Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Festivus!

Being a marginally practicing Jew married to a Catholic-though-lapsed and having a child -- a Cachew, as she's been called -- means we celebrate everything.

And I, as drecorator in chief of this family [how did this happen--when I am so very mild mannered, so unassuming?]  am no stranger to non-traditional holiday trees, and firmly believe that as long as you're DOING IT it should be as over-the-top as possible.

No skimpy, weepy Charlie Brown sad little lost tree in the forest, for us. Feh.

Of course this has left me regretting, as usual, that  I was not born the sort of  gay man (probably not a Marine), for whom over the top is an everyday affair.

Though I can achieve much (with inspiration from Architectural Digest and Veranda--and more recently House Beautiful, which seems to have stopped doing dreadful things with bed sheets), I have been left drained and limp from the effort.

But, fabulous news! Last year I realized I had achieved a child rearing goal and, between us, baby girl and I can create a helluva fine gay tree.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter Blows In

I haven't been outside today, but when I do the city will have been transformed.

Yesterday was drizzly and mild,  delightful in its  melancholy. I love the final days of autumn, when neighbors entirely abandon their stabs at kempt and let what's left of the vines creep out of bounds and the flowers frolic and tangle among them.

A few very tender plants succumbed weeks ago, their limp and watery foliage blackened but hanging on, tethered to branches by glutinous threads. Beside them, pink roses still budding and blooming, foolishly believing summer goes on forever.

But overnight, winter dropped. This morning the car tops and tree branches were crusted with a glitter of snow. Today, the temperature won't climb much above freezing.

Soon, I'll tug on my boots and gloves and tromp a path to lunch, iced blossoms lining my way.

Finding of beauty in the cycle of life.  The Japanese call it wabi-sabi.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


An oak woodland in England, from “The World of Trees.”
Under the simple title "Gardening Books," Dominique Browning suggests a winter's feast of reading in today's New York Times (and if the photo above, which illustrates the piece, doesn't inspire hungry thoughts I don't know what will. Well, maybe the appearance of Daniel Craig galloping over the hill...)

These are more gardening memoirs than INSTRUCTION MANUALS, but who needs instruction when the earth is solidly iced and the nose requires a hat. In winter dreams, the garden come spring will have colors and textures combined to splendid effect. Zones and sun and spacing (all of those tedious details) will be considered before buying. Pruning will take place in an organized and timely fashion. Plants will be kept watered and fed. In winter dreams, with feet propped up and a fire blazing, spring will be a splendid thing.

Inspiration is the ticket to getting through to spring...and Browning delivers in spades:

Gardening Books
Dominique Browning
The New York Times
December 8, 2010

"Instead of a roundup of “gardening books,” maybe we should just refer to this category of publication as Dirty Books. Anything to do with soil falls under our new rubric. That way, writers who farm wouldn’t feel the need to elbow aside rosarians who write, who in turn wouldn’t jostle rudely past backyard gardeners concerned with mundane raised beds of veggies, bruising thin-skinned egos along with the tomatoes. Anyone insane enough to dig holes, pour money into the ground, wait to see what happens and then sit down at a computer to tell us about it has earned the right to a little respect.

While it’s true that we can’t live without food, it’s equally certain that we need beauty to live well. Anna Pavord, a gardener who plants sweet peas with her cabbage, understands this very well. The author of “Bulb” and “The Tulip” has collected in THE CURIOUS GARDENER (Bloomsbury, $35) selections from 20-odd years’ worth of essays published in the British newspaper The Independent. Let me lay my seed packets on the table: I am a Pavord groupie. Anyone who can look at a vase of tulips and offer a cogent explanation of world economic history has my devoted attention. She is intelligent, perceptive and well informed, writes gracefully and has a dry, sly wit.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boxes by Twilight

The Newly Bedecked and Lighting the Night

Holiday Decking

My prince is getting antsy about the holidays. Promising a full Martha Stewart on the window boxes was a way of getting them back on their ledges, meanwhile suspending what has become a painting DEBACLE (that we will NOT get into) that involves his keeping employed a -- never mind, I did just say I wasn't getting into it and I can feel the blood pressure rising. Suffice it to say, NEVER employ a...writer to paint a house. And that is my final word on the subject (possibly).

So I renovated the window boxes on Sunday afternoon, he hauling down from the attic my cartons of odds and ends, me then playing in the dirt. Little about the the winter boxes is real. If I were more organized I would take before and after photos...showing you in shot after constructive shot how these dirt filled boxes with just a spill of ivy off the sides*, are magically transformed with the help of a pile of fake or once alive crap combined with a bit of glitz and white lights.

You will note the (fake) boxwood ball in the center is one I ordered on-line (while listening to Alejandro) several weeks ago.  It's stuck on a sturdy stick to get it above the rest of the shrubbish and promises to do exactly what I want it to do. Stay green and look alive.

In the front are some fir branches, clipped from Suzanne's trees over Thanksgiving weekend. The red berries that resemble red berries but are some kind of Chinese substance were stuck in last Christmas and never removed. They were too jolly to pull, somehow looking right even in midsummer nestled among the (real) pink geraniums. The rest of it is gilded pine cones, a couple of gold ornaments, and a big purple bow with glittered and wired edges that twist this way and that.  The bow more or less matches the color of the boxes, which are painted the same purple as the front door.

The body of the house, though it looks icy gray, is actually (mostly) a lively shade of spring green with a line of pale pink circling the windows and reappearing in the frieze along the roof line.. or PARTLY doing so because an unfortunate facet of having hired a writer to paint the damn house is that addition to the house itself not being entirely the sames shade (and it will probably always be at least two colors because that's the way things go around here) the damn frieze coloring is all ferkoct --half this color and half that. Idiot. STOP!

And because of this delay -- these months waiting to have one small flat fronted brick house painted and having a snively writer framed in the second floor windows across the hall from my office like a peeping tom jack-in-the-box at whatever time of day he was uninspired to write and more inspired to dab a little paint on the windows (while listening to NPR and chattering on his cell phone)--there is not a damn pansy to be found and I aways have pansies on either side of whatever thing occupies the center.   
Of course there are white lights twisted throughout. And it is very pretty at night. It and its four siblings; there's another box on the main level and three upstairs.

Similarly duded up is the berry-free holly (the only kind I can keep alive) that sits beside the front door.

If it's not too cold tonight, and if I remember, and if the camera captures it, I'll post a photo.

*Except the left corner of this one particular box, which due to some tragedy or other lost its ivy last spring. The new branch, which has yet to achieve any significant presence, temporarily commingles with fake.

Monday, December 6, 2010


The more I look at the previous post the more I hate the way the damn urn looks. And the curtain behind it. And the chair. Like a damn wedding. All that ...white and pink. Bah. I want to throw some blackish green all over everything and retrieve my palm.

Why don't you then?

Yeah. Ok. Shortly.

Xmas Cactus -- Again. And a Lemony Update

Christmas Cactus
It looks better than it deserves, the Christmas cactus. It bloomed the other day, when my back was turned (as usual). I found it on the floor of the winter garden (love that new name!). The pot was tipped on its side under the backgammon table, it's droopy, sickly sweet pink flowers splayed aganst the black and white  floor. Like a ballerina in her death throws.

So I retrieved it and stuck it in the urn that's temporarily sitting atop a pedestal in the corner--I have yet to repot a palm that's supposed to be there ensconsed (that's probably some kind of grammatical misconstruction and if it is not it is certainly pretentious Sometimes the way things dribble forth is the way they dribble forth).

The urn (which will move elsewhere shortly) needed something, having lost its centerpiece twice this past summer, because I was too lazy to get off the porch in the blast furnace heat and inspect the garden for drought-related disasters. So now the trailing greens and purple wandering jew hoist an insipidly-hued focal point that has all the charm of a wet pink Kleenex. Better than nothing I suppose.

OH WHY do the wrong things curl up and die?

Perhaps because this is a cactus dipshit?

In other news. The Meyer lemon has given birth to two. Which is better than last year's one.  As usual, one of the two is on a branch that broke two years ago [so many ones and twos! I get to use the word binary!] and is/was plastered together with packing tape and some green, plastic-wrapped wire that I managed to unearth in the garage. And yet again doing nothing triumphs over doing something. If I had pruned the damn branch I would have cut my fruit prodution this year by 50 percent. Too much math.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Squirrel Watching

Tulip Van Eijk

I  have just planted 90 pink Van Eijk tulips that I expect will flower sometime in April. Thirty of the bulbs face off on either side of the path that curves through the garden. Another thirty mingle with  eight purple alium behind the little pond to the left of the garage door; keeping a promise I made to myself last month. Or was it the month before. Or the month before that.

The garage, by the way, looks nothing like a garage. With its turquoise door flanked by tall, divided-light windows (which you cannot see from any distance in summer, hidden as they are by the mock orange on one side and the wisteria on the other). The one-story brick structure resembles a cottage. As one (particularly odd) visitor once asked, "Is that where your mother lives?" 

It is a pleasant spot to plant a stand of flowers.  

Sprinkled on top of the tulips are handfuls of crocus, a flower I don't particularly care for. It seems rather nervy to even call them flowers. These puny spots of color were inserted medicinally, as they appear early in the year, when the brain needs a spot of cheer, even one so pathetically meager as this.  

There are also eight pink hyacinth, which I rather actively dislike. They are so ... florid. So garish with their squat bodies and candy-colored, tightly-curled petals. Like a band of square-bodied old ladies with too-tight permanent waves. They smell rather nice, however; as long as there aren't too many of them, which can be sickening. I hid them behind the azalea so the scent will blow about sending a bit of sweetness into the air.  (Grape hyacinths, while rather pretty and also headily scented, require a certain amount of gymnastic ability--or at least the ability to bend over--to sniff. Unless they're planted on top of a wall, which I do not happen to have).
Flaming Purissimas

Planted closer to the house is a clutch of Flaming Purissimas tulips. These are said to be early bloomers, bearing white flowers tinged with green and pink and yellow. These should emerge in March, around the same time as the hyacinth and the few daffodils that always seem to survive even when I yank the lank and yellowing foliage after they bloom.

I am feeling extremely self-congratulatory about this project, not that I have any reason to be. The bulbs were among the last available at Home Depot and Costco, deliberation didn't take long.  And there was no calculating the perfect planting date -- the bulbs have been sitting on the basement steps for the past month, waiting for me to ready myself.  Motivated only by fear of a frost -- or at least a snap of bitter cold that will make the effort extremely unpleasant, I marched forth this morning clutching my shovel.

That the effort was as easy as it turned out to be also had nothing to do with any planning or foresight. Since most of the outdoor plants are tropicals that are brought in for the winter, there are clear swaths of ground to be dug for the bulbs. And 25+ years of turning and amending that soil for the summer (Ha! "Amending". That really sounds like I DO something). Anyway, the earth turns easily, the bulbs are plopped in and covered.

And the waiting for spring begins. Let's see how many bulbs survive the squirrels.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dotty About Poppies

Adrian Higgins, in today's Washington Post writes:

"In northern gardens, poppies are the languid wildlings of summer, the stuff of picnics in the meadow and memorable afternoons. They can be tricked into a great show in the Washington garden, where they explode on the scene in May...They are part of an enormous late-spring bacchanalia that begins with clematis and peonies and embraces catmint, larkspur and the first of the roses and lavender..."

AEEIIIIIIIII! Doesn't that just make me scream and then wilt with desire! Imagine! "A bacchanalia" occurring in my garden!! Heady scents and mingled colors of roses and lavender, larkspur, peonies (hold the catnip), all bound by a tangle of clematis and punctuated with a papery ruffles of poppies!!! OH! That's a lot of exclamation points.

Sadly -- notice those dots after "May"? That sly abridgment of thought? The missing segment is this: " ...[they] linger for two or three weeks collectively and then shrivel in the face of the accumulating heat."

TWO WEEKS?! piffle. And from seed? A day, a minute, a second....the barest bristle of a sprout. I can't even get an already grown poppy, one that arrives from the garden center in a state of robust fecundity (clearly nurtured by a far greener thumb than mine and prepared for that bacchanal), to do more than sulk forlornly and promptly expire.  

There is a yard here on Capitol Hill, over by the Day School, across from the Park, that generally looks less than kempt, yet each spring puts on a magnificent display of poppies. They seem to self-seed-- spraying themselves about, each year more stupefying than the last.   

In the face of that garden it is extremely small sop that Higgens points out how tricky poppies are to grow. But sop it is.

Read him here:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Blessed Event!

Once again neglect triumphs over (desultory stabs at) care! Like the triumphant once-a-decade or so blossoming of the pink hibiscus (now again quite busily green) the Christmas cactus is abruptly tipped with buds, great fat buds. Looking like a little flower show specimen it is.

It was a gift last year when I was suddenly near death and as quickly resurrected -- and how appropriate a resurrection gift this is!

However. I do not particularly care for Christmas cactus (cacti?). My mother used to have a windowsill lined with these vaguely unpleasant looking plants. They'd sit looking droopy and a bit evil most of the year and then bloom, though never at Christmas, which is when they're supposed to be in bloom. Which is why they're so named, for heaven's sake.

Sometime after the holiday they'd deign to bud and by Easter they'd be covered with pendulous and fleshy though less than impressive flowers. This would follow the considerably more impressive Valentine's Day reflowering of the poinsettias that she also insisted on holding over. The same sort of poinsettias that right-minded people dumped in the trash after the previous holiday season She'd nurse them along -- and they required considerable tsking and coaxing -- until they once again set blooms.

She was a fine plants-woman, my mother. Though perhaps because of her taste in plants, this was not appreciated by many. Astrid and Bud were exceptions. Astrid used to be married to Michael and lived in the bright, sunny, amply terraced apartment next door to my mother's on the upper east side of Manhattan. While Astrid ran off with Bud, moving around the corner to a spacious but dark one-bedroom, they all remained friends. This is how my mother came to be growing marijuana.

Which is a whole other story...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Near Instantanious Follow-up

Hot on the hoofs of the previous posting I ordered five of these 7 inchers (which i was assured are about the size of cantaloupes and will look divine stuffed into the center of the window boxes and covered in itty bitty white lights).
Off to find five sticks.

And Now! A Matching Backdrop for your Dumpster

Last year, at almost exactly this time, I wrote about a brilliant invention/construction of the divine Diana McLellan (who I seem to be devoting a lot of ink or type or whatnot/words to at present) -- a cunning trash can cover constructed of fake ivy.

Today, peering mournfully at my window boxes (picture Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands, this is just how I looked, minus a few clippers). ONCE AGAIN I have a death, or four to be precise. Five window boxes, four dead spikes. One survives and is so perky despite exactly the same care (or lack thereof) that I suspect it's a succubus (or plantibus) draining the energy from the others in the night.

Halloween is coming.

So, obviously and immediately it occurred that I must sit down at the computer, blast Alejandro, and research fake boxwood.

Somewhere very early on and a down a twisted trail in this blog is an entry about my window box/real boxwood miseries. And something about some wimpy fakes that I discovered and that are now tangled somewhere under the back porch.

How much easier it is to buy new. Isn't it? Besides there's more of a thrill in wresting something from a nice clean box vs wresting it from under a mud encrusted rubber boot.

Anyway, I plonked Fake Boxwood into Google and voila! I find a fake boxwood hedge on the blog of a kindred spirit named Megan who lives in Portland and says she is "afflicted with zone denial," living in zone 8 but planting like it's zone 9, which is a familiar affliction.

I realize this has nothing to do with a boxwood centerpiece for my window boxes. Nor does it have anything to do with Diana's fake ivy trash can cover--other than it all being fabulously and most genuinely fake, of which there is just too damn little in this world.

Anyway anyway, here's herself on her hedge:

 That’s right, a fake boxwood hedge

MADesigns fake boxwood hedge
I’m not a big fan of boxwood, or hedges, or fake plants, but you put them all together, and you have a winner. (?) Or at least the MADesigns custom hedges were put to good use in the May 2008 Domino Magazine story about San Francisco designer Stephen Shubel’s new studio.

Fake boxwood hedge

So I started thinking about all Stephen (I call him Stephen) and I have in common, and why I too should have a fake boxwood hedge. He buys some things at IKEA, I buy everything some things at IKEA. He has an eyesore chain link fence to cover up, I have an eyesore chain link fence. He is a rich San Francisco designer who can afford custom fake hedges and probably gets a discount because he’s in the biz, I… wait. OK, that’s where the similarities end. But it’s an interesting idea anyway."
Megan's very clever site is:

Now back to my research............

Friday, October 15, 2010

Spare the Fringe Spoil the Soul

Some months ago I decided to become strict with myself. Enough with the tassels, the fringes, the fussery.

PAH! On the feather trim around Suzanne's lampshades and the lust it inspired! SPARE IT DOWN I declared.

And get rid of the dark while you're at it, I added. Brighten up fer God's sake. The whole damn house has become beyond excessive. Not sweet like some spread in Victorian Homes (heaven forbid) with the potpourri and scented candles--but run amok with dusty stuff.

I wasn't imagining Le Corbusier or van der Rohe or Eames...much as I'd like to imagine myself living in minimalist perfection. Perhaps with an opera in the background. I merely urged a bit more Indiana Jones. Broken-in leather and books and threadbare orientals, of which I have plenty.

And maybe one tassel. Just demonstrate my noble discipline and restraint.

[How understanding I am of me, I was thinking. So sensitive to my foibles!]

So I stripped away flourish after frip and was JUST beginning to breath when I came across -- or more precisely, the equally dust-loving Diana McLellan came across and then posted to Facebook--this paean to fabulousness:

A Boldini found moldering in a Paris flat. 
More precisely, said the UK paper The Telegraph:
" untouched, cobweb-filled flat in Paris' 9th arrondissement...

One expert said it was like stumbling into the castle of 
Sleeping Beauty,
where time had stood still since 1900."

...and I felt a gurgle in my throat and my eyes lurched about wildly for stashed away tassels. Clearly, I was once again sinking.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Not My Problem!!

Happy to report that I'm not the only garden person that allows a plant to get out of control because something interesting might occur (which sometimes happens and sometimes does not). Washington Post columnist Barbara Damrosch did just that this summer with nasturiums and it was a little bit of both (which sometimes happens and sometimes does not):  
Nasturtiums on the Loose

By Barbara Damrosch
Thursday, October 14, 2010;
It was a great beginning. The row of Alaska nasturtiums I'd planted made a tidy border along the outside of our home greenhouse, the "compact, mound-shaped plants," as the catalogue described them, perfectly filling the foot-wide bed. Alaska is a variety with large flowers in great shades of butter yellow, orange, red and mahogany, on long pickable stems. Even the foliage is pretty, spattered with white markings. And they're edible: the flowers, the peppery leaves and even the round seed pods that you can pickle as a substitute for capers.

As summer wore on we took to leaving the greenhouse door open every day to ventilate the crop of trellised tomatoes inside, and a strange thing happened. The nasturtiums started to creep over the door sill and make themselves at home inside. "Let's leave them," I said to my husband. "They're cute."

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Want a Whatchamacallit

What is This?
I thought I had this flower figured out.  A patch of them waves in fairy splender along the wrought iron rail surrounding Marvelous Market on Capitol Hill, resembling not real flowers but a vision of them,  perhaps rendered in clay. Like Gumby. The petals are that meaty.

Clay and Resin Necklac
The beauty and frustration of Google is that you can take some whim and compare it to millions upon thousands of possibilities -- words or photos. Which is just what I did here, though I was more successful in finding a flower necklace made of clay than locating the flower I sought. 

Elsewhere in Time

In a parallel universe I live on a tropical island where pink hibiscus dangle heavy-headed from pina colada trees (and my waist is still 24 inches and the gorgeous--and exceptionally hetero--beach boys keep the guacamole coming).

In the mid-northeast universe I apparently inhabit, I have a grumpy and balding husband who boils artichokes, a coffee machine, and a fifteen year old double pink hibiscus that blossoms once every four or five years.

In this case "once" is a portmanteau word meaning one lousy flower on one random day once in every five years. Or so. Not to mention that hibiscus flowers last but a single day before shriveling to a crepe paperish husk.

Yesterday the hibiscus bloomed. To what do I offer hosannas? I've tried starving and feeding, watering and neglecting, sunning and shading, caring and not.

Not caring is perhaps what brought about this abrupt and unexpected blossoming of a plant left lolling in semi-abandonment in a blistering hot solarium for a week. It was so dry the leaves dangled like shriveled jalapeno peppers, fully a third of them as vividly yellow as the goldenrod now eclipsing the roadsides.

I might even have missed the blessed event had not a sudden climate change brought along such a fine cool breeze that we flung open the windows and in this case the door.

I thought at first the splotch of salmony pink suspended from a branch was a tissue, but then asked myself, as I do, "And where pray tell would that have come from?" (Note: I'm very polite with myself on paper--or keyboard. This is not at all what I actually said...Which began, "What the f...").

So I tip-toed out, squinting without my glasses, and reached with disbelieving fingers to touch a flower already somewhat exhausted with its efforts. Then backed away slowly so as not to frighten it into dead fall, I grabbed my camera from my desk and crept forth again to shoot it.  I believe the depth of my emotion is apparent in the photo's slight blur.

 And then today came and the hibiscus is downed and the wait begins again.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Yet Another Minor Catastrophe

Exhibit "A"
Here is another example of how sometimes things work and sometimes they just do not.

You will note this pot of coleus and purple wandering Jew marked Exhibit "A". Nice and bushy, yes?

Some weeks back I pinched some sprigs of each from another planter in the garden and stuck them in this umbrella stand in plain soil. They rooted nicely with absolutely no care  and have clearly flourished.

Exhibit "B"
The following week I noticed a pot beside the pond (Exhibit B) where good things were no longer in evidence, so I snatched a few more twigs and stuck them in the dirt. Voila. Nice.

Encouraged, I stole a few cuttings from particularly interesting specimen on the way to Harris Teeter. I stuck these in a little glass vase and they're sitting, dense with roots, on the kitchen windowsill. 

So then I come across a fabulous window box in Georgetown, filled most splendidly with coleus. And upon returning home I noticed a limpishness about my own boxes, and I thought of the pots and how easy it was to root this stuff, so I plucked and I planted and I even dipped the little stemlets in rooting powder to give them a leg up, as it were. I even watered!!

Maybe it was that? The damned attention?

Feh It's Fall

I would rather be at the beach. I have had not nearly enough of blue water/white sand this year.

On the other hand. The juxtaposition of railings and white flower vine has been worth waiting for, and as it would have peaked right now (which it has) I would have missed SOMETHING had I gone where I usually go this early part of September to float face down in limpid tropical water going OOO yellow fishie! OOOO blue fishie! And so forth...

There was some concern (mine) early on that this display would have been abruptly curtailed during one of the prince's wild flails with the clippers. We are opposites when it comes to rampent, untamed growth. I can't wait to see where it will lead...he  wants to whack it into submission.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Flowered Walls Update

On second thought I have grown to appreciate the arch at the Botanic Garden, though I still don't care for the totem pole. Both have grown in since the photos I took to illustrate the original story, where I expressed (personal--but then, nu?) doubts  about the attractiveness of the structures.

The structures are still an issue, the wood is so ...raw; reminding me of a hippie cabin in Crested Butte circa 1972, when goats and chickens ran amok in the streets...and there was a heated debate over installing a traffic signal at THE intersection...

The totem still has something of that feel -- the wood too exposed and the structure too chunky for grace.

But with the arch, or arches (I believe I failed to mention that there are two), the plants and vines have massed to splendidly tropical effect. Get close up and stand at an angle to the path and one can imagine that wandering through will deposit you in some paradise...where monkeys frolic and bananas and coconuts and pineapples and pina coladas hang from trees.

The sad truth is you're only accessing a traffic circle. It's in front of the Capitol so if you look up the view is... not the usual kind of thing one comes across. But if you look straight ahead, it's a bunch of cars.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Window Box Emergency Surgery

This has not been the best year for my window boxes. The potato vine has taken off most grandly--those in the lower boxes are brushing the porch floor and the upstairs boxes drip nearly to the tops of the downstairs windows.

Not My House
The geraniums, however, are being stubborn, waiting for cooler weather when they will begin blooming magnificently ... just in time to be yanked for the winter. What's most colorful are the red berry branches that I stuck in last Christmas. As they're phony, this stands to reason. 

The window boxes in these first two photos are -- gallingly -- not mine. I came upon them yesterday while cruising Georgetown for a parking space. Well, technically, Alice was cruising and I was staring out the window. This made it possible, when we came across this house on 32nd Street, near where it intersects with Q, for her to pull over any whichwhere and me to hop out and take pictures with no fear of gendarme interactions.
Not My House Either

These boxes are fabulous, if stupidly simple. There ain't much else here but common begonia and caladium. But the effect is spectacular.

I imagine they get more water than mine do, since there's not much of a roof overhang to shield them.

Oh, who am I fooling. Clearly, someone takes care of the damn things, cheaply planted (sniff) as they are.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lazy Plants

Flowering walls are not the only wonders at the Botanic Garden this summer. There's something ticklish about plants lazing in hammocks at the foot of the U.S. Capitol. Besides the humor, it's a clever way to top the garden...when one is torn, perhaps, between heirloom tomatoes and flowers--and space forbids the inclusion of both

However. The fully loaded weight of these hanging planters must mean the pylons supporting them are anchored in China.

On Flowered Walls

Next year -- is it time for daydreaming about that already? -- I would like the garage to look like this, minus the turret and pointed roof. And the windows. And, since I would have no room for color, the color.

Not that those things wouldn't be pleasant to include...and now that I think of it, the garage does have a door and that shade of blue just zings doesn't it?

And a turret would be very nice.

Not the kind of turret where I let down my hair and the prince climbs up (wince) with a pitcher of martinis and perhaps a cheese platter...but a turret with soggy old arm chair and a hassock where I can hide away and read and snooze--after I haul up the ladder to keep the prince the hell out of my hair.

If it's Saturday, he can call me when it's time to take me out to dinner.

Have I digressed. Right oh...

That's baby in the picture (the one that occasionally snarkles after a blog entry). A  fine piece of work, isn't she?

The floriferous structure she's indicating is at the U.S. Botanic Garden, the greenhouse at the foot of Capitol Hill. The facade is covered with a plastic grid and each of its chambers is filled with potting soil and then plugged with brilliantly colored coleus and begonias and a variety of fast growing vines, some green and some spotted with bits of pink and burgundy.

They've massed and twined into this flowery fairytale. And I want it, which is not surprising as I'm exceptionally greedy. But I'd probably kill it since it appears to need a fabulous degree of watering and pruning; tasks that I'm alternately enthusiastic and apathetic about. And when I'm busy being apathetic things tend to shrivel.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ugly Garden III (Or is it Four?)

This utterly enchanting Edwardian on a gloriously leafy Capitol Hill Street is as bewitching as a Anne Rice novel--move in today and start the seance tonight!

Sing it! Who do that voodoo that you do to me....

(Oh to write the real estate brochure for this house, which is one of the things I do when I'm not blogging).

Taking this place to task almost --almost--makes me feel mean (also a little scared). Clearly there's been great thought in its creation. Expense, too.

And the labor involved in keeping all of the white rocks and statuary clean (pristine, if I revert to real estate mode). Surrounded by bushes and shaded by deciduous trees, maintenance must be a constant task.

The smooth glass bits arrayed as an offering to the lovebirds must themselves require constant buffing. They also stud the rock bed, glittering in sea colors. Turquoise. Green.

Contemplate, for an instant, getting the smutz out of the cherub's fat folds.

How could you even walk in there to clean without leaving a dingy trail?  

At any season of the year the splendors of this garden can be witnessed.  Here we are in summer mode, rocks like bleached bones in a New Orleans graveyard. Remind me to post the Halloween version. Christmas, as would be expected, is entirely over the top. So many times have I passed by and marveled.

And I've never seen a soul go in. Or out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Killing the Grass

I do not cultivate grass. One develops an aversion to the stuff when one lives in the city and to step on grass courts an encounter with dog dreck.

I do remember a time, I think it might have been 20 years ago, when I was called to jury duty and walked to court. Crossing the Capitol lawn I realized that here was one place where I need not fear to tread and I took off my shoes and let my bare feet happily squish along in the dewy morning freshness.

Grass is also a pain in the ass to care for. There was a time even farther ago than the jury incident when the prince and I had a bit of lawn (or so we thought) in the back garden. It was all very pretty and bucolic, with a climbing Queen Elizabeth arching above a white wicker couch and squirrels in the apricot tree pelting me with fruit pits as I attempted to relax over some grisly murder mystery or other....

And then one day when guests were due in the evening (and my back was turned) the prince lofted the weed killer and....It's amazing that what passes for grass is sometimes not grass at all.

So the minuscule backyard is a wilderness of vines and shrubbish; some flowery, some not. I like it like that.

The front patch is also grassless. It is a dense and yawningly boring tangle of ivy and a very sad looking pink dogwood. I do not like this and have repeated that most forcefully to myself over the years.

There is an exhausting story that I will one day tell about the prince's aversion to the removal of anything vaguely alive...but if  lightening struck...

Oh good thinking. One could pretend lightening struck! (My fingers just did a happy dance on the desk). And then I would follow the lead of one or another or, knowing me, all of the gardeners (simultaneously) that Adrian Higgins writes of in today's Washington Post. City or suburb, they've taken the lawn and throttled the bore out of it.

Note that this piece is in several parts! Read on;

(Note. The photo is not my front yard. It is the back garden with a cartoon bunny dancing around and is placed here to attract your attention because it's said that we're no longer capable of reading anything without illustrations. Or something like that).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On Reinventing the Rose

I am once again weak at the knees over something I shouldn't be planting...OH, but it's so tempting! And, of course, it will probably prove to be impossible for me  to resist...

There's this rose, see. Rosanna. She's supposed to climb ten or so feet high (and grow about as wide) and bloom all summer with massive clusters of lightly scented salmony pink flowers.

Not only that, according to an article in today's Washington Post by gardening editor Adrian Higgins, Rosanna is one of a new variety of rose: hardy, disease free, ever blooming, and -- most importantly -- not chemical dependent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Swords into Plowshares III

Let's re-revisit this sign post
and yes, there is a signpost under that explosion of vinery; a No Parking signpost that was last summer smothered in heavenly blue morning glories (which is what they're called as well as what they are), and a beautiful sight it was.

The theory (I imagine, because I've never tripped over whoever lives here, and sometimes that's what it takes to get me to talk, not type) was to hide a sign that created a blight upon the sidewalk in front of a delightful house.

I commiserated in my quiet, modest way. We too have a signpost outside of our house. It arrived one whimsical day when the city decided it was tired of our letters complaining about meter persons that were incorrectly ticketing our car for parking too close to the alley. Since we have measured and remeasured over the 20-some years that we've lived here we know to the tenth of an inch how close we can go -- but not so those in charge of parking enforcement.  So, because they apparently can't be trained, we have been visited with...ugliness. Damn sign doesn't even stand up straight. Bah.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Aging Beauty of Alium

Elizabeth and I were strolling along the other day chatting about this and that nothing when she abruptly threw out an arm to stop me and pointed down at this sputnik growth alongside a garden path -- "I want alium next year," she announced.

At first I didn't recognize it, it was kind of like looking at a high school mate 30 years later -- there's something about you but...

And then I did.

I grew a herd of alium sometime early in my gardening career (can you call something you do so haphazardly a career?) and recalled being enchanted by the fuzzy purple popsicle heads that sproinged about the garden, but was put off in subsequent years by the price of the bulbs. I mean, these are spring thingies, they do nothing all summer, right? They come up and, bam, they're over.

The purple fluff falls off and what's left are these gnarly witchy fingers. But I didn't appreciate the skeletal back then, the way the remains of something have a curious beauty. It's not just the fresh and young and perky that have a lock on fabulousness.

I did have an early introduction to this  idea, even if it took several decades to take root.

Maybe 20-years ago I picked up "Drawing on the Left Side of Your Brain," and spent several weeks sketching. A fascinating book for those whose representational skills stalled out at age 8, or so. Which is (for some reason) most of us. Turns out it's all about not really seeing what's in front of your face. You're looking right at a chair or a chin and not able to get your pen around the contours.

And then you pick up the book and do a couple of exercises maybe you're not Picasso, but you've actually produced something recognizable, something with depth, proportion, something that comes perilously close to -- art. Whoa.

I was lying in a bubble bath drawing my foot on the facuet, sitting in the front porch rocker sketching our big elm tree, hovering over Monica sketching her sleeping, thumb-sucking baby face.

And the more I did the more interested I became in out of kilter shapes and, most particularly, odd looking people. My eye flitted right past the pretty to itch at the thought of getting a bulbous nose on paper, corrugated foreheads, wattley chins, jutting bones and opposing hollows...the old were particularly enchanting, with all their parts coming unmoored in such interesting ways.

This went on for some weeks. 

Now, every once in a while I pick up one of the sketches and am briefly impressed with myself -- and then I recall that I put the book aside and returned to drawing very much as I did in Mrs. Turtletaub's third grade art glass. It's so much easier. I am such a disappointment to me sometimes (I am shaking my head).

So the alium has reminded me of all this and and seeing the spiky remains beside the garden path made me determined to damn the expense and plant them again next year.

Oh, Clever Me!

This is not how this urn is supposed to look. The plant in the center of the urn is supposed to stand upright and bushy (and covered with pretty little orange flowers but, eh, can't have everything).

So -- Alert! -- actual successful gardening tip coming. But first I will point out that this is supposed to be cleaning day. I had reserved it as such. Two articles were completed and turned in to editors last week and there's a void until tomorrow and a photo session with a house about to go on the market. So yesterday while floating around my pool draped over a hot pink noodle [note: this is only my pool in the sense that I paid a couple of hundred bucks for the prince and  I to belong for the summer] I was getting all energized about Waxing the Floors and Washing the Kitchen Wallpaper.

And then, perversely, this morning arrives and I have zero desire to clean anything. I am, in fact, in full step over the crap on the floor mode.  My blog has been languishing and NOW is the time to do something about it so here I be. Lucky you.

This plant in the urn was the subject of a spring soliloquy on pruning, which i did not do. The result is this leggy thing that just...drips.If it gets hit with rain it goes entirely splat and tangles with the ground cover. This was not the effect I was going for.

Ugly Garden II

Where does one start with this?

Clearly, someone had a thought. A patio? Perhaps a plaza? There's a centerpiece of raised bricks, a surround for a dramatic focal point. In this case an artificial shrub. I cannot tell what material it is -- it's kind of paperish, with a little sheen. But its importance to the tableau is indicated by the brick pedestal on which it sits and underscored by the gaily striped chain that fends off prospective thieves. Slightly northeast of the urn is a gray plastic elephant sitting back on its haunches. It appears to be braying. This is possibly the home of republicans.

I like the pink ball pushed back under the front porch. In design circles this is known as a group of three and provides an imbalanced balance, you see. No?

In one of life's happy little coincidences, the neighbors have installed lush, green carpeting up their front steps. The result being that if you're standing in front of these two house, you just don't know what to look away from first.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Extending Living Spaces to the Outdoors -- Revisited

On Saturday, May 9, the Washington Post ran a truncated version of a piece I wrote on trends in backyard patio design. It was explained that because of advertising in the issue, the piece would have had to "jump" twice, meaning it would occupy more than two pages. And that, I was told, "is fatal. Readers hate them." 
As a result, the words and works of several wonderful contributors were cut short or completely cut out. I've already posted the article as it ran in the paper. What follows is the piece as it was written: 

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