Plant Spotlight: Gaura

Since gardening is a huge part of my life and this blog, I figured I’d start sharing a few of my favorite plants.

I live in growing zone 9b, so your experiences may differ from mine.

First up is a perennial that I’ve loved since childhood. Gaura was one of the first plants I grew when my mom set aside a corner of the yard for me to garden. I remember picking it for the wispy stems and the name, which I’m almost certain had the word “fairy” in it somewhere (I was really into fairies as a kid). However, I can’t find a “fairy” variety now, so it was probably Belleza.

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When I moved into my current house, gaura was also one of the first flowers with which I started the pieces of butterfly garden scattered across my backyard. Although some varieties are not self-seeding, the ones I planted are (again, probably Belleza). This spring, half a dozen volunteers popped up around my backyard. As many were growing on foot paths, I tried to transplant them to my front yard. Unfortunately, none survived. I’m sure this was at least partly my fault, though, because I attempted to plant them straight into the ground with fertilizer (rather than with potting mix, like what comes with store-bought plants).

I ended up buying several more mature gaura to plant around my front yard, and they’ve done well in the blazing sun and south Louisiana summer heat. Although they die back in the winter, gaura returns in the spring in my zone (9b). In my yard, it was a little slower to grow back than some of my other perennials, like Mexican Terragon.

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Lantana growing to the left and coreopsis behind. Hellooooo, butterflies.

I have at least a dozen gaura between my front yard and backyard, and I’m looking forward to more self-seeding in the coming years.

Highlights:

  • Wispy, pretty stems and little white or pink flowers that attracts bees and butterflies
  • Very hardy once established; can survive blazing sun and poor soil
  • Most varieties self-seed but the plant has shallow roots if they pop up in undesired places
  • Volunteers may not transplant well
  • Grows up to 2-3 feet tall but dies back in the winter

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Plan Post: the Shed

Progress on the shed expansion has been slower than expected, but it is underway. This is just one of those tough things about trying to squeeze projects around a busy schedule. I work full-time during weekdays, and one week, for example, I had a book club meeting on Monday night, a date on Tuesday night, and a date on Friday night. Weekends are a little more open, but I still need set aside time to manage the bedrooms I rent out on AirBnB and the rest of my house and garden chores.

I’m not saying this to complain or make excuses. Rather, if you live in a similar situation, be aware that projects might take a long time to complete because you have to squeeze in little chunks of work over a period of weeks or even months. And that’s fine – the important thing is to make steady progress.

Of course, before any of that, I like to have a good plan. The plan for this expansion grew out of several sources. Since I’m building off of an existing shed, some of my dimensions (like wall-height and roof-slope) are already set. I also watched some YouTube videos and researched individual parts of the project, like joist spacing. The time from thinking about the project to researching to putting a plan on paper was about a month.

So how’d it turn out?

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In the upper left-hand corner, you can see what the final project will look like. Originally, I just wanted to enlarge the shed, but later, I decide to turn the front-most four feet into a greenhouse. The diagonal lines are solid covering (wood or roofing), so you can see the framing and “windows” of the greenhouse on the front.

I’m starting the extension from the floor and working with 2×6 pressure treated lumber. For this project, I had a lot of the lumber delivered to my house, since I already needed to have my temporary storage shed delivered (it was too big to fit in my car and, at almost 200 lbs, waaay too heavy to go on my roof rack). That enabled me to buy lumber in longer lengths, which is a bit cheaper. To give you an idea of how much I ordered, my 10% veterans discount more than covered the truck delivery fee.

The existing shed sits on skids – basically, 4x4s that sit on concrete blocks, and the joists are nailed to the 4x4s – so I’m doing the same thing for the extension.

Before I attach the extension to the existing structure, the face of the existing shed needs to be removed. In many sheds, mine included, the walls act as part of the support structure and are nailed to the floor edge. In order to join the new and existing structures, of course, the floor edges need to be able to sit flush against one another.

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Of course, the lattice, doors, and trim work will also need to come off.

Once everything is level and lined up, I’ll connect the two edge boards and lay down the plywood floor for the extension.

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In 1(e) in the image above, you can see that I’ll have to use three pieces of plywood for the floor. That’s not ideal, but plywood doesn’t commonly come in 10’x6′ sheets. My 8’x4′ sheets of 3/4″ weather-treated plywood came on the truck with the rest of the delivery. I’m strong and capable, but I’m also smart enough to know how much or little to handle a 100 lb sheet of plywood. Know your limits, people.

Once the floor’s in place, I’ll build out the frames for the walls. Most people recommend putting your covering (plywood or what have you) on the walls while they’re laying flat. I plan to only partially do that, because much of my new walls will actually be covered in polycarbonate panels that I’ll screw, rather than nail, into the frame.

Now, as an aside:  for a while, I was planning on just ordering the wavy PolyCarb panels from Lowes. Those would’ve been cheaper than the ones I ordered, so why did I change my mind? Well for one, the double-wall polycarbonate panels I ordered are designed to be used for a greenhouse. For a project like this, where the materials I use will have a significant impact on the utility of the building, I’d rather choose panels made for the job. Also, I’ve use the cheaper PolyCarb panels around my chicken coops over the years, and they become very brittle in the south Louisiana sun. I really didn’t see them holding up under years of subtropical sun.

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In the final stages of the plan, you can see the last wall frame, including the doorway. I plan to reuse the existing doors and hardware, although they’ll shift to the side of the shed. One impact of this move, though, is the doors will have to shrink by a few inches. This really isn’t a huge deal; I’m 5’4″ and the doors will be plenty tall for me.

Going back over the plans, you can see where I noted the materials at each section and then tallied everything on the final page. This is a must to make sure you aren’t under-buying materials. Getting in the groove and then realizing you’ve run out of 2x4s sucks.

I’ve mentioned previously that I was worried about the strength of the existing shed. As I started to work on it, I realized how strong the structure really is. However, I should have excess lumber, and there are a few spots – at the bases of walls, for example – that I plan to reinforce. Those aren’t in the plans because they’ll be done on an as-needed basis.

Here we go, folks!

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Dress Nicely on Mondays

Sunday nights often arrive with at least a few negative emotions – apprehension, a touch of dread, disappointment that the weekend is nearly finished. Even though my day job is satisfying and my coworkers are clever and fun, I still have to concede that come Monday morning, most of my daylight won’t be as wholly mine as it is on the weekends.

I work in an office environment that has a somewhat loose dress code. I make an effort to dress somewhat professionally, though, to visually mark myself as “not a grad student.” Most of my coworkers are professors who taught me only a year or two ago, and I aim to make it as easy for them as possible to treat me like an employee instead of their student.

But I make an extra effort to dress up nicely on Mondays.

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These babies don’t just get busted out on any old day.

On an average day, I will probably wear a skirt, flats, and a nice t-shirt (tailored, solid color) or a button-down. In weather that doesn’t feel like Satan’s armpits, I might swap out the skirt for some pants (I’m a fan of the Sloan and Ryan cuts from Banana Republic). My hair, which is several inches past my shoulders, is probably slapped up in a bun or maybe braided.

But on  blank(1), I usually wear a dress and possibly some heels or a pair of suede sandals (particularly if I’ve painted my toenails on Sunday night). I’ll wear my hair down, or perhaps clip just a bit of it up.

Of course, “dressing nicely” means something different to everyone. I ask myself, “what would I wear to a black-tie event?” and base my choices off of a scaled-down version of that.

But what’s the point? Mondays are full of bleary-eyed drones who miss the weekend, so who cares if my hair is up or down?

Well, for one, I do. It’s similar to the principle of wearing nice underwear – no one else knows, but it gives the wearer a little boost of confidence. When I dress up at black-tie events, I feel elegant and powerful. On Mondays, I like to tap into that feeling.

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Like this – but in a cubicle with papers scattered everywhere. Photo by Lucas Allmann on Pexels.com

And because I enjoy feeling elegant and powerful (c’mon, who doesn’t?), I look forward to dressing nicely. That anticipation takes away some of the sting of the weekend’s close.

Moving away from personal effects, I believe there are also benefits to others when I dress nicely. In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth argues that one way to grow and improve is to surround yourself with gritty people so their habits and values will rub off on you. Now, I’m not thinking “gritty” when I slip a dress over my head (unless I’m at the beach), but I do think that dressing nicely encourages others to not only treat me more professionally, but to subconsciously make similar efforts in their own lives.

Okay, let’s take some leaps and say I’ve ignited change. Everyone in the office is impeccably dressed, and we look fiiine – but so what? Well, for one thing, the subtle boosts of confidence all around can improve the quality of our work (which I’d argue is already excellent, but I may be biased).

Looking professional and put-together also makes a good impression on the students, faculty, and visitors who come through the office. Whose advice would you be more likely to follow:  a woman in a wrinkled t-shirt and holey khakis, or a woman in a tailored suit with styled hair? And if they both presented the same idea to you, would you support the one who looked like she just rolled out of bed, or the one who looks like she has her life together and can easily see the idea onto the next stages?

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I was going to find a “sloppy” contrast photo, but apparently the stock photo gallery only features beautiful, put-together people. Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I work at a public university in a state ranked #49 out of 50 in education (purely looking at higher education, we do slightly better at #42). Ouch. We need all the help we can get. Therefore, when it comes down to votes or public issues related to supporting education, it’s in our best interest to have the most positive associations popping up in the minds of everyone who comes to us – and that includes dressing nicely.

“But wait!” you might be shrieking while jabbing accusatory fingers at your screen. “You specified Mondays as dressy days!”

I did! But here’s the thing:  I’ve found that starting the week off by making an effort at my appearance means I’m more likely to continue doing that throughout the week. In other words, if I don’t care about my appearance on Monday, I’m less likely to care for the rest of the week. However, if I dress nicely on Monday, that subconsciously becomes my standard for the week.

But, ya know . . . as soon as I get home, the dress goes back in the closet and out comes the rags and the muddy garden clogs. Life’s about balance.

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