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Sourcebook for Cultivated Living

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    Joel and Diane Schatz have photos (circa 1927) of their Mill Valley, California, house that show a garden party in progress under a great canopy of wisteria, with guests in party hats posed against a backdrop of pampered rhododendrons, camellias, and holly. This is not how the place looked the first time the Schatzes saw it 75 years later.

    "It was a wreck," Mr. Schatz recalled the other day. The "lawn" consisted of hard-packed clay covered in cat droppings, the rhododendrons were strangled by overgrown vines, and the redwood house—subdivided into five apartments after World War II—was a mess. The Schatzes took one look and bought the place on the spot.

    (N.B.: Want to see more of our favorite Garden Rehabs? See 1,585 images in our Photo Gallery.)

    Photographs by Marla Aufmuth.

    Above: The Schatzes rebuilt the house—and the garden, with the help of San Anselmo, California-based garden designer Jan Gross of Heritage Landscapes.

    For the story of a grand garden nearly destroyed by a mudslide, see A Survivor: A Grand Seaside Garden in Tiburon.

    Above: The effect of mixing different textures and leaf colors is to create a serene retreat. Photographer Marla Aufmuth got stuck in traffic and rushed through the gate 30 minutes late; her first words were, "Well, at least I arrived in paradise."

    For a sprawling kitchen garden designed to accommodate gardeners in wheelchairs, see A Garden With No Obstacles.

    Above: What prompted the Schatzes to take on such a huge project? The 5,000-square-foot house did have a few things going for it. Like many of the earliest homes built in Mill Valley, which got its start as a summer retreat for San Franciscans, it is situated on a gentle ridge a few hundred feet above a picturesque downtown square. The house has dead-on views of Mt. Tamalpais, in whose shadow the town was built. And underneath the tangle of undergrowth, the Schatzes suspected, there might lie the bones of a magnificent garden.

    Above: They were right. The property is ringed by towering redwood trees; as the sun moves overhead, a mix of light and shadow create vignettes of color and texture throughout the garden.

    The first steps Ms. Gross took were to amend and enrich the soil, which also aided drainage, and to rescue through judicious pruning established plants, including century-old rhododendrons (above), camellias, and wisteria vines. Shaping the old shrubs into "trees," she created "trunks" and culled the branches to allow air and light to circulate.

    Above: All the windows, doors, and shingles on the house are from a single reclaimed redwood tree from Mendocino County. On a slope near the house, Ms. Gross planted mondo grass, baby tears, and one of many Japanese maple trees whose leaves punctuate the garden with a dramatic burst of color.

    Above: A weeping cedar grows against the house. The one-acre private garden, open to visitors last month during a convention of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, is on the largest lot in downtown Mill Valley. The original owner, a congregational minister, dubbed the property "Crown Point," a name the Schatzes still use.

    Above: A hundred-year-old holly true was pruned from within to retain its shape while allowing air and light to circulate. For a shade garden planting scheme, see Design Sleuth: The Ultimate Shade Garden.

    Above: A patio area gets mid-day sun.

    Above: A creek runs through the property.

    Above: Ms. Gross routed the stream to lead to a fish pond and lined the path with ferns and plants with tropical foliage to enhance the property's natural feeling of being in a jungle.

    For more, see 217 images of Shade Gardens in our Photo Gallery.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published October 15, 2012 as part of our coverage of West Marin and Beyond.

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    I've killed every succulent I've ever attempted to grow. Things start off well enough, but a few weeks after I bring succulents into my home, they start to look spindly and sad before giving up and dying. Despite hearing time and again about how foolproof succulents can be, I've never had luck. And I have a hunch that I'm not the only one. Fellow succulent killers, are you out there?

    Distraught about my inability to nurture a succulent in my tiny New York apartment, I took advantage of a trip to San Francisco last week to head to that city's succulent mecca, Flora Grubb Gardens, to ask for advice: Why are my succulents dying, and how can I stop killing them?

    Photographs by Erin Boyle.

    succulents at flora grubb in san francisco | gardenista

    First, let's talk about climate. Before wallowing in despair about your inability to keep a succulent alive, it's a good idea to think about the exterior factors that you can't control (Remember my Fiddle Leaf Fig Dilemma?). Succulents in San Francisco grow like weeds. Wedged between crack in the sidewalks, spilling out of containers in the middle of the street, twisting out of hanging planters suspended from lamp posts, the succulents in the City by the Bay are so healthy and abundant that if I didn't know better, I might actually believe they were mocking me. But the truth is that outside in the dry San Francisco air, succulents are just decidedly in their element. 

    succulents at flora grubb in san francisco | gardenista

    Succulents are desert plants. They thrive in hot, dry places with plenty of sunshine. It's no surprise that a sun-loving plant doesn't enjoy life in my dimly lit New York apartment.

    succulents at flora grubb in san francisco | gardenista

    But even if the climate in my small apartment can't mimic the desert, I learned a few rules of thumb for keeping succulents alive indoors anywhere.

    how to stop killing your succulents | gardenista

    As a general rule of thumb,  when shopping for succulents to grow indoors, look for the green ones. The greener the succulents that you choose, the greater the chances that they'll survive inside.

    how to stop killing your succulents | gardenista

    Green succulents in the Crassula genus are a dependable option. A Crassula "Gollum" Jade like the one above is available from Mountain Crest Gardens for $4.50.

    how to stop killing your succulents | gardenista

    If you prefer the cactus look, agave and aloe plants can also do surprisingly well indoors if placed in a bright window. The thread-leaf agave (above) has my eye in particular. 

    succulents at flora grubb in san francisco | gardenista

    Part of the appeal of succulents is their variety of colors and shapes. But succulents in the purple and orange color family are really better suited for outdoor spaces. 

    how to stop killing your succulents | gardenista

    Instead of focusing on having a variety of color, look for green succulents in a variety of shapes.

    how to stop killing your succulents | gardenista

    In outdoor plantings, succulents can do well in crowded compostions, but if you're hoping for your succulent to survive in lower indoor light, it's best to space them apart so that a maximum amount of sunlight can reach them.

    how to stop killing your succulents | gardenista

    Maybe most important: succulents don't like to be watered very often. The soil should be allowed to dry completely before getting another drink. Planting succulents in unglazed plants can help them to drain completely in between waterings and will prevent them from becoming water-logged.

    A recap:

    1. Give your indoor succulents as much natural light as possible. No matter how much you want them to, they can't survive in a dim corner.
    2. Water your succulents sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings. Planting succulents in an unglazed vessel will prevent the soil from getting water-logged.
    3. When growing succulents indoors, stick to green varieties whenever possible: crassulas, agaves, and aloes make for ideal houseplants.

    What else? Any other tips for the succulent-killers among us? 

    Looking for a sexy succulent planter? We found one.

    For more on Flora Grubb Gardens, see our Shopper's Diary.

    View Larger Map

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published on June 24, 2013 as part of our Dry Gardens week.

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    Every March growing up, I watched my mom wield a large pair of hedge clippers and go at the forsythia that edged our front yard. She'd fill a tall cut glass vase with the naked branches and a little warm water. In the center spot on our sunny kitchen table, the spindly branches would fluff up with brilliant yellow buds within a week. Getting permission to prune my neighbors' bushes has been a somewhat more difficult task here in Brooklyn.

    Lucky for me, flower shops have caught on to the spirit-lifting powers of flowering branches. They stock up on branches. Lately, cherry blossoms have begun to appear in shop windows and cafés around Brooklyn, so the other day I went to my local florist and walked home with a armload. I figured that even if a trip to Japan to see the cherry blossoms wasn't in the cards this year, I could recreate the magic in my own apartment.

    See more of Erin's DIY Adventures.

    Photographs by Erin Boyle.

    If you're anything like me, walking down city streets carrying a bundle of kraft paper-wrapped branches will make you feel like a fairy queen brandishing an oversized and flowery scepter. At lengths of four or five feet, cherry blossom branches will turn the head of even the most hardened New Yorker.

    Florists typically stock both white and pink cherry branches; after Valentine's Day, I was looking for something a little less rosy. I opted for white.

    If you don't have a good pair of pruners at home, you might consider asking your florist to do some trimming for you. While not too difficult to trim with the right tools, cherry branches are relatively thick and require a bit of muscle to cut down to size. Because of the diminutive size of my apartment, I decided to cut off about a foot of branch, leaving me with branches that still stood higher than four feet.

    The best way I've found to arrange large branches is to place my vase directly on the floor. This way, I can manipulate the branches with less risk of knocking artwork off the walls or otherwise causing damage. Having leverage above the branches makes the whole process much simpler.

    I used this oversized bedside carafe as a vase because it was sturdy enough to support the weight of the branches and tall enough to forestall tipping.

    With fresh changes of water, blossomed cherry branches will last for a week or two indoors. I purchased branches whose buds had already unfolded, but if you'd like to witness the unfurling, choose branches with buds that are still tight. You'll be able to enjoy the beauty for even longer.

    If you have access to a flowering tree of your own, all the better. Consider giving springtime a jump start and prune a few branches directly from your own tree. In my years as a country girl, I successfully forced forsythia, dogwood, cherry, and quince with very little effort. Use a good pair of pruners to make your initial cuts and then use garden scissors or a knife to make several small slits in the base of your branches to encourage water absorption. Within a few weeks, you'll have flowering branches, indoors.

    There is so much more I want to tell you. See Ikebana Arrangement with Magnolia; 5 Favorites: The Best Pruning Knifes; 5 Favorites: Pruners.

    See more of Erin's DIY Adventures.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published March 11, 2013 during our Do-It-Yourself week.

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    If you count all the hours we allot to plumping pillows, smoothing sheets, straightening shams, and fussing over how the whole thing looks, we spend as much time on our beds as in them. Yet the results never look as good as pictures in magazines. Enough already. I am a busy person and so are you. Here's a foolproof system to make a bed inviting enough to make it hard to say goodbye each morning:

    For tips on bed-making (and a philosophical discussion about what the state of your bed says about you), I turned to Tricia Rose, a bedding expert who owns Rough Linen and has given a lot of thought to the topic.

    "Virtually any bed looks beautiful if it has a woman lying naked in it, on her side, seen from behind, with a sheet carelessly draped across her bottom," Tricia said.

    "I could try that, I suppose, but I don't know if it's sustainable," I said. "What about on days I have to go into the office? How can I make it look good then?"

    "Easy," she said. "You have to get to the heart of it—what is your bedroom for?"

    Above: Photograph via The Brick House.

    Your bedroom is the most private room in the house, and it should be the most personal. Your bed should feel like the ultimate sanctuary and make you happy every time you get into it. "Show-off-y beds are a thing of the past," Tricia said.

    So are fussy pillows—remember the era of "my husband has to throw 14 tiny pillows onto the floor so he can get into bed?" It's over. Instead:

    Secret No. 1: Get the right pillows. By all means keep your favorite pillow—the flat, dingy one you've been carting around since childhood because it has just the right squish factor to lull you to sleep—but also invest in a pair of beautiful goose down pillows. On her bed Tricia has a White Goose Down Pillow; available in standard, queen, and king sizes at prices ranging from $108.74 to $179.99 at Warm Things.

    Goose down pillows will look plump and make your bed look welcoming no matter whether you lay them flat or prop them up against the headboard. "Some people do pillows like a stack of pancakes and others like magazines in a rack that faces forward, and either looks good," said Tricia.

    Above: A set of standard size Garment-Dyed Linen Pillowcases is $69 and a Garment-Dyed Linen Flat Sheet is available in 18 colors; from $59 to $89 depending on size at Restoration Hardware.

    Secret No. 2: Buy a bolster. Then push it up against the headboard and leave it there. A twill 30-inch-long Bolster Cover is available in eight colors for from $39 to $89 and a 30-inch-long Synthetic Bolster Insert is $26; both from Pottery Barn.

    "If you read in bed, having a bolster to fill in that horrible corner where the mattress meets the headboard, feels so much better," said Tricia. "And it's no work at all, because you don't touch it. You don't have to move it to make the bed in the morning. It stays put."

    Above: Bed linens made of linen; a Linen Summer Set in Smooth White includes a Summer Sheet ($154) and a Summer Cover ($185) and is available from Rough Linen.

    Secret No. 3: Instead of cotton sheets and pillow cases, put linen on your bed. (After all, this category of textiles is called bed linens for a reason.) "What I love about linen is you can stand at the end of the bed and with both hands go 'flick," and it looks beautiful, wrinkles and all," Tricia said. "It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth or perfect at all, because linen already is perfect."

    Linen linens look good even when mussed. But I have to point out this is not the way I was taught to make a bed. Housekeeping had very strict rules. My mother ironed bed sheets and taught me to make hospital corners before she taught me to read. On each bed: a fitted sheet, a top sheet, a blanket, a quilted bedspread, and two pillows. She folded back the spread, precisely placed pillows on it, then re-folded. Bed making took about 10 minutes, and the result looked like a dead body was lying under the spread at the head of the bed.

    How did your mother make the bed? Prepare yourself emotionally for Tricia's next suggestion; my mother (and probably yours) would consider it heresy:

    Above: Photograph via Julia's Vita.

    Secret No. 4: Ditch the fitted sheet and instead tuck in a flat sheet around the mattress. "Fitted sheets are an excrescence," said Tricia. "Mattresses are all different depths. Fitted sheets never fit properly and they never look good." Instead, she suggests, use a big flat sheet—if necessary, buy one that's a size larger than your mattress—and tuck it tightly around the mattress.

    (Fitted sheet or no? Where do you stand on the subject? Tell us in the comments section below.)

    Above: A generously sized Flat Sheet big enough to be tucked in all around the mattress is available in four sizes at prices ranging from $138 to $192 from Rough Linen.

    Housekeeping is a personal thing. Next to religion, I can't think of a topic on which I have stronger opinions. (Don't get me started on bleach.) Your mother, like mine, knew how to make hospital corners. Perhaps you still employ this technique every time you make a bed. If not, re-learn; eighteen-year-old Army recruits can do it. Here's a Basic Training Video to refresh your memory.

    Secret No. 5: You don't need a top sheet. Instead, stuff a comforter inside a duvet cover (preferably a linen one) and let the cover do the job of a sheet. "The only function of a top sheet, if you have a duvet, is to wrap itself around your legs while you sleep and to become untucked," said Tricia.

    Bonus: by eliminating a top sheet, you will be able to make the bed faster and more easily in the morning.

    Above: A White Goose Down Comforter is from $298 to $498 depending on size and a Down-Alternative Comforter is from $118 to $148 depending on size from Garnet Hill.

    Secret No. 6: Buy the right size comforter insert to stuff inside the duvet cover. "The silly thing is there isn’t a standard for the sizes of duvet infills, so you can't just buy 'queen' or 'king' and be done with it; you have to measure your duvet cover," said Tricia. "To fill it up, buy an infill that is at least two or three inches larger. You can even buy one that's six inches larger, and the infill should mush nicely in there." On Tricia's bed is a Down Comforter from Warm Things.

    Secret No. 7: Buy non-slip casters and place them under the feet of your bed to keep it from moving. Then you can lean against the headboard and read without fearing you will slide all over the room. Under her bed's legs, Tricia has placed a set of Non Slip Furniture Cups; they're $18.39 for a set of four from Wayfair.

    "This is all I have to do to make my bed look as good as if a naked woman were lying in it on her side?" I asked.

    "Well, to make it look nearly as good," Tricia said. For some things, there are no substitution.

    See more Domestic Dispatches to understand why you should Ditch Your Dining Room and Be Careful With That Glue Gun.

    N.B.: This post was published on March 18, 2013 as part of our coverage of Loft Living.

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  • 12/27/13--08:00: Calke Abbey in Aspic
  • A desire for seclusion was a great preoccupation among the heirs to Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. Solitude from the outside world as well as a passion for taxidermy. From the 1880s until the 1980s when the National Trust took over, much of the house remained as was, and the garden became semi-derelict.

    Sir Henry Harpur began this trend of isolation in the late 18th century and was so shy that he sent orders to his servants by letter. He chose to live in a cottage on the estate with his mistress, a lady's maid from the big house, who later (shock, horror) became his wife. His descendent, Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe, took this further and only communicated with his family by letter, while demonstrating kindness and warmth to his servants. He also amassed an enormous collection of stuffed animals, filling every floor of the house with thousands of specimens.

    Photographs by Kendra Wilson.

    Above: A view of the Abbey from a path leading past the family church towards the Physic and Kitchen Gardens. The baroque mansion, built in the first years of the 18th century, was not an abbey at all but sits on the site of a former priory.

    Above: The vinery in the kitchen garden, with its simple layout of York stone slabs, traversing a lower level of earth. Grape vines cover the slanting ceiling and chili peppers (capsicum Red Cherry) are arranged against the warmth of the whitewashed wall.

    Above: Irreplaceable panes, set vertically on one of the many outbuildings. The decision of the National Trust was to repair, not to restore. It has not been set-decorated, simply prevented from falling down.

    Above: The potting shed with its abandoned glass cloches and terracotta pots. They are not intended to be artfully arranged: leaning against one wall is a red plastic "Flymo" lawnmower, synonymous with the 1970s.

    Above: Ancient tools, never replaced. The color of the lime wash is a rather startling yet authentic blue.

    Above: The orderly seed drawers, almost all with contradictory information pinned on later.

    Above: In 1876 a "pony lawnmower" was purchased in London and the pony that pulled the lawnmower lived here, next to the potting shed. Relics inside include some leather pony shoes intended to protect the lawn from footprints.

    Above: Chinese lanterns, or physalis alkekengi, growing in the Physic Garden. The larger Walled Garden is so vast and was so derelict that a decision was made to leave it alone: it is an enclosed field with tracks in the grass tracing the shapes of former beds.

    Above: The door on the right is the entrance to the Orangery.

    Above: The Orangery floor.

    Above: Cobaea Scandens. A Mexican yet peculiarly Victorian climber, also known as the Cup and Saucer Vine. It grows in the Temperate House.

    Above: More from the Temperate House and its bulky heating system.

    Above: There are at least three tunnels at Calke Abbey. One connects the brew house to the main house; another is linked to a limestone quarry on the edge of the estate and runs under the drive. This one, with its permanent puddles and drips, was built as a shortcut from the kitchen garden. It kept the scenic route clear for gentle persons.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published October 12, 2012 as part of our Miss Havisham week.

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    When you wear Harris Tweed, you are wearing a piece of the Hebrides. Its beaches, sky, rocks, pools, and heather are all ingredients of tweed. As are the sheep, of course. The island weavers put it all together.

    The colors of Harris Tweed come from outdoors and a wonderful thing about this woven cloth is that it allows you to live an outdoor life as well. Besides insulating, the natural lanolin in the untreated wool keeps off the wet and somehow repels dirt, taking on a "weathered" look. The older your tweed, the more it resembles the land it came from.

    N.B. San Francisco-based Unionmade offers a line of goods made with authentic Harris tweed; the offerings range from tote bags to pocket squares to neckties.

    Photographs by Murdo MacLeod.

    Above: A bundle of raw unfinished tweed, on the isle of Harris. After it comes off the weaver's loom, it is folded and prepared to be sent to a textiles mill, for the finishing process. Scottish photographer Murdo MacLeod, who is from a family of weavers, says that in his childhood these bundles were a common sight along the side of the road, ready to be picked up and taken away.

    "A universal truth is that Harris Tweed has soul," declares Harris Tweed Hebrides, the collective credited with re-igniting the fortunes of the traditional tweed industry through clever market repositioning. It has become a "young" fabric again. Shown above: A cross Blackface ram, on the isle of Harris, Scotland.

    Above: The orb stamp, one of the world's oldest protected trademarks. Closely associated with Vivienne Westwood over the years (she borrowed the orb for her own branding), Harris Tweed has been in need of a new sponsor. Now it is enjoying mass appeal, both in couture and on the high street.

    Above: A Scots landscape turned into bolts of fabric. The wool is dyed before being woven, and is made in limited quantities each year. "Welcome to the champagne of fabrics," says Andrew Allen on the blog of Harris Tweed Hebrides.

    Above: Dun Carloway, a well-preserved fort on the isle of Lewis, dating from the first century BC. The walls are about three meters thick, built without mortar.

    Above: The isle of Lewis, or Leodhas in Gaelic. Harris and Lewis are the same island. They—it?—are in the Outer Hebrides.

    Above: Yarn bobbins, with colors which never jar, housed inside "flying shuttles."

    Above: Most Harris Tweed is woven in Lewis, and all Harris Tweed must be woven in the Outer Hebrides at the weaver's home.

    Above: Sea-battered Lewis.

    Above: Donald John Mackay, a tweed industry survivor on the isle of Harris. Mackay is one of 140 full-time workers now employed in the making of tweed. For more on the life of a traditional weaver, see The Guardian.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published December 6, 2012 as part of our Haute Holiday week.

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    Making your own wintertime corsage is less about having a particular way with plants and more about your tolerance for braving chilly temperatures to do your foraging. Inspired by Akiko Seki's festive headgear, this week I bundled up and foraged for flower seed pods, curled-up fern spores, and the ghosts of garden coral bells.

    Here's how to make your own:

    Photographs by Erin Boyle except where noted.

    I wanted to make a corsage that included a range of colors and textures, so I only took a few clippings from each plant I encountered. Photograph by Akiko Seki.

    I found that laying out my spoils helped me to see exactly what I had to work with and to try a few practice combinations before wiring the corsage together. My collection also included dried reeds and winter grasses.

    In addition to my garden finds, I needed a good pair of scissors such as Tajika Flower Shears ($56 at Analogue Life) to take foraging. I also used thin wire like this spool of 16-Gauge Wire ($4.25 at Amazon), ribbon, and straight pins.

    I started with the materials that I wanted to use for the back of my corsage. While I was building the corsage I left the stems and wire long so that I could easily grip the stems and so I could use the same bit of wire as I continued to add new materials. After every few stems that I added, I made another tight wrap with the wire.

    To include smaller stemmed pieces, such as this London plane pod, I attached a bit of wire directly to the stem. Sometimes it's easier to slip a piece of wire into a bundle than it is to incorporate a new stem.

    As I added layers to my corsage, I thought about colors and textures. I placed the most visually appealing pieces, such as the seed pods, in the center and filled in empty spaces with a variety of more feathery grasses. Because I knew that I was going to cover my stems with ribbon, I didn't worry too much about making my wire perfectly straight.

    When I was ready to wrap my stems, I started close to the top and left a long tail of ribbon so that I'd be able to tie it after I'd finished the wrap. After the ribbon was secure, I trimmed the stems.

    For this corsage, I chose a bit of ochre-colored velvet ribbon. I love how the color brings out the golden hues of the dried grasses and seed pods and the velvety texture is just right for winter. Looking for special ribbon? Shop for our favorite Ribbons.

    And there you have it, a wintry corsage to make you feel fancy on even the chilliest day.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post published January 21, 2013 as part of our Haberdashery week.

    For more of Erin's winter DIY projects, see DIY: Bottle-Fed Paperwhites and DIY: A Grapefruit Birdfeeder for Feathered Friends.

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    Late winter is the time of year when gardens in New York look their worst, but when hopes for their future are at an all-time high. It’s the season of seed catalogs and bed planning, and when we get to the halfway point in the month, it’s time for seed starting. It might be ambitious for a gal already sharing 240 precious square feet of space to also endeavor to start seeds in her city apartment, but I’ve got big plans for my window box, and I wanted to try my hand at doing everything from scratch.

    See more of Erin's DIY Adventures.

    Photographs by Erin Boyle.

    Above: In the spirit of do-it-yourself gardening, I decided to make my own pots from last Sunday’s paper. If you have an urge to begin a garden project of your own, consider these pots.

    Here's what you'll need:


    • Newspaper.
    • Scissors, such as Clauss 6-Inch Scissors ($12.95 from Knife Center).
    • Straight-sided glass.
    • Twine (optional).
    • Potting soil.
    • Seeds, such as Heliotrope ($3.25 per packet from John Scheeper's)
    • Tray with a handle, such as a Metal Tool Tray via Etsy.

    Above: To begin, find yourself some good black and white pages from your weekend newspaper delivery (or your neighbor’s recycling bin). Avoid densely colored or shiny papers as they could leach dyes into your soil. Unfold your newspaper and tear one open sheet along its center crease so you’re starting with a long, narrow half sheet. Next, fold that sheet in half, lengthwise, and in half again—also lengthwise—so you’ve got one long and skinny strip of newspaper.

    Above: Next, take a straight-edged glass and place it on one end of the strip, with its top edge roughly in the middle of the newspaper.

    Above: Slowly wrap the newspaper strip around your glass. When you reach the end of your strip, half of the width of newspaper should still be overhanging the lip of the glass.

    Above: I tied a string around the glass to keep the newspaper in place. This step is not totally necessary, so if you find yourself without string, not to worry.

    Above: After you’ve tied your string (or even if you haven't), fold the edge of the newspaper into the open glass. Don’t worry about being neat, just stuff the paper in.

    Above: Next, carefully wriggle the glass out of the newspaper circle. Then use your fingers to tamp down the upturned edge of newspaper inside your pot. The aim is to create a bottom for the pot. At this point, you can also reinsert your glass to help create the bottom. If the newspaper edges inside your pot aren’t perfectly flat, that's OK. Some folks choose to tape them down, but the pot will stay put on its own without tape. It’s perfectly fine if your pots are a little lopsided; the addition of soil and water will even them out.

    Above: The next step for starting my seeds was to fill my newly minted pots with rich, moist potting soil.

    Above: I used a galvanized vintage tool tray to house my pots. Because my seed starts will be making the grand tour of my apartment in a quest for the sunniest spot, I wanted them to live in something that would be pleasant to look at, whether perched atop the toilet or taking a turn in the middle of the apartment floor.

    Above: After my soil was in place, I watered it and planted my seeds. I chose three annual flower varieties from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds in my native Connecticut. It's a terrific small seed company and the seed packets feature beautiful botanical illustrations by Bobbi Angell.

    Above: The salvia I chose likes a little added moisture, so I covered those pots with plastic wrap and labeled my pots with hanging tags, just to be sure I remembered which was which as they begin to sprout. It'll take a few weeks for these seeds to germinate. In the meantime, I've got fingers and toes firmly crossed.

    See more of Erin's DIY Adventures.

    Explore more: Wooden Pot Maker, Planting Pots for Starting Seeds Indoors, Kitazawa Seed Co.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post published March 2, 2013 during our Do-It-Yourself week.

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    There was a girl who grew up in the Phipps mansion on Long Island's Gold Coast and she was named Margaret but went by Peggie, and she married young and divorced. Her second marriage lasted longer and after her parents died, in the 1950s, she moved with her husband—a French diplomat, of course—into a smaller house on the estate, a comparatively modest white clapboard house called Orchard Hill. Much of the rest of the grounds, including 70 acres of gardens, she opened to the public.

    Peggie Phipps Boegner created a non-profit conservancy to oversee Old Westbury Gardens and then lived the rest of her life on the grounds, dying at home at age 99. Hers was a life F. Scott Fitzgerald would have recognized. In fact, he may have known her, as he and Zelda lived in nearby Great Neck in the 1920s when Peggie—whose grandfathers had founded, respectively, the United States Steel Corporation and Grace Shipping Line—was growing up.

    But back to the gardens. I visited once, many years ago, when Peggie was living in the white clapboard house and had invited local journalists over for a tour. I remember miles and miles of roses, a vast green lawn, 18th-century antiques—and that Peggie served tea white sitting beneath an enormous portrait of her mother.

    By the time filmmaker Baz Lurhmann decided to appropriate the grounds and exterior of Westbury House to inspire the exterior sets for Daisy Buchanan's house in his 3-D remake of The Great Gatsby, which opened a few days ago in theaters, Peggie Phipps Boegner had been dead a few years. But the estate's elaborate Italianate walled garden, its trees espaliered into the shapes of candelabras, and its grand allées of linden trees are beautifully preserved. Polo, anyone? Let's take a stroll around the place:

     Photographs via Old Westbury Gardens except where noted.

    old westbury gardens redbrick mansion inspired great gatsby movie sets

    Photograph by Laura via Flickr.

    Designed by George A. Crawley, the redbrick mansion has 23 rooms; the Phippses moved in with their children in 1906, the year Peggie was born.

    garden gate at old westbury gardens fountain

    Above: The West Gate and Center Fountain at Old Westbury Gardens.

      peggie phipps thatched cottage old westbury gardens

    Above: Photograph by Cmyk Girl via Flickr.

    The Thatched Cottage at the Phipps Estate was a gift to Peggie for her sixth birthday in 1912.

    thatched cottage old westbury gardens

    Above: The exterior of the Thatched Cottage, which looks more like a place where Nick Carroway might live.

      foxglove digitalis in bloom old westbury gardens great gatsby sets

    Above: Photograph by S.M. Nikfarjam via Flickr.

    Foxgloves in bloom at Old Westbury Gardens.

    garden sculpture at old westbury gardens

    Above: One of several statuary niches along the South Terrace of Westbury House.

    weeping cherry trees in bloom at old Westbury gardens

    Above: Weeping cherry trees at daybreak.

      gazebo folly temple of love old westbury gardens

    Above: Photograph by Cmyk Girl via Flickr.

    The Temple of Love, a stone folly at the edge of a langorous pond.

    For a luxurious—and little-known—public garden in London, see A Secret Garden in Regent's Park in London.

    orchard hill peggie phipps boegner house old westbury gardens

    Above: Photograph via Old Long Island.

    Orchard Hill, the 19th-century farmhouse on the estate where Peggie Phipps Boegner lived in later years. After her death, the county purchased the house in 2007 and gave it to Old Westbury Gardens.

    yellow roses in bloom at old westbury gardens great gatsby sets

    Above: Photograph by S.M. Nikfarjam via Flickr.

    Yellow climbing roses.

    misty terrace view old westbury gardens

    Above: The view from the mansion's terrace, shrouded in mist.

    For another Gatsby-esque Long Island garden, see Grandeur in the Hamptons: A Sprawling Estate in Watermill.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published May 14, 2013 during our coverage of The Gold Coast.

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    When we spotted these balls dropping from Cecilia Fox's ceiling, the symbolism didn't escape us. Hang a few overhead at a New Year's Eve party and no one will notice when you don't turn on the TV to watch the countdown from Times Square.

    Alexa (who used to work for a florist) told us how to recreate these balls of gypsophila paniculata, commonly known as baby's breath: "They're easy and they will last a long time, because after they dry out, they will look exactly the same."

    Want to try? For Alexa's step by step instructions and a materials list, see below.

    Working on a menu for New Year's Eve? See our 5-Ingredient Holiday Cocktail Party.

    Above: Use a small florist's foam ball (see below for Materials) as a base. Cut a length of wire about 8 inches longer than the ball's diameter; thread the wire through the middle of the wall, making a loop at the bottom to secure it. Then cut a length of twine (make it a few inches longer than you think you'll need to suspend it at the height you want; you can trim it to the exact length when you hang it). Knot the end of the twine and run the wire through the knot to secure the twine to the ball. Trim excess wire.

    Next, soak the ball in water for five minutes.

    Above: After the ball is thoroughly wet, stick the ends of the baby's breath branches into the foam at a perpendicular angle. Cover the ball loosely with a first layer of branches and then fill in empty spaces with the rest of the branches; trim some shorter to fill in the gaps.


    Planning a New Year's party? See our 7 Best Holiday Cocktails.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post published December 21, 2012 during our Winter Cabins week.

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    Always, it was about the marble. My platonic ideal—the house I would lie awake and fantasize about—involved carrara: countertops, mantels, thresholds, and backsplashes. Pretty much every surface except toilet seats. For years I collected inspirational photos. Then finally, a few months ago I finished a remodel and marble was everywhere and it was perfect. Until one morning, when something went horribly wrong:

    Above: The Malmo, Sweden, kitchen of designer and stylist Emma Persson Lagerberg, photographed by Petra Bindel.

    "Nooooooo," I screamed after I walked into the kitchen, where sunlight bathed the beautiful backsplash above the stove. Except it wasn't beautiful anymore. A nasty nicotine-yellow stain was licking its way up the marble, starting at the stovetop and stretching all the way to the exhaust hood.

    "Oh my God," said my husband, who had come running. "How did this happen?"

    That was the question. I felt like a character in a caper film who had just been foiled (?) as she casually strolled out of a museum wearing a priceless diamond tiara heisted from a display case. Surely, to finish the remodel had involved every bit of wiliness and cunning I was capable of channeling. To get to this point, I had to: wait for my older daughters to grow up and leave home; sell one house; buy a wreck; assure my husband the wreck which he referred to as "Michelle's Folly" was salvageable; rent it out; move to New York; supervise the remodel from 2,500 miles away, and move back with the project behind schedule and nowhere to live.

    Then finally, it was finished. You think a remodel will change your life by turning every part of your house into something new and clean and perfect. And that does happen. For about one minute. Then you move back in—with your mud-tracking family and your little dogs named Sticky and Larry and your old chairs with the scratchy feet—and things break, chip, get dinged and scratched and stained.

    The first year of living in a perfect house is actually about learning to accept imperfection without falling into a deep state of despair. A scratch in the paint here, a leak in the basement, a hot water problem. These are all easy to fix. The crookedness that makes a nose perfect.

    But this marble problem? It was the crookedness that demanded a nose job.

    Above: The Greenpoint, Brooklyn, kitchen of painter Sarah Bedford and graphic designer Alan Hill; first spotted on Design Sponge (see our Steal This Look on the space).

    Roast chicken was the culprit. The previous night, we'd had company and I'd slathered a bird in butter before consigning it to a 425-degree oven. Although I'd forgotten to turn on the exhaust fan until the fire alarm went off, in the candlelight of a dinner party I hadn't noticed the smoke damage.

    "It must have come up from the oven through this grate," I said in a dead, beyond-shock tone.

    "Can you get it off?" my husband asked.

    I started to scrub. First I tried a mild solution of dishwashing soap and water. Then marble cleaner/polish.

    The yellow stain didn't fade a bit.

    I escalated, from diluted Simple Green to undiluted Simple Green to a vinegar-water solution to a diluted bleach situation to pure uncut bleach on a toothbrush. (I don't recommend this unless, like me, you come from a family where the bleach gene has been passed down for many generations, from one shaman to another who whispered the secrets of bleach cleaning in your ear while rocking you to sleep. In which case, feel free to take your bleach pot into the living room next, to deal with that stain on the rug. The rest of you—stay away from bleach.)

    "Any luck?" my husband called supportively from the sofa, where he was watching football.

    Above: A kitchen in Scandinavia photographed by Stellan Herner.

    No luck. By now I was starting to panic. So I turned to the Internet for help.

    After about two seconds of Goggling (as my father puts it), I learned that there is only one way to get embedded grease stains out of a porous stone like marble: you have to make a poultice.

    "A poultice?" my husband asked (it was halftime). "Isn't that what doctors used in the 19th century to draw pus out of a boil?"

    Above: A detail of Emma Persson Lagerberg's Malmo kitchen, photographed by Petra Bindel.

    Following instructions gleaned from various discussion threads with subject lines such as "Can This Marble Be Saved?" and "ARRRRGGGHHHH-help," I came up with a recipe for a simple poultice. The basic idea was to mix an inert white powder—like flour, say, or cornstarch—with water to make a paste.

    Adding mineral oil or ammonia to the paste would increase the poultice's effectiveness at drawing out oil, and also be something cool to brag about at my next family reunion. But my backsplash is above a stove; I wanted to avoid flammable substances. Instead, I got a stone cleaner from the hardware store and mixed some into the paste.

    I slathered the paste on the backsplash and prepared to wait, as the Internet suggested, for 12 to 24 hours for it to dry. Then I scraped it off carefully with a knife and—it worked! Not perfectly (I had to re-apply another coat to stubborn, darker sections of the stain). But for the most part, it was a miracle cure. As the poultice dried, the floury paste sucked all the moisture—in this case, the tiny droplets of oil—from the stone.

    Above: A kitchen in Australia via Dunlin.

    The mystery, as my husband pointed out, was: why did this happen in the first place? All across America, people have lovely marble backsplashes above stoves, unsullied by horrible yellow grease stains. We wondered if ours had been sealed improperly. We phoned the installer, who said (no surprise) that he was shocked by this problem and had never heard of it before. "Of course," he said, "I've never heard of anyone else installing one."

    Just in case, we re-applied sealer—three coats—to the backsplash ourselves. We plan to mount a 3-inch-high strip of stainless steel flashing against the backsplash to divert future chicken smoke and grease from the marble. I am sure it will be perfect.

    (To see my real kitchen, go to Rehab Diaries: Michelle's Mill Valley Kitchen Redo.) And if you've had a similar experience, tell us about it in the comments section (misery loves company).

    This is an update of a post published January 14, 2013 as part of our Roman Holiday week.

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    When I moved from a big, rambling East Coast house to Northern California a decade ago, I was shocked by how small West Coast houses were in comparison. Then it dawned on me: California practically invented the idea of blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, effectively doubling the living space. Here's how to do the same at your house:

    Good architecture helps, of course. Ideally a kitchen opens onto a sunny deck. But even without that luxury, you can "add" an extra room onto the house (at least during the warm months) by creating a seamless transition from indoors to out. We admire the way that Australia-based Design of Wonder followed a simple plan—involving a unified palette of black and white and the repetition of a striped pattern—to make the transition between kitchen and terrace feel effortless in an updated Edwardian house.

    Above: In the middle of a wall of glass, black metal French doors swing open wide to bring the outdoors inside. There is no visible threshold or change in grade to remind anyone that there are two distinct spaces. Photograph via Wonder.

    Above: Your eye goes to a bold pattern first—in this case, a simple black and white stripe repeated indoors and out to link the two spaces visually. Make an awning from Sunbrella Awning Fabric

    Above: A flat woven Stockholm Rand Rug measures approximately 8 by 6 feet and is on sale for $199 from Ikea. For a similar look, a Black and White Versa rug from Madelline Weinrub comes in a range of sizes, including 8 by 10 feet; for pricing and more information, see Madeline Weinrub.

    Above: More repetition: chairs in both the outdoor and indoor spaces are black. A similar folding bistro chair is the Classic Chair by Fermob; for pricing and more information, see Fermob.

    Above: Danish designer Hans Wegner's Wishbone Chair with a handwoven paper cord seat is $599 from Design Within Reach.

    Above: Against all that black and white, a backdrop of solid green is soothing. Fast-growing vine —such as passionflower, jasmine, or ivy, depending on your climate—can cover a fence as thickly as a coat of paint. To get the same look against the house, plant vines in neutral-colored planters such as a Taupe New Pot 70; it's $350 from Design Within Reach.

    Above: An 84-inch-high tubular steel Jardin Flower Trellis (L) is $79.95 from Gardeners. For a white-flowering vine with a lovely scent, consider Azores Jasmine; the plants are $12.95 apiece if you buy two or more from Logee's. Photograph (R) by Svanes via Flickr.

    Above: Echo the greenery indoors with a house plant in a white pot. A 12-Inch Jardiniere from Bauer Pottery is $150.

    For another indoor-outdoor terrace, see Design Sleuth: Neisha Crosland's Espaliered Vines.

    N.B.: This post was originally published on February 28, 2013 as part of our Bath & Spa week.

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    The first apartment my husband and I shared had a tiny white and black kitchen. A huge white porcelain sink sloped gracefully into a black tiled counter top, and black-and-white checked tiles formed a tall backsplash beneath white shelves. Where the walls were bare, our landlord had painted them a deep marigold yellow. I still dream about cooking in that kitchen. It was so narrow that our oven door couldn't open fully, but otherwise the proportions were just right. It played host to our earliest lessons in coupledom and pie-making, both at the same time. Black and white anemones remind me of that North Carolina kitchen.

    See more of step-by-step instructions for simple Bouquets of the Week in our Photo Gallery.

    Late winter and early spring are the prime seasons for these papery flowers. Seaport Flowers near my home in Brooklyn Heights keep coolers stocked with black and white and brilliant purple anemones from Battenfeld's Anemone Farm, in the small town of Red Hook, upstate.

    I couldn't resist an armful, even though making the bouquet was a $40 budget blow-out. Sometimes you feel like splurging. (If you're feeling frugal this week, plan ahead: white Picotee Anemone Seeds and Black Anemone Seeds both are available for $5 per ten seeds from Winter Woods.)

    I chose eight black and white anemones and a stem of white lilac, a stem of the bright green mist, and a stem of delicate astrantia to round things out.

    I used a black and white West Elm Enamelware Tumbler ($24 for a set of four) to display my small bundle.

    A few stones added to the bottom of the tumbler helped weigh down the lightweight cup and served as anchors for my stems. For similar stones, consider a 2.25-pound back of Black River Stones; $1.95 from CB2.

    Because the mouth of my tumbler was wide, I wrapped my stems in a bit of ribbon to keep the bouquet's shape and prevent the stems from splaying too wildly. To make my bouquet appear full and lush, I decided to cut all my stems so that the lowest blossoms were just high enough to hug the lip of the tumbler. A five-yard roll of 5/8-inch-wide black-and-white French Check Ribbon is $15 from Over the Moon.

    Finding anemones in a florist's cooler can be difficult if you don't know what you're looking for. In the cold, anemones close themselves up, hiding their dark centers. Once out of the cooler and added to a vase of just barely lukewarm water, the petals fly open, revealing the deep purply black center.

    At several dollars per stem, anemones aren't the most affordable flower (unless you start them from seed), but I think they pack an impressive punch. By wrapping my small bundle in string, I created an arrangement that used fewer stems but didn't look leggy or sparse.

    Considering a floral arrangement? See Homegrown Flower Arranging With Sarah Raven and DIY: The Ultimate Disguise for a Plastic Pot of Grape Hyacinths.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published March 26, 2013 during our Belgium and Beyond week.

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    You've seen them. They're everywhere. They're lush and sculptural and they make for excellent eye candy in photographs of some of the most beautiful apartments you see floating around the Internet. The fiddle leaf fig, or Ficus Lyrata, is this year's "it" plant. Maybe last year's, too.

    See: 10 Tips for Caring for a Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree.

    I've seen enough photos of the plant to know that I like the look of it. But I wondered how hard it would be to keep one alive? If I could wrangle a space for it, for example, could I grow a fiddle leaf fig tree in a dimly lit Brooklyn apartment? 

    Most of all, I wanted to know if beyond being easy on the eyes, would a fiddle leaf fig be easy on my heart? Losing a plant is not a laughing matter. After nurturing, and tending, and maybe, if you're like me, reading it a few sonnets before bed, watching a plant wither and die can be traumatic. Even if you're not one to take the death of a plant to heart, there are the finances to consider. A fiddle leaf fig can be pricey, and that's before finding a handsome pot big enough to house it.

    Before making an investment of my own, I set about on a little fact-finding mission. My tactic? I polled the Internet-folk whose beauties I'd been admiring. How are all of these beautiful fiddle leaf fig trees faring post-photo shoot? Here's what I learned.

    fiddle leaf fern

    Photo courtesy of Daniel Kanter via Manhattan Nest.

    Plenty of light is the key to success for blogger Daniel Kanter's fiddle leaf fig, too. His fifth-floor apartment in Brooklyn is high enough to be filled with sunlight throughout the day. Like Anna, Daniel cautions against overwatering; "Ignore it! I water my fiddle probably every week (maybe a little less—I just check to see if the soil is dry or not), and I don't water it very much." Daniel also gives his leaves a good rubdown to make sure they're not stifled by dust.

    anna dorfman's fiddle leaf fig, gardenista

    Photo courtesy of Anna Dorfman via Door Sixteen.

    Above: Blogger Anna Dorfman's fiddle leaf fig plant lives in her home in the Hudson River Valley. Anna's tree enjoys filtered light from a south-facing window all day long. And even though she's a self-described plant killer, her charge is still alive and well. Anna's advice? Don't over-water. Anna lets the soil in her pot dry completely before giving her fiddle leaf a good shower. She also suggested that it's important that the pot that you choose not be too big.

    Marion House Book, Fiddle Leaf Fig, Gardenista

    Photo courtesy of Emma Reddington, The Marion House Book.

    Above: Emma Reddington of The Marion House Book nurtured this fiddle leaf fig for eight long years, before finally laying it to rest just a few weeks ago. Emma, who still has one remaining fiddle leaf, found that the best light for her trees was in a west-facing window. The southern light in her house seemed to be too harsh for them. In the summertime, she'd move the trees into sheltered spot outdoors so they could soak up the humidity.

    the sill fiddle leaf fig, gardenista

    Photo courtesy of Eliza Blank, The Sill.

    Finally, I asked houseplant expert Eliza Blank of The Sill for her take on the Fiddle Leaf. While The Sill, a house plant delivery service in New York, typically trades in slightly smaller houseplants, Eliza will fill special orders for larger trees like the fiddle leaf. Eliza confirms that fiddle leaf figs are better suited to a light-filled Soho loft than a dim apartment. Beyond good light, Eliza says the most important thing is a consistent environment. Airy offices with bright, consistent light are ideal spaces.

    My conclusion? Sounds like I'll continue to admire fiddle leaf figs from a distance. As tempted as I am to jump on the design bandwagon, it doesn't sound like I have quite the right conditions to make for a thriving Fiddle Leaf in my tiny apartment. What about you? Do you have a fiddle leaf fig? In the comments section below, tell us your tips for keeping it alive.

    Update: We just got our own fiddle leaf fig tree (couldn't resist). To see it, go to The Fig and I.

    See more Fiddle Leaf Fig Trees in our Photo Gallery.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post published May 14, 2013 as part of our Gold Coast week.

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    The worst mistake I made was not when I forced my husband to spend all weekend painting the kitchen trim a sickly robin's egg blue. The worst mistake was not the $149 "deal" I got online on a wobbly, rusted end table. It was not the Mary Poppins floral carpet or the horseshoe shaped velvet couch. These things were regrettable, but not indelible. No, I have made only one mistake that cannot be undone, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to undo it:

    I got rid of all my books. Go ahead and read that again, while you imagine the insanity of the moment: me joining the Cult of Non-Clutter. All you had to do to be a member was get rid of every possession that you had ever loved. In return, you got serenity and the sort of inner peace that comes from knowing exactly where you put the car keys, since they were the only thing left lying on a flat surface in the whole house. Who wouldn't want that?

    Above: Virago Books covered the Daphne Du Maurier classics with print patterns from Neisha Crosland's collection; Rebecca is £16.10 from Amazon UK.

    One day, I smugly packed up about 200 cardboard boxes of books—books I'd read, books I'd written, books I'd bought with my babysitting money when I was thirteen, books with my graduate student epiphanies scrawled in the margin, even the books I'd insisted on taking to the hospital when I was in labor—and then I said goodbye.

    Like most people who join cults or are easily brainwashed, I was going through one of the Six Most Stressful Moments in Life. I was getting ready to move. But it was more than just a move—it was selling one house, buying a second one nearby and outfitting it to rent furnished, while moving across the country with my family to a third location. With two of three daughters away in college, I thought it was time to be unsentimental about all the stuff I'd accumulated since 1980 (when I went off to college). Especially the books. When I first moved to California, I had so many books I had to build an entire room of bookshelves to house them and found myself having more shelf space than books. Briefly. Then the books took over.

    At first getting rid of them felt good. I arrived in Manhattan and was so relieved not to have to unpack 200 boxes of books. Black soot was general all over the city, falling like a nightly snow on every surface; thank God I did not have bookshelves to keep clean. I went to my friends' apartments—with their book-lined living rooms and their book-lined dining rooms and their tiny, claustrophobic hallways filled with books and books and books, and I thought: how can these people breathe?

    Above: The Penguin English Library edition of Emma is available for $5.47 from Amazon.

    Then I started to dream about my books. Not every night, and not about every book, and not always a sad dream—but disturbing, none the less. In one dream I was on my green Schwinn banana-seat bike, riding home in the 1970s from the bookstore with The Chronicles of Narnia—my first boxed set!—but I couldn't find my house. In another dream I was pregnant again, in labor and insisting, as I had in 1991, that we find my copy of Emma right now ("so I'll have something to read at the hospital after the baby is born"). But in the dream the book had gone missing, and so it was with a great sense of helplessness that I realized I never would be able to go to the hospital or have the baby or stop wearing the single pair of wide-width sandals that still fit my swollen feet.

    Above: The Coralie Bickford-Smith designed Oxford City Press edition of The Great Gatsby is available for $13.30 from Amazon.

    All the places I loved, as a girl, were full of books. My grandmother's house, for instance, where I was equally devoted to a novel called A Peaceable Kingdom (featuring a happy family of polygamists) and to Love Story, which my mother wouldn't have let me read if she'd known. At home, we had: a big leather reading chair, Harold Robbins, a complete set of Leon Uris novels, and the odd John Updike. In my first apartment at college, I built the requisite cinder-block bookcase and kept The Crying of Lot 49 next to my bed in case I suddenly awoke to find myself able to understand it.

    But this is not about losing the words—after all, these days anything I want to read I can instantly download and carry around on my phone to read when I find myself in line at the post office. It is about the loss of physical objects, the talismans you carry from place to place, arranging so carefully each time. The landscape may change but you are the same person, defined by all these books you've read. Lined up on shelves in the living room, they also define you to visitors. Other people may have the same sofa as you, or the same floor lamp or rug. But nobody else will have the same library.

    Above: The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry is £40 from Penguin UK.

    Last summer when we moved back to Northern California, my husband and I went out to the garage to take inventory of the things—old photos, a coffee percolator, a pair of twin beds with cane headboards—that we'd left behind. The movers were expected, at any minute, with the stuff from our New York apartment.

    "What's that?" he asked, pointing.

    "Spider webs," I said.

    "No, those boxes." There were a dozen or so stacked on a high shelf. He pulled one down, opened it, and said, "Books."

    Something inside my chest tightened and then let loose in the loveliest possible way. I ripped open the box and found our complete set of S.J. Perelman and a first edition of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Jean Kerr—so much Jean Kerr!—and The Forsyte Saga and Willkie Collins. And, in dusty blue gray cover with pale green lettering, a copy of The Peaceable Kingdom.

    I carried them inside—twelve boxes in all—and filled the house with my books and a miracle occurred: once again I had more books than places to put them. So we're building shelves.

    For more of Michelle's Domestic Dispatches, see Could You Live Without Your Shower Curtain? Visit our image gallery to see pictures of rooms where books are used as decor.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post published January 21, 2013, when we spent a week In the Library.

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    A hundred years ago when some women workers used the rallying cry “Bread and Roses” during a strike at textile mills in Massachusetts, they were demanding basic survival plus the right to have beauty in their lives. Today clever women with talent take both for granted. Sarah Owens may be the only one who has taken the slogan  “bread and roses” quite so literally.

    The curator of the venerable Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Owens goes home and bakes until midnight two nights a week, selling her homemade bread from her BK17 Bakery to customers who subscribe for four weeks' worth of loaves online. 

    High Shot Cranford Rose Garden at BBG for gardenista

    Above: Photograph by Jeanne Rostaing.

    Opened in 1928, the Cranford Rose Garden has one of the largest collections of roses in North America, with well over 1,000 varieties. When Owens arrived in 2009, she inherited a garden that was famous but seriously in need of help. It had been without a rosarian for almost a year. Volunteers and staffers were working valiantly to keep things under control, but the garden was untidy and, much worse, riddled with rose rosette disease (RRD), a systemic and highly contagious scourge that can be spread by tiny mites.

      Sarah Owens deadheading CU, BBG, for gardenista

    Above: Photograph by Jeanne Rostaing.

    When Sarah Owens took on the Cranford Garden, she was just finishing her training at the New York Botanic Garden School of Professional Horticulture. It was the final step in transforming herself from a ceramicist to a horticulturist. What had to be done at BBG was not for sissies. There is no cure for RRD so the infected roses (Owens estimates as many as 200 or 20 percent of the collection) had to be destroyed.

    Framed view of BBG rose garden for gardenista

    Above: Photograph by Jeanne Rostaing. 

    About a quarter of the soil in the nearly two acres of garden was turned and amended with organic compost to a depth of three feet, using a backhoe and bobcat. Affected isolated plants had to be dug out by hand. Owens estimates she has probably, on her own with just the help of a shovel, removed and replaced 100 yards of soil over the last five years.  


    Above: Photograph by Jeanne Rostaing.

    Visit the rose garden now and you’d never know it had ever been in trouble. The beds are once again planted with healthy roses and Owens, with her artist's eye, has added a profusion of perennials and annuals. They help to keep down weeds and provide color even when the roses are not at their peak.   

    At this point, you might think Owens would relax a little, maybe sit back and let the kudos pour in, but no. Now we come to the “bread” part of the story.   

      bread dough being weighed on small scale for gardenista  

    Above: Photograph by Rebecca Baust.

    As she tells it, Owens was doing a lot of reading about nutrition and learned that phytic acid, contained in most grains and therefore most breads, inhibits digestion. However, that is not the case with sourdough bread. So, being the type of person who likes to see things for herself, Owens rolled up her sleeves, created her own sourdough starter, and began baking bread in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen.

    Dough rising in Sarah's kitchen for gardenista

    Above: Photograph by Rebecca Baust.

    She found that using sourdough instead of commercial yeast made the bread extremely digestible so she baked at first for herself. Through the Internet, she connected with other bakers all over the world and began to evolve her own style: rustic, handmade, artisanal loaves fashioned from the highest quality flours.

    Sarah Owens removes rolls from oven for gardenista

    Above: Photograph by Rebecca Baust.

    Gradually the word got out about Owens' breads.  She shared them with co-workers, and soon more than a dozen people had signed up for weekly bread deliveries. Then she took the bread to a local CSA and signed up 30 more customers.  Then friends in Park Slope signed up and so did their friends. Soon it was a business with a name, BK17 Bakery, and a website, and you could order breads online.

    scoring the bread sarah owens brooklyn via Gardenista

    Photograph by Rebecca Baust.

    At least two days a week now, Owens works all day in the rose garden (a very, very hot job in summer, a demanding job in all seasons), and then goes home and bakes until midnight.  If you get to watch a bake, as I did recently, you are amazed at her energy and stamina.  Muscles developed by gardening come in very handy when hefting dough that can weigh 70 to 80 pounds.

    Owens says she does not expect to become a fulltime baker, but she plans to build her business by adding more clients.  The income will go to paying off student loans. In the meantime she is enjoying the way bread can be a powerful link between people. 

    Customers email her photos of how they serve the bread—and shots of their children eating it. Everyone seems to have some sort of childhood association with bread and Sarah’s loaves, so old-fashioned and made with so much care and love, feed both the stomach and the soul.  

    If you would like to try your hand at baking with sourdough, here's a recipe for Sarah Owens' Buckwheat Levain Bread, a customer favorite. If you're more interested in simply tasting one of BK17 Bakery's loaves, you can place your order right here.

    Cranford Rose Garden gate, BBG, for gardenista

    Above: Photograph by Jeanne Rostaing.

    And if you'd like to see Owens' handiwork in the Cranford Rose Garden, it's open from 8 am to 6 pm most days this summer. For more information, see Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

    Inspired by other garden-to-table recipes? Here are a few favorites. 

    Planning your spring rose garden? Here are 60 images of Garden Roses in Bloom and 23 posts all about roses.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post published July 10, 2013 as part of our Locally Grown week.

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    Buttermilk biscuits with chive butter, egg salad with ribbons of tarragon, iced tea with fresh mint. There are a lot of reasons to love warm weather, and the addition of fresh herbs to some of my favorite foods is just one of them. Sadly, as a city dweller living in an apartment that doesn't get bright sun, I always figured that I wouldn't be able to grow my own. Turns out, I was just hoping to grow the wrong herbs. While it's true that many herbs—such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, and sage—need a lot of sunshine to thrive, a slew of culinary herbs can thrive in a shadier spot.

    Photographs by Erin Boyle.

    an herbal window box for a low-light apartment, gardenista

    Soft, leafy herbs like chives, parsley, mint, cilantro, tarragon, oregano, and lemon balm can do quite well in slightly shadier spots (though tread lightly with basil and dill, which are soft-leaved, but require full sun). If you have a tiny window ledge (or, dare we suggest, the tiniest edge of a fire escape), consider potting up a few of these herbs to enjoy all summer long. If you don't have outdoor space, but you get plenty of sunshine inside, many of these guys will even do just fine in a sunny windowsills or on a bright kitchen countertop. 

    an herbal window box for a low-light apartment, gardenista

    I stopped into my local garden shop and chose four different organic herbs to place in my planter: parsley, oregano, chives, and tarragon. 

    If you prefer, you can order garden-ready herb seedlings from Burpee; three-plant packs of Single Italian Parsley, Greek Oregano, and Common Chives are $14.95 apiece. 

    an herbal window box for a low-light apartment, gardenista

    I also bought a skinny 3-inch-wide teak planter with good drainage. If you like wooden window boxes, here are a few others to consider.

    an herbal window box for a low-light apartment, gardenista

    You might decide to use small rocks in the bottom of your planter to prevent the soil from compacting and clogging up drainage holes. A lot of the more sun-loving herbs are particularly sensitive to overly damp roots, but if you're sticking to herbs that don't require as much sunlight, you won't have to worry as much about keeping your soil sandy. (If you're keeping your planter inside, consider investing in a small tray to place beneath it to catch water drainage).

    an herbal window box for a low-light apartment, gardenista

    Since I'm fairly certain that I'm going to spend the summer sipping mint juleps, I bought a mint plant, too. Mint is an herb that really thrives in shadier gardens. In fact, it sometimes thrives too well. I didn't want my mint to take over my tiny window box, so I picked up a Ben Wolff pot in white and potted it there instead.

    A three-pack of Orange Mint, available seasonally, is $14.95 from Burpee.

    an herbal window box for a low-light apartment, gardenista

    When it came to potting the rest of my herbs, I left about 2 inches between each plant to ensure that they'll have room to stretch out a bit.

    herbs that tolerate shade, gardenista

    My apartment windowsill only gets about three hours of direct sunlight daily, but that's more than enough to keep these plants happy. (Full disclosure: I stuck a basil start out there a few weeks ago, and to my surprise that's doing a-okay, too. If you can't get through summer without a daily caprese salad, I say give it a go—just don't get too sad if it doesn't survive).

    a windowsill herb garden for a city apartment, gardenista

    Herbs are meant to be eaten, so harvest often. In case you need a little help with your clipping, here are some beautiful scissors to help with the task.

    If you'd prefer a zinc or galvanized window box, see some of our favorites at 10 Easy Pieces: Metal Window Boxes.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published on May 15, 2013 during our Gold Coast week.

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  • 12/31/13--12:00: DIY: Alliums, Three Ways
  • Brightly colored and shaped like something from another planet, these cousins to chives and garlic and onions are cropping up in gardens throughout New York at this time of year.  But more than being showpieces in gardens, allium flowers make for beautiful additions to arrangements, too.

    Photographs by Erin Boyle.

    alliums, three ways | gardenista

    Without a garden full of alliums of my own, I took a walk to GRDN in Boerum Hill for a little inspiration and an impromptu lesson in allium arranging. 

    alliums, three ways | gardenista

    Allium Purple Sensation is one of the brightest varieties and among the first to pop in the spring. If you have a garden of your own, you can order a set of 12 bulbs for fall planting from White Flower Farm for $12.95 (available seasonally). I made one of my arrangements by adding just three stems of this bright purple allium and a few stems of peppergrass to a small glass bottle. 

    alliums, three ways | gardenista

    As Lydia at GRDN reminded me, one of the nicest things about alliums are the way that they change over time in a vase. These tight pods will open over the course of a few days to reveal bright white flowers. I paired two bendy stems of white allium with just two stems of scabiosa to make a sparse but scultpural arrangement in a vintage volumetric flask. If you're looking for a similar vessel, Sweet Potato Jack has a Vintage Collection of Labware for $36 via Etsy. 

      alliums, three ways | gardenista

    I used allium schubertii as the central allium for my final arrangement. On that allium, one central stem branches out in a broom-like shape where each "bristle" is topped with a tiny purple flower. Six Allium Schubertii bulbs are available seasonally for $16.95 at White Flower Farm.

    alliums, three ways | gardenista

    To complement the colors of the allium, I added spiny thistles, bright green peppergrass, and black and lavender scabiosa.

    alliums, three ways | gardenista

    For an extra bit of texture and volume, I tucked branches of unripened blueberries underneath the scabiosa.

    alliums, three ways | gardenista

    And there they are: three different arrangements, featuring three different kinds of alliums, each one more fantastical the last.

    For more of Erin's easy flower arrangements, see the rest of our Bouquets of the Week.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published May 23, 2013, when we spent a week wandering down The Garden Path.

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  • 01/01/14--03:00: DIY: The Ultimate Disguise
  • In the springtime, muscari—also known as grape hyacinth—can be spotted around the base of nearly every tree in my Brooklyn neighborhood. A florist's pot of the striking blue flowers is one of my favorite gifts to bring to a friend's house. After they finish blooming, the bulbs can be planted and will re-flower next spring. In the meantime, dress up the plastic pot with a disguise:

    Photographs by Erin Boyle.

    Without a beautiful cachepot handy, I turned to the humble brown paper lunch bag. It's possible that I read The Paper Bag Princess a few too many times as a child, but if you ask me, the brown paper sack gets seriously overlooked in the sartorial department, especially when it comes to dressing up plants.

    You can order grape hyacinth bulbs now for fall planting. Muscari Armeniacum is available seasonally for $32.75 for 100 bulbs from White Flower Farm.

    Most potted muscari plants that you buy from greenhouses or florists come in small plastic pots, just the right size for plopping into a brown paper lunch bag. These pots have a 4.5-inch diameter and they fit snugly into my paper bags.

    A bundle of sandwich size Brown Paper Bags is $6.41 from Webstaurant.

    To begin, I trimmed the top inch or two from my paper sack. (I find that the opening gets a bit too tight otherwise.)

    Next, I put the entire pot into the bag. (I gave my pots a good soak first, but gave them time to drain so the bottoms weren't dripping.) Since the muscari will only be displayed this way for a short time, you don't have to worry about the bottom of the bag getting soggy. Muscari doesn't like wet feet, so a gentle watering is all these plants need in their final days before planting.

    The next step is to begin to fold the top of the bag. You might be tempted to snip the sides to make folding easier, but I find that this compromises the sturdiness of the fold. Be patient and work your way around the circumference of the pot, until you have one fold.

    For my pots, I needed to make two complete folds before I reached the top of the pot. You'll notice that the opening gets tighter the more that you fold, which helps disguise the plastic pot and gives a sweet shape to the bag.

    In my own home, I like to leave the pots as is, without ribbon. But if you're planning to give a plant to a friend, you might decide to cinch things with a bow.

    I like the soft look of a classic cotton twill tape paired with the brown paper. Natural Cotton Twill Tape with a width of 5/8 inch is $7.65 for 25 yards from Online Fabric.

    If you plan to give your pots away, make sure to let recipients know that after the flowers begin to wilt, they can plant the entire contents of the pot in the spring soil. When the green leaves turn yellow, they can remove those, but should be sure to leave the remaining bulbs; they will bloom again next spring.

    For another DIY floral arrangement, see Baby's First Bouquet: Fragrant Flowers to Welcome a Newborn.

    Explore more: Spring Bulbs.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published March 21, 2013 during a week when we were exploring Loft Living.

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    Curtains can go very, very wrong. If you go overboard, you end up with something heavy and expensive and claustrophobic, like one of those getups Sally Field wore in Lincoln. On the other hand, don't ignore them until too late, after all the remodel money has been spent. Like I did. With my husband threatening to thumbtack a bed sheet over the beautiful new windows "to stop the spying," I faced a desperate situation.

    "Let's review," said my husband, who likes his privacy. "How exactly did we end up adding only two new rooms but 21 new windows?"

    Um, the architect likes "light?" At least that's what he said when he showed me the plans. It looked like a good idea on paper, too. All that light. Of course, now that we've moved in we practically have to walk around in sunglasses. So what's the solution (and how much did I end up spending)?

    Photographs by Mimi Giboin.

      grand piano window shades michelle house l Gardenista

    Strategy No. 1: Don't panic. Instead, walk from room to room and evaluate each window calmly. As Brooklyn-based architect Frederick Tang (whose firm Davies Tang + Toews is a member of the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory) puts it, "What do you need from each of your windows? Is this a room where you want to sleep in utter pitch darkness? Or do you live somewhere where the site has privacy and your amazing views are the thing you are concerned about?"

    Strategy No. 2: Hang simple solid-color curtain panels.

    Why choose curtains (instead of blinds, say, or shades) for some windows? Says Tang, "It is a classic trick to use curtains to enlarge the visual effect of window. Often people will place them bunched up a foot or two off to the side of window, so will look as if a window is bigger."

    To get the most visual impact, "curtains look nicest when they go from the floor all the way to the ceiling, even if the window is not full height," says Tang.

    curtains and chandelier in guest bedroom l Gardenista

    Strategy No. 3: Sew your own. In my both my living room and guest bedroom (above), twin panels frame the casement windows. These were pretty much the easiest sewing project evers. My friend Stephanie, who is an excellent seamstress as well as being an interior designer, drew me a pattern on the back of an envelope. All I had to do was cut long lengths of fabric, sew lining onto them, press, and hem.

    The point of these curtains was to absorb sounds and to add a layer of texture to the rooms. In the living room privacy wasn't a concern even for my husband—it's a living room, after all—so instead of using a zillion yards of fabric, I made two 56-inch-wide panels. I never "close" them, and if I did, they wouldn't entirely cover the windows. In all, I used six yards of Cream Linen Fabric ($14.99 a yard from Ballard Designs).

    To add weight and body to the curtains, I lined each panel with cotton Roc-Lon White drapery lining ($4.19 a yard from Jo-ann Fabrics).

    Cost of the living room curtains: $125.

    Above: No need to sew a rod pocket. I attached clips to the top of each panel.

    Cost of the living room curtain hardware: one Cambria Oil Rubbed Bronze Curtain Rod ($49.99) and four packages of Cambria Oil Rubbed Bronze Curtains Rings (currently on sale for $4.99 per package) at Bed Bath and Beyond, $90.


    Strategy No. 4: Use the money you saved in other rooms to splurge on custom shades or blinds for the bedroom.

    In the bedroom you don't want to skimp. You spend at least one-third of your life in this room, so you want good coverage: for privacy and to block the sunlight on Saturday morning when your husband takes the dogs out and lets you sleep in.

    In my bedroom (above) are custom Roman Shades from The Shade Store. You can save money here by measuring your windows yourself and installing your own shades after they arrive (they're shipped in long cardboard boxes to your house).

    The big question is always whether to hang shades (and blinds) on the outside of the window jamb or to recess them. Says Tang: "If the window jamb is deep enough, it's nice to hang them inside because it gives more of a custom look. It's more tailored and looks a little more finished."

    For the recessed option, you need to cut the blind or shade precisely— within a quarter of an inch of the width of the window.

    Total cost of seven lined bedroom shades: $2,826.

    michelle kitchen plant

    Strategy No. 5: Some windows may not need anything. At my house, I identified ten windows—in the kitchen and adjoining family room—that could remain bare. The view was nice, there was no need for privacy, and it was a cleaner look.

    The trick to leaving windows bare, says Tang, is to be uniform. In a room, if you leave one window uncovered, you also should leave all the other windows uncovered because "you don't want one to look like an orphan."

    Another way to achieve an uncovered look is to think ahead—far, far ahead—and to include in the remodel design recessed curtain tracks or pockets for shades. "You can build a pocket on a window, where essentially the trim above the window falls a little lower to hide the shade that's behind it," says Tang. Here's an example of the finished look, from one of his projects.

    Total cost: $0. (I know that's self-evident, but the figure made me so happy I couldn't resist typing it.)

    Strategy No. 6: Inexpensive cut-to-order wooden or bamboo shades. In my home office (above), late afternoon sun is a problem. it causes a glare on the computer screen. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

    "Windows that are south-facing need more attention than windows that are north-facing, because of sun," says Tang. "For situations like that, I like very simple shades. It's amazing how many customized options there are that give you a lot of bang for your buck."

    Tang, who lives in a pre-war building in Brooklyn, covered his own windows with custom cut shades from Home Depot. "They have a valence; I live in a very traditional house where that sort of detail is appropriate to the architecture."

    My inside mount bamboo shades (above) came from Payless Decor, which offers a wide selection at budget-friendly prices. After I measured the windows and placed the order online, the shades and hardware necessary for installation arrived on the doorstep about three weeks later. They were easy to hang and fit perfectly.

    Total cost of six Payless Decor bamboo shades (22.5 inches wide by 53 inches high): $193.81.

    Grand total: $3,500.

    And the windows look so much nicer than if they were covered with bed sheets.

    For more of Michelle's amateur adventures in home design, see The Death of the Shower Curtain and My Worst Design Decision Ever.

    N.B.: This is an update of a post published February 18, 2013 during our Film Fest week.

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