July morning, overcast and raining…

Oh, so thankful for a good ol’ rainy day…without feeling guilty, I can stay inside and work on any of the multitude of projects just waiting for a start. So…remember…”the sun’ll come out, tomorrow”, my dear friends!

SO, some of my thoughts on home projects…

I really want to whitewash the brick fireplace and wood mantel…This type of treatment will provide a focal point to design the room around. And, this hand-painting technique will give the fireplace a much softer  look and feel..something I strive to achieve in MY living room…comfortable with a patina of age and humble elegance, a bit feminine with romantic flourish, whimsical, and full of collected treasures and vintage charm! At first glance…maybe a bit shabby!    [ Will keep you posted…]

Winding my way around the desk, towards the kitchen…my first thought…oh, for need of unlimited funds! The original countertop needs to be GONE…here, I’m again thinking of whitewashing the old pine cabinets and replacing the countertop with thick, reclaimed pine boards, or maybe bamboo butcher block…at one point I considered stainless counters but can’t find a contractor in my area who can do this, reasonably.  For a the space between counter and cabinets, I may revisit a previous idea used in the kitchen of our old 1917 house in Texas…pine countertop and a mosaic backsplash. For the mosaic I used pieces of antique flow blue and white china plates, broken during an earthquake [we were living in Pasadena, CA at the time] that I had been saving for years…I also added tiny medicine bottles found in the garden, odd jewelry bits and pieces, half broken cups with handles and…well, you get the idea! It was so charming and colorful. I have a few pieces of the china left and have been collecting other items I could use so that seems to be my choice for now. I think I’ll call Jim to see when he can start…

On the old cabinet, moved several times back and forth across the country… shown below… are just some of the many other bits and pieces I’ve been collecting for years…every few months I take everything off the shelves, wipe down the wood and then clean every little item with lavender water.    While doing  this, I reflect on where and when I found an item and the memories associated with each of my treasures…this sometimes takes quite a while to finish…but so enjoyable!  Especially while thinking of all the little shops in Southern California, Texas Hill Country, and places I visited and ‘shopped’ throughout Provence…it’s like mini trips!

Although most of my treasures are on display…I use some of them daily and more when I take an opportunity to entertain friends…usually book club or wine-tasting! Fun to add a touch of sparkle or

I prefer to use some of my old things for purposes not as always intended: versatility… for example…a collection of very nice old crystal stems are used to hold cosmetics and make-up brushes, small plates fill in for a soap holder, silver sugar shakers for dusting powder, silver bowls for lavender buds, crystal compotes hold chubby candles, espresso cups filled with flowers or herbs and such!

The wood candle box is now used to hold my French made LAGUIOLE flatware…this makes it easier to find when sitting down to eat dinner or set my able.

Behind the cabinet doors below are tablecloths, bundles of  napkins tied with lavender, cloth bags filled with antique silver flatware, my boxes of broken china pieces…and even an old champagne bottle holder found in a Paris flea market! This is used on special occasions for bouquets of flowers, especially roses and phlox,  from my garden. Inspiration is everywhere…and, I love the hours spent whenever I can,  joyfully scavenging through endless baskets and containers of treasures at flea markets and shops wherever I travel…this definitely lights the fire and challenges my creative nature again and again.

BOOKS…stacked everywhere, are a very special part of my collections…

Most of my special books are garden, home or design related, and I have hundreds of them…many about French culture, art, history, gardens, cooking and especially traveling through Provence via camera and story…

Other books I’ve been reading provide vicariously great pleasure…the series by Karen Wheeler are especially enjoyable…TOUT SWEET, TOUT SOUL and TOUTE ALLUREand I’m impatiently awaiting her next in the series. My French sister, Jeanine just sent me a book that I’m reading now…Lunch in Paris, A Love Story, With Recipes by Elizabeth Bard a charming memoir of eight years living and eating her way through Paris.

Anything written by Peter Mayle…especially one of his latest books, A GOOD YEAR and a very special movie for me too, COOKBooks by Patricia Wells, Living and Cooking ON RUE TATIN by Susan Loomis, Entertaining with Roger Verges, Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Heller [a Bocuse d’or winner] and countless others…all find their way into my home. I spend hours perusing the books and photos and recipes…

And please, do not forget to enjoy a bit of wine from Provence while looking through the books I just mentioned…the flavor adds to the enjoyment!   pronounced… La VEEEL Ferrrme

As I mentioned in past postings, my friends just call it the “chicken wine” !

It has a lovely crisp taste, a hint of fruit but nicely dry as I prefer, and takes me back to our picnic in the lavender fields circa 1999…

Holly and I took a short break and walked down the road in the rain…I put an old T-shirt on her to keep the moisture from splashing up on her stomach…it worked. Usually if she is out on a rainy walk she gets soaked underneath and also gets her ‘fur’ rather dirty. This new trick kept her clean and she was quite easy to dry with some vigorous toweling!

Funny, she kept walking next to me under the umbrella…hummmmm…smart Border Collie!

July…summer garden…sweet pleasures!

blue hydrangeaThe 4th of July…INDEPENDENCE DAY and this morning I awoke to the sound of rain running down the spouts, filling all the barrels, swirling winds bending the tall oaks in the backyard… and for a while, much cooler temperatures! This ‘early in the season’ hurricane thankfully flew on by but left us some very welcome rainfall and a literal breath of fresh air!  All my hydrangeas have really appreciated the heavy soaking…of course the rest of the garden did, too, but especially the blues as they had gotten rather limpy…I do try to stick to my inch once a week watering. Of course, some days when I’m out giving my potted lemons and blueberries a drink I will put the hose nozzle at the base of a thirsty shrub while I look around for any problems/issues that might need to be addressed. What a treat for the 4th of July…freedom from heat and humidity for the day…

Sweet pleasures…The smell of freshly cut grass…I did that late yesterday afternoon knowing the rain was coming…ripe berries warmed by the  sun offer a juicy bite of the season, yellow pear tomatoes bursting with sweetness and warmth, a hint of gardenia fragrance…and later in the evening, while walking down the road with Holly…the twinkling of fireflies, which really seem to be multiplying every year. I have left several debris piles at the edge of the woods as well as large piles of limbs from a downed trees which provide the fireflies with good shelter and habitat…and of course there is no harmful spraying going on either!

Something NOT SO SWEET in my garden…mealy bugs! They are everywhere, sucking away plant life…just look closely and you will see what looks like clusters of tiny cotton balls on stems and the underside of leaves. And they seem to come back year after year, no matter what!! So I still use the same method of removing them…year after year. A hard blast of cold water usually knocks them off and will destroy some of them…I repeat this everyday till they give up. If I were more industrious, I would make an oil and soap mixture to spray on them…but I know there are some mealy bug destroyers [the good guys] at work so will just give them time to help with the problem.

 lavender bundlesLavender bushes continue to produce fragrant bloom spikes so before the buds form and drop I cut the stems close to the base, collect into bundles and “tie” the bundles with rubber bands…working with and around the bees gathering nectar!

Using rubber bands will keep bundles tight as the stems shrink…or loose moisture. To collect and store the bundles till ready, I use a large sturdy English trug…wish I had the capacity to grow all the lavender shown in the wagon. Since my garden is surrounded by woods, I have to grow  lavender bushes in the few spots that get at least 4-6 hours of sun…with good drainage, too! Several bushes are planted along the path steps that wind through the garden…as I brush by the foliage the delicious scent of lavender fills the air for a while…I stop for a moment and remember sitting in the lavender fields of Provence with Jeanine. WAKE UP!!

BLUEBIRD Moment…Standing by the sink washing dishes this morning…such joy watching the ‘birdy’ parents fly in and out of the nest box, carrying nourishment to their hatchlings. The blue of the skittish male is astonishing in color and depth….compared to the female who appears to have no mirror in her nest.

bboxTo attract these beautiful creatures to your garden…PROVIDE PROPER HOUSING!  Not all bluebird nesting boxes are created equal…make sure the boxes are made from cedar…NOT pressure-treated wood, provide the proper size entry hole [usually 1 1/2″ ] and no perch is needed…like the example pictured left.

mosaic houseI made some nice decorative/design improvements to a new cedar house a friend made for me. A bit of bling for the lady of the house and a nice tile mosaic roof for the male…who would obviously prefer hunting for food than repairing the roof! For the roof I used some pieces of antique dishes that broke years ago…but I kept them and have used bits of them for several projects. This ’tile’ roof will preserve the roof and keep the box useable for many more years. Even though the natural location for a bluebird nest is a tree cavity…a nest box provides comparable shelter. While living in Texas I made a Bluebird Trail around our property to attract the beauties to a new habitat. Fairly easy to do:I just collected a dozen cedar boxes, attached them to the top of 6′ fence posts and spaced them at 150-200 foot intervals around the five acres. This is so the Bluebirds can establish territories. AND, I  made sure to site the entry holes away from prevailing winds, shaded from afternoon sun. I’m doing the same thing here in Virginia but because the property is a bit smaller I have one box in the back garden and one shown above in the front of the house.

wht hyd

“ANNABELLE”…such a lovely, romantic…and quite southern name…even though they originated at the University of Illinois in the early part of the 20th century. This stunning, old-fashioned hydrangea…Hydrangea aborescens…produces large white blooms consistently throughout the summer…[see the HUGE pompom like blossoms that fill the entry to my front porch with exquisite fragrance, to the left] . These native shrubs, part of the wild hydrangea family, are easy to grow as they bloom on new wood and require minimal maintenance…just provide a good site with, rich organic soil, morning sun, some afternoon shade and consistent moisture. AnnabelleAn especially striking feature is the chartreuse shade of flowers when they first appear…and turn to creamy white with age…hummm! Many landscapers fail to use these in their designs…but I find them to be very useful and will typically include them in my landscapes…such flowing shape and blooms help to create a less formal look in the garden. My affinity for hydrangeas of all form and color has a lot to do with tradition and nostalgia…but I find that they fit easily into many landscape designs…offering a variety of shapes, shades and structure.

DRYING HYDRANGEAS…EASY!!  Once the blooms have opened fully and the flowers have JUST started to fade…resist the temptation to harvest the flowers at the height of their color…Cut bloom stems at least 12-18 inches long; Strip the leaves from the stems and place the cut flowers into a container filled with fresh water, the stems should be submerged at least halfway; place in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight; NOW, WAIT patiently until the water has dried/evaporated from the container. When there is no more liquid in the container, the blooms are dry and ready to be used.

HEIRLOOM TOMATOES…my favorite tomatoes to grow…and eat…are all heirloom varieties. This is a term used to describe any tomato plant that is openly pollinated...by wind and bees…and has been cultivated for more than 50 years. Farmers typically save seeds from heirloom varieties at the end of the growing season for use in the next season. These prized seeds, often called heritage seeds, are/were passed down from one generation to another . NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH MAN-MADE, HYBRID CROSSES OF DIFFERENT LINES. Heirloom tomatoes are usually cultivated by  small-scale farmers and home gardeners who actually appreciate the flavor and colors of the tomatoes…there are odd shapes such as pear, cherry and grape and many sizes such as Beefsteak and Brandywine.

FLAVORFUL RAINBOW…These tomatoes vary in color from classic red to orange, gold, yellow, pink, purplish black and even green when ripe. They have terrific texture because they ripen on the vine and are not stored under refrigeration.  The salad pictured left is an mix with fresh herbs and crumbled goat cheese. Now I really want a tomato sandwich!!


DIG IT!!  Just wanted you to see the great idea for using old shovel heads…here they make great garden “sculpture” hanging on a wall…I hung a collection of old shovels on my farm gate entry onto our property in Texas…Those shovels hanging on the shop gate  made it pretty clear to customers where to enter the farm…and it was a great way to display some unusual old shovel heads.


…deadhead roses and other perennials to encourage continued blooming

…be sure to deep water hanging baskets and container gardens, daily

…water the garden an inch, once a week when no rainfall occurs

…begin removing lower leaves on tomato vines to aid ripening and encourage plants to put their energy into fruit production

…raise height of lawn mower to allow for longer grass, protects moisture level at base of grass , use mulching option instead of bagging

…garlic should all be harvested by now

…make sure you have screens on rain barrels to prevent mosquitoes or add mosquito dunks to the barrels

…make birdbaths butterfly friendly by creating places that provide an easy perch, such as a few rocks that rise above the water level; keep water fresh daily or as often as possible

ENJOY YOUR GARDEN! Go outside and play…

Many friends have asked about my banner photo…it is CERISE, my little friend that I found in a small village shop in Provence, she goes everywhere with me…and Holly, too. She is a replica model of a deaux Chevaux or Citroen 2cv…which was produced in France from 1948-1990. MANY are still in use today, life size, of course!

My French sister, Jeanine sent me a birthday card [ 7/7] with a new friend for Cerise, Cerise

she is a scooter named, Brise…French for breezy…Voila!