City Living Got You Feeling Under-Nourished? Try Container Gardening!

Feeling Blue?  Grow Some Green! - Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Feeling Blue? Grow Some Green! - Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Are you getting your greens?  Or are you green with envy?  If it’s the latter, then you better get your grow on!

City living is exciting and vibrant.  Still, some of the things that give it its allure are the same things that also make us itch (just on occasion) for the suburban life.  Do I have a yard?  Probably not.  A garden to stroll in?  Wouldn’t that be nice.  Luckily in Boston we are blessed with some lovely public outdoor spaces.  But unless you are also one of the fortunate ones who have snagged a community gardening patch to call your own, you can’t just wander down to the Public Garden, drop some watermelon seeds, and rest on your green thumb laurels.  The Parks Department is understanding, but not that understanding.

So what to do?  You’d love a little more green in your life.  A little more zest.  You’d like to grab a handful of your homegrown basil and drop it in your pasta salad on a steamy July afternoon.  Who wouldn’t?  Not to fear.  Container gardening to the rescue!

Container gardening is a way of life.  It’s a philosophy.  It’s a secret club.  Ok, it’s not actually all that serious.  But if you do join the club, you can feel good about yourself.  It’s low-cost, healthy, and simple as pie.  Come to think of it, it’s simpler than pie, both the food and the number.  No baking involved and no discouraging decimal places.

Here are five quick and easy steps to get your green thumb thriving in the city:

FIRST: Upcycle!

I’d like to say just for the record that I don’t actually advocate killing birds in any way shape or form, but in this strictly metaphorical case, killing two birds with one stone is a good thing. you can use old household items to start your gardening adventure instead of buying new containers. This way, you’re de-cluttering, recycling, AND saving money all in the name of your new green thumb.  Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.  According to simple and concise diytogether.com, you can use old watering cans, old mixing bowls, cooking pots & pans, old metal or plastic bins, waste paper baskets, wooden boxes –in short, just about anything you have on hand to start your container garden.  Just remember to make drainage holes in the bottoms of things!

SECOND: Get Crafty

Finding it hard to contain your excitement whilst container gardening?  You’re not alone.  And the answer is don’t be afraid to let your creativity rule.  Go ahead and throw the traditional planter out the window (although be careful not to hurt anyone or get arrested).  Diytogether.com has the fantastic idea of making hanging baskets out of sieves, colanders, and lampshades …imagine that!  So don’t limit yourself to standard planting protocol, go ahead and hang some things over your head.  One day you’ll be walking across the room and when your hair gets caught in your over-exuberant spider plant, you’ll know you’ve really made it.

THIRD: Claim your new Hobby Spot …or better yet, Many Spots!

Why contain the beauty?  Spread your container gardening around!  If you have a coveted patch of green, a deck, or a patio, you can fill these spaces to your heart’s content.  But if you aren’t lucky enough to have these outdoor spaces, or as I like to advocate, you want to “spread the green,” you can install a window box, hang things from above as in tip number two, or even put a few containers on your front steps.  I once had an herb garden in a window box right outside my kitchen window.  It was SO easy and I could just go give Clive the Chive plant a haircut and toss the trimmings in my dinner whenever the spirit moved me.  Lots of local hardware stores and trusty Target sell little ready-to-go herb garden kits so you’ll be up and running in no time.

FOURTH: Think this is all well and good, but worried you just don’t have the time?

Set up your plants to water themselves!  Seriously.  Check it out here on diytogether.com.   And if you’ve read this far and feel the excitement, but just can’t imagine getting started, then go ahead and hire some help!  You can find gardening pros in any city, but if you’re right here in Beantown with me, give Boston City Gardens a call (www.bostoncitygardens.com) and they’ll sign you up for a free consultation to get up and running with your container gardening.  Once they’ve done all the hard work, you can just roll on maintenance mode.

FIFTH: Enjoy Year-round Nourishment AND Make Your Containers Double as Art!

No matter what kind of space you have for your containers –a balcony, a patio, even just a doorstep or window box –you can grow your edibles and florals outside when it’s nice and then whisk them inside when it turns chilly out there.  That’s a plus one for the portability of container gardening.  And while you’re moving your containers around, why not use them as conversation pieces too?  The fantastic Etsy arts & crafts site has beautiful gardening accessories from artists all over the world.  Check out this pretty Etsy planter.  Oh and while you’re there, how can you resist these adorable herb garden kitchen towels!?

And there you have it.

See how simple it is?  And inspiring?  Go ahead, take care of your City Self.  If you’re having trouble getting closer to nature, bring nature closer to you.

I will leave you with a handy list of some great edible container gardening instructions from About.com’s Container Gardening Guide, Kerry Michaels.  Click below if you want to know more about . . .

Think the blog links are nice, but you’re secretly a bookworm like me and prefer to have a good study before diving in?  Check out The City Gardeners Handbook by Linda Yang.

And you know where I work, so please don’t be bashful about dropping off some of your prize-winning container vegetation.  I will ooh and ahh and my mother will be so happy I’m eating your greens!

Until next time,

Annie Liza Bergen and the Marston Beacon Hill Green Team

Time to Sell? Make Sure Your Home is Ready for the Limelight

Sell Your Bathroom with a Spa-like Feel

Sell Your Bathroom with a Spa-like Feel

Have you already signed the listing contract and are getting ready for the first open house?  Or are you just thinking you might like to sell sometime next year?  It is never to early to think about the tricks and tips you’ll need to get your home sold in a timely and top-dollar fashion. You only get one chance to make a great first impression, so it is a smart idea to give it your best possible shot right out of the gate.

So how do you get ready for the big day?  It’s called staging.

The term staging might bring up all sorts of intimidating ideas in your head –not excluding the idea that you might need to pay a professional a lot of money to get the job done.  Not to fear.  Staging professionals can be great –and well worth the cost.  But not everyone needs (or wants) one.  Definitely talk to your listing agent and friends to get their opinions on what your home needs –and if a professional is called for, the best route for that is a referral from people you trust who have had a positive experience with a particular person or company.

But I bet you’re thinking, that’s great, but can’t I just do some fixing up myself?  And the good news is, yes you can!  Elbow grease can go a long way in making up for dollars.  We at Marston Beacon Hill have put together a handy list of some of the easiest and least expensive ways to get your home market-ready.  Having helped many homeowners through the process ourselves, we know first-hand what works and what doesn’t.  Here are some tips for a quick, easy, and rewarding selling experience!

Quick & Easy Tips to Get Your Home Ready to Sell

1. Scrub ’til it Shines (With a Little Extra Love to the Kitchen & Baths)

As much as we’d all like it not to be true, there’s just nothing better than elbow grease to get top results for bottom dollar.  Get out your rubber gloves!  And get scrubbing.  Here’s the rub: you want to make sure you get every nook & cranny.  Believe it or not, it’s the nooks & crannies that will count the most.  Buyers walk in and they’re either wowed or dismayed –and most of the wowing/dismaying comes from the kitchen and the bathrooms.  These are the make or break rooms.  They need to gleam and sparkle.  Buyers need to feel that they could just drop everything right there and start calling it home (AND that if they lived there, they would obviously start a new life of spotless living).  When they peer behind the toaster oven, let them see shining tiles.  When they pull back the shower curtain, let them see stars.  There are no magic tricks to number 1 –just get everyone on board and scrub like you’ve never scrubbed before.  It works!

2. Cull the Clutter . . . and Paint!

Are your stairs a mini-museum for your kids’ toys?  Or perhaps the front hallway resembles a shoe sale extravaganza?  Time to get packing!  Put it ALL away.  No excuses.  As much as you might think it adds a feeling of “home” and fills you with warm and fuzzy ideas of family and fun, buyers want to imagine themselves with their beloved clutter surrounding them, not yours.  As is the case with #3 (next), you can look at this as a jump-start on the packing job that will come faster than you might like once your home sells.  Don’t forget Fido’s bones and Mr. Whiskerson’s cat bed.  Now that you can see your home, don’t forget to execute the quickest, easiest, and biggest impact to do: PAINT.  Talk to your local Home Depot or similar shop to get the scoop on neutral colors and accent walls that appeal to the masses.

3. A Little Less Personality Please

We know you’re proud of your twelve hard-won bowling trophies and collection of hats from around the world, but the hard truth is that buyers won’t be as thrilled.  As much as it might hurt to acknowledge, buyers don’t want to know about your life in the house, they want to wander about fancying themselves living there and making it their own.  If trinkets and tchotchkes are the hallmark of your home, wave the magic wand and make them be gone, post-haste.  You can look at it as getting a jump-start on packing!

4. Minimize and Accessorize

The idea of “staging” a home for sale is really about minimizing and accessorizing wisely.  You might even like to think Pottery Barn catalog or Restoration Hardware if that helps you get in the mood.  Open up the space in your home by having only the bare minimum of well-chosen furniture and accessories on display.  Consult the aforementioned authorities for current trends if you need some inspiration.  You can go to places like The Christmas Tree Shoppe and Target to get inexpensive “dressings” for the bathroom and living areas.  Think “spa” for the bathroom accessories –soothing and refreshing is what you want to keep in mind –think ocean.

5. Call in the Odor Patrol

Ooh that smell!  This is a sensitive subject.  Especially for your nose –well actually more for other people’s noses, in fact.  This is one you just can’t go it alone for.  Ask for help.  When you’ve been living in your home for so long, you become too well acquainted with the various scents of your dwelling and tend not to notice them much at all.  Bad news for buyers!  They will notice Fido immediately.  And also the fish that you cook every Tuesday night and reheat again on Thursdays.  Clean it all up and maybe even change your routine for the time being if you need to tone some of these scents down a bit.  Have your listing agent and friends check it out for you.

Well That About Does It!

This handy list should be enough to get your home in tip-top selling order.  Again, rely on your listing agent’s wisdom and experience for assessing which of these items might be top priority for you –they’ve seen it all too many times before and you can take advantage of that insider knowledge.  If elbow grease just isn’t your thing, home stagers can get the job done quickly and efficiently.  Your listing agent and friends are the best resources for finding a stager who matches your budget and style.

Until Next Time, Happy Home Selling from Annie Liza Bergen and Your Friends at Marston Beacon Hill!

Spring has Sprung! Is Your Small Space Living Putting a Spring in Your Step?

Spring Has Sprung! - Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Ahhhh, it’s that time of year.  Birds singing.  Flowers blooming.  People laughing.  Just one walk down the street, and you can renew your entire mindset for the day –some mental spring-cleaning, if you will.  And as these carefree thoughts float through your mind, they might just stumble a bit upon reaching the idea of all the clutter at home.  The stuff that won’t fit.  The room that just won’t look inviting no matter how you arrange the furniture.  The light that . . . what light?

Ok, so you live in a tiny, dark apartment or condo in Boston!  We are right there with you.  Our office is tiny too –but SO inviting.  Why? It’s all about getting your small-space-living groove on.  How is your furniture arranged?  What are your paint colors?  Do you have some mirrors to help open things up?  And don’t forget your space is a living thing –don’t let it get stale, don’t be afraid to move things around every month or so.  Variety, after all, is the spice of life –there’s a reason this saying’s so trite . . . it’s true.

Well that’s all poetic and nice you might be thinking to yourself, but where do I start?  What do I do?  My mother is coming on Sunday and it looks like I live in a Middle Earth dwelling decorated by Frodo Baggins!

Have no fear, we at Marston Beacon Hill know your pain and have searched high and low for some of the best decorating and DIY tips for small space living.  And yes, we’re going to share them with you right here, right now.

Let’s get started!  Read on below . . .

  1. First, Prepare yourself for some fun!  This step is important and often overlooked in the land of DIY and home decorating.  The idea of “spring cleaning” can often conjure up heavy-lifting and long days of fruitless sweating.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Take a deep breath and remember you don’t have to do it all at once.  Start small.  One small change today.  Another small change tomorrow.   It will all add up!
  2. Decide what your priorities are.  Do you need more light?  More charm?  More visually appealing storage?  Don’t think about this too much, just go with your initial gut reaction.
  3. Once you’ve grabbed your gut reaction, go ahead and scan the list below of fantastic ideas we’ve pulled together for you and choose just one to get you rolling –just in time for the visit from Mom.
  4. Then make a commitment to just do that one thing!  Just tackling and completing one small thing has away of inspiring enthusiasm –you’ll be surprised at the domino effect.
  5. And last but definitely not least, celebrate!  Sit back and relax.  Give yourself a pat on the back.  Curl up with a good book for an hour and glance at your achievement every now and then with pride –after all, Mom might finally approve, but that’s just a bonus.  The real (and most important) recipient of this gift is YOU.

Great Links for Setting You on the Right Path to Optimal Small Space Living

ORGANIZE THE LITTLE THINGS (and get crafty):

  • My [jewelry, watches, cuff links, etc.] is driving me nuts.  It’s all tangled and mismatched. Help! Check out this easy peasy diylife.com jewelry organizer you can make yourself.

ORGANIZE THE BIGGER THINGS (on a budget):

DECORATE LITTLE BY LITTLE (quick and simple)

PAINT WITHOUT PAINTING (great for renters!)

  • My walls are so blah, but I can’t (or don’t want to) paint. How about a stylish folding screen? Or make your own fabric wallpaper! Rentaldecorating.com admittedly has some typos, but their easy no-paint tips are simple and painless.

BIGGER ROOMS WITHOUT MOVING (mirror, mirror on the wall)

  • Who has the largest room of them all?  You will soon!  Wikihow.com’s entry, How to Use Mirrors to Create More Space, gives you the scoop on how to place them, hang them. light them and even serve your coffee on them (all with the aim of creating the feeling of more space).

Well there you go.  That should be enough to get you started!  And not too much to overwhelm you, we hope.

Happy Spring!  . . . and Here’s to Your Small Space Feeling Bigger Each Day . . .

Until Next Time,

Annie Liza Bergen and the Team at Marston Beacon Hill