Beautifying the Home Grounds: Your Source for 1920s Outdoor Project Inspiration

I have a simple design process here at the Root Simple compound. I ask the house what it wants. The house, being a fuddy-duddy, vaguely colonial bungalow build in 1920, invariably tells me that it want something fuddy-duddy and vaguely colonial. It doesn’t want innovation or Starchitects or Pottery Barn or Ikea. The house doesn’t care what I want. My most successful outdoor and indoor projects have been ones that nobody notices, that look like they were always there.

If you have a fuddy-duddy 1920s house in need of some trellising, outdoor furniture or an arbor take a look at Beautifying the Home Grounds by the Southern Pine Association, part of the always useful Building Technology Heritage Library on archive.org.

I’m using Beautifying the Home Grounds as a design resource to replace the horrible flipper fence I installed a few years ago and the aging entrance arbor that fence is connected to. I’m thinking of going with arbor number 13.

I’ve already done the rendering in Sketchup. Boring, yes. But sometimes boring is just what your house wants.

Olive Questions

Lacking an Italian or Greek grandmother, I’ve got to crowdsource my olive curing questions. So, my dear Root Simple readers: have you cured olives? What method did you use and how did they turn out?

The Frantoio olive tree that I planted in the parkway a few years ago produced a bumper crop of olives this year. Last year every single olive hosted olive fruit fly maggots. This summer, to reduce the olive fruit fly population I put some torula yeast lures in a McPhail trap in the tree and removed any fruit that had any signs of infestation. I change out the yeast tabs every month. The strategy seems to have greatly reduced the infestation. I lost probably around a third of the olives but had more than enough un-maggoty olives to fill three half-gallon jars. Today I plan on sweeping up any olives on the ground and removing any remaining olives from the tree to, as much as possible, further knock the olive fruit fly population.

Contents of the McPhail trap.

I chose a brine method to cure the olives and followed the recipe in the informative UC Davis publication, Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling. With any luck I should have olives in three to six months. The Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog suggests changing out the brine periodically, which leads to more questions for readers: do you change out your brine? How did you season the brine?

While my attempt at growing annual vegetables was a disaster this year, let me say how thankful Kelly and I are to have planted fruit trees ten years ago. The most successful: pomegranates, figs and olives.

If you’d like to try curing olives, but don’t have any trees of your own, you can always forage them. In the past month I’ve spotted fruiting olive trees in Hollywood on a side street adjacent to the Kaiser complex, in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. Just don’t use the scarred fruit as that’s the sign of maggots.

The Glorious USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

Chestnut. Ellen Isham Schutt, 1913.

Over the past few months I’ve been reviving my long lost drawing hobby, partly as a way to fend of the temptations of phone addiction but also as a way of training myself to take the time to really see what’s around me. Anyone who has tried to draw knows that what it teaches is to observe the world without the preconceptions imposed by language. Before the advent of inexpensive photography, drawing had a central role not only in everyday life but also in science. The United States Department of Agriculture’s online collection of watercolor illustrations of fruits and nuts demonstrates how scientific illustration can be both useful and beautiful.

The collection spans the years 1886 to 1942. The majority of the paintings were created between 1894 and 1916. The plant specimens represented by these artworks originated in 29 countries and 51 states and territories in the U.S. There are 7,497 watercolor paintings, 87 line drawings, and 79 wax models created by approximately 21 artists. Lithographs of the watercolor paintings were created to illustrate USDA bulletins, yearbooks, and other publications distributed to growers and gardeners across America.

Rimmer Apple. Deborah Griscom Passmore 1901.

The collection showcases the diversity of fruit and nut varieties before industrial agriculture took it all away and replaced it with easily shipped but tasteless produce.

Pomegranate. Mary Daisy Arnold, 1932.

The human eye can see and perceive things that a camera can’t and the artists who made these exquisite watercolors must have had an encyclopedic knowledge of the fruits and nuts they portrayed. The collection has 3,807 images of apples alone.

Should you have some blank walls in need of art let me point out that all of the images are available in high resolution.

Homesteading Heresy: On Giving Up Vegetable Gardening

Eric Rochow of Garden Fork TV and I interviewed each other for our respective podcasts yesterday. Without giving too much away, we talked about the idea of mental de-cluttering: weeding out those activities in our lives that take a lot of time, tools and expense with less than stellar results. While it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of failed interests, perhaps it’s healthier to see that with one door closing another one opens.

I spent an hour yesterday pulling apart our last remaining raised vegetable bed. This bed had a caged top to keep the skunks from digging up seedlings. I called it “vegetable Guantanamo.” It took a lot of work to build and looked hideously ugly. Removing it was the first step in making some much needed aesthetic improvements to the our front yard. We plan on replacing it with two dwarf citrus trees: a kumquat and lemon.

I mentioned in a previous post my ambivalence about vegetable gardening. Frankly, I haven’t devoted the amount of attention the task deserves. It feels like a chore to me. Meanwhile, as shown in the picture above, vegetables happen without my intervention, in this case a cherry tomato plant that seeded itself and grew without irrigation while the tomatoes I planted, tended and watered withered and died. So while I don’t plan on growing annual vegetables in the near future, I’m certainly not going to get in the way of nature. If she grants us feral vegetables we’ll get out of the way and let them flourish. Maybe we’ll even throw some random seeds around and give nature a nudge.

If you love growing annual vegetables, go for it. But if you don’t, consider what you really want to do and focus on that. Maybe it’s embroidery, or writing or just hanging out with friends. I’m having a good time in the wood shop. I’ve also been working through the drawing lessons in Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain for the second time in twenty years, tackling some difficult books on my reading bucket list and I even sat through the entirety of the Ring of the Nibelungen. I say embrace whatever activity keeps you away from the addictive grasp of the Silicon Valley Übermenschen. Go plant some vegetables if you enjoy it but, at least in the near future, you’ll find me in produce aisle of Super King.

133 Trees of Power with Akiva Silver

On this 133rd episode of the Root Simple podcast Kelly and I talk to Akiva Silver of Twisted Tree Farm, described in his author bio as a “homestead, nut orchard and nursery located in Spencer, New York where he grows around 20,000 trees a year using practices that go beyond organic.” Akiva’s background is in “foraging, wilderness survival and primitive skills.” He is also the author of Trees of Power: Ten Essential Arboreal Allies (Amazon, library) just published by Chelsea Green. In our conversation we discuss how trees could replace a lot of the staple crops in our diet. During the podcast we also rap about:

  • J. Russel Smith Tree Crops (Free download on Archive.org)
  • Kat Anderson Tending the Wild
  • Mulch, soil and water
  • Processing acorns
  • Exotics vs. natives – should we learn to love the invasives?
  • Tree of heaven!
  • Coppicing and pollarding
  • Arborist fails and #arboristfails
  • How to plant trees

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.