Seductive Jardin Majorelle of Marrakech

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Jardin Majorelle is one of Marrakech’s most visited sites.  The 12 acre botanical garden is home to a remarkable collection of cacti and other drought tolerant plants as well as home to 15 bird species endemic to North Africa.

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Front Porch Decorating

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“Porches are America’s lost rooms.”

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

One of my favorite spring rituals is setting up the front porch for warm weather living.  This year, I looked at the porch furniture coming out of storage and suddenly felt I had it all wrong.  I decided to move everything around.  Do you ever do this?   I really love the new design so much more and can’t figure out how I didn’t set it up this way all along.  The porch seems more spacious.  The conversation easier.  Movement around the porch smoother.  There is much more of the pretty outdoor rug, my design starting point, to see and enjoy.  I even had room to add a bar area!  It’s not a huge space but it lives big.  I had to laugh, as I sat on my “newly” designed porch reading the latest Architectural Digest issue, when the words of Bunny Williams, a favorite designer, jumped out at me:  “I get so upset when people ask what’s new in decorating? Just take what you have and make it look new.”  Point well taken Bunny!

You can read about how I first created an outdoor room on the front porch here.  Tour the redesigned space and let me know which version of the porch you like more. But don’t  be seduced by those gorgeous blue hydrangeas on the old porch….They’ll be making another appearance at a porch near you, soon!

One of the biggest changes I made was moving this console table previously used as a room divider to the focal point of the porch. The plate rack with its bird house and green tole garden plate was already on the wall. It makes so much more sense to put the console there. The lanterns and urn are the same as when the table was on the side of the porch. Now they really all work together. The table is also in the middle of the seating area and can be used to serve food when entertaining on the porch.

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Hypertufa Garden Sphere-DIY Tutorial

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Stone in a garden just does something to me.  I love the patina, texture and architectural interest it weaves  into a natural setting. Its earthy color makes it easy to incorporate into any garden for a rich yet subtle sculptural effect.  It whispers of antiquity and timelessness.  Stone spheres as garden ornamentation in particular, imparts a quiet serenity in the space.

Three orbs sit among a perennial bed of bluebells, enhancing but not detracting from the beauty of the flowers.

An added bonus of stone garden ornamentation, is that it can be mobile and moved around the garden at a whim if it is not too heavy.

Stone spheres are usually expensive and finding one, often a random lucky discovery on one’s travels.  Good places to search are in architectural salvage stores.

Two of my spheres invite attention on a garden wall alongside an antique olive oil urn.  The brand new spheres have an ancient looking patina that blends perfectly with the old urn.

For many years I have been making hypertufa containers for my garden.  It never occured to me to try making garden spheres.  After some research I found instructions on how to make them and they were quite easy.  I played around with 3 techniques and all of them yielded beautiful spheres. All the orbs I created were solid.  In the first technique, I used an inflated ball as the mold.  In the second technique, 2 round soup bowls without any rims were sandwiched together to serve as a sort of hinged mold.  In the third technique, I shaped a small orb free hand.  For all methods, I used the standard ratio of 1 part Portland cement, 1 part perlite and 1 part peat moss with just enough water to create a thick mixture.   I just adjusted the quantity of the mixture to fill the molds.

Materials needed:

You will need a large bucket, a mask to protect you from the cement dust, rubber gloves, kitchen scissors to cut the top of the ball, a rubber ball to use as a mold, water, equal measures of Portland cement, perlite and peat moss and a box to secure the sphere as it cures.  You will need a plastic bag large enough to hold the sphere as it cures.

Cut a small opening on the top of the ball large enough to get your hand through. The ball will deflate a bit but don’t worry. When you add the cement, it will regain its shape.

Add enough water to your mixture, and using your gloved hands, work it until it forms a thick paste. Start filling the ball with the hypertufa mixture until full.  You will need to get your hand inside the ball often to really pack the stone into  every nook and cranny.  You will know you have it full when the surface of the ball is restored to its original shape.  I was surprised at how much stone was needed to fill the mold and had not mixed enough the first time.  I simply mixed a second batch and continuted filling the ball.  Once it is full, place the ball in a plastic bag, tie it and secure it in a box to keep it immobile while it is setting.  Cure an initial 48 hours in the mold.

After 48 hours of initial curing: Using kitchen shears and working on newspaper, cut away the rubber ball and discard. Your sphere will have some markings at the top where the cut-out hole is. Mine also had a horizontal striation where I had run out of hypertufa stone and had to mix a second batch. At this stage, the cement is still pretty soft. So take a paring knife and gently scrape away to remove any lines you don’t esthetically like.

The markings on my sphere before I remove them.

The surface of my sphere after I carved away the unsightly markings. You could use sandpaper to achieve a similar result.  At this stage, rebag the sphere in the plastic bag and cure for a week, securing the sphere in a box to stabilize it.

The second technique I developed was to use 2 rimless soup bowls from my kitchen that that a perfect rounded shape.  For this technique, you must generously spray the inside of the bowl with cooking spray to be sure you can separate the mold.  The rest of the technique is exactly as described above.  I liked this technique as I could lift the mold and look at my mixture once it was packed in tight and use my hand to smooth any air bubbles.  I also liked that I could reuse these soup bowls as subsequent molds.  Because I only had 3 molds and I made 2 spheres at the same time, I let one half of the first one dry outside the mold.  Both spheres cured the same way.

The third way I created hypertufa spheres was free hand.  With some left over material I created a finial for an antique cloche(Eastcote Lane, Devon, PA).  I really like the organic texture of the finial against the glass.  When the material was still soft, I notched the bottom with the rim of the cloche by spinning it on the rim a few times so it would lock into place once dry.  I let it cure in a plastic bag for a week like with all the other spheres.  I just love the way this little finial turned out.

My friend Inta is perhaps the gardener I admire the most for her expert eye at integrating architectural elements masterfully in the garden landscape.  Plants remain the focal point in her garden while architectural salvage and other sculptures provide unique punctuations of texture and interest.  You can visit Inta’s incredible garden here to be inspired and mesmerized!

I hope you have enjoyed learning how to make hypertufa garden spheres with me today.  These examples were my very first attempts at making them and I assure you they are easy to make.  In a future post I will share how to grow moss on these hypertufa spheres.  One of the deterrent to making hypertufa projects is that Portland cement is sold in 96 lb bags.  My awesome local hardware, Do It Best in Wayne, PA, repackages broken bags into 10 lbs bags for small projects which they sell for a few dollars. It’s worth asking if you can purchase a smaller amount.  I made all 4 sheres with just one 10 lb bag of cement.

Happy gardening!

Macy’s New York Flower Show 2017

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There is a flowering miracle on 34th Street. The annual Macy’s Flower Show opened on March 26th with this year’s fun Carnival theme.  From the blooming windows along Herald Square to the jaw dropping interior displays, the store is abloom with tens of thousands of flowers.  There is a full size, working carousel!  Each seat of the ferris wheel showcases a spectacular floral arrangement.  Bumper cars overflowing with blooms appear in store isles. This enchanting show runs for 2 weeks until April 9th and is free.  If you can’t make it into the store during business hours, take in the spectacular store windows, as magical as the famous holiday ones.   Macy’s hosts flower shows this year in 3 locations:  NYC, San Francisco and Chicago.  Hélas, the Philadelphia store was not selected this year.  Join me at the carnival!

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Easter Centerpiece with Supermarket Flowers

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“Easter spells out beauty, the rare beauty of new life.”  S. D. Gordon

Today I’m sharing an easy make-ahead Easter centerpiece that captures the magic of spring.  I will show you how ordinary pots of supermarket flowers are elevated in a beautiful arrangement that gives you a big bang for the buck.  I especially love how this arrangement captures the sense of emergence of new life into a new season.

All the plants chosen are in pots which will extend the duration of the composition. The daffodils and hyacinths with their lush foliage and unopened flowers lend a sense of anticipation to the arrangement with the promise of spring.  Whimsy, color and the Easter theme is brought in with the pastel eggs nestled around the plants and a beloved gardening bunny figurine in the center. The potted begonias add immediate color and will continue to flower for many weeks.  Simply deadhead when needed.

Branches of pussy willow and curly willow add height and dimension to the arrangement.

This arrangement was easy and quick to create. Here’s how:

I lined a large footed container with plastic and scrunched newspaper in the bottom so the height of the plants would be level with the edge of the container.  I then played around with the plants until I liked the arrangement:  tall daffodils in the middle flanked by 2 pots of purple hyacinths and a pot of begonias in front of the daffodils.  In the soil of the daffodils I secured the trio of pussy willow branches and the curved branch of willow.  I then scattered Easter eggs all over the top to conceal the soil and newspaper and bring in some color and texture. The eggs were heaped high above the top of the container bringing a feeling of fun and exuberance. The finishing touch was the carved wooden bunny in the center and the plaid organza ribbon in complementary pastel shades tied around the container.  The arrangement rests  on a colorful runner with more iconic Easter imagery.  I can easily water the plants by directing the water around the Easter eggs.

“Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.”  Doug Larson

Happy Spring!

Philadelphia Flower Show 2017

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The 188th Philadelphia Flower Show opens to the public today and runs to March 19th.  This year’s theme is “Holland: Flowering the World”, celebrating the beauty of the Dutch landscape, the beloved Dutch contributions to the botanical world and highlights the country’s technological advances in green energy, starting with windmills. The show is spectacular.  Set on 10 indoor acres, it is the largest indoor flower show in the world.  Proceeds from the show support the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society urban tree planting programs and City Harvest which grows and supplies food to the underprivileged.

Starting with a rainbow of more than 30 thousand tulips and other bulbs running in carpets, the entrance display recreates the iconic bridges and winding canals of Amsterdam and Delft.  Some bridges are covered in Delft tile with lighting changing from day to night.  Throughout the week of the show every bulb will be replaced with fresh ones, ensuring that no matter when you come, the show will be at prime viewing enjoyment.

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Witch Hazel Front Door Basket

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In the depth of winter, when most of my zone 6 garden is hibernating, there is the most magnificent blooming tree in my garden. It seems as if overnight, the bare limbs of this tree are filled with clusters of feathery flowers up and down its branches. Their fragrance is intoxicating and beguiling.  The spidery flowers with long crinkly petals vary in color from yellow to golden orange and burgundy.

My witch hazel's flowers are golden orange with deep burgundy centers.

My witch hazel’s flowers are golden orange with deep burgundy centers.

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