Thursday, August 20, 2015

Yards Park - KEEP OUT

Lounging on the lounges

Last Sunday, I ran away from home. This came shortly after My Prince, with a smile, announced that it was mid-August. Summer, he said most peppily, is almost over.

A tidal wave of images ensued. Hanging at the pool, literally. Elbows propped on the coping, nose in book, legs wriggling in the cool.  Beach trips, bags packed with Pringles (the only chip to stay crunchy and sand free, as long as you remember to put the lid on). Hours of alternately staring at a book and the waves. Moving the chair down to the water's edge to stare at more pages and waves. Sunburn. Gin and tonics on the porch.

Absolutely none of which happened this year. There was this that and the other tedious thing occupying our weekends, which meant no pool no beach oh BAH.

Since Baby married the lovely Pete there is no longer the goof-off imperative of having to entertain The Child, even unto the furthest reaches of childhood, which matched what I consider middle age in length. 

Riverwalk to Navy Yard

On this day he agreed, with martyred eyes, to go to the pool. I said thanks but no, sniff, do as you wish and I'll do...

So I packed my trusty pocket Sony and the new House Beautiful (with its unappetizing shades of orange Fall cover, just to rub in the misery) and marched a mile in the 95 degree heat to Yards Park which, several years in, and despite a raft of awards, remains one of Washington's least discovered pleasures.

At the west end there's the baseball stadium, which alternates concertos by the world's Taylor Swifts and the thwack of Nat's games, punctuated by fireworks. To the east is the walled fortress of the Washington Navy Yard, for which the park was named, which bustles industriously on weekdays but is nearly abandoned on weekends.

Bridging the two is the Park. There are marvelously cool gardens and fountains, a futuristic soaring bridge, restaurants and sidewalk cafes, a lawn for picnics, and a quiet glen with banks of built-in lounges to doze or read or sketch out some fantasy of turning the attic into a master bath, reached by a ladder up the wall -- I mean, how else are we going to get another bath in this house?

There appears to be an unspoken code of silence under the trees. The quiet people are here, doing quiet things.
The wallowing pool and, at left, the waterfall

An enormous shallow pool for wallowing has concrete pads for I don't know, posing like Greek statues maybe. The Kardashians would find a use. There's a waterfall at one end to jump through (in the tropics that would be the swim up bar, but you can't have everything. I suppose).

Notice how empty the pool is? This is early afternoon on an August Sunday. No whistle blowing lifeguards, no admission gates or fees, no eyesore sign of regulations.  Just a bunch of contented adults cooling their heels and kids splashing mindlessly about as they do. Probably peeing in there as well, which is why no adult is sitting down.
The park is fronted by a segment of the Riverwalk, which is actually twenty miles of walking, biking, and running trail on either side the of the Anacostia -- a beautiful river that leads into the more famous Potomac. (Unfortunately it's somewhat tainted by its association with a shall we say difficult (though topographically magnificent) part of town and various bouts with foul floating whatnots over the years).

Behind the park, office buildings and apartments with terraces and rooftop pools are sprouting. New townhouses mingle with old on side streets. A few nice hotels have gone up. There's a fancy gym for the aspirationally svelte and a trapeze school offering curbside entertainment, or classes if you've got the guts.

Despite its brand newness, this area is the oldest in the Federal City (which did not include Georgetown), dating to the 1790's and the construction of the Capitol and the Navy Yard.
Under the waterfall, coolest place in town

The wading pool reflects the series of inlets carved like gapped teeth into the river bank, which once led to wharves where marble and sandstone arrived from far-flung places for the building of the Capitol. This was then horse-hauled up 8th Street, now known as Barracks Row, then west on Pennsylvania Avenue to the construction site. Food stuffs arrived for the original Eastern Market which was erected in 1805.

Trapeze School New York
The area continued to bustle until after WWII, and then fell into disrepair. Public housing mingled with a handful of derelict row houses. A few corner stores and bars were interspersed with a random assortment of buildings containing  mysterious (because who then was interested?) public works.

Then, about 20 years ago, a series of extremely tedious meetings were held that eventually spat out a half-assed Plan to put up a monolithic corridor of office buildings with no space for shops or restaurants.  Workers, it was eventually agreed, could take a shuttle bus to Barracks Row for lunch.

That's enough of that story.

I don't recall mention of the park or the Riverwalk in the several boring years I spent at these interminable meetings, at which the high point was donuts.

Thankfully, like the mysterious fire that gutted the second Eastern Market -- erected in 1873, in the adjacent residential neighborhood of Capitol Hill -- and ended decades of angsty meetings about what to do, a cool new neighborhood emerged and somehow, someone, got this park done.

Now it just needs a few visitors. Or does it? Maybe not. Forget I said anything.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The NY Times is High on Pots - What are they Smoking?

Stone Urn on a Concrete Pillar
Sometimes, and by this I mean daily,  the design pages of the New York Times provoke me to scream, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MINDS?

And I say this fondly, being an ex-New Yorker, born and raised and schooled and once able to tell at a glance a real Gucci bit on a shoe from a knock-off -- and consider this essential information.

I'm looking here at a wood frame plant stand. It's essentially an open-sided packing crate made of ash, with a built-in saucer. Pop in your pot  and it's off the floor -- Thank God the parquet is safe!

The collection, by "designer" Trey Jones, begins at $550.  I think, I'm in fact sure, there's something like this lurking in the garage, or possibly the basement. Maybe the attic.

How do they write this stuff without snickering?

Now, no one loves pots and planters more than I do -- see various posts on the subject --  but the most I've ever paid for one, and technically it's not a planter but an umbrella stand cunningly redeployed, was a hundred bucks. I considered this a charitable contribution to the legal costs of a couple of guys who got caught selling a miniscule amount of weed, which is neither here nor there.
Cast Iron Pot on Stone Stand

Otherly, every otherly, the plants  that  stud our porches and gardens (that sounds a lot grander than it is) were found -- discarded on the sidewalks, sticking out of a dumpster, or gifts of a sort, as in: Please take this or I'm throwing it out.
An Early Find in Georgetown

Generally, all one needs to do to land free stuff is have knowledge of the trash truck timetable for various neighborhoods; of course the finer the neighborhood the finer the trash.

Where once Capitol Hill  was considered more shabby than chic, and one needed to forage in Georgetown or Cleveland Park, our streets are now littered with Bugaboo strollers pushed along by au pairs and nannies endlessly chattering on their cell phones in French, and Spanish, and Chinese, and the restaurant line for Roses stretches hours down the sidewalk.

Add to that being a rather transient place, what with upheavals of political fame and fortune, and the pickings are rarefied.

Chinese Pot on a Bunch of Put Together Junk
I've found pots and pedestal bases made of stone and concrete and porcelain. A cast iron pot with curly handles, weighing easily 100 pounds and valued at around $350 (triple that in New York) was a moving giveaway. I was very moved, as was my back. It holds a sago palm and summers on the front porch atop another find, this one picked up at curbside, a wonderful stone stand with protruding lion heads that winters in the living room and makes a fine extra seat when magazines aren't piled on it.

I don't know where I found the Chinese pot on the back porch and am, in fact, amazed that it is not broken. This one comes upstairs to my little greenhouse come November.

Furzed Terracotta
Nestling near the pond,  in a collection of ferns, is a gorgeous terracotta number the Prince brought home from who knows where last year --  it's now growing a fine furz of moss, which is a lovely touch.

Furz, I've just discovered, means flatulent in German. It sounds like it should mean a fine spread of soft fuzz. Doesn't it?

Last Sunday morning I toted home three fine pots glazed green. They'll be good on the porch steps, planted with the pink hibiscus and a jasmine that are currently being smothered by elephant ears.
Concrete Pot in Front Garden

I MEAN!? WHO throws this stuff out? But they do.

We have also acquired a pair of these rough concrete pots (at right), both are tucked in the front yard ivy and usually sport something seasonal - pansies or mums, maybe tulips. At the moment they're doing this crumbly thing that I quite admire, and anyway they flank a pot I'm saving for another post that's stuffed with geraniums and lavender and something else that I can't remember.  

The swirly half moon of wrought iron behind it was another trash fine,
I believe it was a headboard. This arrangement of stuffs totally thwarts the tromp of the postal persons, a 30-year goal finally realized.

Happy trashing!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Can You Hear Me Now? Elephants have Big Ears

In my garden of few successes, the elephant ears are an unqualified delight. Much like the wandering jew that meanders here and there, easily filling bald patches at the poke of a chopstick, the colocasia (just looked that up so's I'd look knowledgeable about something) devour space with glee, and need no care whatsoever -- with the exception of setting the bulb with the bit that's supposed to bud at the top (and I'm not even sure about that).  

Water, don't water, fertilize, don't fertilize, sun no sun, up they come, sooner or later -- pretty much depending on how deep I've planted them. Too deep is a perennial mistake. I buy a bag of ten or so each spring at Costco and stick them behind pots, in front of the garage window, beside the pond, behind the cherry tree, hiding the straggly base of the honeysuckle, and higgledy-piggledy every elsewhere.

The ones that come up fastest are crowded in a clay pot, covered with a couple of inches of dirt (topped with some poked in wandering jew so I remember not to toss it), and set on the back porch steps. Give them a couple of weeks, and they'll be leafed out and ready to be strewn here and there in wherever is still unoccupied. This is something, by the way, that year after year I fail to recall.

I mistakenly plant them like tulips, with 6 inches or so above their heads, and then sit here until -- um, last week in one case -- for the plants to show. And, since the wait is lengthy, and I have a hinky memory (as I believe I've mentioned), the spots must be marked (with another chopstick -- the prince bought me a pack of 100 a couple of years ago) so I won't go planting something else on top or step on an emerging sprout.
Technically, I suppose, they're much too large for this little space, but then I don't do much of anything in a small way (see various rants on the irritation of twee and, for that matter, my pruning issues, and let us not forget my vines) and their mammoth leaves add even more shade to the shade so I'm constantly moving this and that to chase the spotty sun -- the hibiscus and African gardenia are not at all happy, though they'll recover nicely in the greenhouse this winter. 

In the meantime, what giddy joy bring these giant leaves!! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Grown Any Good Books Lately?

Cymrot's Box

On Capitol Hill they're pushing up like weeds, the free book boxes. Some are organized under the umbrella of, a group I'd never heard of until yesterday but is apparently an international org with on-line maps showing people desperate for something to read where to find boxes in places like Turin and Detroit. They also sell labels and placards and brochures and suggest building plans and materials.

Other boxes are renegades, sprung up delightfully unregulated.

Self Explanatory
All have but one rule in common. Take a book, and leave one, hopefully in the same box. I'm not too good at this - at least the part about leaving books in the same box I took from -- I tend to wander with something half read, that I'm not about to dump (unless it's dreadful) for something new. But I know I'll require something else in an hour or a day and so rummage in the boxes and grab a book for the thirsty time to come.

The first book box I saw was a few years ago, in front of the junior Cymrots jack-o-lantern colored home on A Street, SE -- sitting there like a Lilliputian renegade branch of Riverby Books on East Capitol Street, which was founded by the senior Cymrots (One is reluctant to categorize Riverby as a used bookstore, since it is so tidily kept and carefully edited, and includes rarities).
Capitol Hill Books Window

Riverby is nothing like Capitol Hill Books, near Eastern Market, a 3-story warren of rooms and books stacked dustily in windows or heaving the shelves. The owner (miraculously) knows where what is but for the browser it's a challenge.

This is the granddaddy of the neighborhood's book free-for-all (if I'm wrong, do tell). 

The one around the Corner from Safeway
Outside Capitol Hill Books is a folding table that is frequently heaped with books, sometimes they're the store owner's rejects, a remaindered book's last chapter as it were. Other times, people dump books when they're moving or are simply done reading and don't like the clutter, bless them. The owner, if he's swift, creams the lot, but often they're wonderful finds (if you haven't discovered the mysteries of Francis Fyfield -- bet you can't read just one).

Those were three paragraphs of beside the point. The point being the book boxes,which can now be found scattered about the neighborhood.

Some are sadly utilitarian, like the one around the corner from Safeway. It's quite large, with a  hinged lid, and often filled with the good and the curious and only a rare bodice ripper.

Mid-Century Modern
It's in front of a (I think) commercial building that always looks to be becoming something -- it has looked that way for thirty some years. Except for the book box, it is the kind of shady place one would suspect is a front for some nefarious dealings. This is my favorite box for rummaging, even though one has to prop the hinged lid on ones head when poking about. But then, a bookie constructed it, I suppose. So what do you expect.

More satisfying for the "shopper" is a book box with a normal door that swings open and stays that way as you make your selection. While I'm not fond of the design of the mid-century modern ranch house number above right (it looks like it belongs to a house with an Edsel in the drive), it does it's job well.

More charming in this neighborhood of late 19th and early 20th century row houses are the boxes that play with their host's design, like this simple one on Lincoln Park, with a grey and white color scheme borrowed from the home:

On Lincoln Park

Right around the corner on Kentucky Avenue is this charmer, with leaded glass panes and a tin roof:

 And then there's this wonderful, multi-story construction on 13th Street, nestled in day lilies and zinnias and considerably grander than the home it belongs to -- no offense homeowner:

I should like one colored like our house: celadon, eggplant, and rose. I've long overflowed the living room bookcases, the hall bookcases, my office bookcases, the upstairs hall bookcases, and books are forever piled unsteadily on the floor and shoved under the bed and tossed around the bathroom floor. Occasionally in a fit of neatness, I pick a sunny day and pile a few armloads out by the curb, where the neighboring book vultures pick through them fast -- but I'd like to be able to leave them out in a downpour, instead of scurrying to bring them in or stashing them in the trunk of the car. 

Maybe for my birthday. Right. The only way that will happen is if My Prince sees that project as a fresh excuse for not cleaning out the garage. Please! Let's not get started again on the garage.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Oh Willow Weep for Me! A Gardening Trail of Tears.

A Stand of Lilies
This is what you call a stand of lilies. Oh, I suppose if you had acres to occupy you might do a lusher job, but here we're talking about a bitty border on a city street - so it's quite a sight. And there's no support or ties or whatnots. The stalks are proudly upright and massed with yellow trumpets.

Then there's THIS:

A Droop of Lily
THIS sorry display was in my back garden yesterday. This morning it is sadder still, as Someone managed to knock its support and step on the single flower -- which I've spent the last month waiting for. May I say, this lily whatever it's called has been taking up precious space for several years, growing taller and leggier every season -- but has never been more floriferous.

Massing of Mallow
Continuing on our early morning walk to and from the market to resupply my Prince with his bananas and juice we come across another curbside display, this a massing of mallow -- dinner plate sized relatives of the tropical hibiscus -- this example, growing in part shade, smothered in buds.

And to think of all the self-congratulatory yelping that went on as I left the house with a fond gaze into the trough of ivy, basking in its patch of part sun, and the f-ing spindle of fertilized and coddled mallow that has managed to poke its way up and put forth three buds (one a year I think that is). This will probably bloom while we're on vacation, as these things do.

Angel's Trumpet
Ah yes, there's more. Here we have something that really makes me puke, a largely untended curbside clump of angel's trumpet. Look, LOOK at the buds on this sucker!

And here we have -- why is the bare and anorexic stalk of my angel trumpet reaching for the heavens? And I was enjoying (another) self-congratulatory moment with it just before my hike -- thinking about the duPont Garden in Wilmington where angel's trumpet are trained in pots as standard trees and fantasizing that this is where this sorry (and entirely flowerless) specimen that I've been nursing for three summers is headed. Even my cunning under planting of moon flowers and pink morning glories is struggling. The god's laugh.

Pink Trumpet Vine
Yes, it looks like a bunch of dead sticks (though the cilantro seed I tossed in to remind me not to discard the pot IS flourishing. Ole', guacamole).  However! No one else in the neighborhood has one, so what you have here is area's premier example of a pink trumpet vine.  Exquisite, isn't it.

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