In Morocco For Your Backyard

Trombia Lantern

Here in the Palm Springs desert after sunset I love to stand outside and feel that warm dry wind on my skin.  It makes you feel weightless, like you’re suspended in a cloud of talcum powder.  I know that this is familiar to all desert cultures, and the lifestyle of Morocco makes more sense to me now than ever.  This year’s San Francisco Garden Show featured a Moroccan garden with its fountains and tiles and carpets and lanterns.  Monrovia Nursery provided the kumquats and fruitless olive trees and other exotic plants.  This is the same look I strive for here in my desert garden, and I want to share some things that will give your patio or garden the same look and feel.  I was inspired to create a Moroccan style garden on a TV episode of my show, Weekend Gardening on the DIY Network, proving what you can do with a narrow sideyard space.  Anyone can recreate it for a seasonal outdoor living space, but it is year around in milder climates.  We used a canvas tent for shade and carpets just as the Bedouins do.    I spend a lot of time online shopping at Berber Trading Company (see our links list) when I should be working.  They feature killer Moroccan imports.  Most of all I just love their lanterns which come pre-wired and ready to support a standard light bulb!  I’ve seen these kinds of lamps hanging from tree branches in gardens and nothing gives you that exotic North African feel quite like they do.  The two that I want are Trombia and Medina.    Medina has smaller light holes so it will work better hanging from a tree.    Trombia will be perfect hanging on a swag chain over my front door.  Here’s a trick anyone can do for an instant seasonal upgrade no matter what your climate.  Papyrus is a water plant that grows along the edges of the Nile.  You can create an instant Moroccan water garden in the garden, on porch or patio: 1.  Buy a large rustic looking urn that resembles a water jar with a big mouth. 2.  Buy a large papyrus plant. 3.  Set the papyrus in the empty water jar – if it sits real low, turn an empty plastic nursery pot upside down, or any other pedestel, then set the papyrus on top of that so the rim of its pot is about 6″ below the rim of the water jar. 4.  Fill the water jar with water as full as you’d like.  

PA FLooding Home Damage Assessment

Hurricanes and floods do more than just damage homes and businesses.  They can also devastate the entire homesite from building wall to property line.  In this field lies a number of costly components both living and man made.  While the focus is typically on the house itself, the exterior landscaping, improvements and infrastructure are also an expensive and vital part of the picture.  A landscape is composed of more than just trees, plants and lawn.  There’s pavement, irrigation systems, outdoor lighting, drainage structures, shade structures, out buildings, garden art and water features.  Each of these represents a significant investment in both time and money.  Each of these should be included in your storm loss calculations.   PLANTS   Landscape plants are different from other outdoor homesite improvements because they take time to mature and reach their ultimate beauty.  Certainly they can be replaced, but this is with small, nursery grown juveniles.  A boxwood hedge that took a decade to fill in and appear lush will require another decade after replanting to reach its full beauty and usefulness.  A mature tree can take even longer, and in the case of southern live oaks, centuries pass before they achieve the homesite’s former glory.  Trees contribute so much to a home’s value, offering beauty, shade and majesty.  The loss of even one of these giants can have a significant impact on property values.             Obviously mature trees can’t be replaced with equals so there will be losses that are never truly recovered in your lifetime.  But this inability to replace with a tree of equal value means you have some opportunities to declare losses on your tax return.  In the aftermath of such enormous storms, pay attention to the individual components of your yard and make notes to ensure these details aren’t lost. They are your record of changes, damage and destruction of your financial investment in the landscape of your home. PAVING  Inspect pavement for cracks or heaving.  Swelling, wet clay soils can tilt slabs.  Falling trees and debris can crack the concrete, or more expensive special paving such as stone or tile.  Cracking can destroy an entire patio or sidewalk requiring it to be removed and replaced with a new pour.  Knowing how many square feet of damaged concrete you have helps with more accurate insurance claims.  IRRIGATION   Review your irrigation system if applicable.  Determine if the pipe is still in the ground.  Note whether the sprinkler heads are still at their optimal elevations.  Often sediment will build up or soil is washed away leaving the heads either too high or two low.  To regrade and reset them may present a considerable work effort. LIGHTING   Whether it’s low voltage or 110 volt, outdoor lighting is often destroyed by storms.  Lights in trees suffer most, but those on ground inundated may be a total loss.  While inexpensive plastic systems may be easy to replace, upscale twelve volt can be pricey and should go into your assessment.  Costly 110 volt outdoor lighting requires an electrician to
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K9 of the Corn

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Dot finds Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden her favorite book on Native American agriculture. It was published in 1917 and is still in print today.  Buffalo Bird Woman demonstrated how the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes farmed the flood plains of the Missouri River and its tributaries.  What Dot loves is how they sing to the corn… We cared for our corn in those days as we would care for a child, for we Indian people loved our gardens, just as a mother loves her children; and we thought that our growing corn liked to hear us sing, just as the children like to hear their mother sing to them.   Dot is romantic at heart and she wonders if we all sing to the corn if it will indeed grow faster and sweeter.  She’s heard me sing to my corn, and when the wind blows it rustles back to me its thanks in the scraping of those long, serrated leaves. The Hidatsa built elevated watcher’s platforms in their cornfields instead of scare crows.  Someone would always sit upon the platform to protect the developing corn from wildlife. It was not uncommon for young women to be the watchers, and they were known for sitting out there singing to the corn, making up their songs as they go along.  Probably their songs drew young men for trysts outside the village, but the corn liked it too. More on cool Native American Corn at Native Seed/Search:

Signs in Frida Kahlo’s Garden

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Two years ago I stood in the courtyard of Casa Azul in Coyoacan and could feel Frida Kahlo’s spirit lingering amidst the plants and stones.  It was exactly fifty years after her death and all of Mexico City was remembering her.  I turned back toward the small bedroom off her studio and snapped a picture.  Later in the states I discovered that shot on the full screen where the lighting played this crazy trick.      Through a far open second floor door was the bed where she spent her final days.  She asked that it be positioned in a narrow hallway where she could look out through the door and into the garden.  Her death mask lies nestled into that pillow, her painted plaster corset just out of sight against the wall.  And while the camera caught all of the garden it somehow managed to capture that room in its own etherial light, as though she was still there.  Perhaps she was. Perhaps when a person lives so deeply connected to a violet blue painted house with a canary yellow kitchen, a grand painting studio and a separate bedroom for Diego, that is where they still linger after death.  Viva la vida, Frida.   Happy 52nd. 

American Chopper trades Weekend Gardening?

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Paul Teutul’s new house in the woods needs a killer natural garden!  But the truth is gear heads who design bikes don’t translate to designing gardens well.  My friend Chuck brought up the idea the other day.  Why don’t you custom design a world class landscape for Big Paul in exchange for a custom design bike?  Great idea, I thought, because frankly, my sportster just doesn’t have enough horses – and his yard ain’t so hot either. Being the old school biker chick that I am, the scooter that haunts my dreams is a relic of the 1960s that belongs to a guy I once knew.  It was built by California Choppers East and is original right down to the purple velvet king & queen seat and the World War II vintage flat head 80 Harley Davidson engine extracted from a military sidecar rig. But what lights my fire is Peter Max in metal flake on a coffin tank…the cracks are what happens to original varnish after fifty years on the road.  And if the Teutuls could figure out how to give me a 102 c.i. flat head look on this raked frame, I could die and go to heaven.  Note the psychedelic detail paint on the frame and on the bobbed back fender.  Only thing I’d change is the suicide clutch and jock shift – 21st century six speed there, thank you.  So if you’re listening Paul…just let me know when you’re ready to trade!

Indoor Outdoor Dog

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  Dot says she digs lying in the open doorway, half way in and half way out.  It’s possible in the heat because we put in a swamp cooler for her that allows the doors to be open while the cooler is on.  She says that’s a good way to live better with nature and save energy. I think it’s the essence of outoor living so that the division between your rooms and your patios is as invisible as possible. Dot found this Frank Lloyd Wright quote in one of my architecture books that speaks to living this indoor outdoor experience and how homes should relate to their natural surroundings like the watchtower at the Grand Canyon. Therefore, let us build houses that restore to man the life-giving, life-enhancing elements of nature.  This means an architecture that begins with the nature of the site.  Which means taking the first great step toward assuring a worthy architecture, for in the rightness of the house on the land we sense a fitness we call beauty.  

Pick Herbs On The Solstice

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 In old Europe, the summer solstice, June 21st was known as Midsomer’s Day.  It is the point of the year when the days have reached the longest, and the day after they will begin the gradual shortening into winter.  Plants sense this even more than we do and that led to the belief that any herb harvested at this time of year would be enbued with magical qualities.  This is an ideal time to harvest your lavender foliage and flowers when the plants are at peak of growth and oil content.  If you do it right you’ll ensure they retain the essential oil needed to retain fragrance for as long as possible.  It’s best to harvest the lavender early in the morning after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day.  That way they won’t wilt before you get them inside.  Gently wrinse the cuttings with fresh water, shake the excess moisture off.  Inspect for any damage and remove it before you lay them out in a single layer on towels to air dry.  Tie the herbs into small bundles with twine and hang upside down in a cool, dry, airy place out of the sum.  Keep the bundles small to avoid trapping moisture among the stems. The three types of lavenders for home gardens that you can grow.  Keep in mind that many of these species have a huge choice of cultivars. English lavender   Lavandula angustifolia    Most cold hardy – tall thin flowers. French lavender   Lavandula dentata candicans   Big bushy plants. Spanish lavender   Lavandula stoechas    Most heat and drought tolerant.  You can see many lavender cultivars of all three species in the illustrated plant database at