive terracotta pots displayed on mismatching saucers and filled with flowers, preferably in black, white or purple (see last week's post below).

Broken Finial

Unused Soup Tureen

These next two pieces were leftover props from a movie that was filmed on location at the Gothic Mansion a few years ago, donations always being welcome, but quite honestly would be very easy to create with scrap pieces of wood, a hammer, and many, MANY nails. Although the arbour is a stationary piece because of its size, the trellis has been moved so many times that one has finally lost count.



Another well-used area is just outside the kitchen door, where the Summer Barbecuing Rituals are performed, and provides the spouse with somewhere to rest while waiting for the meat to char. The Victorian iron table was purchased at a neighbourhood yard sale, but went for much higher than your average yard sale price. The insomniac  was planning on repainting the entire set black this year and even went so far as to purchase the spray paint, but is now having second thoughts and might just repaint everything in Windham Cream to match the trim on the Gothic Mansion. The lighter colour really does show up against the green foliage and grey flagstones very nicely.

If you're interested in a set of these chairs with matching table,
please contact the insomniac  and she'll order some for you ...

A small cast iron chair inherited from the insomniac's  parents which was, of course, white. That year the veranda floor was being repainted in Battleship Grey with Midnight Black on the baseboards, and since the colours were already on the paintbrushes, the chair was given a quick brush of grey and the black wiped on afterwards. That was seven years ago and only a few tiny spots of white have just started to reappear. Obviously, enamel porch floor paint is a good choice for redoing white patio furniture.

Chair and black urn, currently  tucked into a corner
of the stairs leading to the garage. For the time being ...

The following is an interior shot of the gazebo. Depending on the size of the patio party  and the time of day it occurs, the small cast iron table, the Gothic Crown Lanterns and the ever present Black Urn are moved in and out of the gazebo. The wicker furniture is at least twenty years old and was spray painted chestnut brown last year. Next year, probably black ...

That little black urn goes just about everywhere in the garden,
and at the end of the summer season will be brought inside ...

Most of the garden elements are chosen for their durability, concrete and cast iron being favourites in this climate. And despite evidence to the contrary, the insomniac  does not paint everything black. Depending on what they're showcased alongside of, sometimes white, cream or rusted finishes display much better in the garden.

Rusted Finish Lantern Set

A small rusty table, chair and sofa, where the Beverage of the Day is consumed once the sun is over the yardarm (the time of day after which it becomes acceptable to partake of alcoholic beverages). You may recognize the table from the previous display; that table definitely makes its rounds throughout the garden, depending on where the party ends up.  

Very eagerly awaiting the arrival of Apothic White in Canada ...

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... and since the bottle of Apothic Red is already out for the “photo shoot” and the sun is definitely over the yardarm, it would seem the most responsible course of action is to make short work of it. Goodnight, my pretties.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Creating a Gothic Twilight Garden (With Some Slight Modifications)

While skimming through a book on Vita Sackville-West this week, the insomniac  stumbled upon a few paragraphs referencing her Twilight Garden at Sissinghurst. It seemed like an excellent idea for people who are not terribly fond of the sun and who prefer to do their garden viewing from somewhere shaded or, better still, in the evening when the sun has vanished and the risk of perishing from the heat is thereby greatly minimized. Apparently, Vita's inspiration for a Twilight Garden was partly due to the fact that she also was a Night Owl, much preferring to be about in the Dusk and Darkness. She was inspired by “white lilies seen by twilight or moonlight gleaming under the shadow of a thick wood, and enchanted by white field daisies that turned luminescent in the summer dusk”, these concepts eventually resulting in the creation of her all-white garden.

Sissinghurst: The White Garden
Weeping Pear behind Statue - Unsuitable for Zone 3B

Sissinghurst: The White Garden
Iceberg Roses in Background - Unsuitable for Zone 3B

The idea of a garden composed exclusively of white flowers was intriguing, but as the biography didn't give much detail it was decided to order another book entitled The Twilight Garden  to expand one's knowledge on the subject. Now on the off-chance you haven't already surmised from the insomniac's  incessant whining about snow, more snow, early frosts, lack of anything remotely resembling Spring, blah-blah-blah, the Gothic Mansion is situated in Plant Hardiness Zone 3B, having an average annual minimum temperature of -34.5 to -37.2 degrees Celsius (-30 to -35 Fahrenheit). Roughly translated, this means very few plants will thrive here, making the creation of any sort of respectable garden, Twilight or otherwise, quite difficult. And out of one hundred and twenty-three pages of floral recommendations in The Twilight Garden, only TWO pages were suitable for Zone 3B - Sweet Rocket and Day Lilies. Since Sweet Rocket pretty much grows like a weed and the grounds surrounding the Gothic Mansion are already overrun with the both of them, the book did not provide quite the inspiration one was hoping for.

At this point, one came to the rather sudden realization that a change in direction was required, and the inclusion of black plants would be necessary unless one felt like coming up with a completely new idea for this week's post, which one didn't. Fortunately, also included in the order was another book called Black Plants, and with names like Dracula Orchid, Bat Flower and Voodoo Lily, how could one not be intrigued? Unhappily, none of those plants are suitable for Zone 3B, either.

Dracula Orchid

Voodoo Lily

Bat Flower

But despite a few unfriendly Zone 3B offerings, much more inspiration was obtained from this book, and even though the insomniac  and her gardener (more commonly referred to as the long-suffering spouse) are inclined to avoid purchasing annuals (due to the cost) and also anything not specifically suited to Zone 3B (due to the disappointment), the following suggestions will certainly be attempted in the near future.

Black Cornflower

Chocolate Delphinium

Even though one seldom purchases annuals, as it seems hardly worthwhile for a mere two month's worth of enjoyment, the insomniac  has decided to make an exception for these next two, as she thinks they would look quite funereal displayed in a black urn, a few of which just happen to be available in the Attic. Quite the coincidence, eh?

Black and White Minstrels' Carnation

Penny Black Baby Blue Eyes

The best of both worlds, a white plant with black leaves and described as “a vigorous deciduous shrub, hardy to cold”, which pretty much guarantees its inclusion in next year's  garden.

Black Lace Elderberry

At this point, since one has already pretty much abandoned the whole Twilight Garden idea by including black plants, it seemed there could be no harm in adding a smidgen of purple, as well. So now that the Twilight Garden has been slightly modified to include white plus black plus purple, let's just call it a Half Mourning Garden and be done with it, shall we? It really is difficult for the insomniac  to stick to one theme, whether it be an all-white garden or a blog post with a single subject ...

Sissinghurst: Iron Gates with Columbines and Iris
Both suitable for Zone 3B

White with a Smidgen of Purple

This fall, the insomniac  is planning to order these lilies from Breck's as they are sure to flourish, as long as the flower beds have been enclosed in some very attractive chicken wire to keep the rabbits from consuming them. Just one more obstacle to overcome in the creation of a respectable Mourning Garden, as if the whole Zone 3B thing weren't enough.

Night Flyer Lily
Tuxedo Lily Mixture

Olina Tango Lily

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... and should anyone be interested in a barely glanced-at copy of The Twilight Garden, please contact the insomniac  and she'll gladly send it to you. Goodnight, my pretties.


    Vita's Other World, A Gardening Biography of V. Sackville-West, Jane Brown
    Black Plants, 75 Striking Choices for the Garden, Paul Bonine
    The Twilight Garden, Lia Leendertz

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Tour of the Real Third-Floor Attic AND Paint it Black, Part I.V

Yet another example of the insomniac  having a great deal of difficulty sticking with a single subject, this week's post features a rather lengthy tour of the real third-floor attic, thrown together with a few of the Paint it Black projects completed thus far. Although barely a dent has been made in the list of things to be accomplished during the month-long hiatus from contract work, the few things that have been done actually live in the attic; hopefully the two seemingly diverse subjects actually work together on some level or another. To reiterate, it is a lengthy  tour - you might want to use the facilities and obtain a beverage of some sort from the scullery beforehand.

We'll begin our tour by ascending the treacherously steep stairwell to the attic. Mind your step, please.

They are steep, there is no handrail, and it truly
is a rare guest foolhardy enough to venture up them ...

Upon safely reaching the summit and having narrowly avoided plummeting down the stairs and out the second floor window to the flagstones below, you'll see one of the two dormer windows in the attic, although perhaps not quite as Dim and Dreary as this blog's tag line might suggest.  

The insomniac  is now anticipating your query as to why the walls are painted antique white and why it might seem as if she was attempting to emulate the shabby chic style of decorating; the reasoning behind light coloured walls was to accommodate her aging eyes, and that when sewing predominantly black or dark coloured fabric every little bit of light helps. Not to mention, the attic walls are so off-kilter that a patterned Wm. Morris wallpaper was out of the question. In an attempt to create a more Gothic ambiance, the walls were stenciled with a damask pattern that fades in and out, as if worn away by the ravages of time ... yet another brilliant idea that sounded infinitely better in one's head than its actualization.

The Size 12 Dummy

Definitely a few years (and a few pounds) ago ...

Looking to your right you'll notice the sewing table, which is actually an old dresser top salvaged by the spouse and laid on top of two filing cabinets. The insomniac  has now graciously removed the sewing machine and serger so you can have a better look at the newly painted top. As you can see, the Graphite chalk paint is a much softer black than the cabinets, which is why the sewing stool was repainted as well. So it looked less like an accident and more like it was planned.

Sewing Table and Stool

When you've finished looking, the insomniac  will replace the machines ...

To your left, you will see the non-functioning sewing table, which is really just one more  place to display yet another collection. You may have noticed there is an abundance of religious collectibles in the insomniac's  portion of the attic. It was suggested by the spouse that perhaps a few too many of these pieces had begun to accumulate on the first and second floors, and maybe she would like to create a display in an area of the Gothic Mansion where fewer people would see them, say, perhaps, her Sewing slash Crafting Area? This suggestion delivered in the nicest possible way, of course.

Non-Functioning Sewing Table

At this time, if you would kindly direct your attention to the right of the non-functioning sewing table, slightly above the comfy and very worn sewing chair, you will see one of the insomniac's  most beloved pictures. Take a small step to your left. Now take a small step to your right. Notice how, depending on the angle of viewing, the eyes will sometimes appear open and other times closed?  Rather unnerving, isn't it? Maybe you should look away now ...

Creepy Jesus, as he's affectionately known ...

To continue with our tour, just behind you is another of the completed Paint it Black projects - a cheap bookcase purchased for the eldest's room that has finally made its way up to the attic, which is where most of the shabbier carpeting and furniture eventually winds up. While it does look substantially better painted Graphite, might one recommend thinking long and hard before spending the time to refinish a piece of furniture as to whether it's actually worth it. Or not.

Cheap Bookshelf Before

Still a cheap bookshelf after - but painted Graphite.

Closeup of the Cheap Bookshelf Collection

Now, should you be expecting the remainder of today's tour will be nothing but pretty vignettes of the insomniac's  portion of the attic, well then, you may want to descend the treacherously steep stairwell to the second floor right this instant as this is most definitely not that kind of tour. And although one wishes the entire third floor looked like an article from the magazine Where Women Create wherein every studio is artfully decorated AND immaculate to boot, sadly, such is not the case here. As evidenced by the insomniac's drawing table right there behind you - and this on a good day.

The Medicine Chest Door

To be Revealed in Paint it Black, Part II.

The Sink

After cleaning the brushes used to paint the Medicine Chest Door.

Before proceeding to the next stage of the tour, the insomniac  would like to take this opportunity to point out that even though she has made a valiant attempt to organize her Hoard Supplies, there remain a few areas yet to be dealt with. Perhaps you might have some suggestions for a tidier way to store the frames awaiting a suitable print besides stuffing them in a cardboard box? Should you happen to think of something, please feel free to share these ideas with your tour guide prior to your departure from the attic.

You can see why with so many projects awaiting completion,
there is never any free time left for dusting, can't you?

So as not to end with ghastly images of messy drawing tables, filthy sinks and unfinished projects, the insomniac  has attempted to create a few last-minute artful displays for your viewing pleasure, similar to the ones in the magazines. If you'd be so kind as to step over here to the ironing board, you'll find some vintage silver trays filled with pieces that will eventually end up in some project or another - the beaded picture frames purchased specifically as samples for reproduction, and the furry mourning embellishment to be united somehow with the vintage fur coat you just saw resting on top of the mountain of cloth. A beautiful pillow or fur cape, perhaps? As for the rest, who knows ...

Artful Display Number I

Artful Display Number II

To end our tour, the second dormer window on the attic's east side, where a small portion of the Harley Davidson memorabilia is displayed. The insomniac  hopes you have enjoyed your visit to the real third-floor attic today, and would like to remind you to watch your step as you make your way down the treacherously steep stairwell to the second floor. The commode is down the hall and to your right.

The attic is beautiful with the sun streaming in,
despite the extremely dirty windows
which are terribly hard to reach for cleaning ...

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. As for the insomniac herself, after bidding you farewell and bolting the front door behind you, she will head back up the treacherously steep stairwell to the attic, and add a final coat of paint to the Medicine Chest Door. Goodnight, my pretties.