Shade the Backyard from the Sunshine & Rain on Umbrella Day

blue_umbrella_peopleWhen rain drops the size of giants’ tears are falling from the sky, you’re more likely to steer clear of the outdoors and seek shelter inside. Rain is Mother Nature’s way of recharging groundwater and flushing out the toxins, and this precipitation is an important part of the water cycle. However, there’s no doubt that these storms or mists can rain on your parade and put a damper on your plans. Instead of stopping your life for the impending drizzle, you can shade those gray clouds out of your life with a functional invention.

On Thursday, February 10, flaunt your umbrellas and step out into the sunshine or rain with confidence, because it will be Umbrella Day! This is your moment to seize the day regardless of the weather and appreciate the many uses of an umbrella, and all umbrellas at Outdora are up to 40% off the list price.

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DIY Amazing Maze or Labyrinth Garden

labyrinth2Labyrinths and mazes have their beginning in European countries where Kings and Dukes would petition a labyrinth or maze for their castle.  But in recent times, labyrinths have found their way to spas, hospitals, and retreats where mental exercise or contemplation is needed.  Mazes on the other hand, have been used by farmers to create agritourism opportunities, parks as an attraction, and even in the common home landscaping.  But to create your own labyrinth or maze one must understand the difference.

Labyrinths are typically designed to define a sacred space that has one entrance/exit.  The paths are designed to go in one direction and lead to a predetermined destination.  While an individual walks along the path mediation and contemplation occurs.  The goal of a labyrinth is not how one gets to the predetermined destination but instead the journey itself.

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Don’t let frigid temperatures outdoors put a damper your love of grilling!

snow-day-egg-300x225I’m a big fan of outdoor cooking, no matter the season, and the fact that winter is upon us hasn’t stalled my grilling at all. If anything, I feel more inspired to get out on the patio and fire up the Lynx Grill, (36” Freestanding, in case you were curious,) in an effort to

keep the frost and chill at bay. Few things keep me warmer than an open fire, and what better excuse can be found than, “I was cooking dinner!”

There are several things to take into consideration when it comes to winter grilling. The obvious being struggles with ice and snow. A build up of ice on the grill, or a snow drift around it means your grill will take longer to heat up and that it will also have to work harder to maintain a constant temperature. This is where debate over the use of gas or charcoal rages. Traditionalists will argue that there is simply no replacing the feel or flavor of charcoal grilling. However, in cold weather a gas grill has certain advantages. You will find it much easier to achieve high and consistent heat with gas, no matter the temperature outside. Charcoal requires more patience, regardless of the season, but especially during colder months. One sure way to mitigate the cold when using charcoal is to cook with a ceramic unit like, The Big Green Egg. Sturdy ceramic walls will hold heat exceptionally well, and will allow the charcoal to burn efficiently.

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How to Disguise an Unsightly Patio Wall or Backyard View

blank_wallAs you ease into your favorite patio chair and reach for that tall glass of iced tea, IT catches your eye. “It” could be an unsightly patio wall or your neighbor’s idea of a backyard design—an unkempt lawn strewn with toys. Either way, the mood is lost, but fear not, you can fix either of these irritations in just a weekend.

Wall of shame

Give an unsightly patio wall a facelift with a cover of foliage and flowers in three steps: hide the eyesore, add a focal point and accessorize with existing container plants and garden art or a few new purchases.

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The Language of Love Through Flowers and the History of Valentine’s Day

valentines dayRoses are red, violets are blue, I give my loved one’s flowers, but how do I do.  This sediment is something that many individuals murmur around February 14 or Valentines Day. But giving and caring for flowers is not as hard as it may seem compared to what Saint Valentine went through for couples.

There are several legends that describe how Valentine Day got started. One legend describes Valentine as a priest who lived in third century Rome.  During this time period Emperor Claudius II believed that single men could be better soldiers if they were not married. So he had marriages of young men outlawed but Valentine continued to marry young men in secret.  When this was discovered, Valentine was arrested and sentenced to death.

While the priest was in prison it is rumored that he sent the first “valentine.” to a girl he had fallen in love with at the prison.  He signed this valentine “From your Valentine.”  But this first valentine has been lost to the ages and cannot be found. The oldest valentine still in existence today was penned by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was still in prison in the Tower of London.

It is believed that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February to remember the anniversary of Valentine’s death.  Others feel that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February so that the pagan Luperculia Festival could be “christianized.”  But in France and England, February 14 is believed to be the beginning of birds’ mating season and in doing so created the idea of a day for romance or Valentine’s Day.

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The Mysterious Silica transparencii or Bottle Tree

10 Bottle tree closeupThere does exist a very rare and magical tree that can be found worldwide but is very hard to find for any botanist or forester.  What could this tree species be?  Well it is the illusive Bottle Tree (Silica transparencii), which translated means clear glass.  This tree species has many different cultivars that range from The Pride of Kentucky which is a tree that is all green to Uncle Sam that has a red, white, and blue color scheme.  But the most valued of all the bottle trees is the Cobalt Goddess, which is all blue.  But where did this tree originate?

The bottle tree has a simple beginning that started in Northern Africa where glass was first made around 3500 B.C.  Then in 1600 B.C. individuals in Egypt began to make hollow bottles.  Then in Alexandria around 100 A.D. clear glass bottles began to be produced.

During this same time period, in the Kongo, natives were honoring the dead through their tree altars.  These altars were set up at the gravesite by the relatives of the deceased.  Family members would bring plates shaped like mushrooms and hang them on these tree altars.  From these tree altars, the concept of the bottle tree was born in the ninth century.

Bottles throughout history have had a unique importance as far as capturing evil spirits.  Stories of moaning coming from bottles started to appear in many different texts.  It was believed that evil spirits, bottle imps, or haints could be trapped inside bottles.  These bottles could be corked and thrown in the water.  This would kill the evil spirits.   This in turn moved to the bottle tree and the belief grew that evil spirits would get trapped inside the bottle during the night and when the sun rose would be killed.

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Growing Potatoes the Right Way

potatoes_and_pitchfork_tIf there is one vegetable that rates as one of the best tasting, it is fresh new potatoes dug from the ground, boiled or grilled, and slathered with butter. Potatoes are easy to grow if planted at the right time in properly prepared soil, and there are many different kinds to choose from. They even come in different colors, like the All Blue, Red Sun, Purple Majesty or Yukon Gold varieties.

Potatoes are not grown from transplants or seeds, but from small potatoes called seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are small potatoes dug from the ground and set aside and stored for planting at a later date. When purchasing seed potatoes, buy certified seed potatoes, to ensure you receive a disease-free product. The least expensive seed potatoes are sold at farm and ranch supply stores. Seed potatoes cost two to three times more from a mail-order seed company and their shipping weight will increase the price further. Although potatoes can be planted in the fall where winters don’t experience freezing temperatures, seed potatoes are impossible to find for fall gardens. The best time to buy seed potatoes is late winter.

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Designing a Nontraditional Lawn

2succulent-landscapeThere exist two schools of thought when it comes to mowing the lawn. One school of thought is the dread of having to mow the lawn. The amount of time that is wasted doing this chore is viewed as a negative when it comes to homeownership.  The second school of thought is one of pure joy.  The thought of being outside in the fresh air, getting exercise, and the feeling of accomplishment makes having a lawn worth it.  But what can the homeowner do who dreads the first day of spring and the thought of another mowing season or the homeowner who can no longer mow the grass. The solution is to create a nontraditional grassless lawn.

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Ice Wine, Winter Treat

2004icewine_bigWinter is upon us. With the short days, and long cold nights, comes one sweet reward: ice wine.

Canada and Germany are the top global producers of ice wine, with Riesling, Vidal and Cabernet Franc leading the charge as varietals of choice. In keeping with the creative drive in all wine production these days, many vinters are experimenting with other grapes including Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Ehrenfelser, Pinot Noir and Merlot. These have met with limited success in true ice wines, but are making strides as icebox wines instead.

To be considered a true ice wine, the grapes used for production must be frozen on the vine, and harvested at a temperature below -8 C, or 17 F. This practice, enforced by law, contributes to the low volumes produced, high prices and irregular vintages. Because the harvest of ice wine grapes must wait for a hard freeze, the fruit often hangs on the vine for months longer than is deemed safe. If the temperature remains above freezing, grapes are subject to rot, and even if spared that indignity can be lost to predation by animals or by simply falling off the vine.

Given these risk factors, several producers are now opting for ‘icebox’ wines instead. This means they artificially freeze the grapes, extracting the same end product without fear of losing much or all of their crop. It also allows vineyards in warmer climates to compete in the ice wine arena.  As a traditionalist, I’m inclined to disagree with the practice, but will leave it to you to make up your own mind. It’s my feeling that wine production should remain as natural as possible, and that ice wine is one of the benefits owed to growers and vinters who tough out the long and cold Canadian winter.

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DIY Memories in a Bottle: Building a Wine Bottle Terrarium

Wine Terrarium

In many situations, when the party is over, the last thought on anybody’s mind is what to do with the wine bottles.  Some individuals will simply move the old trash can near the mess and load it up with the remnants of the party.  Other individuals will pull the recycling bin over to the party area and sort the “trash” into recyclables and non-recyclables.  But for those of us that want more bang for our discarded items a wine bottle terrarium is in order.

This project can be a simple family-night activity or can be taken up a notch and used to celebrate a special occasion.  Bottles that are discarded from weddings or anniversaries can be saved and turned into living memories.  These memories can be documented by simply leaving the label on the bottle.

The steps for this project are easy and very open-ended, which flings the door open to creativity. The supplies needed to complete one wine bottle terrarium are below.

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