Friday, November 19, 2010

Chores & Gardening in Tarpon Springs

If you ever saw the Money Pit with Tom Hanks or Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House with Cary Grant you will know some of the passion and the fury involved in building or restoring a house. I have been through this three other times and swear I will never do it again, but here I am with tools in hand on a new adventure that involves the creation of a new garden and the restoration of an old house.

I came down to take on some of the hundreds of repairs that are needed in my old house. The escape came at a wonderful time as the weather was getting pretty bad up north and here it has been like a bit of paradise with tropical breezes blowing and hovering in the high 70's to the low 80's. Not bad, at all! However, I have spent time going back and forth from hardware stores to Home Depot to the house and slowly repairing things that bug me. For instance, all the hardware in this house has been painted, not once but twenty times! The door escutcheons are so deformed with paint that you can't tell weather they have detail or are smooth.

solid brass escutcheon paint free waiting to be brushed and paint encrusted one

So I went to a Thrift shop and found a classic crock pot and have cooked all my door and window hardware for ten to twelve hours. The results are that 40 or 50 years of paint have fallen off without much effort to reveal solid brass hardware that had rusted between paint coats. I took a brass wire brush and rubbed with a little mineral oil and now I have historic patina hardware like the fancy ones purchased from high end suppliers.

I have fixed lots of small details from window screens to remove hundreds of nails and patch all the walls. What they held, who knows? I have fixed the sash cords on some of the double hung windows. Windows that in part did not fully open or close and had the gap filled with caulking and newspaper. Real smart for a place crawling with termites! Somehow the quality of the original construction and materials are the only things that has made this house survive almost to its first century anniversary.

Nature is very bountiful here and you are surprised how fast things grow and how they get established with very little effort and in the strangest place. Palms in particular can established themselves in the most precarious places. This one above found the empty corner of my porch. It started as nothing more that a seed the size of a grape and I decided to take it out and transplant it to a useful site, but palms are tenacious.
It would be a while before it tore the roof off as it grew.

This one had been in the ground maybe 3-5 years and had managed to build a stalk almost a foot thick with string roots coming out to establish a connection to the sandy soil and keep it in place when the hurricanes blow. I spent better part of two hours digging this one out in easy to work sandy soil, but the roots where everywhere! I also managed to take another one out between my neighbor and my back fence that would destroy the fence and even one more that had established itself in the drip line of my air conditioner drain. Clever plants.

On an errand I ran into what appeared to be a garden school. There I met my new friend Paula who runs the Gro-Group with her friend Claire. The two of them teach gardening, help with assorted projects and talks at the Library and other cultural institutions around Tarpon Springs on plants and horticulture. Part of the program teaches plant propagation and as a result they had a lot of very interesting plants. As I have said before when two plant people get together all the limitations that might exist in a traditional first encounter totally disappear as their bond for plants is so strong that a friendship quickly forms. Such was the case with Paula and me. She and Claire showed me around the small plot and all the plants that they had available. They had wonderful plants and were eager to find them a good home.

I had been told by the City of Tarpon Springs that they would plant Street Trees for me but only on the public right-of-way. This nixed the front of my house which has a sidewalk next to the curb and the planting area is on my land. Paula saved the day with two Live-Oaks (Quercus virginiana) that I hope will grow fast to shade the front of the property from the blistering summer sun.

Paula not only provided me with some wonderful and inexpensive plants but she also gave me a bunch and had her husband deliver the big stuff for free. She then lent me a tool as I broke my found shovel trying to remove one of the palms. I don't have it all in the ground but will before I leave to go home for Thanksgiving.

Spider lily Crinun

Box of mixed sedums and kalanchoes

Aspidistra (cast iron plant)

Wonderful native begonia

So as you can see I have started an assortment of projects that are manageable and that I can alternate from one to another so it does not become tedious and in the end I get more accomplished. In the midst of all this work I had my first house guest. I was not thrilled at first because I have a lot of work to do. I say again, A LOT OF WORK TO DO! But I thought it would be fun to receive someone in the state that the house is in and take a much needed break from all the work. For four days I have been running around and doing light projects and meeting other of my new plant lover neighbors and getting connected to that world. Tarpon Springs is a most unusual place as there are people here from all over the country and for that matter from all over the world. The climate and the natural beauty have attracted people here every corner of the US and from Canada, Britain and other parts of Europe.

Bounty from a neighbor

Garage sales occur here like every place but the ensuing conversations that come up when you are done dealing can be funny and friend creating. I have had a few of these situations occur as I was looking to pick up very cheaply things that I already own, but am not in a position to bring down. As is these garage sales are a way to meet your neighbors and begin forming what I hope are some lasting bonds. In the process of these sales I have met some great people as they all seem to know me in advance for the house I purchased is a bit of a landmark.

I guess for this Thanksgiving I am glad that I discovered this community and hope that as the tide of employment returns we all find many things to be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Gardening!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post! But I was hoping to find a photo of that first house guest. Was he camera shy?
    Lucky you getting all those plants. My tropical plants are growing in my dining room in New Jersey without the benefit of tropical breezes and unlimited amounts of earth into which they can stretch their roots.
    There is something so seductive about these old houses. Your new house will give back to you more than you have put into it --- soon. Then we will come and visit!