And the Winner Is…

Dear Readers: I’ve been so busy gardening and with the Garden Club of Irvington Flower Show that I haven’t had time to post. Alas!

I’ll post lots of pictures of our beautiful flower (and plant) show very soon, but I did want to share this with you: the succulent trough I started last July and posted about in October won a special award for “Outstanding Entry in a Horticulture Class” in the show. I’m honored, and it’s always a delight to collaborate, learn and exhibit with the talented members of our club.


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Here, Near the Corner of Deertrack Lane and Whitetail Road

Our deer fencing and compost heaps made it to the New York Times.

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The Most Colorful Day of the Year

Sometimes we feel so lucky to live in this beautiful spot only 35 minutes north of Grand Central Terminal.fall-2016

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Climate Change = More Color

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It’s Not Tough to Make a Trough Garden

It just takes a little patience.

The Garden Club of Irvington is having a flower and plant show next May and I’ve entered the category called “Alpine Garden Troughs or Containers: A collection of three or more of the following plants:Alpine species or cultivars, dwarf conifers. and/or succulents in a container not to exceed 18″ in any dimension. Entries must have been owned and grown by the exhibitor for a minimum of six months. Containers will be viewed from all sides.”

Time to get to work.

3-bonsaijack-amazonIn June, I took cuttings from my daughter-in-law’s rooftop succulent collection in San Francisco.


In August, I found the right container at the Laurel Group Home and Garden Shop and the right, fast-draining succulent growing medium on Amazon.

A few weeks ago, I removed all the cuttings, which by then had rooted, from the containers where they’d been growing.


I assembled them in the square container, being careful not to damage the leaves and spikes.


They’ve been at home on the deck ever since, watched over by Buddha. When I know it’s going to rain hard, like yesterday, I move the container from its sunny spot to a protected location.


Here’s what the container looks like today.


It has until the beginning of May to mature, and can be touched up on the day before the show judging, as long as I use plants that I’ve owned for six months, like one of those blue chalk fingers (Senecio vitalis “Serpents”) I’ve been propagating. I hope the donkey tail (Sedum morganianum) and string of pearls (Senecia rowleyanus) go crazy and trail down the sides. Like all plants, they have minds of their own. We shall see.

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Propagate your Plants!

This is the big clean-up season before winter sets in. We’re all raking leaves, cutting back perennials, cleaning pots and tools and putting them away until next spring, and tossing out annuals.

But wait, before you toss all the plants that won’t make it through winter’s freezes, especially certain succulents, why not take cuttings and pot them up for next spring? You can make lots of rooted cuttings from overgrown, leggy succulents.

Here’s how to do it:
Line up a bunch of small clean florists’ pots. Fill them with seed-starting mix, available at any nursery. I make my own from 50% vermiculite, 50% sifted compost from the garden, and a little perlite. It’s not sterile, but it works fine. Poke a 1″ deep hole in the center with a pencil.

Clip approximately 4″ to 6″ off the best-looking stems of your succulents. This one is blue chalk fingers (Senecio vitalis “Serpents”), which is hardy in warm climates. I bought one small plant more than five years ago and it has dozens and dozens of great-great-great grandchildren.


Remove the bottom leaves. At the bottom end, strip off about 1/2″ of the outer skin with your thumbnail and dip it in rooting hormone powder (a tiny bottle has lasted me for years). Set the end into the hole in the seed-starting mix. Tamp the mix around the stem so the cutting stands up straight. Water gently.


Keep your cuttings in a sunny spot outdoors until the temperature drops below 40 degrees (like tonight—it feels like a mini-hurricane out there). Bring them indoors to a bright windowsill and let them grow over the winter, watering once a week or when the mix feels very dry. In the spring, add the now-rooted cuttings to your mixed arrangements or pot them up into larger containers and let them shine on their own. The ones you don’t have space for make great gifts.


Above is last years crop and here are two containers I’ve filled with succulents grown from cuttings. If you like to grow Hens and Chicks, Sempervivum (which means ‘live forever’) tectorum, you can remove the baby chicks, keeping a bit of root attached, and repot them, as I’ve done in the strawberry pot. Every trip to Mexico means bringing home at least one pot in my suitcase, protected by the laundry.

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Stop and Smell the Roses

On the way back to the subway from a client meeting yesterday I tiptoed into Bloomingdale’s. I didn’t get any farther than the main entrance, where this arrangement welcomed me, knocked my briefcase and umbrella out of my hand, and got my phone out taking pictures.



The arrangement is awe-inspiringly perfect in every detail.



When I got home I tried a number of filters on Prisma, the phone app photo filter that imitates the style of famous artists. This is one of my favorites.


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The Container [and Much More] Store


When I left San Francisco last month, my daughter-in-law Yan Zhang gave me one tiny cutting from each of the succulents growing on her rooftop garden. I wrapped them in damp paper towels, stuck them in a baggie, brought them home in my carry-on, and planted them in a shallow terracotta pot. Since then, I’ve been looking in local garden centers for the stone trough that will be their permanent home. Baby Succulents

Driving east along Rte 27 in Water Mill last week, I spotted a place that promised to have just that. A quick U-turn brought me to The Laurel Group Home and Garden Shop, where I was greeted at the entrance by an inspirational collection of miniature desert landscapes in troughs. (There’s a trough category in our Garden Club’s flower show coming up next spring, and I’d love to be able to produce a respectable entry.)


Outside the shop, outdoor room settings beckon and containers of every size and shape are helpfully grouped by color.




Big, beautiful, but not what I need right now. What would await me inside?


Indoor garden rooms, furnishings and accessories… and lots and lots of pots.


LaurelGroup080416_6 (6) copy

LaurelGroupSq Trough

And there, on the floor, was exactly what I was looking for, the square trough underneath the round one. It’s made of “Fiber Cement,” a material that looks like stone but weighs 7 lbs, not the 30 lbs or more a cast concrete trough of that size would weigh.

The Laurel Group specializes in large residential and commercial landscape projects, but the manager who assisted me, Jackie Fagereng, was delightfully helpful with my one small purchase.

Next up… planting the container.

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Hamptons Show House 2016

HouseExteriorFrom the outside, this year’s Hamptons Show House looks very much like so many of the $5 to $20 million properties for sale on the East End. There are the lawns, the pool, the tennis court, the decks set up for outdoor dining and lounging.


Big Luxo

Inside, however, is a slightly different story. For me, this house is all about the details: the muted colors, black-and-cream contrasts, interesting textures, well-curated art and accessories, and use of natural materials. Unlike last year’s Showhouse, which seemed to be all about drinking, with cocktail setups in every space, this house is about relaxing in intimate spaces, to perhaps read a book, view a painting. Here are close-ups of some of my favorite spots to sit, contemplate, be inspired, or perhaps enjoy a game of backgammon or darts.






And where more color is used, especially in the hot coral sitting room by Dyfari Interiors and the hand-painted peony powder room by Steven Stolman, it’s a welcome blast among the neutrals.




And then there are the practical aspects to the house. The to-die-for kitchen, closets and bathrooms. And especially this laundry room. I mean, who wouldn’t want two washers and dryers? And another prime spot for your photography collection? (I hope the steam doesn’t ruin the emulsion on the photo paper.)


The 2016 Hampton Designer Showhouse, located on Noyak Path in Southampton, is open through September 5. The $35 admission fee benefits Southampton Hospital.

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On (and Off) Dune Road



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It was “just another” bike ride along Dune Road from Westhampton Beach to East Quogue—viewing various houses from the sublime to the ridiculous—when I spotted a path leading through the protected marshland. I got off my bike and began to follow it.
After a beautiful ten-minute walk, the view opened up onto the bay and a morning sailfish regatta. Aahh.

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A Garden Grows in The Bronx: Wave Hill

When I posted a few of these photos on Facebook, out-of-towners couldn’t believe they were shot in The Bronx.



Yes, this is leafy Riverdale, just over the Henry Hudson Bridge from upper Manhattan, a mostly bucolic section of the Bronx where apartment complexes, stately homes, schools and houses of worship exist side-by side.  And this is Wave Hill, a 28-acre public garden overlooking the Hudson River that hosts year-round programs in horticulture, education, and the arts. When I visited in the spring, above, the tulips were just bursting into bloom.


When I visited a few weeks ago, the mature perennial gardens were a source of delight and inspiration: so many interesting plants existing so harmoniously with each other and with the visitors who’d come to picnic and enjoy the sunset and the concert.





The performers at Sunset Wednesdays on July 27 were Duo Jalal, violist Kathryn Lockwood and percussionist Yousif Sheronick, who presented a virtuoso concert reflecting many musical traditions and styles: from modern Classical and jazz to Klezmer and the Beatles.


Here, Yousif is playing the bodhran, a traditional Irish frame drum… in a composition that is anything but Irish.  Check out their schedule and try to catch a concert. Duo Jalal is not to be missed.


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I Left My Heart [at the Green Wall] in San Francisco

Dion Zhang Miller

Dion Zhang Miller

I went to San Francisco for ten days to meet my new grandson. Of course I fell in love with him.

On Saturday afternoon I took a break from family to visit the newly reopened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and report on the current “Typeface to Interface” exhibition for Print magazine. And while I was there I fell in love with something else — a green wall — something I’ve been interested in for a long time.

Designed by Habitat Horticulture, the SFMOMA Living Wall is the largest in the U.S. Measuring 29′ 4″ tall and 150′ wide, the 4,399-sq-ft wall provides an outdoor experience for visitors and background for art at the third-floor sculpture terrace — home of the Alexander Calder Motion Lab exhibition through September 10.


Living Wall 1



Alexander Calder, Big Crinkly, 1969

Featuring 19,442 plants of 37 different species, the wall is a work of natural art supported with a recycled-water system. Approximately 40% of the plants — 21 species — are native to California and the Bay Area, many of which can be found on forest floors of local parks, including Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods.

An examination of local ecosystems with similar conditions to SFMOMA helped determine the plant selection and composition that would thrive. A lighting analysis helped predict the evolution of its growth. Featured native plants include wild ginger, redwood sorrel, huckleberry, pink flowering currant, western sword fern, and yerba buena. The wall is primarily irrigated by storm water and excess water from the museum’s HVAC system. Monitored by moisture sensors so that it’s watered only when needed, the wall is held in place by materials made from recycled polyester and water bottles.

Wal Detail

My colleagues at the Garden Club of Irvington-on-Hudson and I will be consulting with local experts in the hopes of creating a similar — but smaller and less ambitious — green wall project using Hudson Valley natives at a public site in our area next year.

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The Tree Man of Holbox Island

I was touring Holbox Island on my bike. I just had to stop. The signs were so intriguing: “Adopt a Tree” in more than a dozen languages and “Vivero Plantas Endemicas” (garden center for native plants).


1 Entrance

I got off my bike and went inside.

1b Interior

There I met Vicente Caceres. With his minimal English and my very basic Spanish I learned a lot about the ecology of the island and what he’s doing to protect and enhance it.

2 Vicente

Vicente grows a lot of plants, tropicals and succulents. But mostly trees. He is the Tree Man of Holbox. The palm tree, to be exact. Two kinds of palms grow in the Mexican Caribbean, specifically in the Yucatán peninsula, he told me. There is the palma kuka, with its typical long, single stem, like the ones below.


And there’s the palma chit, with its fan-shaped fronds, like the young plant below, almost ready to transplant. Both are slow-growing.

6 Palma 3 años

Vicente has patience. He has grown many, many trees from semillas, seeds he’s harvested, collected and planted.

4 Seeds 1

5 Seeds2

It takes three years, he explained, for tiny seedlings to grow large enough to transplant. They do, under his care. Over the past three years, Vicente has propagated and planted more than 1,000 trees in public places all over Holbox: parks, schools, cemeteries, sports fields, plazas.

You, the visitor, can be part of the process. You donate some pesos and Vicente scoops compost he makes from seaweed (there’s lots of that around), coffee grounds, etc. into a pot he fashions from plastic cut from a recycled trash bag. Then he pokes a hole in the compost, transplants a tiny seedling, and paints your initials on the bag with pink nail polish.

7 Seedlings

8 My seedling

There’s mine in the lower right corner, with the ‘E’. I hope it grows up strong and healthy like the ones in the picture below, and that it ends up shading a field where the kids play soccer. But anywhere on the island will be fine.

3 Chit

Next time you’re in Holbox, stop by and adopt a tree. The name of the place is Yumil Ka’an, which means “Lord of the Hammock” (there are a lot of hammocks on the island, and I hope Vicente stops working long enough to rest in one of them.) You won’t need a map. Just follow the roads and paths and you’re sure to meet him and get the tour yourself. And if you can’t make it there, his Facebook page is Holbox Viveroyumil.


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The Hand-Painted Advertisements of Holbox

Smokin Frida2

My husband and I recently had the pleasure of spending a week on Isla Holbox, Mexico, a tropical island/wildlife reserve about 30km off the coast of the Yucatán. We stayed at Villas Flamingos, a low-key resort where the main activities are bird-watching and strolling in the shallow waters that surround the island. Evenings meant a trip (a 20-minute walk along the beach, 10-minute bike ride, 7-minute golf-cart ride) into town, which consists of small shops and restaurants grouped around the zocolo and along a few side streets. From the first moment, we loved that town, in fact the whole island, with its truly laid-back, unspoiled (no mega-hotels), friendly vibe.

The most striking feature of the town: the paintings on the walls. The people of Holbox are truly creative. Here is some of their work:


Besides a Frida obsession, there is great interest in space travel, fantastic creatures, and the local Mayan heritage.




Many of the paintings identify and promote local businesses and products. Could this medium be even more effective than Facebook advertising?






My favorite, below, is a piece that turns the corner of a building and celebrates the colobrí or hummingbird. The signature, Jade Rivera, led me to the website of the artist, who has been commissioned to create extraordinary wall paintings all over Latin America.



And here is our favorite restaurant, El Colibrí, home of delicious food and musica en vivo (live music) every evening.


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SnowNice to wake up to. Not so nice if you’re planning to go somewhere. Luckily, I’m working at home today. Hope you are, too.

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Artifacts of Civil War America

FreemanStoreCoffeeLast month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Freeman Store & Museum, a charming historic house in the Town of Vienna, Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb.

Built in 1859 by storekeeper Abram Lydecker, a New Jersey native, the house was occupied by both Confederate and Union Army troops during the Civil War. After the war ended, the Lydeckers moved back in. In 1892, however, Lydecker was charged with “improper dealing with the enemy,” i.e., the Union, from which Virginia had voted to declare secession. We’ve apparently forgiven Virginia, and him. The house later became the home of notable local citizens—including Leon Freeman, the first president of Vienna’s volunteer fire department—and was restored in accordance with historical records. It is currently operated as a shop and museum by Historic Vienna, Inc.


Model of the house that is now the Freeman Store and Museum, as it was during the Civil War.

The first floor is a replica of a country store, intended to gives visitors the opportunity to step back in time to experience the American general store of the Civil-War era. For sale are hand-crafted children’s toys and puzzles, books, postcards, candy, and historic-themed gifts including prints and ceramics by local artists. On the second floor, the museum displays what are called Living History Exhibits designed to illustrate the way people lived, practiced crafts, and entertained one another in the 1860s. I was especially interested in the displays of photographic equipment, canned goods, sewing equipment and kitchenware.


Women were involved from photography’s beginnings in the 1830s and ’40s. I think I can see a reflection of myself shooting this picture with my iPhone 6s.


The displays of canned goods included “Burnham Brand” produce canned by the Edgett-Burnham Canning Company, which was founded in 1863 by Ezra Edgett of Camden, NY, near Syracuse. The company processed crops that were were grown on the factory farm or purchased from area farmers. Fruit, vegetables and poultry were canned to feed Union troops. I hope some of them appreciated the lovely typography and illustration on the labels.


Showcases displayed Civil-War-era sewing and crocheting accouterments and kitchenware for cooking and home canning, which were lent by Vienna-area residents.


A new exhibit, opening this March, will chronicle the history of Farming in Vienna and surrounding areas of what is now Fairfax County.

The Freeman Store and Museum is located in 131 Church Street NE, Vienna, VA 22180. The House is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 4:00 and on Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 (in January and February, by appointment only).


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Christmas Is Bustin’ Out All Over

’Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the (green) house
The plants were going crazy, bustin’ out of their pots.
The annuals, succulents, perennials and tropicals all loved the warm day
Happy that this winter seems more like L.A.
Alas, snow and ice may soon end New York’s 70-degree delight
Enjoy while you can! Happy Holidays, and to all a good night.


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Sheep and Wool and Much More

When my friend Frana Baruch, artist, graphic designer and craft fair and flea market aficianado, first told me that the New York Sheep and Wool Festival was “the best thing ever,” I thought she was kidding. Well, several chapters of my upcoming novel, The Secret Buttons, take place on a sheep farm in England, and everything I learned about sheep and sheep-shearing came from watching YouTube videos. Yesterday was the perfect fall day—if a bit chilly—to take a drive up the Taconic Parkway and experience it myself, so why not learn firsthand?


It was a spectacular drive—peak leaf-peeking season—and Frana was more than 100 percent right. Sheep and Wool? Who knew? Thousands of people knew. 2015 was the 35th year of this two-day event at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, NY, jam-packed with things to see and do.

First of all, there were the sheep. Every variety of sheep, from farmers across the country. And llamas and goats and rabbits, and every other animal from which come natural fibers for weaving and knitting.



black sheepjpg

Bundled Up2_0020And contests, for the best in each category, the animals trotted around the ring and shown by their proud owners.



The nonstop events, in addition to livestock displays, included workshops, demonstrations, book signings, lectures, plus eating and drinking—including samples from Hudson Valley wineries and cheesemakers.

It was fascinating to see that in this age of the iPhone 6 (with which these photos were taken) how many people are dedicated to the arts of raising sheep, shearing, working with natural vegetable dyes, spinning, and weaving, and of course designing garments and knitting.



From the spun fibers come yarns in every weight and shade. Approximately 150 vendors participated, many of whom displayed garments made from their yarns, either for sale or as samples, with original patterns available. I especially liked the children’s sweaters, with sheep patterns knitted in, sold as kits.





Gray Close-Up



Other vendors sold books, knitting and weaving supplies, buttons, jewelry, decorative accessories, and more.

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Frana and Friend_1018_0031

Frana, above right, bought sheepskin slippers and yarns for her art and knitting projects. I bought a hand-embroidered shawl and a “Bullseye Bump” from Loop Fiber Studio — described as “created spontaneously from a unique blend of fibers, colors and textures… Bullseye Bumps contain a continuous length of creatively carded roving.” (Roving, I’ve learned, is a preliminary step to spinning yarn. It’s wool sheared from the sheep, combed, washed, and carded, which involves arranging the fibers in the same direction so the wool can be twisted and spun into yarn.) “These rovings are wound into center-pull bums that produces whimsical, self-striping yarn that is delightful to spin.” And as demonstrated below by Loop owner and creator, Steph Gorin and me, her rovings can be delightful conversation-startiers to wear as a scarf, twisted, tied, or arranged any way you like.

bullseye bumps


Posted in Art Inspired by Nature, Fairs and Community Events, Hudson Valley NY, Knitting and Needlework, Travel-USA Northeast | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vest-Pocket Nursery

StreetSceneThis was not what I expected to find, walking down the street in Lower Manhattan on the way to a photo shoot on a weekday morning: an open-air plant nursery wedged into a narrow lot between two buildings.

Summer15_0102Most people were oblivious, but I had to investigate. This stretch of Hudson Street, between Houston and Canal, used to be the center of New York’s printing industry. And I used to be there a lot, checking jobs on press. Now the printing companies have moved to New Jersey or gone out of business, and floors that once held giant six-color presses, binding machines, and pallets of paper have been renovated into residential condos and high-end offices for ad agencies and publishing companies. Someday, this space might be filled with one of those 50-storey sliver buildings. But now, it’s the temporary home of Plantworks, Inc.



PlantworksThis vest-pocket nursery is no fly-by-night operation, I learned. Chris Baptiste (below) gave me the lowdown. Specializing in design and maintenance of corporate office interiors and terrace landscapes, the company lost its lease in the flower district on 28th Street after 41 years and set up camp here for the summer.

Chris Baptiste“We have no lights here, no water,” said Chris in his lilting Trinidad-Tobago accent, pointing out a portable water tank almost invisible among the plants, pots, bags of potting soil and graffiti on one of the brick walls, “but this is a good place to be now because of all the new businesses moving into the neighborhood.”

No lights, no water? Well, the plants are healthy and thriving. “We’re going to close down for the season around Halloween,” he pointed out. Hurry! If you need anything from a gorgeous fiddle-leaf fig tree for your office to a row of succulents for a sunny windowsill, pull up at 286 Hudson Street any day from 11 to 5, and Chris will help you out.



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Dahlias, Dahling

This is the season for those spectacular blooms that mark the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Here they are in a garden I spotted on a bike ride in the Remsenberg section of Westhampton, New York.

Dahlias_No Car



If you have full sun and a flower bed or pot, you can grow these fantastic blooms, which depending on the variety will reward you with petite to dinner-plate-size blooms. Sharing tubers of different sizes and colors has been an ongoing project of the Garden Club of Irvington. A great site, American Meadows, provides all the directions for growing dahlias, illustrated.

And here are a few of their growing companions in the Remsenberg garden:


White echinacea (above) and cleome ( below. According to the White Flower Farm catalog,  “Echinacea, the queen of the daisies, is called coneflower for its dome-shaped center. Plants continue to bloom from June into the fall. Breeders have teased out a considerable range of pinks, purples, yellows, and oranges, plus white, with more hues coming every year. There are double-flowered forms as well as varieties with petals pulled back like a badminton shuttlecock… first-class garden plants for full sun.” Cleome is described thusly: “Clusters of large white blooms show off against the dark green leaves and add sparkle to every other color in the garden. This annual plant of rare beauty blooms without pause, beginning in late June here and continuing until frost. It produces large, globe-shaped flower heads composed of amazingly delicate, spidery blooms in a pure white. It is tough and vigorous, smiling through heat and drought in every corner of the country…



…Finally, it has countless uses: as a backbone plant in a mixed border, as a constant companion in the cottage garden, as a bedding plant (to stunning effect, where space permits), and as a single-season shrub or short-term hedge. Your grandmother probably grew cleome, and you should, too.”

And so did the gardener who made this lovely border, a treat for all who walk or bike by.

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