Pat posted on November 13, 2009 01:03

Tis the season ... to be sure we'll all be warm and cozy through the winter.

Buy Energy Star appliances Heaven Scent has been a seasonal operation up till this year; every winter I packed up and headed south, and left the house in the hands of good friends. This year I'm staying put, for the first time since 2003/2004 when I was still redoing the house, my first year of ownership. I found then that the living room's gas log fireplace is useless for heat; the living room has a chill, the office and sunroom are quite cold, and of course the warm upstairs is the place to be. But Mom and Dad are living with me, they can't move upstairs, and they are very sensitive to cold. So it was time to look into fixing the HVAC.

What flex duct exists here long ago lost all insulation, so I think we've never felt what the furnace or the A/C might actually be capable of. But we've decided to change everything out. Seems good timing, here in Virginia, where there's state funding to reimburse part of the costs of improving your home or business's energy efficiency: the Virginia Energy Efficiency Rebate Program. You need to reserve funding for your project as soon as it's planned. Instructions are at http://www.dmme.virginia.gov/DE/ARRA-Public/SEPRebate.shtml and the form is at https://epm.virginiainteractive.org/eerebate/.

After getting several quotes (and getting quite confused), we've decided on a Westinghouse installation by Atlantic Heating and Air, and signed the contract today! Westinghouse's 10-year warranty that was upgradable at modest cost to include labor was a big factor. The equipment sounds good: the variable-speed gas furnace and the new heat pump. Of course, having had the company recommended by a trusted friend was also important; Raynell of Nauti Nell's in Deltaville had given us Russell's name so we could find Atlantic in the first place. And I like the idea of the round ducts they'll use in replacing the basement lines.

Most exiting to us is getting a zoned system. Dampers built into the new duct, along with new programmable thermostats and a computerized control system will let us choose separate settings for the upstairs, the main floor guest areas, and my parents' unit. We are so looking forward to being able to supply upstairs guests with more forceful and effective A/C in summer (and are stepping up the system tonnage to be sure). Mom and Dad look forward to having all the heat they want without making everyone else want to open windows. Lastly, even though the new unit is to be ultra-quiet, we're moving the compressor away from the guest rooms.

The work will be done the week after Thanksgiving, so we have blocked those nights off of online booking. Wish us luck with a smooth installation; and then come feel the results!


Pat posted on November 2, 2009 02:11

October planting

bucket of just-cut peony blooms

One of my last garden projects in October was adding to the peony collection. Most visitors haven't seen the main rose garden, the lilacs or the peonies, but these sections should be ready for visitors next spring. What guests have seen, if they've come in spring, are the glorious bouquets. Peonies are so big and lush, people are really stunned by their size and beauty. Few seem to know how very easily these exotic blooms can be had.

Peonies are best planted in the fall, and even early winter seems fine. The first peonies here didn't go into the ground until mid-December, and every single one of those 16 plants bloomed the first year, and true to form. The next lot went in in November two years ago, and this year I got them in the week of October 19. We'll see if there's any difference. In any case, it's not a hard job, certainly not in the sandy loam we have here. Dig a hole about a foot deep and something more in diameter, make a cone of soil in the center, and lay the peony with buds up on top of that cone. If you're lucky, the peonies will have some long roots, so settle them carefully with lots of room. The important thing is to not plant deeply. Here in zone 7, I plant them with just about an inch of soil on top, and so far, so good. They say peonies won't bloom if you plant them too deep. You can see the planting is successful: these photos are of a bucket of blooms, just cut, set on the ground to photograph before bringing them inside to make several bouquets.

bucket of just-cut peony blooms

Your plants won't even want fertilizer the first year, and after that, very little. When blooming is over, leave the foliage until winter. I'd been cutting the plants to the ground anytime after October, but this year read that they should be left until the first hard frost, so now I'm waiting. When you do cut the brown foliage, cut it just above the ground and get rid of it. Don't leave any debris around the plants. It's true that the plants are not attractive after late summer, so you might consider that when choosing where to plant. Don't crowd other plants around them, though: they do like air. Keep in mind that each plant can spread to about two feet in diameter, and they should have air space between them to prevent fungus.

Peonies do not need to be sprayed. I don't spray pesticides anyway, but point that out to gardeners who do. When the flower buds form, they have a sticky substance that ants love. Don't do anything about it. When you cut flowers to bring indoors, spray them off with water and let the flowers drip dry over the sink.

Many peonies will need some help, and that is in supporting the branches as the large heavy blooms develop. Most garden centers sell metal stakes with a horizontal loop on the end, not closed so that you can slip it around the peony stem. I prefer these, but of course you can use slim bamboo stakes and velcro ties or any other method.

vase of single and semi-double peonies

Heaven Scent emphasizes wonderfully scented plants, and some peonies are in this category. But not all; some actually have a rather unpleasant scent, and some none or nearly none. Check plant descriptions carefully when buying. The variety of blooms is tremendous; not just the big lush white or pink or fuschia blooms your grandmother may have grown. Here, for example, is a little vase with some singles and semi-doubles.

By choosing early-, mid- and late-blooming varieties, you should be able to enjoy a month of blooms. I get the greatest number of blooms in the first and second weeks of May, in good time for Mother's Day. It is said that you can cut stems while the buds are still tight, wrap them in plastic and put them in the refrigerator, and take them out a month or two later to let them bloom. But I've never been willing to chance foregoing the full opening of the whole lot.


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