Friday, November 22, 2019

All Aboard! NYBG’s Annual Holiday Train Show® Powers Up Saturday, 11/23

The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show® opens to the public Saturday, November 23. This annual winter magic tradition weaves something old/something new, excitement, education, architecture, history, art, culture, and of course plants - to elicit astonishment and enchantment. This year, marking the 28th for this much-loved holiday event, the Garden pays homage to another urban oasis - showcasing Central Park—the most popular urban park in America.

At Tuesday’s Sneak Preview for the Press, we were given an overview and a guided tour through the new exhibit, led by Karen Daubman, Associate Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Engagement, NYBG and Laura Busse Dolan, President and CEO, Applied Imagination. Laura’s father Paul Busse is the original creator and craftsman of the plant-based art exhibit.

Greeting us and kicking off the press conference was NYBG’s president, Carrie Rebora Barratt, a garden glamour icon who never disappoints. Tuesday, Barratt was wearing Comme des Garçons.
It’s tempting to suggest that Barrett and her style always strike me as gilding the lily. I love it!
NYBG President Carrie Barratt 

The press had been huddling, broadcaster cameras set up and ready,

while tasting treats from Bronx Night Market. The red velvet miniature cupcakes with their rosette flower icing from Cozi Treats were perfect, as was her creme de brulee. Thank you, Sheri.

While Barrett spoke, we could hear the trains running on their tracks in the room next door. It’s important to note that the Train Show is a very immersive, transporting experience that tickles the senses. It also needs to be mentioned that the Train Show is not in the Conservatory, as usual. It’s regrettable because nothing can top being in a greenhouse. In the winter. With its incredible oxygen boost and lighting magic and sense of mystery. Yet alas, the Conservatory is under construction so the Garden has built a series of rooms in front of the iconic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

You have to suspend the feeling that this is too akin to a mall holiday presentation. Don’t be tempted. I recommend looking at the displays - really looking, No one, nowhere - can create these kinds of displays — all made from plant parts! Once you grasp that element and embrace the fact that these compositions are made from birch bark and limbs (more than 500), lotus pods, fungi, acorns, cinnamon sticks and more - not to mention the landscape design of moss (more than 200 boxes of North Carolina moss), berries, ferns, conifers, waterfalls, red-twigged dogwood, and hollies to mimic nature - you will be smitten - and transported. Of course, so will the kids.

This year, there are more than two thousand plants in the exhibit - double previous years because they needed to accommodate the new space and were not creating the composition with the benefit of the existing Conservatory plants that are part of the permanent collections.

It was pointed out that the buildings are not constructed on a one-to-one scale but rather from a perspective - in order to create a much more experiential approach. That is artful design …. The Imagination team researches the history of a chosen building, secures dimensions to render the building in plant parts, then builds the base, continues the embellishments and architectural details.

The show begins with a video on two screens in two separate theaters, right off the queuing area, where you can park strollers, etc. The video’s give you an idea of how the artists at Applied Imagination research and create these plant-based wonders.
Video Theater looking into the exhibit beyond
Then, you step into the miniature metropolis.
The first one you see is the NYBG Haupt Conservatory. Seems fitting.
Overall, there are nearly 200 landmark displays in the show.

There are compositions at three levels, low, mid or eye level and above - with trains traversing and zipping about seemingly everywhere. In the Holiday Train Show, more than 25 G-scale model trains and trolleys hum along nearly a half-mile of track

All the featured buildings have labels, citing the year it was built, the address, and in the case of misguided civic management where the building was torn down, such as Penn Station in its glory days, the date of demolition is noted. And when you think about it, the long-lost landmarks are the secret sauce of the show. You get to see what no longer exists… Every borough of New York is represented, in addition to the Hudson Valley.

I love the whimsy of Coney Island (and never having visited, the composition makes it a place of dreams):

And the otherworldly charm of the Hudson River School and one of its leading painters,

Frederic Edwin Church’s home: Olana:

The TWA Building is getting its due of architectural love of late and here at the Train Show, the gateway to flight transport is a standout. It was pointed out that the roof is a giant coco lobo plant!

Look at this cherub on the parapet of Kykuit:

Look at Macy’s department store awnings - made from gourds; the Macy’s logo made from barley and red pepper flakes:

Look at Yankee Stadium - it has its own corner - and Thomas the Tank runs circles around the stadium!

The new replicas of Central Park’s architectural treasures, including Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace, the Naumburg Bandshell, the Dairy, and two graceful pedestrian bridges are along one side of the show - with graceful, lacy, white birch branches as backdrop. While lovely in the day, I can only image the twinkling dream at night…

The landmarks are arrayed in a tableau with existing Central Park replicas in NYBG’s collection, including the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater and the Old Bandstand.

Enjoy this video of Central Park at the Garden:

In addition, famous New York buildings that are either next to the park or just inside it are on display, including the Plaza Hotel, the Metropolitan Museum of Art,

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
And the Rose Center for Earth and Space, part of the American Museum of Natural History.

By the way, all the “windows” in the landmark buildings are made from poured resin.

NYBG provides this interesting background to the Central Park Landmarks:
“The Belvedere Castle was built as a Victorian “folly” on the highest natural elevation in the park, offering visitors a “beautiful view”—the English translation of its Italian name. Completed in 1872, the turreted castle includes Gothic, Romanesque, Chinese, Moorish, and Egyptian motifs. In June 2019, the Belvedere reopened after a 15-month restoration. Bethesda Terrace opens on the Lake at the heart of Central Park. The 1873 Angel of the Waters sculpture crowns the Terrace’s majestic Bethesda Fountain. In one hand, the angel holds a lily, a symbol of purity. Designer Emma Stebbins, the first woman to receive a public art commission in New York City, likened the healing powers of the angel to that of the Croton water system, which brought clean, fresh water to the city beginning in 1842. The Dairy, built in 1870, was intended as a place where children could enjoy a glass of fresh milk, which was not always easy to get in mid-19th-century New York. The hybrid design is a playful combination of a Swiss chalet and a Gothic country church. The Naumburg Bandshell, a neoclassical structure of cast concrete built in 1923, has hosted performers from Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington to the Grateful Dead. The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater was Sweden’s exhibit at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition in 1876. The enchanting Swedish architecture and craftsmanship, suggestive of a model schoolhouse, caught Olmsted’s eye, and he brought it to the park in 1877. A theater designed for marionette performances was built inside in 1973. The Old Bandstand was a 1862 Victorian-style cast-iron bandstand designed by Jacob Wrey Mould. It was demolished in 1922 to make way for the Naumburg Bandshell. Also dating from 1862 is the graceful Bow Bridge, the first cast-iron bridge in Central Park. Spanning the Lake between Cherry Hill and the Ramble, its subtle shape is reminiscent of the bow of an archer or violinist. Designed by Calvert Vaux and originally built of white oak, Oak Bridge crosses Bank Rock Bay and is a popular destination for bird watchers.
Enjoy this video of the Holiday Train Show

For more information, you can visit the Garden’s web site at: or call: 718.817.8687.

But Wait - there’s more!

While there’s no doubt the annual Holiday Train Show® is the centerpiece of the Garden’s winter extravaganza, don’t overlook the lineup the Garden has produced -- it’s chock-a-bloc loaded with fun, cultural, and education elements, including Evergreen Express, Sounds of the Season Performances, films, Bar Car Nights, and more,

Here are some highlighted events, activities, and programs that are scheduled during the exhibition: (please check NYBG’s web site for a full listing.)

  • The festive and popular Bar Car Nights return to NYBG on select Fridays and Saturdays. This has to be my favorite - this kind of winter holiday magic can only be experienced at the Garden - a combination of cocktails - yeah! - dance, artful ice carvings, along with the authentic beauty and warmth of fireplaces to heat up the cocktail chatter. What else do you need? Exclusively for adults 21 and over, the wintry landscape of NYBG sets the scene for lively outdoor adventures, with an after-dark viewing of the Holiday Train Show as the centerpiece. Purchase a spiked hot chocolate or a holiday specialty cocktail from one of our seasonal bars and a bite to eat from the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-up, then set out to explore the night’s offerings. Warm up around the handcrafted fire pits (so romantic!) in the Leon Levy Visitor Center, feel the excitement of the season with artistic ice carving and festive performers such as contortionists and acrobats from American Circus Theatre, sing along with dueling pianos in the Pine Tree Café, and dance the night away to DJ sets curated by Uptown Vinyl Supreme.
Bar Car Nights take place 7–10:30 p.m.; November 23, 29, & 30; December 7, 14, 20, 21, 27, & 28, 2019; January 3, 4, 11, & 18, 2020. Performers vary each night and advance tickets— Non-Member $38/Member $28—are recommended.
  • During Evergreen Express in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, children can pretend to ride the rails aboard the child-sized play train and caboose, hike winter trails to discover evergreen trees and shrubs, and put on a winter woodland puppet show. In the Discovery Center, they can design an evergreen-scented swag (a simple miniature evergreen wreath with a bow), craft a cone critter with googly eyes, and learn how to create a conifer collection at home. Young scientists can discover why evergreens stay green all winter and then test their identification skills outdoors.
  • NYBG’s Annual Bird Count is for both novice and expert bird-watchers. Collect data on resident bird populations and migratory species across the Garden’s 250 acres. The information helps scientists assess the health of bird populations and guides conservation action. December 14, 2019, at 11 a.m.
  • New York poet, NYBG Poet Laureate, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins returns to NYBG for The Poetry of Trains: Billy Collins and Young Poets. Collins will read poems inspired by trains, the holidays, and The New York Botanical Garden on Sunday, December 15, 2019, at 2 p.m. As part of the Young Poets Contest and in partnership with the Poetry Society of America, he will also select 12 winning poems to be displayed at NYBG during the Holiday Train Show and will be joined by the selected student authors to share their work during this special reading. They look great adorning the Garden at key spots.
  • Enjoy favorite holiday movies on the big screen in Ross Hall during the Holiday Favorites Film Festival, featuring a rotating selection of titles for kids and adults alike. Films include Trolls Holiday, ‘Tis the Season to be Smurfy, and Merry Madagascar. December 21–24 & 26–29, 2019; 11 a.m–4 p.m.
  • Embark on an invigorating 45-minute walking Winter Wonderland Tree Tour. View the Garden’s stately conifer collection and old-growth forest in the beauty of winter. Saturdays, December 7, 2019–January 25, 2020, at 12:30 p.m. Get a fascinating overview of the Garden’s history and its importance as a vital New York City cultural destination since 1891 on our Holiday Landmarks Tour. Walking with an expert 3 guide, explore the Mertz Library Allée, the Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life, and the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. The tour concludes at the Garden’s iconic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Sundays, December 1, 2019–January 26, 2020, at 2:30 p.m.
  • Children join Thomas and Driver Sam on a fun-filled, sing-along, mini-performance adventure during All Aboard with Thomas & Friends™. In Thomas Cleans Up, everyone’s favorite blue locomotive arrives at Knapford Station with a trainload of materials to dispose of. Kids help him and Driver Sam figure out how to recycle everything to protect the environment and save Earth’s precious natural resources. Make sure to have a professional photo taken with the Really Useful Engine to capture the special day. January 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 20, 25, & 26, 2020. © [2020] Gullane (Thomas) Limited
Enjoy the Holiday Train Show and as many of the great programs as possible. Get out. Walk the garden. Meet folks. Bring a friend and family. You can plan your winter schedule and return often. It’s a happy, warm, green way to celebrate a season more often marked by white - snow - that is.

True garden glamour is waiting for you at the Garden.

Monday, October 14, 2019

How to Tuck Your Garden Beds into Their Slumberous State

Tucking Your Garden Beds into Their Slumberous State

After a robust season of tending your ornamental and edible gardens, you’d be forgiven for wanting to pull the covers over your head for a long winter’s nap. But wait, before you hit the snooze button and call it quits for the season, it’s imperative to prepare your garden “beds” for their winter somnolent state. However, if you don’t know what plants to cut back, or remove; or what to save for the pollinators -- along with the autumn’s age-old question of whether to remove the fallen leaves or not - you’re in luck.

The Atlantic Highlands Historical Society (AHHS) is offering a Free workshop, Saturday, October 19, 1:00 pm, located at 27 Prospect Circle, Atlantic Highlands, that will provide a mix of information and hands-on tips to help you:
  • Maintain a beautiful and ecologically based garden throughout the autumn and winter, through watering, weeding and composting - and better prepare for the spring season
  • Decide what to prune back or remove from ornamental trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs - along with edibles, and annuals 
  • Help the pollinators during the winter season
  • Learn what will bloom until frost
  • Discover the beauty of the winter garden: exfoliating bark and architectural tree trunks, evergreens, winter blossoms
  • Determine where in the yard to “Leave the leaves…” 
And guess who is giving the talk? Me! Leeann Lavin, principal of Duchess Designs, LLC will host the talk, provide hands-on planning, guide you through the fundamentals of the gardening process and give you the confidence to grow and maintain your gardens.

The “Tucking Your Garden Beds into Their Slumberous State” talk is a distillation of what I have learned and practiced over more than two decades of immersion in garden design and horticulture; as a graduate of The New York Botanical Garden’s Landscape Design certificate program, writer, author, lecturer, and my garden-to-tablescape designs.

“Every good garden design tells a story. Gardens are personal - whether you have a container garden, a raised bed, a terrace, a border or yard, you can tell your story with the right mix of plant combinations, a design that works with your architectural style and site conditions to create garden rooms that will bring you joy in every season for years to come and enhance your lifestyle. And all that starts with a good plan. And tender loving care.”

The “Tucking Your Garden Beds into Their Slumberous State” talk will culminate with a walk around the AHHS Strauss Museum to view the mansion’s landscape. Since the spring garden talk, patrons have provided funds to clean up the garden beds and grounds; AHHS Volunteers and Duchess Designs have donated time and green energy - to create and clean new garden rooms, weed, prune, and spread good, rich, natural mulch purchased from Rysers Landscape Supply in Little Silver.

See you at the Strauss on Saturday. I'll also be able to host a book-signing there for my soon to be released book, The Art of the Garnish !! I got my author's copies late last week! So exciting. The Garnish book is so glamorous - so gorgeous.  You'll want to make every featured cocktail. Cheers! 

** While the Talk is free, please register so that the AHHS can provide seating and refreshments for all guests.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

How to Celebrate National Tequila Day with the Taste of Summer: Cool Cocktail Recipes & Garnishes

I adore tequila. It’s rich flavor and rich history offer so much to talk about during the bewitching cocktail hour.

Not that we need any other reason to pour this most tasty spirit; but it is National Tequila Day, after all.

I love all these cocktail mixes -- made the watermelon and Patron for our Independence Day/Fireworks/Birthday party grand Fiesta -- and served it in the watermelon! With a Williams Sonoma Watermelon Tap Kit. Adorable. So Love and Lust (I just like saying the moniker!) is tops on my tasting list, followed in short by It’s Summer - because well - this is the nicest day of the summer so far. And I’m not just saying that because it’s National Tequila Day. Well, maybe a little…

But mainly because the Prosecco and the St. Germaine are two of my favorites. So delicious and refreshing.


Love and Lust


  • 1.5 oz Patrón Silver
  • 2 oz Fresh watermelon juice
  • .15 oz Fresh lime
  • 4 Fresh basil leaves
  • Fresh black pepper drops
  • Watermelon slice for garnish
  • Simple syrup to taste 
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice to chill.
Strain onto fresh ice in a double old fashioned glass.

Garnish with a watermelon slice

It’s Summer



Add all the ingredients, except the MARTINI Prosecco, in a shaker.
Pour into a highball glass.
Top with MARTINI Prosecco.

Garnish with a mint sprig, blackberries and raspberries.

Heritage Margarita

2 oz Patrón Estate Release
.75 oz Patrón Citronge Orange
.5 oz Persian lime juice
.25 oz Simple syrup


Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice to chill.
Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.

Garnish with a key lime wheel.

Patrón Añejo (SRP: $66) A distinctly barrel-aged spirit, Patrón Añejo develops a sweeter profile over time due to its interaction with oak barrels for 12 to 15 months. Big wood notes become prevalent during this time without overpowering the baked agave flavors that are uniquely Patrón. Perfect for sipping or in your favorite cocktail, the spirit also features an elegant, smoky sweet finish. Sip Patrón Añejo neat or in a craft cocktail, as it makes an incredible bourbon or whiskey substitute. Many people find Patrón Añejo to be the perfect after dinner drink or dessert accompaniment.

Patrón Reposado is aged for at least two months in a combination of new and used American, French and Hungarian oak barrels. This is done to maintain the fresh agave flavors unique to Patrón that mingle in perfect harmony with hints of light oak. Finally, subtle sweet smokiness from the aging process adds yet another dimension to this incredibly smooth aged tequila. Sip Patrón Reposado neat or mix it into the occasional cocktail. Margaritas, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and more are enhanced with the unique flavors in the gently aged spirit. It also makes a great digestif.

Prickled Pink by Jaime Salas, National Milagro Ambassador

  • 2 Parts Milagro Silver
  • 1 Part Fresh Lime Juice
  • 2 Parts Pink Agua de Tuna**
  • 3/4 Part Agave Nectar

Pour all ingredients into a Boston shaker, shake and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass.

Garnish with a lime wheel.

**To make Agua de Tuna: Peel and roughly chop 5 prickly pear fruits (green and red), add to blender and puree until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds and pulp, discard.

Spicy Milagro Paloma by Jaime Salas, National Milagro Ambassador

  • 2 Parts Milagro Anejo
  • 1 Part Fresh Lime Juice
  • ¾ Part Agave Nectar
  • Fresh Cilantro

Pour all ingredients into a Boston shaker, shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass.

Garnish with a lime wheel, cilantro, smoked salt rim.

Ancho Verde Margarita
  • 1 part Milagro Silver Tequila
  • 1 part Ancho Reyes Verde
  • 1 part Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1/3 part Agave Nectar

Add all ingredients to a shaker, add ice, shake hard and strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass with half its rim salted. 

Garnish with a lime wheel.

Milagro Tequila (meaning ‘miracle’) is made from 100% estate-grown, hand-selected, blue agave in the town of Tepatitlan in the Jalisco region of Mexico. The agaves are harvested about 8 to 12 years after planting and the juice is extracted from the heart of the plant by roasting in clay ovens made from the estate’s volcanic soil. Milagro Tequila is triple distilled and aged longer than most tequilas to obtain its distinctive flavor.

The available expressions include Milagro Silver, Reposado, Añejo, Select Barrel Reserve Silver, Select Barrel Reserve Reposado, and Select Barrel Reserve Añejo.


Mezcal has become increasingly popular in the U.S. and is one of the fastest growing spirits over the past several years.

Choosing the right mezcal for you may be tricky, but if you’re looking for an authentic Mexican spirit with an approachable and complex taste, look no further than Montelobos Mezcal. Made in Mexico, Montelobos Mezcal is a mezcal created in collaboration by world-renowned agave spirits expert Iván Saldaña and five generations of Lopez family mezcaleros using the finest, 100% organic agave espadin. The result is a mezcal with a balanced smoke that shifts between chili and dark chocolate. While Montelobos can be enjoyed neat, its complexity makes it an excellent cocktail companion.

A Montelobos Mezcal Ambassador, Camille Austin’s knowledge and enthusiasm for innovative cocktails play a complementary role to brand creator Iván Saldaña. Together, they set out to share the unique taste and versatility of Montelobos Mezcal and the artistry behind agave.

The below flavorful and festive cocktail recipes include Montelobos Mezcal and another authentic Mexican spirit, Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur. Ancho Reyes was born from the sacred earth of Puebla and with a recipe dating back to 1927, Ancho Reyes is the original chile liqueur. Ancho Reyes Verde, launched just in 2016 to much acclaim, also derives from the poblano chile like Original, but some slight tweaks in the production process results in a wildly different flavor profile.

Puebla and poblano are inextricably linked - the peppers are named after the citizens who refer to themselves as poblanos. “Ancho chiles are widely considered a culinary delicacy and Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur is created using Puebla’s signature crop,” reports Camille Austin, the celebrated Mexican mixologist. He continues, “Pleasantly sweet, followed by the moderate heat from the chile, Ancho Reyes is delicious in all types of cocktails.

Juan to Juan

  • 1 part Montelobos Mezcal
  • 1 part Ancho Reyes Original
  • ¾ part fresh lemon juice
  • ½ part simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters - or homemade bitters or Fee Brothers bitters

Shake, serve in a coupe glass

Garnish with a lemon wheel

Montelobos Picador

  • 2 parts Montelobos Mezcal
  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • ½ part simple syrup

Combine ingredients over ice and shake well. Serve over fresh ice in a rocks glass

Garnish is a salt & black pepper rim and orange slice.

Cheers to a memorable National Tequila Day!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How To Design and Build a Grillscape Garden Room for Seasonal Entertaining; Plus Overcoming a Crucible with Fortitude

It came together rather quickly once the new grill “ignited” the obvious need for a better BBQ experience.

But truth be told, I had been turning over design concepts for a new garden room for some time. I kept the kind of “back of envelope”/notepad sketch I did some years ago while sitting on the beach during our annual holiday to Aruba.

With few exceptions, the main design remained true to the original.

I wanted easy egress from the speakeasy/bar area in the house - out to the garden room.
So there would be a 4 x 12 foot walkway to the room.
Because the backyard has a more pronounced grade up on the right side and the farmette is on the left side - I could center the room ever so deftly on flatter ground without too much grading…

The main design concession was dropping the idea for the custom cement table with the built-in water rill (for floating candles, wine, flowers) into a water feature. My budget could not accommodate.

Our existing - and was later had pointed out to me - vintage, wrought iron and glass table would do quite nicely. (This vintage element comes into play later in the story…)
Updated garden design sketch overview & material metrics
For my husband Bill’s birthday, I got him the top-of-the-line Genesis grill (Kalamazoo notwithstanding) from our local hardware store, Jaspan’s. They assembled it, brought it to the house and took the old one away! Shop local. There’s no substitute.

With the gleaming new grill it became all the more apparent that the lame, sorry excuse for a BBQ area had to get a makeover.

I dusted off the garden design plans and began in earnest to secure the elements/components necessary to turn this blah, somewhat gnarly space into a chic, sophisticated garden room that we’d be happy and proud to entertain our beloved guests in.

Oh, and I have to add that the design makeover needed to be complete by July 4th because we host an annual Independence Day soireée to celebrate Mother’s birthday (July 3rd), and the town where our country house is sets off spectacular fireworks in the marina below us so we celebrate all the special occasions. This year, the fireworks were scheduled for Friday, July 5th.

I am also blessed to have world-class garden design clients and they also needed their gardens ready and beautiful for the same event -- so lots on the “to-do” lists. It’s always a “silly season” race to the 4th. I plan. I do spreadsheets. I train for this! Ha.

Grillscape Garden Design

The first thing to go was the slate from what was laid (plopped?!) there after the terrace above was redone years ago and relocated here.

It’s lovely slate but the weedy grass was growing up through it and so even when mowed it felt kinda “itchy” sitting on top of. To me, anyway.

In the center of the above circle - under the chair - was the bird bath fountain.

Nice to watch our feathery friends bathing - and for parties I floated candles and flowers; however it was a weed incubator under it - a thankless job to keep it clean and really - it was just a disconnect to the space.

Next I had to measure out the space to accommodate the table and chairs, grill, and soon-to-be- accessories.

I wanted to get a cooler that was good looking, naturally, and easily accessible.

Previously, Bill would fill the low, plastic (!) cooler and then walk to the cooler in the shade and bend over for every suite of burgers and dogs, and run in and out for more ice… Time and effort wasted.

I wanted a storage area for the rolls and cutlery and more. So when my friend and client Angie asked if I needed anything while she was out shopping, I asked, “If you see one of those six-square storage cases - please pick it up.” She’s an angel - and did. I had already ordered the collapsable bins.

I knew I wanted custom couches so that I could get the expansive seating - and angled the way I wanted it in order to take advantage of the spectacular view we have overlooking Sandy Hook Bay and the New York skyline beyond.

We already had the red, solar-powered lighted umbrella from last year. And when we contemplated what color to paint the soon-to-be seating, Bill suggested red. I LOVED that assertive, heart-throbbing color for the finished look.

I was already committed to a red, white, and blue plant color palette.

And because the Grillscape Garden Room is primarily for Independence Day Birthday celebration through Labor Day: a red, white & blue -- and black color scheme as part of the exterior design worked.

To soften the overall look and to add a level of sophistication, I selected a soft graphite for the rug near the speakeasy door entrance to the Grillscape Garden and for the seating custom cushions - and accent pillows and cocktail tables.

I shopped extensively for the flooring. I needed to find a beautiful yet rugged material that would not only stand up to the foot traffic (and nighttime animals -- we host fox, the occasional groundhog) but also the seasonal weather elements.

I found these rather Moroccan~Moorish looking interlocking tiles at Wayfair (I’m part of the Trade program) and ordered them in Shadow Grey (soft white). They are very glamorous yet easy to take care of. And except where we needed cut to fit my trapezoid edges of the Grillscape Garden room design - most all of the tiles were laid down in about 30 minutes.

In order to determine the quantity of the construction materials: ¾ inch stones, Stone Dust or Decomposed Granite (DG), and soil, I had to do the arithmetic. We needed to remove the weeds - er grass/turf - and dig out approximately 7-8 inches and grade away; soil - 1-2 inches; 3-4 inches of stone and about 2 inches of stone dust or DG, topped by the flooring at ½ inch.

Darin - who is not only a Master Gardener but is someone who can make and build just about anything me or our Duchess Designs clients want - installed the metal borders around the new space and then we layered in the materials.

He tamped down the DG all around prior to putting the flooring down. Darin did the walk and Bill and I did the main room - in our dinner clothes - as we were meeting family for a birthday dinner at a restaurant (yeah for Lobster Rolls!) with Bonnie and Gerry.

And I wanted to get the flooring down before night fell. The adorable baby foxes had been using the new space as their private sandbox. They are too cute; however I didn’t want then to corrupt the tamping that was done!

Can you see the frolicking foxes?? 

Just look how cute they are -- you can’t help but love them! They just don’t always respect the design work. (Smile)

To make the seating, I explored more than a few DIY sites to locate one that would be a good base or template for Darin to work from. He got the materials from a local lumber store - pressure treated wood and screws, nails.

He set up the saw table nearby on the lawn.

Darin can readily improvise too. For example, he made the seating more as it appeared in the DIY but when I saw them - I found them too big. So in a kind of Goldilocks process - we modified the design in order that the furniture would angle ever so slightly for expansive seating and to allow for better bay viewing.

Too big.

Just right. 

Once all the materials were laid in and the seating was complete, next up was to cut out the garden beds for the border plants. 

The added issue here - that I’m all too aware of - is the hostile environment presented by the mountain there - just beyond - that elevates us from the marina and the water but that is riddled with invasive plant material.
As if that’s not bad enough, neighbors don’t police the ever-encroaching wicked plant stew, including, kudzu, English ivy, Ampelopsis glandulosa/Porcelain Vine, Buckthorn /Rhamnus cathartica, Chokecherry/Prunus virginana, Aralia elata/Japanese angelica tree, Berberis thunbergii/Japanese barberry, Celastrus orbiculatus/Asian bittersweet, Sumac, Chinese honeysuckle (we took out our honeysuckle a few years’ ago, replacing it with a long border of boxwood-looking Ilex ‘Compacta’. I did a Garden Glamour posting on that hellish redesign - learn here).

This year, I was worried about what could creep in from the “lawn.”

In order to help the new, ornamental plants as much as possible, we lined the new beds with fabric, put in new good/manured soil, and fronted each new bed with Mexican Grey “Pebbles”/Stones that I found at Rysers, my local landscape supply yard here, with the help of a patient staffer. Nothing was hitting me until he said, “I have one last stone you may like. A little expensive but…”

They are perfect. Heavy to move but good-looking - their grey, organically-looking pebbles complement the graphite and black of the garden room look. In addition, this pebble border will further distance the beds from the “lawn.”

Garden Beds

I kept the Patriotic-themed Red, White and Blue plant palette simple:
  • Boxwood for structure base and winter interest; 
  • White is Achillea ‘The Pearl,’ 
  • Blue is ‘Tiny Tuff Stuff’ hydrangea and dwarf purple Salvia ‘Merleau Blue,’ (Sadly, the nursery had no more delphinium) 
  • Red is Echinacea - a fragrant one! ‘Hot Papaya’ -- I love their shape too. 
  • And two rosemary for the front bed ends -- to use for grilling! 
I very much wanted black mondo grass and couldn’t source it locally. With some trepidation, to be honest, I found a source online -- at Etsy: Daylily Nursery Well, I was more than delighted! The plant plugs arrived so clean - pristine, in fact. And so very healthy. I highly recommend Daylily Nursery - not only are the plants perfect but they are also a dream to work with. So very nice and accommodating. Thank you Merrill.

I usually source all my plants from our local nurseries in the Garden State, Brooklyn, or Long Island and the Bronx for my in-town clients but these more exotic plants couldn’t be had locally. Moreover, I wasn’t at the house for a few days so asked Mother to open the boxed delivery and water till I returned. She’s the best admin you could hope for. The black mondo grass all looked beautiful days later when it was time to plant.

I love the look of black mondo grass. Like that little black dress.
Years ago, I used these plants in a design for my client’s front border walk and they have done so well. Beautiful. I’m so glad I did it then.
For the Grillscape, I tucked the mondo grass in the beds on either side of the walk. Perfect.

Time to Paint the Custom Seating
I took a photo of the red umbrella to match up a paint for the seats. Reds are tricky. And there are so many shades, hues - a little one way or the other and the look can seize up. I chose Benjamin Moore’s Rose Parade - a bit like a happy geranium but decidedly red.

We knew we had to wait for the pressure treated wood to rest for a good while. But I also knew they use less chemicals than they used to. We washed it. It rained. A lot. But we got in a number of dry days, thankfully. With the calendar tapping us on the shoulder, we tested - sprinkling droplets of water onto the wood. The water droplets were absorbed confirming the wood was ready to be painted.

Bill first primed the two pieces of furniture.

Bill had purchased a spray painter - both he and Darin noted this would make the painting go faster than a brush.

Next was the spray painting.

The Grillscape Garden Room was coming together.

Oh - and I got a great deal on new black cushions from Pier 1 so table setting would be more coordinated.

My fabulous cushion and pillow seamstress, Donna, made these perfect, custom seats. She recommended a source for the graphite-colored high performance material, and cushions. She’s so smart. She came to the house and using my drawing tissue paper, made a quick pattern guide.

The final cushions were created with zippers in back and velcro on both edges of the sides of triangulated cushions -- therefore - as Donna explained, we won’t have be “rubik's cubing” the cushions trying to figure out which side and end goes where. Brilliant!

Further, Bill spruced up the chairs with a coat of spray paint and his artful spray of just a scinch of color on the chair’s floral designs - this time in rose. Just a hint.

I also saw these adorable cocktail cooler tables in House Beautiful magazine and had to have them.
The Keter Cool Bar can be adjusted to two heights. The top locks into place. At the high end it can hold 80 pounds. When closed it holds up to 300 pounds. When raised, it’s like having a resort high top table - with ice and beer and wine (or soda) - in the belly of the barrel. So guests don’t have to juggle their drink and their plate. I resisted ordering a red color and went with a classic grey. But that cherry red is happy cute. Too much red would be much too hot -- needlessly stimulating guests in the Grillscape Garden.
I love these table coolers! What a great design concept. You’ll see them later in the garden room’s completion below.

I got solar powered lights to sparkle up the garden room - and for safety too.
So glamorous. 
Here, you can see a bit of the new grey rug I purchased from Houzz (I’m part of their trade program. And I love my account manager, Cassie. I am trying to update my profile and include my tablescapes there -- puff, puff. I’ll get there. But in the meantime, you can follow me there - or here. Smile) 

Everything was going according to a slightly deviated schedule. (Ha. Longer story.)
Until it wasn't...

For all intents and purposes, the Grillscape Garden Room was complete.
The other garden rooms were now being groomed.

All the entertainment elements were already delivered (new blue melamine plates, the new blue denim napkins we made last autumn with the help of Mother and Angie’s pinking shears, new glasses, compostable cutlery.)
The menu food and dessert and hostess drink recipes were waiting their turn in the party spreadsheet.

The arborists were scheduled to cut the invasives from the hill/mountainside. I just had to pay for the permit that morning - July 2nd. Two days till party time. All according to plan.

My favorite aunt - Aunt Margaret - was up from Florida that morning. She and Mother stopped by while I was working in the Physic/Herb Garden. They gave two thumbs up to the new Grillscape Garden.

But all was not to last.

Here was the last photo I took while prepping that morning before disaster struck.

When Nature Gives You a Poke in the Eye
I was moving the slate pieces that had been the “floor” under the table in the old space to the arbor.

Out of nowhere - and I mean that fervently. Suddenly, big, fat raindrops were pounding down. No warning. Just like someone (mmmm, angry Mother Nature?).

She turned on a spigot.

Hard, Heavy. Pelting rain. And the wind! Take that, earth! - she punched back...

I had to race/run up to the loft office because my Mac is there and uncharacteristically, I had opened all the windows fronting the desk! In spite of being in my now mud-stained garden clothes, I bounded up the spiral staircase. Cranked closed (why did it seem to take forever?!) first one, then the second and third big one, then the last one.

What next? Oh gosh. I had also left the French doors in the bedroom open that morning onto the Juliette balcony while doing my Spanish lesson and emails. I almost “fire-maned” my way back down the spiral staircase and proceeded to kinda’ grand jeté up to the bedroom. I had to fight the wind and rain to close the doors. Was I in a remake of the “Perfect Storm?!”

I heard a crrracckk! Was it a masthead? I couldn’t see what it was exactly because of the driving rain. With a sinking heart I knew it came from the new Grillscape Garden.

I raced back down, grabbing my rain slicker on the way.

When I arrived in the Grillscape I honestly didn’t know what I was looking at. While there had been times when the sun umbrella pulled a Mary Poppins and popped out of the table to land on the lawn, in this case something else was awry. Wiping wind and rain - it became nauseatingly apparent that the umbrella had lifted the entire glass table -- and in a bad Mary Poppins way - transported the table about 10 or 12 feet east to the other side of the Grillscape Garden room. Shattering the glass!

It was still a driving rain. I tried to pick up the broken pieces. Like a bad cartoon or animated action film where things curiously melt away, the tempered glass crumbled into scads of pieces before I could get any of that handful.

I got a bag for what would now be teeny pieces. My hands were bleeding. In the rain. On my new white/grey mist Bergo flooring.

Couldn’t use gloves as they weren’t flexible enough for this strangely morphing tempered glass.
As I writer, I was already thinking how will I describe and relate this story…
Tempered Glass looks like ice 
Tempered Glass splayed on new garden room floor 
And then, just like that. The wind subsided. The rain stopped. I wanted to blink back the 15 minutes of damage and destruction. Was it a bad dream? No. It was all too real.

Mother Nature is understandably mad about how she’s been treated lately… But please, don’t take it out on me! I’m one of your most steadfast advocates…

But this was my crucible now - my test.
I would not let this “disaster” stop the garden room completion nor allow it to mar the party.
I recognize there are bigger world issues. It’s just that I live in this world… This bubble…

New plan. I needed to get the umbrella and glass table replaced.

I took measurements.

I started calling and texting and searching the internet. The few options were winnowing for a two-day turnaround with Independence Day obscuring most commerce for what was a looonng weekend coming up.

I thought back to earlier in the day when Donna, the seamstress, had asked to see a photo of the cushions in situ - and besides noting how good it all looked - she remarked about the vintage wrought iron dining set that was similar to hers. At the time, I gulped, writing back, “Vintage? I didn’t think that much time had passed.” Ha.
At this juncture, I wrote back to Donna, describing the crazy tragedy, asking if she knew the name of the maker. She did. They still haven’t written back even though they are still makers..
Donna was such a comfort - she found a smaller table at Home Depot that could work.

It did.

My joke for the party was, “Honey, I shrunk the table!” But it worked fine. Thank you, Donna.
The other joke is that Bill vacuumed the lawn after my glass pick up and had the entire table of glass pieces in a small bucket so he could show guests, “This was our table!”
At the same time, I got our local glass and mirror makers to do the custom replacement.
Should be ready in a few weeks.

In the meantime, we turned the original vintage table upside down and it became a big holder for the metal wash bucket and a beautiful hydrangea.

Bill gerry-rigged the umbrella so while it was a wee bit bent - it worked for the party. I ordered a new one (still disputing their lack of a 2-day delivery but that’s another story).

It was all a very bad Lemony Snickets’ series of unfortunate events if there ever was one.

This was the next day!

We enjoyed a pre-birthday celebration with Mother - and Marissa - who shares the same birthday. And my sister Linda from North Carolina now - and Aunt Margaret and Riley from DC. There’s Bill at his new grill. Happy man.
Almost as good as new…

Marissa, you left your “M” - it’s waiting for your return!
I painted a G for Mother in blue (the G for Ginny was prettier than the V for Virginia).

The night of the Fireworks Independence Day Birthday Party, we were back in the good “bubble”:

Glow balls ~ two sizes - from Ballard Designs. Inspiration from a favorite restaurant in Aruba

The magic prevails...

Celebrate the season, family, gardens, glamour, fireworks, and yes, Mother Nature.

And overcoming obstacles. Garden design and gardening is nothing less than a series of challenges - it’s an art that cannot be controlled. We garden and landscape designers and horticulturists learn patience. Fortitude is our badge of honor.

Cheers to you. And good garden design. Plants make people happy.