The Impatient Gardener: November 2015

24 November 2015


I love giving and receiving books so perhaps it's serendipitous that it took me so long to write about this trio of books that that has inadvertently turned into a holiday shopping post.

The first is Charlotte Moss's Garden Inspirations. This oversized book is published by Rizzoli, which is known for beautiful, photo-filled books and this one is no exception. Page after page of gorgeous color-filled photos are a feast for the eyes.

The book is equally divided between matters of the garden and the interior, although the whole point of Charlotte Moss's way of thinking is that both of those areas should reflect each other. My absolutely favorite part of the book is a perspective drawing of her garden and house (I love it so much I think I'd like to have someone make one for me) that spans two pages, but every photo of her garden is incredibly inspirational. The photos of gorgeous table decorations and bouquets picked from the garden really put Martha Stewart to shame, not in the least because Charlotte Moss makes it look effortless while Martha certainly does not.

All photos courtesy of Rizzoli

But it's not just pretty pictures. Moss shares her go-to garden design tips, many gathered from a lifetime of touring great gardens all over the world, as well as interior design philosophies. I have a lot of books, but this is one that is beautiful enough to earn a spot on table, where it will be enjoyed, perhaps in bits and pieces, time and time again. Certainly any gardener or frequent entertainer would love this gem.

Next up is another beautiful book that will be a hit with gardeners with a strong appreciation for European history. A Day at Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a small book that comes in a beautiful little slipcase that is packed with great history and beautiful photos of the 17th century castle that inspired many of the great chateaux of Europe. The book is more about the castle than the gardens, although the two are obviously important to one another. If you have a Francophile on your list, this should be a hit.

And last on this little book tour is Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating by Lauren Liess. To say that I'm enthusiastic about this book is putting it mildly. I love this thing (I preordered it months before it came out and sort of forgot about it so the surprise of receiving it was even sweeter). With Pinterest and Houzz, not to mention so many great blogs, one hardly needs to turn to books for interior design inspiration. So interior design books only appeal to me if I can get something from them other than a lot of pretty pictures (although I want those too, of course). If I'm going to shell out for a book, I want information that I can't get on a blog or website. I want to know HOW to make my house look like the ones in the pictures.

I've only bought two interior design books in recent memory: Sarah Richardson's Sarah Style and this book by Lauren (who I feel like I'm on a first-name basis with after reading her blog for several years), and that's because I happen to like both of their styles very much. Lauren's designs in particular have soul to them. I'm so sick of rooms that are so general anyone could walk into them and feel at home. I want my home to feel like me (or us). I want the objects in it to say something about me (so help me god if I ever buy books just because the spines are the right color to match my decor), and I think Lauren does this better than anyone. 

What's great about her book is that she details how to get certain looks and offers tips for every room in the house. She even weighs in on perennial design questions like mixing metals and creating a cohesive room. If you read decorating forums, you'll find that the holy grail of interior design is "timeless." No one wants a room that looks like it came out of a catalog circa 2000 (or any year, for that matter). Lauren tells you how to achieve that. I want to live in every room she designs and I can't think of higher acclaim than that. 

This book would be appreciated by anyone looking to create a home with soul, but I'll be honest. I don't think you should just buy it for your friends and family or wait for them to buy it for you. Pick it up; I promise you won't be disappointed (and this is coming from someone who paid more for it than it's currently selling for). 

What books will you be picking up for friends or yourself this year?

A note: I've provided links to all the books on Amazon, because who's kidding, that's the first place you think of when shopping for books. But if you have a great independently owned bookstore near you, please consider buying your books there. I don't mean to get preachy but there are few places in the world more comforting to be than a small, well-stocked bookstore where you can peruse to your heart's content and there are little signs on the shelf with recommendations from the staff.

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20 November 2015

FRIDAY FINDS (with a side of snowfall)

Before I get into Friday Finds, a few notes. 
  1. I have been working on a post with three book reviews in it for weeks now and still haven't finished it. Next week. They would be excellent gift ideas too.
  2. Our first snowfall of the year is expected to come tonight and it could be anywhere from 2 to 8 inches. Let's hope its on the low end of that! Still, it was enough to spur me into getting out of bed early and spending about an hour outside before work digging dahlias and moving pots off the patio. Most of those things would have been fine with the snowfall, but it's a pain to dig in the garden when there's snow and it's really a pain to have to shovel around pots, which need to be put away for the winter anyway. So that's pretty much a wrap on the gardening season. I can't believe how quickly it went.

I would like to try to make these. She calls them breakfast bars, but we know they are really dessert for breakfast. Which is the best kind of breakfast.

I go to the Lurie Garden every summer when I'm in Chicago, but never in a million years would I have dreamed it would be this gorgeous in autumn. Shawna's series on it has been amazing.
Rambling Renovators photo

So Jennifer put up some temporary wallpaper and changed a corner of her living room into a jazzy little winter wonderland and I completely love it. 

Did you see Chris and Julia's new pantry? I don't care if deep down I know it won't look like that in a year (unless they are superhuman, which is possible) and it makes me wonder how they know how to cook all the stuff that came in a box but was put in a container and now has no directions, it's still amazing. My favorite part is that pocket door, which is a cheapie from a big box store that they made look like it was original to the house. 

Thanksgiving is so abundant and over the top, that I sort of like seeing simple table settings. You spend more than a day cooking all that food, why not let it shine? This one is right up my alley.

Have a great weekend everyone! It's sort of the last one before all the hustle and bustle starts so sit back and enjoy!


17 November 2015


As a Midwesterner, I have been raised to be excellent at complaining about the weather. It's the No. 2 most popular hobby in these parts, bested only by something related to football. But this fall we've had absolutely nothing to complain about. This El Niño year has given us the most lovely weather, including the conditions we enjoyed this past weekend when I was able to garden in shorts for most of Sunday. On November 15. That is unheard of here. 

Much of the country has been enjoying equally unseasonably warm weather, so even though we are all making holiday lists and dreaming of leftover turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie, there are still garden chores we can do now. And anything you do now will only make your life easier come the busy spring gardening season. 

I rake the leaves out of the bed and Mr. Much More Patient swings by in the lawn mower and mulches and collects them. 

1. Deal with the leaves. 
Rake leaves out of garden beds and off of your lawn. I've been reading a lot of new theories on leaf management, many advocating leaving them where they lie for the benefit of wildlife, but I'm not a fan. I suppose that works if you don't have a lot of leaves or if you live in the middle of a city where places for wildlife, but here, where the leaves fall a foot deep and there are more than enough places for wildlife to take refuge, the disadvantages of leaving leaves far outweigh the advantages. Leaves form thick, solid mats that foster mildew and lawn problems, and insulate garden beds, making them perfect for protecting nasty weeds. I'm not saying you have remove every last one, but get the majority out of the way. Plus, if you don't pick up leaves you will miss out on the chance to turn them into leaf mold simply by doing nothing but putting them in bags or in a pile and letting them rot down, and thus creating an great soil amendment. 

2. Clean your tools.
This is the last gardening project I'll do this year, as I use my tools every time I'm in the garden. But at the end of the season, I'll bring them all in the basement, give them all a good scrub, sharpen them if needed, oil the blades and apply a little boiled linseed oil to the wood handles. When spring comes they'll be good to go. 

3. Weed!
Weeding is no more fun in fall than it is in spring, but you're going to have to do it sometime, so if you can stand it now, do it. Some perennial weeds like offender No. 1 around here—garlic mustard weed—are easy to pull and stand out bright green against the fading garden so it's easy to spot them.

4. Put away pots.
Dump out pots and store them in a protected area for winter. Bonus points if you clean them first, but I've never bothered. At most I give them a rinse in spring before planting, but it really is better to scrub them out with a diluted bleach solution. (Do as I say, not as I do.)

A couple dozen pots of perennials are heeled in the raised vegetable garden for winter. When the ground freezes, I'll throw on a layer of mulch for some extra protection. 

5. Heel in perennials still in pots. 
Any plants that you haven't had time to put in the ground have officially missed the planting window if you're in zone 7 or lower. No worries: Just find an out-of-the-way spot in your garden, and bury the pots up to about an inch from the rim. Keep them well watered while you can and after the ground freezes, give them a nice layer of mulched leaves (I know, I told you to get rid of them, but mulched leaves are different), straw or evergreen boughs. I always use a corner of my raised garden for this and the pots are removed by the time I need to plant seeds.

6. Plant bulbs.
Yep, there's still time; you can plant bulbs right up until the ground freezes. A bonus is that many stores and bulb companies are offering fantastic sales for procrastinators so you can really make out. 

7. Keep everything watered.
I'm absolutely convinced that one of the critical factors in a plant surviving a tough winter is whether it enters winter well watered. As long as you can use your hose, keep watering. And yes, these last two tips are repeats from my September suggestions, but they still apply even two months later. 

8. Cut back perennials. Selectively.
There's a fair amount of research that suggests that perennials fare better when left to stand over winter, but it's not always possible to leave an entire garden standing. Some plants just look terrible going into winter, have flopped completely or are prone to reseeding, which makes them good for birds but not great for the gardener. Other plants like hostas turn into a goopy mess that fosters and environment that's perfect for nasty things like slugs to hide and lay eggs. I'd say I cut back about half the garden in fall and finish the rest in spring. I leave a few things standing because it makes the winter landscape much more attractive, but I like to get a jump start on spring gardening.

Last year I used string wrapped around stakes to protect plants from deer. This year I may try just using a deer repellent. 

9. Protect sensitive plants.
Anything that is questionably hardy, particularly beloved or dear or expensive and on its first year (so I don't really know how hardy it is here), usually gets a layer of protection. For some plants, this is burlap, which can protect flower buds set in summer and fall. Many others get a chicken wire cage that will be stuffed with shredded leaves or evergreen boughs after the ground freezes. This protects them from wind and sun scald more than cold, which is often blamed for damage caused by the former conditions. Equally as important is protection from deer, who get very hungry when snow is covering everything else they eat. Last year I caged almost everything, but it was a lot of work and quite unattractive. This year I think I'm going to use deer repellant. I have been using Messina's Deer Stopper II all summer and have been very impressed so I think I'm going to give it a real workout by trying it over winter as well. Reapplying it won't be particularly fun but it will be a good excuse to trudge around the yard in the snow. 

10. Bonus job: Edge beds.
I never seem to get to this in fall at home, but at one of the master gardener projects I work at, we always edge the garden bed in fall and it makes that job so much easier and faster in spring. It will also help keep grass from creeping in beds in spring before you can get out there to garden.

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13 November 2015


I'm a bit late on Friday Finds today, but there was some good stuff on the Internet this week. Here's a taste.

The One Room Challenge wrapped up this week. I still can't believe these people do a whole room in six weeks. I particularly liked this entry and this bedroom. Check out the amazing guest participant redos too.

I so wish I were close to Detroit because I would definitely go to this.
The Prudent Garden photo
Look at these ideas for gorgeous edible centerpieces. They are even better because they are part of a project to donate them to a food pantry afterwards. What's not to love?

I think I've shown you this house before but there are even more beautiful pictures of it here.

You MUST check out Stephen's recipe for whipped cream (that you can make ahead!) and all of his tips on his favorite holiday: Thanksgiving.

Did you watch "The Great British Baking Show" on PBS? I have watched both seasons shown here in the U.S. and one on the BBC and I love it. Here are some of the recipes. Also, I saw a commercial for a holiday season showing on ABC starting after Thanksgiving. I'm so excited!

There's still time to plant bulbs. Check out Margaret Roach's daffy Q&A.


12 November 2015


I got my latest issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine the other day. I say "my" latest issue, because this British pub take a long time to get to a mailbox in the U.S. and I believe the next issue is already out in England. I put up with that because it's a fantastic magazine, one that has earned shelf space next to my collection of Fine Gardening magazines.

After giving it a once-over (that's how I read magazines: zip through them and then go back and actually read them), I read Frank Ronan's column. Unfortunately it was not on the website so I can't link to it, but it was all about disregarding the style of your house when designing a garden. The subhead was, "Planting your garden to conform to the period of your house is ridiculous, says Frank."

According to Ronan: "The house is a fixture, and I agree that if you extend the original architecture should be respected. But the garden around it is a fluid thing, which cannot stand still for a day, let alone the aeon that a solid house should last. To make the garden conform to the architecture is as ridiculous as dressing in the clothes of the period, and as pretentious."

I'll be honest: I have always tied garden design to a house's architecture in some way. I have a hard time envisioning my house with anything other than a cottage-style garden. In no way can I imagine a walled English garden at my parents' mid-century modern house.

At the same time, I've long preached that you don't have to follow the rules in your garden. It's yours; do what you want. Maybe that means I fall somewhere in the middle on this. Still, it seems to me that some houses are MADE for a specific kind of garden.

Would this work outside any other style of house?

I tried very hard to find photos of gardens that don't match their houses but it was very difficult (note: This is different from gardens that have no style whatsoever; those don't count for the purposes of this discussion). Maybe this says more about Ronan's point; that it really doesn't matter.

What kind of house would you expect to see attached to this garden?

Did you think it would look like this?

This garden is interesting to me. It's certainly very symmetrical which lends itself to a formal style.

And yet when you see a broader view of the house, I think a more free-flowing style garden would be equally nice. Clearly this kind of thing is what the owners were after.

What do you think? Do gardens need to match the style of the house?

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09 November 2015


So last week, I signed off on Friday Finds by saying that I didn't know what I was going to do this weekend, but that it wouldn't be cleaning a fireplace. So imagine my surprise when, just 48 hours later, I was crawling around in a firebox doing just that.

A dirty old fireplace never looked so good.

Let me back up. As I've mentioned here plenty of times. I've been trying to get the finished portion of the basement cleaned up so I can fix it up enough that I actually like the space (and we might actually use it) enough to not allow it to become a dumping ground. This involved clearing out 13 years of clutter and collection. It's not fun and the process has been slow.

But I was thrilled when I sold an armoire we've not used for several years (other than to hide Christmas gifts to each in; which became ironic giving that we were both hiding them in there) Saturday morning. That cold, hard cash felt great in my hands, and every dollar I can scrape up will be very helpful for a very low-budget reno. In fact, I was so inspired, that I started posting all kinds of things on the Facebook rummage sale where I sold the armoire. Within half an hour I sold a stereo we've been hanging onto for ages for $50.

Here's the old fireplace with the insert. On the periphery you can see just a small amount of the stuff that has accumulated down there. I'm too embarrassed to show you any more. 

I also listed the fireplace insert for the basement fireplace as free for anyone with enough strong friends to get it out of my house. This cast iron thing weighed at least a couple hundred pounds and, although a mason told us they were highly valuable for both use and scrap, I just wanted this ugly thing gone. The flue for that fireplace was capped when we bought the house, so using that fireplace was never an option. It really wasn't a great hardship as hauling wood into the basement didn't sound fun.

These four guys responded to my Facebook post (more accurately, one of their wives did) and spent a long time prying that thing out of the fireplace. This is where they are spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to get it out of the cellar doors.

So Sunday morning, four big guys came to liberate this insert from our basement and reuse it in one of their houses. The deal was that they could have it for free so long as they did all the work and didn't damage our fireplace. That thing put up a fight—it must have taken them 45 minutes to get it out and another  30 minutes to figure out how to get it out of the basement—but it's gone.

Look at that pretty little arch that has been revealed.  We can take a moment here to reflect on the horrible pink and blue vinyl floors as well. Obviously those will need to be changed.

And for the first time, I saw the basement firebox unencumbered by the insert. And I was delighted to see that it has the same slight arch that the upstairs fireplace does.

Then I was in there with the shop vac sucking out all sorts of corruption. And yeah, I'm going to have to wash the surround at some point too.

At this point, the plan is to clean out the rust metal-lined firebox and paint it black, clean up the stone surround and put some candles in there for ambiance. A mantel and a few other modifications would also be nice, and I'd tie that in with planking the walls. The ceiling is very low down there—7 feet would be my guess—so that brings some challenges.

All of that is a way to say that with all the stars aligning this weekend, the basement project finally got a jumpstart that it's been sorely needing.

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06 November 2015


Before we jump into some great Friday Finds, a quick update on bathroom renovation planning progress (for the downstairs bathroom renovation that may or may not happen this winter). I have now found two accent tiles that have been perfect ... until I ordered them and they were discontinued. I can only assume that the universe has some amazing accent tile sitting out there waiting for me to find. If I get all the pieces pulled together, at some point I'll show you a mood board of what I'm thinking but so far it exists only in my head (or dreams).

Onto the good stuff.

You saw my review of the Troy-Bilt TB60044 Straight Shaft String Trimmer and the fantastic Trimmerplus attachements, now check out what Eric thinks about it (consider it another opportunity to see his cute dogs too). And while you're at it, enter to win a copy of The Practical Pyromaniac (certainly one of the best how-to book titles ever) from Eric as well.

Having read so many horror stories about paint sprayers I've been resistant to buying one, but seeing the difference between the brushed finish and the sprayed finish here had me forwarding the link to this recommended sprayer to Mr. Much More Patient as a Christmas gift idea before you could say, "It's not even Thanksgiving yet."

I thought that perhaps my greenhouse obsession of this summer might pass, but it's only getting worse and pictures like this are not helping.

I warn you, do not click on this link until you have a lot of time, because this blog is a rabbithole of amazingness that I lost half a day to last weekend. Also, good info on mixing and matching pillows.

Here's a good rundown of great gray paint colors. Other than the trauma with the garage color, I find grays easier to pick than whites or navy, but any paint color selection feels like a leap of faith.

I love seeing expensive rooms recreated for less so I check out this site often. Speaking of this room, there is a neat bed in it. I have never had a full bed, just a headboard. Am I missing out on something? I feel like beds must be nicer looking because you don't have to deal with a bedskirt. Talk to me people, I'm curious.

That's it, gang. Have a great weekend. I'm not sure what's on the agenda for the weekend, but at least I can safely say it won't be cleaning the fireplace.

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03 November 2015


Have you ever cleaned your stone fireplace surround? I bet the answer is no. I mean, how are you supposed to clean craggy rocks? We're been in our house for more than 13 years and I know we've never cleaned our fireplace surround. My guess is that no else in the 70 or so years previous to our ownership did either.

What spurred me into action on this completely unfun project was some photos I took in the living room. One thing stood out: There was a big soot streak in the middle of the fireplace surround.

So I did a little searching on the Internet for how to clean fireplaces. As far as I could tell, there are two options, pay a professional to come do something that sounds super messy, or go at it yourself with a variety if different cleaning methods. Turns out that what I did worked pretty well, but I'll warn you now that this is a job that's going to require your best Cinderella (pre-ball) impersonation. There's some serious elbow grease involved.

A before picture that shows how much soot had built up over the firebox.
Here's what I did:
1. First I moved all the furniture and taped off everything with plastic to make my living room resemble a scene from "Dexter."

2. Then I mixed a powdered TSP substitute with a little water to make a paste. I found that making it slightly more liquid worked better. I used the entire box and wished I had another, so plan on using quite a bit. I smeared the paste on the stone and mortar with the most staining. I wore a respirator and rubber gloves for this. Then I let it sit for a good 20 minutes to really soak in there and hopefully do some of the hard work for me.

Scrub and then scrub some more.

3. The next bit required safety glasses. Unfortunately the only safety glasses I could find were ones with bifocals so I was feeling a bit woozy. Anyway, then I took a really stiff bristle brush and went to town on all that paste. I mean I scrubbed, and hard. A lot of the paste fell off onto the hearth, which was fine since that was plenty dirty too.

Take a close look at the mess I have going there. It's ugly.

4.  It was clear to me right away that a lot of built-up grunge was coming off and I didn't really want to stop with just the part over the firebox. So I mixed up some dish detergent (Dawn, which I keep in the house for cleaning but not for washing dishes for some reason) and a little liquid Barkeeper's Friend with a bunch of water and used that to scrub the rest of the surround under the mantel, just to get the dust and regular dirt off. I made a point to not go over the areas that I had used the TSP substitute on with the soap solution because I'm no chemist but I know bad things can happen when you start mixing random things.

I had to change out the water at least five times before it wasn't this color anymore.

5. This all created a huge mess, so if you do this, be prepared. It gets a lot worse before it gets better. Then I had to rinse all this stuff off. The garden hose or a pressure washer would have done a fine job, but since I don't have a drain in my living room, I had to use a bucket and rags (I tried a sponge but the stone just ripped it apart). So I rinsed, and rinsed, and rinsed, changing out the water every time it got dirty, until the water in the bucket wasn't dirty when I rung out the rag.

Ah ... that's better. 

Then I just towel dried off what I could and left it to dry.

Isn't it amazing what a difference that made? Look at the hearth, which I only scrubbed with soapy water; it's a completely different color. You can see that I didn't scrub close to the edges of the hearth because I was afraid of water damaging the wood floor, even though I had protected it. 
Isn't it so much better? Now I just need someone to come clean the years of dust off the 15 or so feet above the mantel.

So fess up, have you ever cleaned your fireplace surround?

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02 November 2015


I've been trying to source things for our potential bathroom remodel as I make a budget for it and over the weekend I came to the line on my spreadsheet for lighting. I started looking around in all the usual online places, trying to stay mostly in the huge lighting Internet superstores and away from Circa Lighting, where I know I'll fall in love with something that's more than I want to spend.

And then I popped over on Etsy and I couldn't believe all the great lighting there now. Between excellent vintage finds (so many popular lighting styles are vintage these days so why not buy an original for less if you can) and really creative handmade lights (that you can usually have customized if you need to) at pretty amazing prices, I spent hours poring through all the amazing options. Plus, I sort of love the idea of supporting small business owners. 

Here's some of what I found.

Do you see anything that strikes your fancy? I'll be honest, there are a couple vintage lights that I didn't include on there because I'm thinking of picking them up for the bathroom and I don't want someone to snag them first! I didn't include any sputnik fixtures or too many bare Edison bulb fixtures, but Etsy is loaded with them, so if you're looking for something like that, I'd start there.

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