Friday, December 16, 2011

Deck the ... Prince

Bombe Chest
Never marry a man whose job it is to fix things. You'll always be last on the list and even then uncertain that the work will ever be completed. Thank God The Prince is not a plastic surgeon. He'd yank up one of my jowls and wander off, announcing he's busy and telling me to just turn the other damn cheek.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Window Boxes Redux Redux

As I've waddled through my two-year evaluation, and it looks like I'm going to live, at least for the time being, and I'm boring myself silly with monitoring my blood pressure and deciding whether to take pills in the morning or evening or some here and some there -- how quickly we have shifted from thug to pansyass -- I guess I'll rev up the Gaga and....

Love Gaga.

Shit. Now I'm having trouble sitting still. Oh right, I was going to resume writing, not jigging about. Much has happened since my last entry that I will not go into beyond a summary: weddings and trips and holidays and getting paid for writing, which is always nice.

Zo. The post-Thanksgiving window boxes have been decorated and they are even less natural than usual. Little besides the ivy draping over the corners, and the fringe of wandering jew that will linger only until frost, has roots. The rest, as always, is a mix of the finest Chinese plastic and various mystery products, a sprinkling of glitter, and branches pinched from trees and shrubs as filler. It's all tied up with big purple bows.  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Which We All Visit Suzannes

That's Suzanne's pond, above. Restful, as is everything here at Bear Haven, her country place. The Prince is still having a royal sleep out in the tool shed, one of several guest "rooms" on the 50 some acre property. There's also the pool house, an open air mosquito netted perch; the air stream trailer with the Ralph Lauren sheets; and the turquoise and white cabin cruiser overlooking the pool, the closest it comes to water. It's mainly used for cocktails on the deck.

We were coming for the weekend anyway, so the hurricane is just a bonus.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Let There Be Light!

One is sometimes grateful that things around here move at the pace of a mortally wounded snail. Isn't one?

It gives one a chance to be ...creative.   The chandelier that dangles from the back porch ceiling, as example A, was a thrift shop find (with the addition of some glass grapes and various baubles), that was once (rather alarmingly) wired.

As we have no electricity on the porch -- see, we've been waiting for this electrician that does a lot of work at the Capitol to show up. It's been a few years, but I'm told it will be worth it-- I pulled the wiring and stuck votives in the crystal cups. While less convenient than flipping a switch, candles are so much more romantic.

Which leads us to example B.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Getting Potted

On this morning's tour of the back forty I noticed that the 6-foot banana tree was crowded behind the hydrangea so I put down my coffee on the twisted stone path, shifted the jasmine a few inches to the left, picked up the banana and dropped it in the space. Then  I sat on the back porch, finished that cup of coffee, and considered  the new arrangement. I think I like it, but if it disagrees with me later I'll just move the tree again. It only took, more or less, 47 seconds.

My garden, or much of it, shifts around this way because it's in a collection of pots and urns and assorted odd containers. Most are boring, but some are interesting--in design and sometimes story -- like the old plaster birdbath (which really needs work, I suddenly notice), and the Victorian umbrella stand that we bought from a couple of gay guys who were arrested for selling someone some weed and needed to scrape together the cash for a lawyer, and the terracotta cat that The Prince and I toted back from Mexico City several decades ago (the one that in an earlier post that is appearing in the bird cage).  Oh yes, and the bird cage. .

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Oddly, what first occurred to me when the room shook and blurred and I heard a grinding metal noise that wrenched my guts, was that it was akin to the first time Baby moved in my belly. While it was happening to me, I had no control. Unlike indigestion, which is irritating but clearly belongs there because of the fried chicken or whatnot. I felt I was being tossed and rolled by something alien. Which I suppose I was.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

For the Birds

Vinnie and Shakira have a new house. Letting them fly free, I finally decided, was a disastrous move. I've endured seven months of cleaning up bird shirt and nursing half-eaten palms (WHY don't they like lettuce and broccoli? The books say they should). Enough.

The issue with their original cage (the lovely Victorian number that baby bought me for Christmas that inspired this whole...bird thing) is that Vinnie pretty quickly found that she could wriggle through the bars.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Solar Powered

Solar powered lanterns have hit the hardware store a little sooner than expected. Shortly they'll be hanging everywhere. I suppose that's nice. Lots of little moons lighting little yards. But selfishly, I wanted to have them before they became as common as dirt and on sale for $8.99. Ah well, she who drags her feet...

They're still enchanting, however. I've suspended one from a cherry tree branch that arches over the dining table and a second from the mock orange which droops over the pond.

Still in procrastination mode, but ABOUT TO BEGIN WORK. Unless something happens to distract me...please....

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tradescantia Pallida - Mind the Gaps

I just flipped through 42 googlets on the care and feeding and propagation of the wandering jew, the plant least likely to require any instructions whatsoever. There were many more but even though I am in FULL PROCRASTINATION MODE, I was getting bored.

I have been growing tradescantia pallida (as it's more haughtily called) since 1972 (or thereabouts) when Stan and Betty Gottlieb gave me a sprig snipped on a trip to Jamaica or Trinidad or Aruba.  I stuck it in one of the many potted avocado plants that lined the windowsill of the New York apartment I shared with my husband once removed (The Pre-Prince) and it grew.

Avocado plants raised from pits (stick a couple of toothpicks in the sides and balance on a glass of water until roots emerge) do not fruit. They are useful as screens however, in this case softening an unglamorous view of Columbus Avenue, and as starter plants for budding gardeners since the process is so stupidly simple and....transparent. 


" The arbor's design is based on a sixteenth-century arbor design by French architect Jacques Androuet du Cerceau. Under the shade of the wisteria roof, water pours from the mouth of a lead river god into a pool decorated with lead cattails. On the wall to the south is an inscription from Dante."
-Dumbarton Oaks Website

It is so bleeding hot. That white glare filtering through the arbor's walls is the sun coming to get us, me and The Prince and Carol gasping like landed fish at the unseen end of the pond.  Great idea to trollop about Dumbarton Oaks on (yet another) sweltering summer afternoon. They said it would rain.
I proclaim that I would like something like this under the back porch. As the porch has a floor, we can't have vine covered barrel arches overhead (and God forbid more wisteria), but we do have lovely beams and the walls are brick, and there's a similar greenish glow from the garden that's reflected in the French doors that lead to the home's grotto level (as I'd like to think of it).  There could be a fountain mounted on the far wall that would spout into a somewhat smaller pool and maybe we could fit a little bistro table and chairs? 

Wine, cheese, some grapes maybe...

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Kumquat is in Bloom Again. And Other News.

I had this disoriented feeling, at 5 this morning, like seeing the sun and the moon in the sky and not knowing (in my woozy, what the hell am I doing out of bed state) whether it was dawn or sunset. The kumquat has new buds--at the same time that it's sporting what appears to be a bumper crop of little fruities.

As this is my first kumquat, and I have such lousy luck with fruit plants (though I persist in buying them) I have no idea if this is an aberration. But we have Carol--The Prince's ex-girlfriend thrice-removed-- arriving tomorrow morning and staying with us for a week and so I am particularly pleased at this development. I'm never more attractive than when I'm looking modest. I'll lower my lashes as she enviously sniffs the delicious scent of the opening blossoms that I've had absolutely nothing to do with producing.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Not My Sunflowers
This is what my sunflowers should look like by now.

Package with Note: Mid April

And this is how they do look. I bought these seed balls in March as a gift for The Prince who likes them and maintains a (pathetic) strip of a garden along the curb in front of our neighbor Pat's house--she's allergic to gardening and I don't allow him near mine (except when I need him to do something that I don't feel like doing).

See, he has this stingy concept of gardens, giving constipated haircuts to the borders -- a technique he learned on trips to the Jersey shore when he was a kid, spending weeks at the beach with a house full of relatives and toddling along after his Uncle Bus who edged the garden each Saturday morning. He does not share my affinity for the wildly out of bounds, which extends to hair. Specifically mine. But that's neither here nor there.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Please Visit Me on Facebook!

Sometimes I can say  it -- or show it -- no better than the author and so the post goes to my Facebook page instead of this blog. For a noteworthy for instance, click on:

The splendid garden of Michael Trapp

Please "friend" me so we can share our finds! Who Needs Flowers on Facebook

Books! Wise, funny, beautiful...

Just added a connection to Amazon--and a collection of books that I return to again and again for inspiration. 

Of course, with me the inspiration rarely leaves the chair I'm sitting in, however, I do get this...rush.  And I fully intend to march forward with A NEW PLAN until I don't.

Have some books you have palpitations over? Please share.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Suzanne's and Wisteria...Again. Actual Tip Included!

The Wisteria - Again
Tom and Steve take care of a handful of gardens in Georgetown. Seven or eight I think they said as I had my nose in a bloody mary at the time.

Enough clients, at any rate, to afford them a two month holiday post Christmas tinsel hanging and poinsettia-ing in the grand homes of their employers and another week or so betwixt, such as the one they were ending at Suzanne's country place in Western Virginia last weekend.

Clearly they choose their clients very well.

One happens to be the wife of a near-president.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crepe Myrtle

My internal debate over crepe myrtles always stalls around this time of year when the spring garden has faded and Washington's lethal combination of heat and humidity (and a bit of heat and humidity related apathy and neglect) has begun the sad process of turning the summer garden brown-- or worse -- riddled with a gray scrum of mildew.  Or altogether dead. 

But the crepe myrtles? They are spectacular. Like gigantic desserts, multi-colored meringues, or ices--the eye gobbles. So what possible issue can I have with them?

I always have issues with everything --- I was just sharing one with Maggie this morning, as a matter of fact. She's in England for the summer, which is where she usually is. This leaves me to grumpily stomp about by myself in the afternoon, which while a (meager) benefit to being self-employed is no fun at all. 

So I emailed her: 

Friday, June 24, 2011


In someone's eyes this garden is a twinkle. Could it be the result of a homeowner with a craving for acres of space? It is such a small wedge of a corner plot; and such a grand example of twee. 

Arch and Outhouse
A gravel path lined with neatly tended miniature succulents wends its way through the tableau, passing tiny stone mushrooms and fallen pillars and a little fountain planted with bits of green stuff and finally arriving at a frilly white metal arch, besides which sits an outhouse. Perhaps for a visiting fairy that can't depend on her Depends.  

The Cafe
Tucked back a bit, a dwarf fir tree forms the backdrop for a doll-house sized cafe table and chairs. Maybe that's why the fairy needs a latrine.

Baked Birds

Shakira & Vinnie

The Prince announced, the other night, that his recent rusty cough might be due to some parakeet pestilence.

"They carry disease," he hacked. Of course, he was referring to our pair of feral birds, who he believes dislike him. This is why I think they stand (or perch) accused.

I suggested that we should therefore eat them and if the cough clears, we'll get two more. On the plus side, next time we will know better than to let them loose, to foul the little greenhouse with seed husks and incredibly sticky shit.

On the minus side, they'd be a mere forespice, a lagniappe--a tidbit--as there appears to be little more to them but feathered bones.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Who Needs Flowers?

Sometimes plants are not the most delightful things about a garden -- and sometimes a garden can be evoked without a plant in sight.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bits & Bobbles, Trash to Treasure

Creative reuse of life's odds and ends gilded the gardens at this year's Philadelphia Flower Show
Click on the slide show for a better view


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kumquat Revisited

Kumquat in the Garden
The kumquat, puchased several days ago as a fragrant addition to the aviary greenhouse outside my office has been removed to the garden, where it sits next to a pale pink hydrangea. It is lovely to look at but harder to sniff.

I was not the only one delighted with the kumquat's sweet scent, Shakira, the male of my pair of feral parakeets immediately found it delicious, within an hour he was discovered chewing on a cluster of white blossoms -- I had to swat him away, risking life and limb.

The birds have gone mad. NEVER uncage your budgies. 

A Rambling Tale of Hydrangeas

Margot brought me the first hydrangea as a hostess gift; that was maybe ten years ago.  She didn't know that my nose twisted at the thought of such a fusty flower. Hydrangeas, blue ones, along with rose of sharon (which I disliked even more) were stalwarts of the garden that surrounded the house that David bought when we threw in the marital towel. (I since wed The Prince, with whom I have continued to live in harmonious discord for nearly three decades).

That house was quite the argument for staging. It had been on the market for many months without an offer, despite an excellent location in upper Northwest Washington, a pleasing front porch, large sunny rooms and an increasingly modest price tag--so victimized was it by its owner's deranged sense of style.

From the foyer you could see the kitchen straight ahead, the living room to the left, and glimpse the dining room beyond that. Each room was festooned in a violent clash of wallpaper and foul and greasy-looking synthetic wall-to-wall carpeting.  The most outstanding architectural elements were the radiators and exposed pipes running to the ceilings of each room.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Behold the purple petunia. 

Well, that was the intention. I set off this morning to stomp about and jostle the brain and encountered one of those THOUGHTS which tend to occur only while in open motion (as opposed to pacing about the living room).
I will, I said to myself, transplant the key lime and the honey bell orange to a single large pot (I don't know which is which anymore and won't until the maybe some year when one or the other of them sports a fruitie) and I will stick the newly sprouted moonflower seedlings in the middle (where Vinnie and Shakira are maybe less likely to peck them to death) and since this will be rather dull until the moonflowers flower I will find some deep purple petunias, the ones that smell so hauntingly sweet, and I will poke them here and there in the pot and it will all be a very nice addition to the naked corner of the aviary/greenhouse where I've stuck the orange paper parasol.

This exercise will cost me maybe $2.98 or near to it, I triumphantly added as I flip flopped into the Frager's hardware garden center.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Maureen Shapiro Thompson

Maureen and Peter
Time Traveling........

I don't know where to start, so I'll start in the middle, with a story I've told so many times... remembering the velvety black of the night and Maureen and I leaving the pub in Colchester, lurching home past the house we were certain was abandoned and sneaking a clutch of flowers from the yard ... to be stopped by a policewoman who in memory is nine feet tall with a shadow double her height stretched behind her on the sidewalk.

You there, she bellowed. That's private property.

But it's empty, said Maureen or was it me? That's what's happened with some of the stories over time, which of us did what. Could have been either of us by that point.

I remember things scattershot.

How unwelcoming I was that first day in New York, spoiled brat. Someone phoned to say that Bea Shapiro's daughter Maureen is in town from California. She's on her way to Europe.

My mother nudged me, "Call her. Ask her to dinner."

"Maureen Shapiro?? What kind of a name is that?"   

But I called her and invited her and she showed up all laughing eyes and flying curls, clutching a bottle of Blue Nun (back then we could drink in New York at 18). And by the end of dinner somehow I was being bundled off with Europe via Iceland.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

On Suzanne's and Frogs and Stuff I Want

Suzanne's Pool House*

There's no such thing as a free tadpole. Suzanne has swarms of them, millions probably, in the little pond beside the pool at Bear Haven, her country house near Sperryville, Virginia.  "Take some," she said. So we did, or rather, The Prince did, scooping a dozen or so into an empty bottle for the drive back to the city and a new home in our pond; currently naked save for the statue of the headless woman, pointlessly pouring water in an endless stream over the rocky ledge. 

Ah, Frogs.

We've had frogs before. The night noise is evocative of something. Coons got 'em. Eviscerated and stinking remains left on the white wicker sofa--well, shouldn't he be comfortable while dining? No doubt he snickered as he and his blood-soaked whiskers skittered away to where ever he lurks in the daytime. 

He got the fish too. First the costly koi and then the gold and black splotched "feeder fish" that pet snakes are so fond of. We bought them in batches, ten for a dollar. Feeder fish, ha.

The trick, Suzanne says is to set a pot on its side on the pond floor so the fish and the frogs have somewhere to hide from marauders. It also helps to put the fountain on a timer, night critters are attracted by the sound of running water, she said.

Actual useful sounding tips, take note!

A Mirror Up to Nature

The Prince brings home a great deal of trash. Sadly, he won an award from the city based in part on his compulsive scavenging.

And once anything is in his clutches, he can't let go. This is why an ancient and crappy and partially dismantled (don't ask) upright piano has been occupying a third of the back porch for the past six weeks -- the old hulk is worth something, right? Ivory keys?

Unfortunately the garage is too full for it to fit. As is a friend's garage that he borrowed some years ago, and the basement, and I won't even mention the attic because hauling a piano through a hatch in the linen closet is not feasible, even if there was space. Baby's Gameboy, circa 1990, will be worth something someday, even if the front of the case is cracked and the battery hatch is...somewhere.Won't it?

But sometimes he drags home something happy-making. Like the  frameless oval mirror that leaned against the piano for a week or so before I had my eureka moment.

Nah, truth be, there was no eureka moment. There was a moment of utter frustration when I was about to toss a brick through it (oops) but instead stuck it in the back of a garden border, leaning against the wall and found that it prettily reflected the flowers and foliage, obscured an unsightly tangle of vine, and created a day dreamy hole in my universe....a through the looking glass world (where the porch wicker is not heaped high to accommodate a musical corpse and the ceiling fan functions -- that's number twenty on the to-do list).

But how can I be bitter when ANOTHER large mirror appeared the other day, offering another escapist opportunity. (Rarely is there ever too much of a good thing, I say).  So here is the facing border, which happens to be undergoing a dark and unsightly period until the elephant ear emerges to fill a yawning gap.

Instead of a bare fence covered in a straggle of honeysuckle and ivy, the new/old mirror reflects a coleus and a red hibiscus (that is doing surprisingly well considering the dearth of sunshine in this particular spot), and a mammoth hydrangea (which has decided to be blue instead of pink this year).

Quite the improvement, thank you dear, she says, contemplating an oops moment for the damn piano.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Introducing Vinnie & Shakira

Shakira and Vinnie
Vinnie just raised her beak from the hibiscus and spat a chunk of bark mulch a third her size onto the floor.  She's digging holes again.  All day long she's either digging up the dirt in the greenhouse pots or shredding the inside of the pretty little white bird house we bought her some weeks ago. There is a strange ecstasy lighting her beady eyes as she works.

Sometimes she naps and you think she is dead, but no she is resting. Soon she will begin again.

Vinnie is our female parakeet. Shakira is her mate. Shakira's day flaps between cheering Vinnie's deconstructions, trying to lure her out of the birdhouse, and attempting to consummate their relationship.  

This is all a very loud and messy business; and very unlike my previous bird experience minding Omega and Alex, also known as the Hartke-Webbirds, last summer. Omega and Alex spent their days in a large and airy cage. Vinnie and Shakira roam the greenhouse.

I assumed this would be charming. Instead, another whim has gone awry.

The Coming of the Birds began last December.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ugly Gardens Four

The Main Plot
Just how long has this garden (cough) been moldering around the corner? I swear it just materialized.

While a mildly eccentric collection of lights has been roped around a frontal tree for years, the display has never seemed compelling enough for a close inspection.

Just look what I missed!

Behold the bier-shaped tree box with its mysterious alter to the solar gods! Several signs proclaim  allegiance (or advertise someone's line of work).

And the main plot with its planters with suspicious looking greenery and a Christmas ball and miscellaneous statuary and  ... what IS all that stuff? What does this MEAN?

Methinks someone has been doing some serious tripping for a very long time. 

The next door neighbors, with their pretty little garden and so tasteful array of Spring flowers and bulbs, must be right pleased.

Wrapping the Room

Not My Home*
Growing up I disliked the color green so intensely that I dreaded (and quickly dropped out of) the Girl Scouts. That ghastly dress, you know.

While I still can't wear it, my home is filled with it. Not blaring girl scout uniform green, but the lovely garden shades of trees and shrubbery: Our living room is green, the kitchen cabinets are green, the master bedroom is green, the ceiling in the upstairs bath is green. We just (more-or-less) painted the front of the house green.
What rooms are left (there aren't many) are filled with greenery, like the black and white solarium-wintergarden-aviary with its palms and the (rarely flowering) hibiscus and my free-flying parakeets Shakira and Vinnie (Vinnie's the girl, by the way. Who knew? And now it suits her. She's such a thug).

But then there's the foyer. Over the last 28 years the walls and ceiling grew a network of cracks and peeling chunks from traffic in the alley alongside the house; from construction of a collection of very expensive townhouses in the old schoolyard behind us; and from 100 years of sloshing water out of the claw foot tub in the bathroom overhead. 

The foyer has been my most prominent example of hanging a little ivy -- diverting attention from an eyesore. To obscure the damaged walls I sponged burnt sienna over baby shit brown in random daubs (I could have written dabs but isn't daubs lovely?) Up the walls I went and over the ceiling and up the staircase to the second floor landing. More cracks? More paint. It really was quite theatrical. Visitors thought I had deliberately created the look of a long ago ruined Italian villa.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Some Springs....

Some springs are simply better than others. They begin earlier and last longer.

Every five or so years, a few blistering days will arrive early in March, spurring on blooms that one does not expect until much later in the season. Then the proper cold snaps back, preserving those early flowers even as the later buds appear and swell and burst; everything hanging tight like the contents of a florist's fridge.

So that you have a day like today when a walk to the market resembles a grand garden show, where mismatched mates clamber over each other some whispering, others bellowing for attention. 

The clematis and honeysuckle and azaleas and dogwood (haven't they been astonishing?)  should have paled by now, but they're still resplendent against their beds of ivy and pachysandra. There are even a few malingering tulips, brilliant leaves hanging by threads.

Meanwhile, the roses (at least a week early) are rioting over garden walls, elbowing aside the equally premature peonies, as the iris stand stately, aloof to the hubbub.

As one might expect, the scent of it all is near overwhelming.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Holidays are Over

One has to restart the blogging somewhere, and window box renewal is as good a place as any.  For the past three months I've been sitting here with my feet on the desk ignoring the spring bulbs (the red tulips were gorgeous) and the flowering of the cherry (the annual show is increasingly spectacular) and suddenly the mock orange is about to bloom so...

I am feeling particularly self-congratulatory since I have spent a grand total of $25 (plus tax) to plant out the five boxes this year.

The hot pink geraniums wintered over in my solarium-winter garden - aviary (yes! new news!) along with purple and variegated wandering jew. Ivy fills the box corners year 'round and I left my little cheats -- the fauxberries and such which will cheer the boxes when I forget to water and/or something drops dead.

So my only purchase was five green potato vines to grow front and center in each box; vines that given some months and absolutely minimal care will swag the front of the house in a poison green ruffle of leaves. 

While I rarely flack products I am called to do so because I recently received this item called a CobraHead Weeder ( which is the niftiest tool in my gardening arsenal. I got it for free because a few months ago I became a member of the Garden Writers Association (an event that caused me to immediately stop writing about gardens). However, as this tool offset somewhat my dues, I was happy to receive it and use it and so now guilt-driven I am mentioning it.

But I would NOT mention it if it wasn't damn good.  The pointy end of the thing, which I guess would be the cobra's snout, made amazingly quick work of turning the window box soil. It was so easy I had to remind myself that this is usually a sweaty chore, what with the tangle of old roots and rocks and oddities inserted to discourage pigeons and encourage moisture and whatnot -- all of it congealed into a rather unyielding mass after a winter of sitting there being largely fake and therefore unwatered.

If you go to their website there's a how to video showing the tool in action.

I would show you mine if I had had the foresight to make one.

Follow Me!

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for odds and end (and bits and pieces) that don't add up to a post -- yet.