Garden

Outdoor Living Easy DIY Concrete Stain

Posted on Feb 20, 2014

Concrete stain before and after

A DIY Outdoor Living Upscale.

As you know if you read my profile, The Mister and I bought a major fixer-upper a couple of years ago.  We have been madly cleaning, hauling, weeding, etc., etc.  It’s been a lot of work. The only redeeming quality to the house was the front porch. It’s a small porch, but charming and comfortable, out of the elements with a lovely view for watching the world go by.  We often have coffee or an adult beverage there on the weekends or after a long day.  The only drawback to the front porch was the state of the concrete.  It had been stained twice with two different colors that had long since worn thin. So we decided it was time for a DIY concrete stain project to reseal the front porch since it’s a quick and easy (as well as relatively affordable) way to spruce up tired concrete.

 

Concrete stain half done with can

 

Our porch wasn’t just worn thin. One Halloween I tried a trick I saw on Pinterest with that glow-in-the-dark liquid that comes in glow sticks.  The photo showed eerily glowing liquid oozing down a driveway. So clever and creative! I poured some down the fronts of our steps like I had seen on the post.  Bad idea.  The liquid ate through whatever stain was left where I poured it by the next morning. Lesson learned: no matter what you see on Pinterest, do not cut glow sticks open! Not only was our concrete worn thin, now it had weird drippy marks down the front of the steps.  Not a good look.

 

Concrete stain before

 

It bugged me forever to come home to that awful looking porch, but with so many other more important improvements to make, we just finally got around to re-staining the porch.  Without equivocation I can say it was the quickest, easiest, most rewarding project we have done!  I was a bit reluctant at first because of the potential need to etch or whatever they say the multi-step process needs to be. In our case, it was a matter of a quick sanding and the application of the stain.

 

Concrete stain with Rustoleum can

 

The first coat goes on quickly and is very transparent. By the third coat, a rich, deep patina develops.

 

First coat

First coat

 

Concrete stain coat 3

Third coat.

 

Ta da! The finished stained concrete.

Concrete stained stairs

 

Probably the most time consuming part was trying to match what was already there since the original color looked great with the stacked stone walls.  Finding the wrong color was really easy!  I’ll save you the gory details and get right to what worked.

Here’s the Concrete Staining Process

1. Find the right color:  If you’re trying to match what’s already there, the only way to do it is to get a bunch of samples until you find one that is closest. Most concrete stains come in very limited colors so you may have to look outside the limited pallets. Paint, concrete stain, wood stain, whatever type of product doesn’t matter. Take your perfect sample to Dunn Edwards because they can color match solid (versus transparent) stains.  I found a wood stain color from a different paint company that was closest to our color and they nailed it!  Bingo!

2.  Start with a clean surface: We pressure washed our front porch to make sure all loose debris and dirt were gone for the most uniform application.

3. Sand the surface.  The Mister used and electric hand sander to rough up the concrete surface so the stain would sink in.  This is where some surfaces, especially if they have been sealed, need to be etched. Check with your local paint store to find out if you can bypass the etching process or test a small area (after it’s been sanded) with the stain.  If the stain soaks in, you’re good to go.

4. Be sure to clean the sanded areas. We pressure washed again and let the concrete dry.

5. Apply the stain to a small area at a time, adding as many coats as needed for the desired effect. The mister simply used a brush and applied a heavy coat of stain to about 1/3 of the porch at a time.  He let the stain sink in and then applied two more coats, allowing for dry time in between.

 6. Finish in small sections. We broke the front porch into three sections plus the stairs.

It is impossible to overstate how happy we are with the finished product!  It is such a pleasure to come home to a front porch that is clean and welcoming instead of an eyesore.  I could say I wish we’d done it sooner, but then I might have poured the glow stick goo on my beautiful newly stained concrete and messed it all up. So I guess waiting was better.

Since we re-stained the porch, it has become a little slice of heaven in a very big. overwhelming, not-so-good-looking project. Now when we sit on the front porch to watch the sunset we get to relax rather than be stressed by an the ugliness of an eyesore… and pretend that the whole house is done:0)

If you have a concrete area that is an eyesore, give concrete stain a try.  Then you’ll have your own little slice of heaven.

 

 

 

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Save Water, Save Money: Seal Terracotta Pots With A Household Product

Posted on Feb 13, 2014

terracotta pots sealant

How To Seal Terracotta Pots With What You Probably Already Have At Home.

Terracotta pots are a staple in many gardens and landscapes and are used for everything from decorative plantings to raised gardens to fish ponds and fountains. Terracotta, or ‘baked earth” pottery is made from fired clay and gets its beautiful colors from the iron found in the material.  Its beautiful, versatile and can be cheap… which is why I like it.  The only drawback to terracotta is that it is porous so plants have to be watered a lot more frequently. A lot more. Not good if you want to save money and save water. In particular, if you get the lighter colored pots that weren’t burnished before being fired, you’ll be watering those plants every day- sometimes twice a day. Who wants to have to do that?! The clay just sucks the water right out of the soil and then it evaporates out of the pots.  The trick to saving money and having great looking plants that you don’t have to water all the time is to seal your pots with stone sealant that you probably already have.

I bought these great terracotta pots with their flat back-sides so I could have plants against the fence in a narrow concrete side yard.  They are right outside my bathroom window and frame the view.  They were a great deal because they were not burnished before firing, as their counterparts, the classic darker pots with the raised band around the top are.  But they were cheap…and they are perfect…  So I bought them.  I hadn’t bought this type of terracotta in a long time so I was shocked to find how much more water they use.  It felt like my plants might as well have been planted in a screen.  Seriously! I can’t tell you how many plants I lost in just a day or two because I didn’t water them soon enough.  Blamo! One day missed and the plant was dead.  GRRR….

 

terracotta pots sealant

 

Finally I had enough and asked The Mister (a Chemical Engineer) what would work best.  I had tried latex (and other stuff I can’t remember!) a long time ago to seal pots that didn’t work.  I figured he was going to tell me some long chemical name and it would be a bear to find and annoying to use and whaa, whaa, whaa.  Turns out I was completely wrong.  The solution was in my garage already!  He suggested I use the leftover stone sealer we used on our travertine floor.  It doesn’t even matter which brand you have.  If it’s meant to seal stone, it’s perfect! If you don’t have granite counter tops or traverine floors that you keep sealant around for, no worries.  Buy the cheapest stone sealant you can find.  It’ll be great.

Stone sealant is what you use every time you seal your granite or marble.  Granite rock and marble slabs or tiles are all stone. Whether you have stone counter tops or floors, you have to seal them from time to time and that same sealant will do wonders for your terracotta pots! Bonus: sealing your terracotta pots, even the classic kind, will help them last longer.

How To Seal Your Terracotta Pots

 1.  Always follow the instructions on the container.  Mine specified a well ventilated area so I did it outside on paper on the driveway.

2. Start with a clean dry pot.  My pots had been used so I had to empty them, clean the soil out and let them dry overnight.

3. Use a  clean, dry brush and cover the inside, outside, and bottom of the pot. You will see the pots suck up the sealant.  I made sure to coat the bottom of the inside very well since gravity makes water loss even worse there.

4.  It will dry really fast.  Add another coat as soon as it’s dry.  And a third.  Cover every square inch well for best results.  It took me about 30 minutes to put three coats on both pots.

5. Let it dry overnight and you’re ready to plant!

 

sealed terracotta pots  close

 

What’s really nice is that the sealant doesn’t change the soft texture of the pots the way a glaze would. Plus, the process is super easy and I can personally attest to the fact that the water consumption of my plants (technically pots) has gone down dramatically.  I only need to water once a week at most since I sealed my pots and my plants are thriving!  They are almost as water wise as a glazed ceramic pot aaaand, with the drought in California right now, it’s one of the easiest ways to save water and one of the easiest ways to save money!

Try which ever stone sealant you have on your terracotta pots.  Your potted plants will require less frequent watering, your pots will last longer, and you’ll save money:0).

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Dunn Edwards.  I’m just glad they can color match!

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Botanical Gardens

Posted on Jan 13, 2014

Botanical Gardens floating begoniasIt’s warm here for January.  The expected high is 72° F.  I just sent my poor kid back to school in New Jersey where it is 2° with a -17° wind chill.  It got me thinking…about botanical gardens.

Don’t ask why my mind works the way it does.  The Girly (aka my daughter) and I often laugh about how we get from one random thought to another.  Still, there’s something about cold weather, even if I’m not in it, that makes me want to garden, to think about things growing and blooming, to let my mind run wild with thoughts of beautiful gardens and what-might-be.  That got me thinking about botanical gardens {I’m trying to help you follow my train of thought here}. Can you imagine being able to live in a place so intensely gardened and maintained?  I feel like I did at my last house!  Haha!  It really is the stuff of royalty and the exceptionally wealthy, but with so many Botanical Gardens at least we can all go for a visit and enjoy.

Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

I’ve been to a few.  Probably the first was Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the United Kingdom.  It was lovely.  I went with fellow students from the Landscape Architecture department at Cal Poly Pomona.  We were there, frolicking around the gardens on the Fourth of July. The irony was not lost on us as we made a human pyramid in celebration. Yep, right on that grass outside the Palm Pavilion.

Kew Royal Botanical Gardens Palm house

 

Versailles

The next was probably Versailles.  Definitely not a botanical garden, but clearly the stuff of royalty.  We visited on that same trip.  I never even went inside the palace: there was too much to see on the extensive grounds.  I loved the Orangerie, the fountains, the French Pavillion (every room has windows on three sides- my dream house!), and of course Marie Antoinette’s hamlet- where she reproduced a quaint village to get away from the tedium and insincerity of palace life- granted it was much nicer than any real village in France or anywhere. Kind of reminds me of Disneyland it’s so perfect.  (see…it’s hard to stay on my thought-train!) I went back 11 years ago.  It was January and cold and I went inside this time.  I still like the outside better.  Regardless, it’s one of my favorites and I have emulated elements in different landscapes over the years (I had a “petite” orangerie at one house).

 

The Huntington

The first official botanical garden I ever went to was Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, CA.  It’s right near where the Rose Parade is every New Year’s day in Pasadena. I went as part of a Landscape Architecture field trip.  The place was stunning!  That time I did go inside and saw “Pinky” and “Blue Boy”, those famous paintings that everyone had in the 50’s. They are part of the permanent collection.  But what I really remember are the gardens.  Roses, water lilies, the Japanese Garden, the Chinese garden, all stunning in their own way for how they make you feel (settled, a part of something, comforted, relaxed, joyful), and all laid out in a pleasing way to stroll through and take one’s time.  Versailles light in Southern California.

 

Atlanta Botanical Garden

My daughter used to swim competitively and one spring we found ourselves at a several-day swim meet with extra time in Atlanta, GA.  To help keep her relaxed, she suggested we go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, also known as Atlanta Botanical Gardens.  It was still early in the year so there weren’t a lot of flowers ( or leaves, for that matter, but it we could tell the bones were beautiful).  We spent hours in the massive conservatory where they have the largest collection of orchids in North America-maybe the world.  Thankfully we both had digital cameras at the time because, between the two of us I think we took something like 2000 pictures!  It was so beautiful, though and we wanted to capture every unique variety, like precious gems that we could carry home. That was a really good day…

 

The Butchart Gardens & Filoli

I’ve also been to the extraordinary Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, BC, Canada as well as Filoli in Woodside, Northern California, both former family homes turned into exquisite gardens.  I’ll never forget the size of the tulips we saw at Filoli, 6 inch cups, maybe? They looked fake.  My friend tried to convince one of the grounds keeper to give her the fading bulbs, to no avail. “They’re just going to throw them out!” she argued.  I also loved the double flowering wisteria on the front of the building.  Scrumptious!  What’s not to love about Buschart Gardens?!  It is the Disneyland of flowers!

 

Brooklyn Botanic Garden & Winterthur

There are two botanical gardens I would still love to see, Winterthur and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, aka, Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  Winterthur because I’ve heard so much about it and have received their catalog for years and Brooklyn Botanical Garden because I remember seeing an article about it being decked out for the holidays.  In all my travels I had never seen anything so stunningly beautiful as those photos.  I can’t remember the magazine, it was years ago, but I think they mistakenly called it the New York City Botanical Gardens.  I went to New York on a girls’ trip and kept asking about the New York City Botanical Gardens and the closest I got was directions to Central Park.  Um, no. On a recent trip back to visit my daughter we ran out of time before we could get there, but we made it to a botanical garden in Queens, I think.  Actually, what I remember is we were race-reading the last “Hunger Games” book, trying to see who could read it first.  We even missed the first train out because we decided last minute to dash to a book store a couple of blocks from Grand Central Station to pick up the just-released book.  The train was pulling away as we ran onto the platform.  So we sat and race-read for an hour until the next train came.  When we got to the gardens we enjoyed the grounds and then sat on the grass reading our books.  It was lovely.  See how easily I digress?

Still, I will get to both one day.  After looking at all these pictures I want to go now!  There will be new memories to make while I am there. I think I will wait for the weather to get warmer, though.  -17° doesn’t sound like botanical garden weather anywhere!

 

 

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Pine Cone Succulent Planters: Cool Crafts

Posted on Jan 1, 2014

 

Hanging Pine cone succulent planter

 

If you’re looking for a cool craft that is a quick and easy D.I.Y project, try this hanging pine cone succulent planter.  I love innovative craft ideas and this pine cone planter is not only affordable, but also a gorgeous way to show off succulents.  These would be great hanging from a large tree, under a porch, or even indoors in a sunny window.  They require very little care and will last Continue Reading

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Time To Plant Tulips

Posted on Dec 30, 2013

Time to plant tulips

Time to Plant Tulips

Now that it’s time to plant tulips I feel like the camel in that insurance commercial.  “Mike!Mike!Mike!Mike!Mike! Guess what day it is! It’s…” Tulip Planting Day!!!

Back in the fall I posted about forcing tulips by putting them in cold storage in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks.  I was so happy to look in my refrigerator and see it’s the date and that its time to plant my tulips. Yep, after an 8 week hibernation in the refrigerator it’s time to pull out those tulip bulbs and plant them.  Mine are going into pots and will be over-planted with sweet alyssum.  That way Continue Reading

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Thankful For Fall And Its Color

Posted on Nov 27, 2013

Orange Maple leaves

Yes, the holidays are right around the corner.  Soon we’ll all be caught up in the hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking, baking, parties, family, friends.  Just for a little longer wouldn’t you like to enjoy fall? Without school nights, home work and tests to worry about anymore, it’s quite possibly become my favorite season.

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Growing Useful (and Holiday) Herbs

Posted on Nov 14, 2013

Pots of Herbs

 

In pots, as part of the vegetable garden, or the landscape, growing your own herbs is a great way to add fresh full flavor to your holiday meals (and any meals) and save money doing it.  The trick is to choose which herbs that you will actually use.  An acre of borage (which it seemed like we had at our new fixer-upper) won’t do you much good.  However, if you know what they’re good for, growing the right herbs can bring delicious fresh flavor to your home cooked meals. Continue Reading

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Growing Pumpkins

Posted on Nov 4, 2013

picked pumpkin

 

Every fall I vow to make things festive with only live decorations so I can compost them and don’t have to find a place to store them.  Consumables, I call them.  Rather than shelling out the big bucks for pumpkins, I have  always wanted to grow my own.   In the past I was scared off because they need so much room and our beach town doesn’t get a lot of heat, which pumpkins seem to need.  This year I finally just gave it a shot.

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Forcing Tulips

Posted on Oct 24, 2013

Tulips on step

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