I’m almost afraid to say this but the rain has finally stopped – for now. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had an unusually cold and wet spring. But now it seems that we’ve turned a corner.
We’ve even enjoyed dinners on our patio these past few nights. This got me thinking about some of my previous posts on gardening and outdoor entertaining. A few of them contain information that we can use right now, so I thought I would share a little roundup.
This time of year always has me thinking about my old neighbor, Mr. B. His tomato plants were legendary, and he taught me everything I know about raising tomatoes. In Tomato Tips from Mr. B, I pass along his old-school advice.
One of my very first blog posts was about choosing bold colors for man-made garden structures. My writing style has changed since I wrote it, and hopefully my photos are better now. But I still feel the same way about using bold colors for the outdoors.
Whites and barely there colors are still popular indoor paint trends. But outdoors is a whole different story. In a lush garden, accents and small buildings can get lost if they are not given a strong color.
My earlier post explained in detail how to force paperwhite bulbs indoors, so I won’t go into that here. If you’ve never forced paperwhite bulbs before, that post is very helpful.
I’m just starting my paperwhites for this season, but I thought it would be fun to share what I did last year.
Finding the Look
To me, the fun of growing paperwhites is choosing the right combination of container, pebbles (natural or glass), and decorative accents such as moss, twigs, berries, even shells, to make an attractive display.
The possibilities are endless. I used all kinds of containers last year: A silver urn, a vintage porcelain candy dish, a ceramic urn, and some glass containers.
I started one bulb in a small jar. Then I placed that jar inside a larger jar and lined the inside with moss.
The end result is a paperwhite that appears to be sprouting out of the moss. On the other arrangements, I hid the pebbles under a blanket of moss to give the arrangements a softer, natural look.
I created a vignette with a lichen-covered branch from the garden for a little natural texture – and drama. This photo shows the stage I enjoy the most – when the first flowers are beginning to bloom.
I moved the silver urn to the front porch. In moderate climates, paperwhites are usually fine in a protected area outdoors. In fact, I’m going to play around with that idea more this year: Blooming paperwhites in containers on the front porch.
The silver urn still needed a little something so I shopped my garden for twigs and more lichens.
Adding free or inexpensive natural accents always makes the arrangement look elegant. And in the dead of winter, it’s fun to bring the outdoors in.
Paperwhites as Gifts
I started a few arrangements to give as gifts. They are wonderful hostess gifts. Throughout the year, I kept an eye out at thrift stores and estate sales for anything water tight that would make a unique paperwhite container. I looked for attractive vases and urns, vintage milk glass bowls, vintage footed candy dishes, and cute pitchers or jugs.
Here I used mostly glass containers – some just large jars. The fun of using clear glass containers is that, as the bulb begins to sprout, so does its root system, and you can actually see the roots winding between the pebbles (although not so visible in the photo below).
Wired craft store berries are an attractive addition, but they also serve as stakes to keep the paperwhite blossoms upright as they grow.
With each arrangement, I included a card explaining how to care for the paperwhites.
The card read:
Caring for Paperwhites:
Keep the water level just below the bottom of the bulb so that the roots are immersed. These bulbs should start blooming in a week or so. They can be enjoyed indoors – or outdoors in a protected area. Once the bulbs have finished blooming, they can be tossed into the compost bin.
Then they were boxed up and ready for giving.
They hadn’t yet started to bloom when I gave them away, but that was actually a good thing. The recipient could enjoy the show – and the fragrance – when the blooms began.
Bulb kits also make wonderful hostess gifts, and here are a couple of especially nice choices. Plus, for DIY arrangements, extra-large bulbs in bulk (the larger the bulb, the more flowers!) and some sweet containers for one-of-a-kind arrangements.
Are we already in August? As usual, the summer is going by too fast, and now we only have a few weeks left – with so much we want to do. So I’ve decided to put this blog down for a little late-summer nap. While it’s sleeping, I’ll be working on projects to share with you in September. At least that’s the plan.
And since this is my last post until then, I have all kinds of things to show you.
I had to work fast because it was warm in there and I didn’t want the roses to wither. I came up with these three arrangements.
Thriller, Filler, Spiller
The old thriller-filler-spiller technique used in container gardening also works well for floral arrangements.
Thriller: Red roses
Filler: Lady’s mantle flowers (Alchemilla mollis or Alchemilla vulgaris)
Spiller: Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)
I love the fresh green of the lady’s mantle flowers as a substitute for fillers like baby’s breath. The crimson-tasseled annual called love-lies-bleeding adds a little drama and works nicely with the color of the vintage glass vase.
In this post, we have a fun mix of things: An elegant budget floral arrangement, a small DIY decor project, and some new decor inspiration for outdoor spaces.
Making Street Market Flowers Look Elegant
Last Sunday at our neighborhood street market, my husband, Chris, offered to buy me a bunch of locally-grown flowers from a vendor.
A $5 bunch seemed large enough. Curious to see what he would choose, I asked Chris to pick out the flowers. He chose a colorful bunch of assorted flowers and a single stem each of allium and foxtail lily.
I wanted to arrange them in a tall fluted glass vase that I found a while back at a vintage market. I love the simple elegance of the vase. But when a vase is wider at the top than at the bottom, it’s sometimes hard to get the flowers to stand straight.
So it helps to create a simple tape grid at the top of the vase.
Tip: Put the water in the vase before creating the tape grid.
The grid didn’t need to be very elaborate. I added decorative rocks to the bottom because the flower stems would be too short otherwise. (That and it makes the vase more difficult for my cats to tip over.)
The foxtail lily went in the middle as the tallest stem – with other tall stems surrounding it. Next came larger-diameter blossoms (iris, peony, the allium), and then the filler blossoms and the greens.
Easy and elegant.
By the way, as some of the flower vendors pointed out, it’s almost time to say goodbye to the beautiful peony until next year. But is it? As mentioned in Sunset Magazine and on Sunset’s blog, some farmers in Alaska are growing July-blooming peonies. So maybe there is a chance that we will be seeing these beauties in the lower 48 and other locations later this summer.
DIY Outdoor Placemats
This project didn’t turn out quite as planned, but I think it’s still worth sharing.
One nice feature of a round table is that it is often easier to add extra place settings than it would be with a rectangular or square table. Even so, when more place settings are added, the space between them becomes tighter.
So I decided to make some simple placemats for our round patio table. I wanted to make enough to seat six, so the placemats couldn’t be too large. And to follow the curve of the round table, the placemats should also be round. And since they would be used outside, they could look rustic.
Warning: Weird burlap project ahead!
I had a roll of burlap fabric and some liquid fabric stiffener (which I had never tried before) in my craft room. So I used a 13-inch platter as a template and cut the burlap. Of course, as burlap does, it immediately began to fray.
Then, using a painting pad, I saturated each round piece of burlap front and back with the fabric stiffener and laid them flat on parchment paper to dry.
At first I was disappointed to see that the burlap frayed even more after it was saturated. But then I realized that it was actually kind of a cool look.
The burlap wanted to curl and buckle a bit when wet, so from time to time while it was drying, I pressed it back into place. I couldn’t wait to see how the pieces looked when they dried.
So of course they took forever to dry.
And when they did, the burlap was indeed very stiff. No more fraying. That fabric was not going anywhere now! I cut off any strands that were sticking out funny or looking too crazy, but I left most of it.
It does make for an interesting look under outdoor plates, but I should have made them bigger. And using colored burlap might have been fun for this project. But here it is.
There was some fabric stiffener left in the tray and I hated to waste it, so I also made some simple napkin rings using rope ribbon and some vintage buttons.
A fun (if slightly weird) result for my first experiment with fabric stiffener.
Introducing My New Summer Style Boards
Are you planning a new outdoor space? Or maybe just looking for fresh ideas?
One of my favorite fillers for floral arrangements is silver dollar eucalyptus. This airy, showy species of eucalyptus adds a casual elegance to any floral arrangement.
A small grocery store bunch costs around $5, so I was very pleased when my neighbor gave away the branches of the silver dollar eucalyptus tree that she had cut down.
I made off with a couple of large branches. By then, the tree had been cut down for several days. But the branches still smelled fresh and wonderful, and the large, round, blue-silver leaves were still gorgeous.
I cut the the branches into smaller sections to use in floral arrangements.
Drying the Eucalyptus – The Easy Way
I had more eucalyptus than I could use at any given time. So I wanted to try drying it.
I learned that eucalyptus can be preserved by placing the stems in a combination of water and glycerin – if the stems are fresh enough to absorb the mixture.
But these stems were starting to dry out. There was no way that they were going to absorb anything.
I read that eucalyptus could be air dried if placed in a warm, dry, and dark location. So for lack of a better place, I put them in my little greenhouse. It was bright in there, but still warm and dry. And I figured that two out of three wasn’t bad.
After several days, it seemed the eucalyptus had dried, and I needed to take back the greenhouse for other things.
I left one small bunch in the greenhouse, and it has done fairly well although withering a bit from the bright exposure.
Alone or With Flowers
The rest I stashed around the house. It looks elegant all by itself, whether in a large bunch or just one sprig.
The eucalyptus has been dried for at least a month now, and while the leaves have curled a little and the color has changed from silver-blue to more of a green, it’s still very beautiful.
And it still makes a lovely filler. Here, leaves are simply tucked in where needed to conceal a tape grid at the mouth of this vase.
And here, branches add interest to a pitcher of lilacs.
Of course it is brittle now and needs to be handled carefully. And the fresh eucalyptus scent is gone.
But it’s good to know that this beautiful floral filler really does dry nicely even without the glycerin mixture.
The formula, which should be mixed in a certain order, calls for white vinegar, salt, and hydrogen peroxide. All fairly innocent ingredients on their own. But combined, they become a strong, wicked acid. Wear eye protection and gloves when mixing or handling. Use this mixture in a well-ventilated area and away from anything that you don’t want to rust, stain, or inadvertently kill (sorry lawn). For more safety information, head back to this website.
Before I applied this mixture, I saturated each can with white vinegar. This etches the metal so it will better absorb the mixture. Then I let the cans dry completely.
Now it was time to apply the magic mixture. Using a spray bottle, I saturated each can.
It didn’t seem to work – at first. Then after a few minutes the rust started. I let each soup can dry, and then I reapplied the mixture.
Soon I just filled a shallow plastic pan with about 1/8-inch of the rust mixture and rolled the cans in the mixture, let them dry, then rolled them again.
I rolled the cans about four times. It seemed that the mixture was starting to eat through the spray paint a bit.
Finally I was happy with the patina, although I might have overdone it. The cans did turn out rustier than my original example.
The finish coat
I rinsed each can off with water. I noticed that if I rubbed the cans at all, the paint would flake off and expose the un-rusted metal underneath. Not good.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using these links.
Last month’s floral inspiration post featured a stunning floral sculpture – the result of one artist’s fanciful, intricate interpretation of a flowering tree. This month, we spin the dial in the opposite direction and visit the humble field daffodil before it is even plucked from the earth. Well, not just one daffodil – fields and fields of them.
Yes, we are headed to Washington State’s Skagit Valley – home to some of the most prolific bulb farms in the U.S. Most of these farms are owned by families that originated in Holland.
In April, many Washingtonians (including me) look forward to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, when the valley floor comes alive with colorful bands of blooming tulips.
Beating the Crowds
This popular attraction, now in its 33rd year, can get crowded. So this year, I wanted to get ahead of the crowd and instead check out the La Conner Daffodil Festival, which takes place in March. The driving route is almost identical to the tulip festival route, but the earlier-blooming daffodils are the main attraction. Three major varieties of daffodils are grown in the fields.
Now, to convince my husband, Chris, to tiptoe through the, uh, daffodils with me, I had to throw in an element of adventure.
So I told him we could bike the daffodil route.
Our Day Among The Daffodils
We parked the car in La Conner, a quaint little town on the Swinomish Channel, and hopped on our bikes.
There was so much to see that it seemed we stopped every mile or so.
Biking the route was better than driving it because we really felt connected to the valley. We could hear bird songs and see snow geese in the fields and hawks hovering overhead.
The Big Attractions
Our first big stop was Roozengaarde, a huge bulb farm with over 1,000 acres of fields growing tulips, daffodils and irises. Roozengaarde has a gift shop and a beautiful display garden.
And beyond the lawn behind the display garden, fields of daffodils seemed to stretch to the mountains.
Next we rode to Tulip Town, another large farm that grows and sells bulbs and other perennials. The fields of Tulip Town were starting to show signs of spectacular color to come.
By now we were starting to feel pressed for time, so we didn’t linger in Tulip Town as long as I would have liked.
We hit the road again. And not that this has anything to do with daffodils, but we happened upon the cutest unexpected sight: Miniature donkeys!
The next stop was Christianson’s Nursery. This place really speaks to me because they have several historic structures on the nursery grounds that the owners have rescued from other locations.
My favorite is the Meadow School, built in 1888. It is still used for classes – gardening classes, that is, held by the nursery.
I could have spent hours in their quaint gift shop.
And I also fell in love with their many vintage greenhouses, especially this one from the 1940s.
But we were getting hungry. It was time to wrap up the 16-mile ride and head back to La Conner to find food.
Daffodils in the City
Flower vendors in Seattle’s Pike Place Market sell the fancier filled daffodils which come mostly from farms near the city of Carnation.
To me, their soft beauty rivals any peony or rose.
But I wanted to use regular field daffodils to fill this French pitcher* that Chris gave me for Christmas.
It took two grocery store bundles to fill the pitcher – $4 well spent.
*The blue pitcher is by Emile Henry. This company specializes in kitchenware and bakeware. For Christmas, Chris gave me a mix of vintage and new Emile Henry bakeware. I love the look, the quality, and how easy the pieces are to clean.
Emile Henry is a French company, and most of their items are made in France.
A nice assortment of vintage Emile Henry can be found on Etsy.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using these links
Easter falls in March this year, so it’s not too soon for me to share three fun little decor and gift ideas.
1. Tiny Little Eggshell Planters and Vases
I love it when I can combine a couple of ideas and get something new. The March edition of Martha Stewart Living had a beautiful little one-page article on using the shells of goose, turkey, and duck eggs to make mini vases and baskets. Then I saw something on Instagram about starting seedlings in eggshells. Those ideas got me thinking.
I remembered the eggshells that I had painted black as part of my Haunted Hatchlings Halloween scene. They looked good and, because of a little trick I had discovered, they were also crack and shatter resistant.
I decided to try a variation of those eggshells to make tiny little planters and vases for Easter using the shells of the brown eggs that I had on hand.
Cracking the Eggs
So for a couple of mornings, when making breakfast, I saved the eggshells. I placed each egg in a shot glass and cracked it carefully around the top with a knife so most of the shell would be left intact but I could still lift off the top and empty the egg easily.
I didn’t worry too much about getting a very straight break since the uneven, broken edges add charm.
Coloring the Shells
I used a gel food coloring (Betty Crocker Classic Gel Food Colors) to color the eggshells. Since they were brown shells, the color did not turn out as clear and bright as they would have with white eggs, but that didn’t matter because this was just the base coat. The interior of the shells turned out bright and pretty. To add to the variety, I left a few shells undyed.
To make the shells crack resistant, I painted two coats of Mod Podge on the outside of each shell and one coat on the inside. Although the shells were noticeably more stable after this, I still had to use care when working with them.
Making the Shells Stand Upright
Now I wanted the shells to stand upright. So far I had only used materials that I already had around the house, so I wanted to continue doing that.
I am a bit of a vintage button weirdo, and for some strange reason I tend to hoard them. So I glued vintage buttons to the bottom of each shell as a base.
Adding Flowers and Tiny Plants
This was the funnest part of this fun project. I used a small teaspoon to fill some of the shells with pre-moistened soil, and then I carefully planted tiny succulents.
Other shells became vases for tiny flowers from my garden: Primroses and violets. Of course I knocked a vase over by accident. It didn’t break, but I did discover that the food coloring does bleed into the vase water, so just a warning about that.
Table Decor and a Gift
I’m planning to have one on each place setting and then let my guests take them home.
2. DIY Dinner Napkins: A Simple Project Just Got Simpler
Sometimes to get the table decor I want for a special occasion like Easter, I have to make my own dinner napkins. And recently I decided to make some sets of dinner napkins to give as gifts. This is such a simple task: Measure, cut, and hem the fabric. How could it get any simpler?
By eliminating the measuring and cutting.
While at the fabric store looking for an easy-care cotton fabric to use for my dinner napkin project, I found myself standing in front of the fabric quarters: Those pre-cut pieces of cotton calico fabric that come in a wide variety of colors and patterns and measure 18 X 21 inches – just right for a dinner napkin.
But could I really just buy the fabric quarters and hem them? It seemed too easy, so to make sure I asked a fabric store employee. She confirmed that since they were 100% cotton, they would indeed work as dinner napkins.
Solid-colored fabric quarters work best because they are double-sided. With most patterned fabric quarters, the pattern only appears on one side and the opposite side is blank.
To iron, pin, and hem them took me less than 15 minutes per napkin, so making a set of six took under an hour and a half.
A set of six dinner napkins makes a great hostess gift. I made two sets in one afternoon and bundled them using lace ribbon and vintage buttons.
And I still made them with my own two little hands – even if I did take a shortcut.
3. A Sweet Yet Practical Hostess Gift
You may not have time to make your own hostess gifts, but you can still give something handmade. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love the soft and whimsical dishtowels that Cousin Lolli makes in her fabric studio in Fort Bragg.
This month I am giving you a little break from my own clumsy attempts at floral design to bring you the stunning work of professional floral designer Michelle Pedersen, owner of The Art of Forest Blooms.
My mom, Erika, and I recently attended the 2016 Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle. With its fantastic display gardens, this show is a feast for the eyes – well, all the senses, really: The air is fragrant with hyacinths and daphnes, bird songs are piped in. We are always transformed to a magical place.
But my favorite feature of the show is the floral competition where the most innovative floral designers in the region display their creations. This is where floral design becomes fine art.
And this is where I fell in love with Michelle’s whimsical floral sculpture.
It is called Across the Wilderness; ‘til paths be wrought through wilds of thought, and you’ll learn why in a minute.
We thought at first that the tree trunk was made of sculpted metal, but then we realized that we were actually looking at the brown, leathery undersides of magnolia leaves.
Truly amazing. My favorite floral designs are ones that imagine new uses for natural materials. I was so intrigued that I had to meet Michelle and learn more.
Michelle has kindly agreed to give us an inside look at the process of creating this floral masterpiece – from finding her inspiration to the actual construction. And as you will see, sometimes things didn’t quite go according to plan.
Michelle Talks About Her Floral Sculpture
Hello fellow flower lovers,
Six years ago my life journey took a turn towards floral design and man am I glad it did. I have always had a love affair with trees, branches, and flowers – maybe a borderline obsession. I am in awe of them: How incredibly different and beautiful they all are; perfectly imperfect and happy just to be. They bend and reach for light and life amongst environmental and human restrictions. They inspire me to see the beauty of the simple things and they continue to teach me to overcome obstacles whether man-made or from Mother Nature herself.
The creation of my floral sculpture started over the summer when my sister-in-law sent me a link to Holland’s festival of flowers, featuring Van Gogh (the link is posted on my Facebook page). I immediately added the festival to my bucket list and thought, “I want to make something like this someday.” Around the same time, an episode of How It’s Made showcased the making of silk bonsai trees, and I thought, “I could do that. I even have all of the materials here.” With these two seeds and the impending floral competition, my mind started spiraling with possibilities.
With time, a vision of a tree appeared: A purple tree. I wanted it to look like the purple trees I had seen while I was in Australia and Brazil but with a bonsai flair. I also wanted to include moss on the branches – the essence of the Northwest forest. I just love mossy branches, especially when ferns are growing from the moss patches…truly amazing.
I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew I had to create it. I thought deeply on the internal structure: How to make it, what to use, how it would support flowers and water. I decided that I would buy a tree structure and add the flowers to it. I eventually found what I thought to be a perfect pre-made tree, because it was made from branches and wrapped with wire (and looked like something I could create). I tried to figure out how I would attach the flowers and keep them hydrated. But after three months, I couldn’t seem to get it, and with one week before the show I rethought the structure and decided to build it from scratch.
I dug into my art materials and found two metal pipes. I bent and contorted them into the shape of branches and then coated them with floral oasis foam. I used chicken wire to secure the foam and give shape to the body of the tree. Once I had a sturdy frame and had it attached securely to the base, I started to add plant material and bring it to life. The shape of the tree was inspired by my logo, which I had drawn over the summer.
The first element I used was contorted willow branches for the trunk, fork, and the main branches. The natural curves of the willow accentuated the curves of the tree. I then created the tree ring/branch collar out of a vine-covered wire. Finding the material for and creating the bark was a difficult step. I used the back side of magnolia leaves and pinned them onto the trunk for bark. A combination of myrtle and berzilla foliage was used for the leaves and small branches, and wax flower for the blooms and other small branches. As for the moss on the tree, I used gypsy dianthus.
Surrounding the base of the trunk I used more of the gypsy dianthus, green trachelium, Kermit mums, and green sheet moss to create the feel of a meadow. I splashed a few sprigs of yellow solidago for wild flowers, and silver brunia for the stepping stones.
I added a bench at the base of the tree because I wanted to provoke a sense of wonder by inviting the viewer to imagine sitting under this magnificent tree and soaking in the views of our national forests.
Since this year’s theme was America the Beautiful, I found the title of my sculpture within the lyrics of the song. I combined two passages that spoke to me: “Across the Wilderness; ‘til paths be wrought through wilds of thought.”
The creation of my floral tree sculpture was fun, exciting and frustrating. In all I spent six months planning, sketching, and gathering materials and 10 hours building it. I am thrilled with the final product and all of its positive reviews. I feel a sense of accomplishment for creating the beauty I wished to see because that is my guiding light in life.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using these links
We recently hosted a family birthday brunch for my mom. She appreciates pretty table settings and beautiful floral arrangements as much as I do, so I was looking forward to setting the table.
Around Valentine’s Day, the price of roses skyrockets. And in February, other options for fresh flowers are limited. But one enduring classic came to the rescue: Carnations.
Mom uses them as one of her go-to flowers in her floral arrangements, and no wonder. They have a lovely light, spicy fragrance, come in a variety of colors, and stay fresh a long time. As a cut flower, they are underrated and usually reasonably priced.
So I bought a grocery store bunch of carnations in mixed colors. I put a wire flower frog inside a milk glass container and cut the carnations to fit just above the rim.
I had some eucalyptus leaves that had dried in place in one of my winter white arrangements so I used them around the perimeter of the container.
And I had a pretty centerpiece.
For the table dressing, I used a few pieces from my vintage linen collection. I placed a square table topper diagonally over a linen tablecloth and used cheerful rose print napkins on the place settings.
What looks like a tea pot is actually the coffee pot for the Casa Look pattern. The Casa Look china is discontinued. It is our everyday china, and I love that it is strong porcelain china. Clumsy as I am, these pieces have stayed intact for years with no chips.
The Switch 3 pieces are a gift from Mom. They work nicely with the Casa Look and are also very durable.
The Leftover Carnations
When I first unwrapped the carnation bundle, I found that three of the blossoms were broken off at the base. But why waste them? They made a cute statement on a bathroom windowsill.
And the carnations I had left over from the centerpiece looked sweet in this little cup on the living room sideboard.
I wanted the pie to look like a cake so I pressed the graham cracker/almond crust into a springform pan but I went up the sides of the pan too far with the crust – far beyond the level of the custard filling. I was worried the crust would crumble when I took the springform apart, but luckily that did not happen.
So what started by mistake became an interesting presentation. The crust was precarious, but it looked unique and held together while we sang Happy Birthday.
About Villeroy & Boch:
What I love about Villeroy & Boch is that this company is not afraid to take chances and have some fun with their china. Many of their designs are fanciful and so imaginative. Even their more traditional designs seem to teeter just on the verge of whimsy. This edginess is surprising for a company whose origins date back to 1748.
An eclectic assortment of vintage Villeroy & Boch china can be found on Etsy.