The buzz of the lawn mower, the smell of twilight perfumed with lighter fluid and charcoal — ’tis the season to throw backyard parties. Unless you live in an apartment, right?
Take comfort, loft lovers. You need no longer grouse on the sidelines pretending you are the one person on earth who does not love the aroma of a fresh-cut lawn or feigning disinterest in the gardening clogs worn by ladies on Ward Parkway.
The easiest way to invite sunshine into your home is with color. Your landlord might not let you paint your walls, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cover a canvas stretcher with fabric to instantly brighten up the place. Mondrian fans might prefer to paint a collection of prestretched canvases and arrange them on a white wall. Need a step-by-step how-to guide? Try ReadyMade, a magazine well suited to people who believe that duct-tape wallets are awesome.
You don’t need a yard — or even a fondness for terra cotta — to have a container garden. “The trend right now is for anything to be a container,” says Soil Service Garden Center general manager Brian Linch, citing boots, washtubs and a pair of mannequin heads sprouting wheat-grass mohawks (a homemade version of the planters that Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia made famous).
So you might not have room for watermelon in your apartment-issue refrigerator. How much freezer space does it take to make popsicles? Not much. Remember when you were a kid and you made them with toothpicks and ice-cube trays? You’re not too old to try that again. Experiment with fancy juices or chunks of fruit.
Just because you can’t run through a sprinkler on a balcony doesn’t mean apartment living can’t be fun.
Choose a cheerful print from among the gazillion options at Cy Rudnick’s (2450 Grand, 816-842-7808) and hang simple panels. These days you don’t even need to sew: Hem rectangles with fusible tape and a steam iron (or leave them raw, depending on the fabric) and hang them with alligator-clip drapery rings, available at most of the chain household shops (including Restoration Hardware, World Market and Bed, Bath & Beyond). Don’t limit yourself to sheers — just about any fabric can be a curtain (including those made to be shower curtains). How about colorful Mexican-print oilcloth for the kitchen? Pryde’s Old Westport (115 Westport Road, 816-531-5588) carries an assortment of colors and designs. Make yourself a matching tablecloth and put a bowl of lemons on the table for a hot retro look.
AstroTurf! It’s as cheap and wonderful as it is absurd. Carpet your balcony (or better still, your bathroom counter) with AstroTurf from Strasser Hardware (910 Southwest Boulevard, Kansas City, Kansas; 913-236-5858). You can cut, lay and remove it yourself with minimal effort or expense. Hot-glue plastic flowers down for added kick. For less kitschy summer flooring, World Market offers 1-by-9-foot sea-grass strips for about ten bucks. Run a couple down a hallway or carpet a sunny bedroom for an elegant Hamptons look.
Space is at a premium in an apartment, so try organizing projects in inexpensive beach bags hung from decorative wall hooks. This time of year, cheap beach totes are ubiquitous at places like Target. Find a style you like and buy a handful. Or order a stash of mesh shopping bags at DirectFromMexico.com. Find decorative hooks at World Market or Anthropologie.
Just because you don’t have a lawn of your own doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the smell of fresh-cut grass. Demeter (www.demeteronline.com) sells eerily accurate scented candles: “Grass,” “Wet Garden” and “Thunderstorm.” You can practically smell the lightning in the latter, without the added threat of a tornado.
Remember, anything goes — and that goes for where you find your containers. Places such as Pryde’s and the Soil Service Garden Center (7130 Troost, 816-444-3403) have loads of attractive conventional planters, but you can find strange and wonderful vessels at junk shops and antique malls such as Darlene’s (5502 Troost, 816-361-9901) or the River Market Antique Mall (115 West Fifth Street, 816-221-0220). Scour Ebay for printers’ trays (the kind that aren’t divided like shadow boxes); they make attractive shallow planters for your own miniature wheat-grass lawn. Asian markets such as Hung Vuong (429 Walnut Street, 816-221-7754) or PearlRiver.com offer all sorts of treasures, including decorative tea tins that are ripe for repurposing. Or save money and plant in your old shoes. Just be sure to line them with plastic first, because … well, ew.
Grass seed is available in countless varieties at the Soil Service Garden Center. If you’re going the seed route with herbs, don’t forget Planters Seed-Feed-Spices (513 Walnut, 816-842-3651). And House of Hezekiah (4305 Main, 816-753-3312) offers lovely starter herbs as well as advice on how to use them.
Most garden shops, including all of those listed above, have knowledgeable people on staff who are happy to coach you on plant pairings and care. You’ll get more attention if you shop during the week, because most stores of this variety are packed on weekends. Try posting questions on the forums at SavvyGardener.com, a Kansas City-area gardening Web site. It’s largely geared toward yard gardens, but forum regulars are friendly and eager to help.
Food and Drink
Grilled burgers and dogs are summer staples, but without a proper patio, grilling becomes a fire hazard. Don’t give up! Stovetop grills lack romance, but they’re cheap and easy to clean. Plus, they do brand your buns with the all-important grill marks. The Chefmaster Smokeless Indoor Grill is available for as little as $10 from Shop.com. Fancypants, however, may prefer the DeLonghi Indoor Grill, which uses both radiant and contact heat and features an enameled, cast-iron grate. It goes for about $90 at Williams-Sonoma.
You don’t need a lot of space to make ice cream, but it is handy to have an ice-cream maker. If you’re hardcore, you can make one from two coffee cans and instructions easily found on the Internet. But it’s easier to go to Strasser’s and ask for a classic White Mountain hand-crank model. (White Mountains are pricey — they run upward of $150 — but they’re high-quality.) When your arms are too tired to crank anymore, your ice cream is ready to eat. Smaller, electric versions are available for wusses.
Question: Does sangria go with ice cream? Answer: Yes. Everything goes with ice cream. This is a very important principle of summer. In addition to sundae boats and parfait cups, Pryde’s also stocks beautiful Italian-glass spigot jars perfect for filling with your own magic recipe of sugar, wine and fruit. Taller than they are wide, the jars don’t take up much counter space, and when they’re not holding summer elixirs, they’re great for storage or display. If sangria isn’t your thing, consider devoting this summer to perfecting your fresh lemonade recipe. (Hint: Add a touch of lime juice.)