Friday, December 18, 2020

Holiday Gift Guide: Part 2 ~ Curated List of Artisanal Music, Books, Cocktails & Herbal Christmas Drink Recipe, Zoom Fashion & More


Welcome back! This is part two of my curated Holiday Gift Guide for this most bedeviling year: 2020.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed part one. The first chapter of the guide is more of a plant-based, green-theme to help you create a home oasis. A sanctuary. We all need a wee bit of that now more than ever…

As a kind of addendum, I just read that a national florist has named the sunflower as the flower of the year and the Red Maranta Prayer Plant as the plant of the year.

Cheerful and sunny is always cause for joy. And the prayer plant ~ well, who doesn’t need more prayers this year? The plant’s leaves fold at night looking like hands in prayer.

Plus the red and green leaves are just so perfect for the holidays.

In my previous Holiday post, I highlighted gifts for your home or loved ones that are high-quality and appropriate for this most uncommon “moment” in world history. Who wouldn’t appreciate plants, advent calendars, food, memberships in noteworthy, world-class cultural institutions - both local and international? And please forgive me, I am offering these gift guides to those who are not in that unfathomable circumstance of not being able to pay their rent or have access to food...

Moreover, I have to correct an oversight. I am embarrassed that I neglected to add City Harvest as a noble community effort to support; they pioneered food rescue in 1982. Mea Culpa. Most disconcerting as I am proud to be a City Harvest volunteer for many years. Please contribute and help if you can? Food security has never been more poignant.

Gift Guide 2020 ~ Part 2:
I think we all recognize this is not the year for the same old kind of gifts.

The world has changed. So too, should your gifts. A tie? I don’t think so. Socks. No. A fruitcake? Well, maybe. If you make it… I’m more drawn to panettone, just for the record.

Now, we are all feeling how much home and the celebration of family, nesting, and carving out our smidgen of glamour means right now ~ in this time of unprecedented pandemic and protest. We crave serenity. Peace. Beauty....

Here, I will expand my previous holiday gift list to include some unique, bespoke, artful items including music, cocktail culture, books, toys, and fashion. Cultural pursuits bring us joy and brighten our moods. And we all need more of that right now.

I got to thinking, what did I treasure this past year? What resonated? And what helped get me ~ and you ~ through this wild year? I follow so many great influencers on social media. You inspire me…

Blame it on the Bossa Nova is pretty much spot-on. Music affects our mood, changes our perceptions and elevates our well-being. My research shows that music touches us in a most pronounced, literal way. According to the Max Planck, Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, “Scientists have... found that touch is perceived differently depending on the music being played. Think about that sexy Bossa Nova score and the more sensual experience when we dance or grab a lover. Music can evoke a positive group feeling, too.

Musical medics
According to Arnold Steinhardt, a founding member and first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, chamber music audiences nearly always include many health care practitioners, "Everything from podiatrists to psychiatrists, since there seems to be a mysterious and powerful underground railroad linking medicine and music. Perhaps music is an equally effective agent of healing, and doctors and musicians are part of a larger order serving the needs of mankind. Perhaps they recognize each other as brothers and sisters."

Is there a doctor in the house?
Yes. Yes, there is. If you are passionate about your music but don’t know your G Clef from your Treble Clef. Further, if you’ve been despondent about missed concerts and performances, I have The perfect, artful gift that will have you humming a new tune.

James Popik, the talented, gifted, grammy-nominated musician - and I’m so proud to say, my favorite brother, has launched a timely gift site on Etsy. 
His MusicOfNote celebrates the long lost art of seeing our music in the fine art dimension. On paper. Perfect for framing. 
It's a music premiere! It's a Garden Glamour featured debut! In fact, you can say you "heard" about Music Of Note here first!  

Besides his first posted collection, he does custom pieces. Ask James to render your favorite, such as your wedding song, your child’s first concert, a lullaby, your engagement song or your dream song or your alma mater's school song… You get the idea.

Music marks our memories.

It’s really incredible to now have the ability to see your music as a printable, frameable piece of art. This is a classic way to celebrate a memory; a love; a hope…

James’ detailed, hand-drawn musical notes and scales are intoxicating. The printed art pieces are endlessly fascinating to view on your wall, as your own personal stationary, a calendar.

And just like every art of note (did I just write, “note?!” ha.ha.) In this case, it’s a musical note. A love note.

As James explains in the Etsy shop: “Handwritten musical scores are works of art. In the age of computer printing the hand drawn musical score is more and more rare. Take a close look and see the fine details and flow and shape of the whole work. Custom works done by request.”
Order your custom musical love notes and you’ll have your friends and family “singing” your praises…

While I wave my collectible bookmarks to recommendations from my trusted sources -- there are those endless top ten lists, the “Best of” lists and more. 
My list here is personal - meaning the books I’ve selected to highlight are written by my talented friends and colleagues, and those that have enchanted me with their stories and their timeliness this past year when escape and fantasy were more salient than ever.

As an author and writer, it won’t surprise you that I read every chance I get. And it’s never enough. My ultimate fantasy would be no deadlines and just an infinite amount of time to read.
I do that on my iPhone while mobile. I read on my Kindle while kinda’ mobile and in bed. I always buy hardcover cookbooks and garden books. And almost every book in our home library is autographed by the author. I’ve always considered that a sublime luxury.

Further, I cling to Cicero’s quote: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need…”

Elevate your reading

Here’s my book recommendations:

Glenn Kenny: Shhhh, I purchased the latest of Glenn’s books best selling books for a sweetheart. You won’t believe it when I tell you that Glenn graciously and immediately agreed to send me an autographed signature that I can insert into the book’s title page, making this book even more special. (I’m not suggesting that Glenn can do this for everyone ~ the book is special enough ~ believe me.) I know and respect Glenn; I worked with him during the apex of the consumer electronics’ heyday. (Another time, ask me about dancing on the bar in Tokyo as part of an editorial press tour of manufacturing facilities… smile)

Glenn is a film and music critic. He’s been described on the book’s editorial review page by no less than Brian Koppelman and David Levien, screenwriters of Ocean's Thirteen and co creators of Billions as "... a scholar and a writer, and every bit the literary hit man that Tommy DiSimone was in real life." So exciting.

The Book of Two Ways, Jodi Picoult. Actually, I’m reading this novel now. The writing is incredible! I find myself re-reading paragraphs just to indulge in the beauty of the author’s words. And the story is about life-changing choices. And who among us hasn’t considered those kinds of questions especially in this this life-altering year?

Jordan Grace Robinson: Jordan is an artist with so much talent it doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. Here, her anthology of poem books: Like Flowers We’ll Bloom Again, and Melancholy Mey Zee remind us why we need poetry and hope. While exquisite unto themselves, Jordan’s artful offerings also include her textile designs, handbags, and more.

Richard Powers, The Overstory of Trees, I worship this book. And the author’s telling of a “climate-themed epic,” and “the wisdom of trees.” I always knew it…

The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, narrates how these majestic creatures feel, communicate and live. Technology has allowed us the first opportunity to better understand and document their heretofore secret world. The book “explains that trees use scent to talk, ‘agree’ to bloom together and take communal action against pests.” Again, I always knew it. I am in awe of these tree books (see a pattern?!); they are akin to being the Rosetta Stone of these plant sages.

Bloom, The Overthrow, Kenneth Oppel. This book is a fantastic, terrifying thriller; a plant-based sci-fi adventure. It’s also about friendship. This YA novel is for kids of all ages. And the first in a trilogy. Can’t wait for Hatch. I have it on pre-order.
Code Girls, Liza Mundy. I liked these brave and smart dames so much, I recommended the book to my 95-year old Mother, Virginia, who got her copy in large print from our library. Mother would’ve made a stellar World War II code breaker. As it is, she signed on to be a registered war nurse.RN.
Screamers, an action thriller and fantasy, authored by my friend, Frank Vizard
Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton
Barkskins, Annie Proulx 
The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

One audio book: H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” as read by the incredibly verbally animated, Kelsey Grammer.
Weather, Jenny Offill. The novel features Lizzie Bensen, a librarian, who has stabilized some family issues, who gets a request from her former mentor, Sylvia Liller who has “become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization” and climate chaos.

Speaking of Podcasts I find they are an excellent audio storytelling platform: topical, compelling, and easily digestible (no pun, as most of my Podcasts are, not surprisingly, related to food and drink.)

Podcasts work especially well when I’m knee-deep in my client’s gardens. I can multitask while listening.
I like them all the more because the storytelling in some ways can’t help but remind me of all the bedtime stories my beloved father would create and tell me…

Overall, downloads of podcasts were up nearly 50 percent at the end of October, according to Podtrac. I see no signs of this trend abating.

Some of my favorite podcasts are: Radio Cherry Bombe, Blindspot -The Road to 9/11, Modern Bar Cart, Soundstage by Playwrights Horizons, A Taste of the Past, The Sporkful, The Splendid Table. Wish I had more listening time. The stories are so great. 

I can’t leave the book category without mentioning my latest book! Indulge me, thank you.
Art of the Garnish.

Art of the Garnish is such a lovely, charning, and dynamic book; I am forever honored to have been asked to write it. Thank you, Cider Mill Press and your spectacular team.
In addition, special thanks to: Doug Young, the brilliant photographer who worked tirelessly over two days to capture some of the best images featured in the book.
Incredibly, I shot many of the photos included in the book ^:^ ; you can see our home backdrops in some of those styled cocktail compositions.
Also, I very much thank the brands and mixologists who so generously contributed their drink creations, as well as their very professional photo images.
The cocktails and their glamorous garnishes resonate with every season.

I had to update this Post after I read the feature about the elixir Chartreuse in yesterday's Times. 
I have long been intrigued by this spirit. Curiously, Chartreuse has been made by a very ascetic order of Catholic monks for more than 900 years from a recipe they perfected from an "alchemist's ancient manuscript for a perfectly concocted medicinal tonic of about 130 herbs and plants: the 'Elixir of Long Life,'" according to the Times' reporting.  Further, and astonishingly, there are only two monks who know how to make the full 130-ingredient recipe. Scary brand trust... 
I love that it's made with local herbs and plants. And oh, that vibrant green color!  And the taste is unique ~ very herbally. A bit spicy.  How to describe it?  I love this characterization: the Times notes that in "Brideshead Revisted," Anthony Blanche compares it to ingesting a rainbow. And a Baltimore bartender, Brendan Finnerty, says it tastes like Christmas in a glass." 
In that spirit of holiday cheer, I offer you a recipe gift from my Garnish book, contributed by the London-based mixologist, Valentina Carbone, at Nobu Berkeley St, London. She named it English Rose. The featured ingredient is the magical Chartreuse. Perfect for a Christmas in a Glass!

  • 2 oz Gin
  • 1 oz rose simple syrup
  • 1 oz yuzu or lemon juice
  • Barspoon of Chartreuse 
  • Slice of Lemon, lime, grapefruit 
  • 1 Strawberry, 2 Blueberries, 2 Raspberries

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. 
Strain into a cocktail glass. (I prefer this drink in a Coupe)

Garnish ~ Finishing Touches:
Rose petals.  The rose petals are also medicinal.  Rose petals are mildly sedative, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-parasitic. They're also mild laxatives, a good supportive tonic for the heart, and great for lowering cholesterol.
A big plus for this garnish? The Red Roses is a symbol of love... 

If you would like a signed copy as a Holiday gift, please email or DM me and I will send you an autographed book.
Which brings me to:

Cocktail Culture:
Clearly, we are all spending more time at home and so what better pursuit than to embellish our cocktail carts and bars and cosmopolitan cocktail-inspired home designs?
Did you view or participate in my Spring Facebook Live cocktail parties. If not, you can see the garden-to-glass cocktail parties on the Garden Glamour Facebook page

For some classic cocktail culture, think Nick and Nora and their equally iconic, martini-swilling pooch, the loyal Asta in Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man” series that chronicles the boozy detectives.
Then, there’s the classic Topper film starring Cary Grant (later a TV series).
George and Marion Kerby ~ a rich and reckless couple are ghosts who emerge from their car wreck (see, drinking and driving don’t mix) determined to free their friend, Cosmo Topper, a bored bank president who buys George’s flashy sports car after the accident. Soon he meets the ghosts of his dead friends, and immediately they begin to liven up his dull life with drinking and dancing, flirting and fun.
Trust me, it’s a classic adventure, filled with boozy antics. Shake up a cocktail or two and watch the film - it’s a perfect pairing. And it will transport you from the pandemic.

What to sip those fabulous cocktails in? For you and/or that cocktail-loving aficionado on your list, look to It’s Not Just Cocktails. I’ve happily purchased their vintage barware and decor that celebrates the cocktail culture. Available directly, on Etsy or Pinterest, you can even find a superb collection of curated cocktail glasses to delight every drink ~ even those hard-to-find, Nick and Nora glasses!

Earlier this year, I wrote and posted on the blog, How to Curate and Style a Home Bar Cart: The Essentials and Glamorous Accessories. It was extremely popular and I thank all of you who read, shared, and gave feedback. I raise my glass to you.
Since that posting, I added a Le Bois Lélė Swizzle Stick to my cocktail at-home bar collection on the recommendation of one of the key contributing mixologists to my book, Art of the Garnish.
He is Los Angeles’ Josh Suchan, Ice and Alchemy. Josh is not only incredibly talented and knowledgeable but fun ~ and a very good teacher ~ with abundant style and respect for the art of the cocktail.
When Covid first landed, he quickly pivoted to offer virtual online cocktail classes.
I immediately signed on.
Bill and I loved our sessions. Josh’s online classes are fun and the next best thing to sitting at your local watering hole.
Honestly, while we are so blessed to have a truly gorgeous home bar, entered by a secret door to our downstairs speakeasy, that was designed by moi after ones I’d seen ~ and dreamed of ~ after I visited Havana. (I’ll showcase it soon in a Post.)
And now, Lucky you! Because you can gift a subscription to Ice & Alchemy Zoom lessons. 
Or treat yourself.
I promise you that your Ice & Alchemy cocktail “classes” will be hands-on instructive and oh-so-fun. You can ask as many questions as you want.
Further, it’s a real pleasure to meet the other “students”/aficionados on Zoom. You can talk to them too. Next best thing to sidling up to the neighborhood bar.
It’s even fun getting the ingredients ready in anticipation. Josh sends you an ingredients and prep list beforehand.
You can sign on via Josh’s Instagram: @ice_and_alchemy or online at Eventbrite, as well as the link I provided above. You can order a subscription for dates and times that suit you and/or your giftee. It’s an extraordinary value. You will be richly rewarded.

No matter your home space, an at-home bar design offers a glitzy fantasy and a sense that you’re not just filling a wine glass or pouring a drink at home. A kind of counterintuitive cocktail…
I believe the point is that you should consider a space that allows you to indulge in the art of the making of the drink vs. or as opposed to just pouring or having a drink. It’s more about the experience..

The cinema references I noted above made the cocktail hour glamorous just because the setting was sigh-worthy; the process of shaking, stirring and sipping - over elevated cocktail conversation, of course.
The glamour of the accessories, and the accompanying conversation made the time special.

As I note in my Art of the Garnish book, cocktails not only have their own “time of day” but their own “rooms” and furniture, including the cocktail table, cocktail chair, couch, and carts.

So what if your cocktail bar is a repurposed closet?
The bar cart can be everyone’s go-to home decor essential now.
There are a myriad of looks to suit every budget.
Gifting one is, well, so very thoughtful this year… The carts range in price from modest to monied.

Further, there are more bar accessories than you can shake a cocktail shaker at.
Please ask me if you have a specific question, after reading the May Post.

Don’t overlook one of the best gifts ever and always, including: bottles of wine, spirits, bitters, and simple syrups. My list of recommendations on this include so many brands ~ most often sourced from local, artisanal makers and the spirit makers I adore. MacchuPisco is at the top of my list. I recommend Modern Bar Cart for a curated collection of mixers and tools. And they have a great Podcast ~ I was honored they scheduled me as a featured guest! (see above.)

Zoom Fashion
This is the year that’s allowed most of our others to “zee” us on Zoom from just the waist up.

While I did buy a few pairs of shoes early in the pandemic, I figured that shoes, as much as I love them, could be put on hold until after May (Given the early reports, I thought we’d be out of the coronavirus’ worst times by September…)

But now, I’m past that kind of schedule and thinking tops. Whether it’s “Tops” or “Blouses” or Shirts, I think this is the year to give you or someone you love a fabulous Zoom-worthy Top.

One that can take you from business casual to friends and family time. Please, please say goodbye to sweats. Never a good fashion choice.
As a fashion enthusiast, and former fashion careerist; (I earned my AA at the American College of Lucerne in Switzerland. Please indulge me when I share that it’s one of life’s true pleasures to still be friends with this group of special, fashion-talented men and women.)
I was a Bergdorf Goodman buyer. I owned and managed a boutique. I still ooze fashion ~ even if much of my wardrobe is now yoga and gardening looks. (wink)

Back to the fashion on Facebook Live or Facetime or Zoom because this is how we live and communicate now, I recommend flattering, non-revealing tops/shirts/blouses (no cleavage, boys and girls, unless it’s your Covid Cocktail friend’s Happy Hour), and at that, a look that your ringlight will amplify.

I’m partial to the romanticism of Ralph Lauren. I’m smitten by lace blouses and tops right now. I also favor off-shoulder, or traditional button down shirts that are very ironed or organically dry-cleaned, turtle-necks and mock turtlenecks, v-necks, and one of my favorites: the cowl neck.

Go big on makeup! And your hairstyle. Mitigate the severe pulled back ponytails or man-bun. 
Go for a true hairstyle. A professional approach. For men, you can indulge in that facial hair look that you’ve been considering. Ladies have tried some colorful hair colors (pink?! blue!) if your profession doesn’t frown on it. Let’s all just have some fun with this moment. Trial the look, please, before you Zoom :) 

And lipstick for Zoom is an indulgence we love, especially as face coverings all but obliterates the chance to embrace one of life’s true pleasures.

While you undoubtedly have your favorite brand and color, I’m just all supportive and giggly about SHESPOKE, a makeup brand that “represents the freedom, playfulness and joy that comes from using makeup as a tool of self-expression.”
We all feel like we’re that kid again, playing dress up. 
Plus, the best part is SHESPOKE creates a custom, one-of-a-kind lipstick color. It’s so you!

Earlier this year, pre-pandemic, I was sent a pair of amazing 4 carat Diamond Veneer stud earrings. 
I confess that I’ve pretty much worn them every day since then.

Most everyone can agree with the maker, Diamond Veneer, that many women (and some men!) stay away from wearing Cubic Zirconia jewelry because CZ is so white it looks too fake. But Diamond Veneer solved that issue with a revolutionary process of treating cubic zirconia with a veneer of carbon diamond particles, crystallizing around the entire stone, which results in a flawless “G” color on the diamond color scale! Now you can wear diamonds every day with no worries about the faux. I appreciate that I can wear them gardening and working and not worry. They are beautiful.
The CZ earrings are a perfect stocking stuffer, too.

Games and Toys
Home games ~ think Monopoly, yoyos, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head. Did you know that Mr. Potato Head was the first toy advertised on television and, not coincidentally, it sold a million kits in a year? At 98 cents. And you supplied the potato...

At this point in the pandemic, I think we all know that Jigsaws are good for stay-at-home fun. Early in March, I was considering what activity would be best for my Mother. Learning Bridge? Too other-dependent, I determined. Then, shazam. I thought of jigsaw puzzles. We ordered a few modest ones online and purchased a few at the local pharmacy. I thought I was the lone wolf on this. It wasn’t till May that news reports were touting the overwhelming popularity and increasing shortage of jigsaw puzzles! I now see why. It can be a solitary or shared activity,

But did you know, there’s a dopamine hit every time you put puzzle pieces together.“

Could puzzles be better for you than CBD?

My Mother has become our “Puzzle Princess.”

Jigsaws are also a kind of art. We’ve framed some of Mother’s recent puzzle completions
We’ve alo appreciated getting re-purposed puzzles from neighbors and my garden clients .
My niece Lauren has gifted us artful puzzles that when completed, we’ve framed. We also love the the special ones from Rifle Paper Company And Ravensburger’s Krypt Series

Stocking Stuffers:
Straight away, please consider seeds.
So many sources were completely sold out by April this year due to you know what…
It seemed everyone wanted or needed herbs and vegetables,so for Mother’s Day, I decided to put together a gift package that folks could order from me and I’d send via the Post or hand deliver.

Therefore, in anticipation, and In order to avoid any disappointing lack of seeds in the spring, why not gift this most popular, sought-after home item now? You can source from:
John Scheepers, Grow at Seed Balls

There was also an acute lack of garlic. We shared some of our treasure with some garden clients we love. We have always sourced our variety of garlic from the Maine Potato Lady. The best source.

And I know you love food (especially if you’ve read this far) so if you are a foodie in or near the Chapel Hill, Greensboro area in the Tar Heel state, or have family there, be sure to order Holiday meals from the award-winning Beau Catering You will not only delight in the “Beau Show” but will also sink into a scrumptious food coma … and resource.

In my last Holiday Gift Guide post, I noted the happy note cards with seeds embedded in them ready for planting, from Hydrangea Home. What could be better?

And then, from KinkaNYC I got these incredible seed-bearing Lollipops!

If you didn’t know, KinKa curates THE best plant, food and art gifts.
After receiving such an extraordinary gift package, including the seed-bearing lollipops, I fainted with pure joy. Pick me up off the floor.
Sourced from Amborella Organics, the treat is to enjoy the simple pleasure of the lollipop - we all surely need more of this childhood pleasure now.
Then you plant the biodegradable stick in the soil and watch your garden grow!
I will be joyfully growing marigolds from the peach and marigold pop candy, sage from the sage and marshmallow (plus I’ll be harvesting my homegrown marshmallow root!), Baby BLue Eyes hibiscus from the vanilla and hibiscus pop, and the favorite: basil from the strawberry and basil treat. The plant-based ingredients live on long after the last lick. #EatPlantLove

I hope you enjoy and appreciate my heartfelt and personal list of suggested, curated gifts for this most unusual yet blessed holiday..

I sincerely wish you and your loved ones a healthy, safe, holiday season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Home Decor & Curated Gift Ideas to Make The Holidays Special & Easy on the Budget

Nesting at home for the Holidays doesn’t need to feel like you're being deprived.  

It should most assuredly feel like you’re pampering yourself ~ treating beleaguered you and your family to those little luxuries that you may have overlooked this past year due to the barrage of never ending, relentless mal.  

This year, give yourself permission to revive long-held cultural or familial holiday traditions.  

And start new ones to fuel your own hygge - create a comfort and style that suits your spirit.  You’ll look back in years to come happy that you threw off those “onesies” or what I’ve read are a preponderance to wear “sweat pants” or pajamas (please say it ain’t so).  

**Years ago, I was asked to speak to incarcerated women about going for that first job interview and my counsel to them was to look good. When you feel and look your best, you can’t help but ooze  confidence. So start dreaming good thoughts.

I suggest you start with a personal kind of advent wreath for you ~ and your family.  

To get you started I thought I’d share a bit of background about what exactly is an Advent Calendar and why you’d want one.  

The history of Advent Calendars dates to 1851, Germany.  There, a lucky Gerhard Lang’s mother (why she doesn’t get her own moniker reference besides, Mother?!) 

Anyway, that was then.  And Mrs. Lang/Mother ~  wanted her son to experience that sense of anticipation that only the joy of Christmas can bring on. 

Mrs. Lang must surely be respected as one of the forerunners of a kind of Martha Stewart genius and creative DIYers when she crafted a calendar with 24 candles - one for each day leading up to Christmas. 

Sleuthing the history of the Advent Calendar, I found this reference at The Cottage Journal, that chronicled how young Gerhard’s Mother worked more than a Christmas miracle: “Lang grew up to operate the Reichhold & Lang printing company where he printed the first Advent cardboard calendar with 24 little pictures. A few years later, the company printed the first calendar with the little doors that everyone loves to open.” 

Advent Calendar

So three cheers to good parenting and inspiring the children to become artful entrepreneurs based on their family experience.  Who knows what future CEOs you might jump start… 

Today, you can certainly use your creative juices to craft a personal, meaningful Advent Calendar for the countdown to the big day, and to foster the “expectation journey” of better things to come…

How can you make an Advent Calendar? 

I’ve seen shoe holders artfully repurposed, with embroidered “days;” paper ones with doors that open to service or acts of kindness that we can perform. 

Consider making or getting a calendar with LED lights (safer than those original candles) that you can open each day. OurWarm Christmas Advent Calendar for Kids, 2020 24 Days Felt  Christmas Tree Countdown Calendar Flip Pattern and Number for Home Holiday  Christmas Decorations: Home & Kitchen

There are felt calendars that allow kids to easily reach for that star at the top of the tree.  

I found a font of possibilities on Etsy. I’m partial to the wine, chocolate, and book-themed creations. Don’t forget a calendar for your pet! STAGDESIGN offers dog treats. 

And who wouldn’t love a Santa “Claws” treat for your cat? Lily’s Kitchen offers lots of tasty feline treats. And for dogs, too. 

You can also purchase an advent calendar - I found ones that are true to the Victorian pedigree as well as more modern ones.

Plants as Gifts

While those of us living in zones that (used to) bring snow, (now, not so much… ) it is nevertheless a time to stow the trowel till spring.  But there are lots of garden-inspired gifts to give to your family and friends. Or gift to you! 

The quintessential holiday plant to gift or decorate with is the poinsettia. Today, this pretty plant has more to offer than the traditional red bracted Christmas stalwarts.  There are white, pink, spotted, and more color nuances than a box of crayons.

I keep my white poinsettias front and center in a lovely composition all year long.  

But as ubiquitous as the poinsettia plant is, its history is rather murky. I remember sharing the story when a group of us were clutching our hearts at the incredible poinsettia Christmas display at Longwood Gardens.  I thought most folks knew all about the plant coming from Mexico and being introduced to the US by our first ambassador to Mexico, a Mr. Poinsett. Yet, recently, the subject came up again on our Slack conversation with fellow NYBG landscape design alumni group.  So, I figure this Christmas story needs re-telling! 

According to sources, the poinsettia plant was native to Mexico;  the poinsettia was used by the Aztecs as a source for purple dye and medicine for fevers, according to the American Phytopathological Society. It was introduced to the United States in 1828, when the first American ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, noticed the luscious red plants flourishing there.

Being an avid horticulturist, Poinsett sent some of the plants home to his greenhouses in Greenville, South Carolina. He also shared the plants with fellow growers. 

But poinsettias as we know them today, became associated with Christmas thanks to the savvy marketing of a German immigrant family, the Eckes. The family settled in California, in the 1900s. Albert Ecke noticed wild poinsettias growing along roadsides in the winter, thought they would make good Christmas flowers and set about growing the plants as an off-season crop.

The true marketing came into play in the 1960s, when Paul Ecke Jr. began to give poinsettias away to TV hosts such as Johnny Carson and Bob Hope. He also managed to incorporate his plants in women’s magazines’ Christmas photo shoots. This media savvy caused poinsettias to be accepted as a necessary holiday decoration.

The Eckes had a monopoly on the poinsettia industry until the 1990s, thanks to a technique that caused their poinsettias to look much fuller than competitors’.  In 2002, Congress passed an act that made Dec. 12 National Poinsettia Day in honor of Paul Ecke Jr.’s contributions to the poinsettia industry. Dec. 12 was chosen because it’s the day Joel Poinsett died in 1851.

Lovely plant story, isn’t it? 

Seed This 

Closer to home, you can take seeds from your own garden to gift. 

Gather the seeds from the plants you’re bringing in or pruning back for the winter. 

I was the lucky recipient of some poppy seeds from a dear garden design client and friend, Gina & Ted.  I, in turn, gifted some of the lode to my brother, the musician, James Popik.

As an auxiliary aside, the plant lore of planting poppy seeds is to sow them on or near Veteran’s Day to honor our military heroes, and the beautiful flowers will bloom on or near Memorial Day, to honor those fallen heroes who died for our freedom…

Poppies can also be a symbol of imagination, messages delivered in dreams, beauty, success, luxury, extravagance, and even peace in death. 

The poppy has long symbolized peace, death, or even sleep. 

The Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians connected poppies with sleep because of the sedative nature of its sap. In particular, the Greeks related the flower to Morpheus, the god of sleep.  Remember the Wizard of Oz scene where Dorothy and her friends were lulled to sleep just before getting oh-so-close to Oz?

Don’t have seeds to share? 

Consider bulbs as Garden gifts. You can tie up some bulbs in a fetching bag and pretty ribbons or plant them in a pretty bowl or now to gift later this Spring bulbs can be “forced” indoors for an intoxicating container display.  Especially those fragrant, Paper White Narcissus.  I adore them.  


And who better to get your bulbs from than my go-to bulb source: John Scheepers. 

I love them; as do my garden design clients who almost weep with joy at the beauty of the spring bulbs.  

I also have suggested to those Yankees who’ve migrated south to live and then bemoan they can't enjoy their revered spring bulbs bloom displays to think about potting up those glorious bulbs in containers, a la forced bulbs. And in terrariums, too. 

Here’s the Scheepers’ bulb experts tips  

Can’t get better advice anywhere.  

As I’ve noted in the past and even with my NYBG landscape design alumni community, the dedicated pros at Scheepers are completely dedicated to your success.  

Oh, and Margaret Roach was a great comfort to me a year ago when there was an inexplicable bulb debacle with one of my clients.  God Bless, Margaret. She shared her and Martha’s challenges with the same bulb… Ask me… 

If you don’t already subscribe to her Away to Garden or her podcast ~ please do sign on and gift to a garden friend.  It’s engaging, educational, and downright “dirty” fun that we can all relate to.  Margaret is most knowledgeable. And generous. 

Well, I hope I don’t need to put too fine a point on the fact that we are all spending more time indoors, so let’s just move on to the happier, healthier, living-well tip that indoor plants refresh and clean your indoor space. Plants heal us. Period. 

Further, indoor plants are so very easy to grow. Even in low-light situations. Caring for plants in a soul-enriching experience, especially for seniors. 

Want to be a plant parent? 

Here are a few recommendations for easy-care plants (Yes, even those of you who swear you have a brown thumb. Brown is the color of soil, after all. So you’re good!) 

  • Ferns ~ there is an almost limitless variety of beautiful ferns to suit your style and decor. The only fern I have found that is at all finicky is that diva, the Maidenhair.

Otherwise, you can expect big rewards growing this family of green beauties. 

I love my Lemon Button Fern. 

And i find it so delightful and curious why so many common names of ferns are named for animals and birds: Rabbit, Crocodile, Kangaroo, and the cool-looking StagHorn Fern:

as well as the Bird’s Nest Fern. 

I grow many Christmas and Boston Ferns, too. They add so much to a room’s decor.  I often pot up diminutive ferns or succulents in re-purposed “pots,” including tea cups, crystal cordial glasses, and votive candle holders to use in a variety of tablescape designs.  

  • Pathos/Devil’s Ivy or Silver Pathos is another easy-sneazy plant to gift and grow

  • Right now we could all use more peace ~ so growing the storied Peace Lily feels so right 

 Calming Grace Peace Lily Plant – Beaudry Flowers

  • My Polka Dot plant is just too cuteHippo® Pink Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya 'Hippo Pink') in  Denver Arvada Wheat Ridge Golden Lakewood Colorado CO at Echter's Nursery &  Garden Center

  • Heart-Leaf Philodendron - sometimes referred to as a Sweetheart Plant because of its leaf shape

 Heart Leaf Philodendron - Easiest House Plant to Grow - 4" Pot - Live  Plant: Grocery & Gourmet Food

Where to get your indoor plants?

If you don’t grow your own plants, I suggest you garner plants from these, my revered, superior horticultural, floral designers and herbalists.  I love having a network of trusted plant artists, don't you?

  • Kinka for plants, garden art, floral design, edible gift sets and more.  This is truly a unique and bespoke source that you can call a friend… I do. Kinka is owned and operated with TLC by an incredible husband and wife team ~ both artisans. He a fine artist, she a garden and floral artist as well as a ceramic creator and so much more. The authenticity and beauty of their collections is unsurpassed.
  • And then there is the unique greeting cards that I was introduced to by my Homegrown friend, Nancy Twardowski-Vallarella ~ a food writer at Edible, her "What's Cookin? Long Island" and more, and in turn, her Northport, Long Island friend at Hydrangea Home offers a variety of rich, detailed, botanical art cards (along with lots of other curated, homemade, and irresistible artful things from across the country. Plus they ship everywhere. The lucky recipients of the cards I sent were nothing less than gobsmacked. Plant a card! Double the plant love.

  • Julia Rosa Artistic Floral Decorator ~ from fashion to floral design to edibles to dreamy gift baskets.  

  • Greenery Unlimited. I met (re-met) one of the owners, Rebecca, last year at the annual  Metro Hort “Plant-O-Rama” and not only discovered we worked at BBG at the same time, but upon learning my Art of the Garnish book had been published, she invited me to present a garden-to-glass workshop and book-signing at their shop. While that never happened due to the corona virus’ March madness, the Greenery remains a fabulous source for plants and accordingly, “They believe that bringing the natural world into your home, office, or outdoor space will increase your quality of life.”  Amen. 

  • The Sill describes themselves as “a modern plant destination for the modern plant lover.” They offer a constellation of plants for every plant dream.  I love their plant humor too ~ welcoming you to their Plant Parenhood!™

Stocking Stuffers for the Moment

And I sure hope you’re thinking globally and locally when it comes to giving a Membership to your local botanical garden. These cultural institutions and museums of plants offer more than just beauty. They curate plant exhibitions, they sponsor scientific and environmental research; they offer incredible online courses aplenty to choose from. My short list from which to gift a membership includes: The New York Botanical Garden, the Mt. Cuba Center, Virginia’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (where one of my dear cousins got married), and the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden. I also belong to the Garden Conservancy. Your membership here helps to preserve and celebrate America’s garden art and gardening traditions.” I’m paraphrasing a bit from their mission, but you get the idea. I have a weakness for botanical gardens that began their life as pleasure gardens and you can’t get better than Longwood Gardens and Chanticleer. Membership in these incredible institutions will give you back culture, education, and beauty. Same for National and local art museums. I just renewed my Metropolitan Museum of Art membership. You don’t need me to remind you that your membership goes a long way to keeping our unique cultural values and sustaining our artists.

Up Next: More gift ideas for the bar, fashion and tablescapes. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dream in Color: Fall Planting Tips for a Technicolor Spring

As we headed into autumn here in our temperate Zone 7 with visions of harvest and pumpkins and longer, cooler nights, it was also time to think about the spring garden. That’s right! Just like a fashion-forward seasonal advance, gardens so too require us to think ahead for style. And just like those fashion magazines, good garden design publications and the growers' & nursery catalogs arrived offering their “Look Book” temptations. 

There is a kaleidoscope of dizzying Crayola® colors: - oh, the luscious lipstick reds, rich, royal purples, sunshine yellows, and sunset oranges - enough to set your heart aflutter with desire. But selecting the best or optimum spring bulbs is not for the faint of heart. So many choices. Too much mystery.

For my precious garden design clients, I do the heavy lifting: determining a variety of bulbs for their height, texture, bloom size, color, time of bloom. We want to enjoy the compositions from very early spring though to the early summer.

I will share with you a few of these planting guides so that you can get an idea of what to plant; what combinations work together and when and how to plant. So that when winter's beauty fades, you can embrace the elegant, glamorous, glowing, somewhere-over-the-rainbow of the spring bulb colors. And blooming floral art. Think of frilly or star-shaped or dainty or blowsy. Plus, did you know you can eat the tulip petals? They are terrific as a cocktail garnish or in salad or as you please.

Garden Art with Bulbs
Perhaps it’s my Dutch ancestry (my mother’s maiden name is Voorhees - truncated from Van Voorhees. Or being mesmerized the first time I saw the L’horloge fleurie or Geneva’s botanical timekeeper/Flower Clock in Switzerland where I went to school.

Regardless of the genesis, I have always loved garden art using the stunning, visual impact of bulbs. Who can resist those naturalized, lovely daffodil drifts in larger gardens spaces and along country roads? I am attracted to that look but with more variety. As if Mother Nature waved her magical spring rainbow wand and, not unlike pixie dust, the bulbs pop their array of brilliant architecture and sometimes frilly heads to dazzle the landscape and our imaginations.

Instinctually, I feel many homeowners don’t utilize bulbs enough in their gardens. Oh, perhaps a few lonely hyacinths or clusters of tulips - but that’s not the look I dream of for me or my Duchess Designs garden clients.

Overall, the design philosophy I envision using bulbs has always been one that incorporates “the genius loci” or sense of place. By way of further explanation, genus loci incorporates the concept that a locale contains ecologically and spiritually unique qualities -- and that and should be infused into the garden design.

The possibilities for designing your garden with bulbs are endless and as unique as every home and garden lover ~ whether your style is Victorian to Contemporary.

When to Plant Bulbs
Bulb growers often recommend planting when the crickets stop chirping. I love that admonishment. So intuitive. So attuned to Mother Nature’s calendar or clock.

The other big thing to consider this year is to order asap - if you or your garden designer has not already done so.

Why? For one, the Coronavirus has impacted the world of gardens in a big way (nothing is off limits.). I learned from my suppliers that the pandemic has curtailed so many of the container ships from the Netherlands, and the Dutch are the foremost growers of our spring bulbs.

The other coronavirus-related factor is two-fold: existing homeowners with a yard are amping up their gardens. And then there are those folks who have purchased a country house separate from their city residence and/or those who have sold their city places to relocate to suburbia or the country for the foreseeable future - primarily for their children. And all these folks want their gardens to be more of an oasis. A restful, peaceful, beautiful exterior design they can enjoy because if you have to stay at home and shelter in place - they want their homestead to be as beguiling, blissful and gorgeous as any paradise here on earth - a place of their dreams…

Bulbs not only awaken all our senses just when we need it most after winter, they also transition us to the start of summer and the blooming of seasonal perennials and colorful annuals and edible.

How to Achieve a Stunning Bulb Garden Design?
From my garden design experience, it requires not only that genus loci/sense of place, but the considerations of height, texture, and bloom time; not to mention complementary color, and -- fragrance.

Choose bulbs that bloom in early spring - some such as the Galanthus

come up through the snow in March and then select some from mid spring,

with the early May into June crescendoing the show. It’s often said that gardens and their plants are the slowest of the performing arts! And nowhere is that more pronounced than in the spring bulb garden with its four acts.

It’s a wave of colorful blooms that never fails to astonish.

When choosing bulbs for their color, look through the catalogs and circle those that call out to you. What will work with your favorite colors? You can also take the color wheel and see the colors on the opposite side. These are the Complementary Colors.

For example, I very much like the Mediterranean mix of purples or blues with orange and yellows. Mixes hot and cooler colors.

I also tend toward the cooler shades of pink, rose, lilac, and salmons.

There is a color shade, tint, tone or hue that you can select to enhance the overall effect. Blend the various varieties to work together as a whole. And with each other.

See how I chose these two bulb companions ~ the yellow has a fuschia border at the edging -- how does Mother nature do that?! - and the yellow stamen

I also lean toward the multiple bloomers - many on one stem.

And the tulips that look for all the world like mini peonies ~ my favorite flower.

Another key thing to note when ordering bulbs is that you need many bulbs. Multiples of say 25, 50, 100, or more - depending on the garden space. Don’t be shy. You need the quantity to make a visual impact. You won’t regret ordering the larger amount.

When planning your design and choosing your selections be mindful of the amount of sun and/or shade in the garden beds where you are planting.

Also consider that in the early to mid spring, the trees are not yet leafed out on the tall and understory so there is more light than you might think is there as you gaze out onto a late summer/early autumn landscape.

How to Plant Bulbs
Pay attention to your soil. If you don’t know what kind of soil you have, do a soil test. I can help you with this. Soil is paramount to every planting!

Flower bulbs need to be planted in a neutral pH soil. That means no acidic or soil amendments, according to John Scheepers.

As I’ve noted, you can’t order enough quantity of bulbs.

For me and my clients I do a landscape design rendering in order to determine the quantity for the space. I take into account the spacing and the time of bloom.

Generally speaking if you are doing it yourself, Scheepers recommends:
The square footage of a planting site is determined by multiplying the width by the length. For example, a bed that is 5' wide and 20' long would be 100 square feet, for which one would need 400 Tulip bulbs. If there is other plant material in the planting site, you can estimate the space involved and decrease the square footage proportionately.

And don’t separate the bublets from the Mother!

I’m often asked, which end is up when planting. The Pros’ answer:
Place each bulb firmly in the soil with the pointed end up, and the basal plate, or root base, down. The general rule of thumb is to cover the top of each Tulip bulb with 3" to 4" of soil.

Me and my team of horticulturists add cayenne pepper to the plantings in the fall to deter critters from digging up and again in the spring to deter the rabbits from munching on these delectable beauties. I learned this horticultural tip from the scion of the Tabasco family!

These are a Few of my Favorite Bulbs
I am forever smitten with the tall, globe alliums. It’s an enduring love affair! In blue, purple, and white. A favorite garden design client and her family refer to them as puff balls. Indeed.

I love them from the time they begin to emerge:

right through their rather Sputnik-looking spent and dried stage.

Use many of the spring blooms fresh and dried in cut flower arrangements (I know, I know - it’s so hard to cut these beauties from the garden!) as part of your tablescape.

You can also use spring bulb petals as garnishes in your cocktails.

This past spring, I showcased how to use tulip petals, for example, as a pretty and delicious garden-to-glass garnish on my weekly Garden Glamour cocktail parties as part of a salute to my book, Art of the Garnish and a sheltering in place (SIP) coronavirus pivot. The tulip petals taste not unlike a sweet onion, not surprisingly.

I also am drawn to the bulbs that have their own fashion extras, such as dots or a contrasting, two-tone color. Many emerge one shade and then like a chameleon, transform into another shade. Fascinating performances.

In terms of height, place the taller bulbs in the back of the bed and tier the shorter ones to the front.

Here, is a spring bulb composition I designed for a favorite garden client, Gigi and Ted:

Early spring and later spring:

Notice the colors and the structure.

Remember to select bulbs that not only look good with the other bulbs but also complement the flowering spring shrubs. Here, the tulips work so swell with the viburnum and the pink petals from the Kwanzan cherry tree!

And white lights up the garden and plays so well with all the other plant companions.

I can’t resist the frilly Parrot tulips. Look at this seasonal cloak as it comes up

and then later - is so glamorous when flat out pooped from the gala!

Take your time to truly enjoy your spring garden. Look here how Gina & Ted set out a happy yellow table to sit at and perhaps sip some spring wine or a cup of coffee there for an immersive garden experience.

And to punch up the interest around tree beds, use the Muscari or grape hyacinth with abandon. They are small but mighty when it comes to color - blue, periwinkle, purple, raspberry, white, plus two-toned. And their greens pop back up in the autumn! What a loyal acrobatic performer.

I chose Muscari armeniacum to underplant under trees - using the Delft Blue shades of light blue to purple.

Plan your garden design now for a spectacular spring blossom show. Order your selections right away.

Hopefully I’ve inspired you to create and/or add to your bulb garden planting.

I order most all of the bulbs for me and my clients from the very reputable John Scheepers Bulb Company ~ a family owned company for more than a century.

They not only offer superior bulbs but their customer service is second to none.

This past spring the CEO of the company called me personally not once but twice to address a question and issue ~ and took care of the resolution, as well. You don’t find that very often… Their bulbs are clean and beautiful.

I do need to source other suppliers when Scheepers is out of stock (see above) and have found some good sources on Etsy. Gotta be plucky as a garden designer in these times.

If you would like to receive my spring garden bulb plant lists I researched and designed for me and my clients, I’d be happy to share with you. Just email me or request here and I will provide it to you.

Truly ~ Garden Glamour.