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Leigh's Potting Bench • Southern Rural Route

My friend Leigh, the working artist, is always making something with wood, saws and hammers. I did a bit of that myself when I lived away from family. I nailed up the slats for a wood privacy fence after paying someone to install the fence posts. Using a Skilsaw, I built a walkway deck. I even installed a bolt lock.  Somewhere along the way, I lost my courage to tackle these kinds of projects.

Leigh avoids the whole issue of gotta-work-up-some-courage by building her projects around standard sizes at the lumber yard. For instance, for the potting bench she just built, she used a 2-foot by 4-foot piece of one-half inch exterior grade plywood and purchased pre-cut 4-foot pieces of trim so that she had to do minimal cutting to fit. When she did need to saw something, she used a sliding compound miter saw or a Japanese Dozuki (a flush cut hand saw).

To save money, she purchased pressure treated porch posts for $13 each at Lowes. This was more economical than buying turned table legs or repurposing table legs from thrift shop furniture. She turned the porch posts upside down rather than having to saw off the slots where the posts were to be affixed to a porch. The back ones were left whole and parts removed from the front legs were added to the back legs to provide a way for the shelves to fit in the spaces.

The two urn-shaped finials were purchased for $2 each at Eco Relics, a local architectural salvage company. Most of the time, their prices are unfavorably high but Leigh found their finials to be better quality and, obviously, a bargain.

Here’s what the pieces looked like before assembly:

Potting bench painted and ready to assemble
Photo by Leigh Porch posts installed upside down
Photo by Leigh Right side up before finials are installed
Photo by Leigh

The finished potting bench is approximately 6 feet tall, 4 feet wide, 2 feet deep and the table surface is 3-1/2 feet high.

Completed potting bench
Photo by Leigh

NOTE TO RESIDENTS OF JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA:  Cunningham’s 2017 Spring Herbal Faire is this Saturday and Sunday, April 1-2 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. both days. Browse vendors with seasonal plants, herbs and garden gifts. Herbal snacks and treats are also available for purchase.

Admission is free and open to the public. As a reminder, the Herbal Faire is held at Cunningham’s private residence. Please do not bring animals.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS: To get to Cunningham’s, find your way to PARENTAL HOME ROAD (PHR). From Beach Boulevard, go down PHR to Emily. Turn left. Continue on Emily down a dip in the road. Come up the dip and bear right. You are still on Emily but when you hit the curve to the left, you are on Lofberg Drive. Look for 2440 Lofberg Drive on the right.


If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It • Southern Rural Route

My dishwasher was having issues. It’s twelve. The internet, where I take all my problems except mental health, decided I needed a part.  Off I went to the appliance parts store. I walked in to see three women behind the counter, one of them with green hair. I knew immediately I had fallen off the crooked moon into the Twilight Zone. I couldn’t make a run for it, either, because Green Hair was looking at me expectantly.

The two younger women were talking among themselves leaving Green Hair as my only option despite her appearance sending my Uh-oh Meter into the Disaster Zone. She looked my age or older and I tried to convince myself that she might have a clue what she was doing. The green hair gave me doubts. What if that green dye had seeped into her brain and eaten away all the good parts?

I presented my Owner’s Manual and explained that I wanted a water valve. Green Hair wasn’t having it. Said my Owner’s Manual was useless to her. She wanted the Model Number off the inside door of the dishwasher. Who knew? How many times have I looked at that sticker and never paid any attention to it?

The water inlet valve was going to set me back $55. Not being a wealthy woman, I mentally eased away from the counter. What were the odds of the two teenagers or the green haired crone having any real knowledge about broken down dishwashers? Spending the $55 was not high on my list so I threw it out there. I told Green Hair that the bottom of the dishwasher had filled up with water only once and did not fill up again after draining it (Press the Cancel button. Mine is marked “Cancel drains automatically”).

Front panel of dishwasher
Not a sharp photo but you get the idea.

I also admitted that the dishwasher had begun to “smell.” Green Hair was clueless and whipped around to consult the teenagers.

Immediately, the arrow on my Uh-oh Meter beat frantically against the Disaster Zone as if it trying to say “No. No. No.”  Those kids couldn’t know anything! They hadn’t been on the planet long enough. I felt bad about myself, though, when The Kid started to talk like she knew what she was talking about. She was way ahead of me. In comparison, it’s a wonder I knew which button to push to make the dishwasher run.

According to The Kid, my water line was likely clogged up. She suggested I run the dishwasher with bleach in the little soap thingies and Green Hair declared, “Let’s hold off on ordering your part.”

I went home and ran the dishwasher with bleach. I kept an eye on it in case it started spewing water all over the kitchen. Ran like a charm, the smell went away and it did not fill up with water.

The next morning, it still had not filled up with water. I called to thank the Amazing All Woman Crew for their help.

The point of this missive is simple. If you go to the internet to solve your problem and your problem is not exactly like the one you find, then you need to keep looking or ask questions before you spend money on a solution that may not work for you. May your dishwasher serve you well.


One Splendid Half-Acre • Southern Rural Route

Clerodendrum paniculatum or Pagoda Plant

The Southern Rural Route took up residence on the web in December 2011. Meta was among the early subscribers. Two-and-a-half years later, she made the two-hour drive to Jacksonville to meet me, talk and swap plants. She brought her family along for protection in case I proved to be a real Fruit Loop. It’s a wonder any of us survived the July heat.

In October 2015, I visited Meta and her gardens in North Central Florida but I didn’t take any relatives :-). Her half-acre has now been featured on Fine Gardening which you can see here.


BOOK REVIEW: Grow A Little Fruit Tree • Southern Rural Route

Some links in this post contain affiliate links for which I may receive a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks for your support!


Ann Ralph has written a fabulous book on fruit trees. With 168 pages and eleven chapters, Grow A Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques (Storey Publishing, 2014), covers everything you need to know to easily grow backyard fruit. Ralph claims the backyard and its fruit tree is in our American DNA. We dream of self-reliance and harvesting fruit we’ve grown ourselves.

Ralph advocates that we should not grow a fruit tree like a farmer because our tree will need costly pruning and more fruit than we can use. For instance, a 12-foot apple tree can produce 1500-2000 apples if not thinned. Instead, we should grow a smaller tree we can prune twice a year, taking 15 minutes each time.

Over several pages, Ralph makes her case that proper pruning does more than “keep trees small; it limits crop size to fruit you will actually use.” Rather than choosing a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree, choose an apricot, apple, cherry, fig, quince, persimmon, plum or pluot for fruit flavor and then control the size of the tree with regular pruning. Put away your ladder and keep it small – no taller than you can reach while standing on the ground.

The best time to prune for achieving a short fruit tree? In June, near the time of the solstice because pruning at this particular time decreases vigor.

Other subjects Ralph addresses:

  • Bare root trees
  • Alternative to grafted multiples
  • Drought and over-watering
  • Espalier
  • How to prune and aesthetic pruning (four basic pruning rules)
  • Thinning
  • Choosing varieties
  • How to plant a fruit tree

The information she gives over four pages on the subject of signs of drought and what occurs when you over-water is worth the price of the book for experienced gardeners and those who claim they don’t have a green thumb.

I was quite smitten with this book because it makes growing fruit trees manageable.


How Do Stray Cats Choose Us? • Southern Rural Route


The mental floss for the mind started with Zorro. He was outside in the cold trying to prove he was a Big Boy like Whiskey although Whiskey was not around to witness his heroism. When I opened the front door for the third time at 3 a.m., he dashed inside and ran for my bed.

I was unable to go back to sleep because he was purring like an outboard motor with a bad set of spark plugs. Staring into the dark, I dumpster dived through all the mental flotsam and jetsam that floats through our heads.

Thinking about Whiskey, I wondered how domesticated stray cats look for a new household. Big Foot watched me from across the property for a long time before he ventured up to the porch for my food offering. The food coaxed Whiskey from the bushes in front of my house. I looked at him in amazement and asked, “Where did you come from?”


I couldn’t help but wonder how two stray cats showed up at MY door when the houses of Poppie and Country Boy, both cat people, were 80 feet away.  Did I have a special cat people smell? Did I have an invisible antenna sending out cat radar?

The internet doesn’t seem to know how we get chosen unless I was looking in all the wrong places. If you find out, please enlighten me.

NOTE TO RESIDENTS OF JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA:  The Mandarin Garden Club is holding an all-season clothing and jewelry sale. Most of the clothing is a dollar. The address is 2892 Loretto Road (off San Jose Boulevard on the Taco Bell side of San Jose) then a few feet to a left-hand turn off Loretto.

FRIDAY, March 3 and SATURDAY, March 4, 9-2 p.m.


Cherry Tomatoes in February • Southern Rural Route

I love cherry tomatoes and grow them in both the spring and fall.

We have mostly mild winters in Florida. In the summer and fall, however, I would like to pack my bags and head north. The Thousand Islands on the U.S./Canadian border might be far enough north. I suspect those folks in the Thousand Islands don’t have cherry tomatoes ripening at their front steps in February. I do.

I threw a few seeds in a pot for my fall garden that didn’t happen. I later shoved the pot behind the liriope border at the front steps. I had the best of intentions of planting it inside a wire tomato cage in that flower bed but that didn’t happen either. It was watered but never fertilized, it was stepped on after it climbed over the liriope, it was covered with a sheet on a night that went down to 26 and, against all these odds, survived.

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