Category Archives: interiors

Gardener’s SOS: green therapy

With no evidence at all of anything green outside, I was fondly remembering our trip to Longwood Gardens last summer and the lush tropical displays in their giant greenhouses.

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It was particularly these fern plantings that made me fall in love with those plants again and think about ways of showcasing them both in the garden and in the home.

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But of course growing ferns in the house during the winter time is a bit of a challenge since our indoor air tends to be so dry.  Placing the pots on pebble trays filled with water so that their bases are raised on the stones and the water around them provides constant humidity is one answer.

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Or perhaps incorporating a humidifier around your ferns.  Whatever you do, don’t place them in direct sunlight near a heat source.  This will be too dry and hot for them and you’ll see a lot of browning foliage and crispy bits that will end up littering your floors.

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Although this planting is tempting, forget about growing grass inside your house lol!  Unless you don’t mind it being a temporary situation, and you choose to grow cat grass, you’ll need LOTS of light and ventilation.   This is a lovely display that combines citrus plants in a row with identical glazed pots.   They look to be a good age and are probably pruned lovingly on a regular basis to keep their canopies in bounds.

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Back in the fern house with ample humidity and filtered light was this beautifully constructed yet ancient display growing pitcher plants (known by the genus Sarracenia).

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They are so incredibly beautiful with their elegantly flared cups and red veining.

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And then these monster plants with their dangling pitchers; a different genus that makes its home on tree branches in the air rather than on the ground (Nepenthes).

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Philodendron, Dieffenbachia, Aglaonema and others all share space along this walkway, showcasing their spotted, chartreuse and purple foliage.

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Maranta, Calathea and Spanish moss share space in this sumptuous planting.

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Take a deep breath, and smell the plants growing.  Spring will come again.

Painting and panting: what have you been doing in this heat?

Where the heck have I been?

Well, I thought logically, that if we were stuck in the house for a portion of this heat wave that Ottawa has been having, we should be doing something constructive.

Painting anyone?

No, I said ‘painting’ not ‘panting’!

It’s been so hot and dry that lawns are looking like this.  The only bright spot here is the chicory, with its luminous blue flowers, not showing any ill effects from the lack of water.

You would think that our allotment would also be showing signs of serious thirst.  We visited in the middle of the drought and found that the annuals and biennials that I grew from seed were looking no worse for wear.

The zinnias and clarkia are stealing the show, but the borage is also looking stunning.

The allotment so far has produced some really beautiful produce:

This ‘Bright Lights’ rainbow chard has been harvested several times for an excellent vitamin-rich vegetable.  I saute it with garlic and onions, and serve it alongside a broiled salmon filet.  Yum.

And these beets are a variety of jewel-toned specimens – red, gold and candystripe!   I’ve harvested a few (haven’t found the gold ones yet), cooked them up and had them in a lovely beet salad with locally made goat cheese that I purchased at our local farmer’s market from Clarmell on the Rideau in Manotick.

Many of the veggies I’m growing in the allotment are from seed I obtained from Renee’s Garden, a seed producer in Felton, California.

Renee Shepherd has been in the seed business since 1985.  After completing a PhD and teaching Environmental Studies she opened Renee’s Garden in 1997.  Through her work with Shepherd’s Seeds (1985 – 1996) and Renee’s Garden Seeds, she has made many ‘exotic’ varieties of vegetables and herbs just a phone call or email away to us gardeners around the world.  She says:

This seed line is my personal selection of new, exciting and unusual seed choices of time-tested heirlooms, the best international hybrids and fine open-pollinated varieties. I  harvest and use the vegetables and herbs in my kitchen to choose the most delicious, and cut the flowers for bouquets tColorful seed packetso select the finest colors, forms and fragrances. Our varieties are tested and guaranteed for every major US climate zone.

We have been clearing more and more of our allotment as time and the weather allows, making space for some new shrubs that I am trialing (more on that later) and a spicebush (Lindera benzoin) that I obtained from Connons Nursery from my friend Dan Clost (who along with working at a very large and well-known nursery also happens to be an excellent tale spinner and writer).  It is a native shrub that is the host plant for the caterpillar that transforms into the swallowtail butterfly and is a great alternative to the comparatively loud forsythia – if you can find it, that is!

Of course the other imperative necessitating finding space to grow large shrubs is to provide shade for said companion, Skye-dog:

For our allotment has none.  And Skye spends much of her time while we’re there sitting in the car :c(

So, the painting is complete, the heat wave has subsided just a tad, and more work in my own garden (and those of my clients) beckon.

The Paris Market – in Savannah!

Savannah, Georgia, brought us many surprises.

As a recovering retailer, I still get a twinge when I find a store that I would love to own.  Such is The Paris Market on 36 West Broughton Street in downtown Savannah.

This ‘consumer experience’ has it all:  toiletries, decorative accents for the home, books, childrens toys, jewelery, candles, furniture, bedding, tableware … and more!

I wandered into this place on our last day in this wondrous city and stumbled around, speechless, looking at all the beautifully chosen items but also at the inspired vignettes that were everywhere.

I love creams, balms, brushes, sprays and soaps as much as the next girl, but it wasn’t until the lovely ex-Aix-en-Provence sales woman behind the counter said, “Take a look downstairs – it is beautiful down there as well,” that I knew I had entered my very own retail Nirvana.

Here.  Try to resist.  I dare you.

Are you still with me?

Is this not a treasure trove?

You’ll be lucky to get out of here with your life….and your wallet.

The details here are so striking, you’ll be haunted by them.

Go.  If you get a chance.  And spend.  You won’t find another store like this.  Anywhere.

Rolling woolly desert!

Look what I did today!

This succulent and cacti planter was commissioned by the plant-loving owner of MediaStyle, Ian Capstick.   Ian and I first met when he worked as a ‘barista’ at our local Starbucks when I ran Hortus Urbanus.  Little did I know that while I was forming a personal attachment to non-fat, decaf lattes, Ian was developing a profound love of plants.

So when he was looking for inspiration for his new office space in downtown Ottawa, he contacted me.   Ian had already purchased a 2′ x 2′ woolly planter from these people, called Lil’ Meadow, and I had to think of a way to plant it up that would be striking and different.

Because their new office space had floor to ceiling west-facing windows, I thought a mini Arizona or desert garden would be interesting.  I used a selection of succulents and cacti, including some Haworthia, a Kalanchoe thyrsiflora and an assortment of my favourite succulent, Echeveria.

This planter will require very little care:  a little water, no significant fertilizing, bright light and hardly any tweaking (no falling foliage and few spent flowers).  I completed the project by finishing it off with a mulch of peastone.

And Ian was thinking ahead by placing it on a rolling platform so it can be turned this way and that, always seeking out the sun.

Spanish designer Jaime Parlade

While I was doing a bit of reading about the 14th century Moorish gardens at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain,  I stumbled upon the work of contemporary Spanish designer Jamie Parlade.  Don’t ask me how that happened!

From his website, these words give you an insight into his influence as an established designer (and made me smile…):

“…quality has no price nor should price ever be discussed with an artist … he insists that mutual trust between client and the decorator is essential.”

Image:; photo by Derry Moore

His Andalusian home and garden was featured in this 2008 article in Architectural Digest magazine.

Image:; photo by Derry Moore
I love the vibrant, rich colours in this kitchen as well as the rustic, dare I say, ‘humble’ details.

What a beautiful, light, airy bedroom — and gorgeous fabrics!


This place radiates warmth and the pleasures of summer.  What a comfortable room in which to spend time.

Visiting Loomis Creek Nursery & Hudson, New York

I promised I’d write about the rest of our trip to New York state for the Open House days with the Garden Conservancy (see post on Margaret Roach’s garden).  Well, we drove for several hours from Ottawa and arrived at our quaint accommodation called the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York.

This was a really nice place to call home for the long weekend that we were away.  The building is a heritage clapboard construction typical of the town; the place, indoors and out, had been impeccably restored, freshly painted and decorated with comfortable antiques and gently used furniture (and a very good mattress). 


Our room was right on the first floor, with one window facing the street and the others along the side alleyway:  it was a one bedroom suite with a sitting room that had an exquisite fireplace and lots of books about the history of the Hudson River Valley.

There was room for both of us to stretch out on comfortable chairs after a full day of driving and garden looking; one of us could even go to sleep while the other stayed up and read on the other side of the french doors.

The room was listed as having a Queen bed, but they very graciously exchanged it for a King so both of us girls could have enough space!

And what did I say about the bathroom?  Cute, eh?

There was no kitchen and no real cooking facilities; just some things to make coffee or tea.  But this is not a bad thing because there are plenty of places to eat in Hudson.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, after dinner drinks — they’ve got it all covered.

And gorgeous architecture that is continuously being renovated and revived.  Hudson is a bit of a mecca for the disillusioned New York City art and antique dealer, and is chock full of personality.

So after our trip to Margaret’s garden (see previous post), we headed to Loomis Creek Nursery, the inspired plant provider that she gets to haunt that is about 15 minutes away.  Lucky neighbours!

This place is special:  a really interesting and exotic selection of plants (annuals, perennials, tropicals, shrubs AND trees), gorgeous pots and unique gardening accessories.

Do you recognize the low oval pot?  That’s the one that Margaret uses as a water feature.  I love the tall ones too especially when they’re planted like this with a key architectural plant (a variety of  Taro or Elephant Ear plant — Alocasia sp.).

And lots of beautifully clipped myrtle (Myrtus communis) topiaries:  my favourite.  I first saw them on an old episode of Martha Stewart Living when she visited Allen Haskell at his nursery in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  Mr. Haskell was known as a somewhat crusty but extremely talented nurseryman who, of course, was anything but cranky with Martha.  He was a lover of myrtle and had a vast collection of topiaries that he tended, some for sale and many others for his own enjoyment.  He died in 2004 (his NY Times obituary is here) but the nursery goes on.  I would love to visit it next!

Alas, I couldn’t bring plants home across the border but I did leave with an obelisk —

The same one in the pot to the left of the door …

Reluctantly, we left as it started to rain and ventured back to our place in town.  The following day we adventured out to Kykuit.  That is a story unto itself.  Stay tuned…