La Louve

La Louve
La Louve...Garden of the She-Wolf, Bonnieux, France. La Louve is a private French contemporary garden, open to the public, in the town of Bonnieux in the Vaucluse Department of France. It was created beginning in 1986 by Nicole de Vésian, textile designer for the Paris fashion house of Hermès. It is classified by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens of France.


Barbara Wiseley, Naturally

California interior designer Barbara Wiseley states in her interview with Veranda magazine that her home is "....just khaki, plain colors. Even my dogs are brown and white." 

But there is nothing "plain" about Ms. Wiseley's home. If there is a house I could move into and feel completely at home, it is hers. One side of her living room below:

Italian 18th-c. armchair, 18th-c. Portuguese gateleg table, antique stone lion. If this is 'plain', I'll take it! My favorite thing in the photograph, though, is the tall, narrow tree with Spanish moss that gracefully towers over the seating group. The height and shape of the tree is an exceptional touch: It provides a touch of drama without blocking conversation by people seated behind and in front of it.

View from foyer to hallway. On the left, a 16th-c. Spanish quilted leather bench. To the right a series of framed antique seaweed botanicals with an antique Portuguese iron-studded leather trunk below them.

Picasso drawing with ebonized dentil frame; Han dynasty bowl; Roman lion fragment and Etruscan bird. The item in the center is an antique silver headdress.  Japanese maple tree in fabric-wrapped vase on right.

Ms. Wiseley has the ability to integrate antiques and artifacts with newly designed furnishings producing completely modern and up-to-date interior. Another example of her effortless style is her dining room.
Iron table base by Formations; 18th-c. terra cotta urn and a pair of 2nd-c. roman carved dogs. The 'grabbers':  the mossy pots planted with dwarf olive shrubs and a Japanese iris. Again, nature augmenting ancient.

While Ms. Wiseley's home is filled with indisputably wonderful antiques, artifacts and newly-designed furnishings (she is a partner in the LA design firms Dennis & Leen and Formations), it is her garden and the way she integrates nature with the new and the old that makes me take note. And - like the talented designer she is - Ms. Wiseley also makes gardening look effortless.
An antique stone capital is used as a table (left). To the right is a 16th c. Spanish-style wood table by Formations. Note the irregularly shape pavers intersected by pepples and Korean moss. A little pond is in the foreground. I particularly like the bonsai on the large table, along with succulents planted in an old iron vessel. The stone pigeon and basin is antique.

This is another beautiful exterior vignette. The table is made of 18th c. limestone slabs;  the mirror is 17th c. Italian. Here again, a bonsai, this one a pine tree. The succulents are planted in a French 17th c. stone trough.   

Antique Spanish stone table, 18th c. Italian candlesticks and shell used as a planter.

Ms.Wisely's home is in California and the mild weather allows her to use soft furnishings outside. But the use of hard materials like the stone tables and troughs lends itself to most parts of the country. The pine bonsai would stand up in all but the most severe winter weather, and an inexpensive mirror found at a thrift shop could be distressed and used in place of the costly antique Italian version. Thinking outside the box is what this kind of decorating is all about. 

She also integrates plants, both common and exotic, into her design both inside and out. Again, this is something anyone can do. Small trees and mosses of all kinds are available at garden centers around the country. The next time you visit one, examine the trees for interesting shapes and bark texture. Buying a small one costs next to nothing, and planting it in a stone container will keep its growth slow. Trim a few of the branches, add a little Spanish moss and you've created your own bonsai!

Finally, almost every part of the country has stone quarries with odd pieces available for sale. Visiting one inspires all sorts of ideas. An example: I recently found several small pieces of slate at a nearby stone outlet. With the addition of soft felt on the bottom, I now use them to serve up cheese, crackers and cold appetizers. The added plus: They were so small, the owner gave them to me free of charge!


A kaiyū-shiki-teien in Georgia

Nyū en:
Entering the Garden

A shelter (amayadori) along the path.
kaiyū-shiki-teien: A strolling garden

Uniquely Asian concepts and esthetics are involved in traditional Japanese gardens, many of them stemming from the Shinto faith. In time Zen Buddhism also exerted a strong influence, such as the austere zen rock garden of Ryōan-ji (late 15th century) in Kyoto.

A huge granite boulder has been partially carved to create a seat so one may sit and contemplate the pond and its surroundings.

Values such as simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizen), tranquility (kanji), refined elegance and subtlety (shibui), and the use of the suggestive rather than the descriptive mode of communication are either products of Zen thought or were reinforced by it. Just as it is impossible to describe Zen in words, describing a Japanese garden is almost impossible. One must experience it to understand the concept. And like Zen, once it is understood, it becomes elusive again. 

A single pine tree bends towards the water as though wishing to see its reflection.

An important concept in the Japanese garden is "simplicity" or kanso. In this concept, beauty is attained through omission and elimination. Simplicity must not be confused with plainness. To the Japanese, simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means. Buildings, bridges, fences, and pavement all utilize natural material constructed in an imaginative and refined manner.

Iris growing along the banks of the pond, their beauty doubled by the reflection in the water.

Japan is a group of islands surrounded by oceans and seas and its people have had an affinity for the sea since their beginnings. Water as a design element in the garden is crucial. One of the most popular styles of garden is called chisen, in which a pond or lake occupies the most significant portion of the garden. Water's importance is not as a substance but as a symbol and expression of the sea. Even the quantity of water present is unimportant. The Zen aesthetic suggests one could enjoy the tranquility of the sea in the contemplation of a puddle of water contained in a shallow stone basin.

A stone lantern stands between the water and a craggy juniper. A large black pine bonsai hovers nearby.

Groups of stones representing a rocky seashore may be arranged near the edge of a lake.  Trees and plants used in the garden are closely interwoven with the spiritual and physical life of the Japanese people. The pine is a major basic structural tree. Traditionally it is called tokiwa and, as an evergreen, it expresses both longevity and happiness. The black and red pines symbolize the positive and negative forces in the universe. The Japanese black or male pine called omatsu represents the former force and the red or female pine called mematsu represents the latter force.

A peninsula of stone stretches out into the pond, inviting the visitor to venture closer to the water and be embraced by it.

 Crane and tortoise sculpture is used extensively in Japanese gardens representing longevity.. According to mythology, the crane lives a thousand years and the tortoise ten thousand years.

Note: For more information about the history, design and aesthetics of Japanese gardens, I refer the reader to "In the Traditional Japanese Garden: An Introduction" by Dr. Koichi Kawana.

All photographs were taken by the author at Gibbs Gardens, Ballground, Georgia.


Preserving Fresh Flowers, Part 2

In a previous post, I wrote about which flowers last the longest after they've been cut. Now, let's take a look at how we can preserve the flower petals when the flower is dying but the petals still retain their color and form.

There are several preservation methods:
  1. Hang Drying
  2. Water Drying
  3. Oven Drying
1. Hang drying is the best way to dry stemmed flowers that will be used in dried flower arrangements. Collect 3-5 stems per bunch of flowers, remove all the leaves from the stems, secure the ends with a rubber band and hang in a dark, dry area until all the petals feel dry to the touch. The time will, of course, vary depending on the size of the flowers.

2. Water drying works well for hydrangeas, Queen Anne's lace and baby's breath. Place flowers in a container filled with a small amount of water. Place the container in a warm area away from sunlight. As the water evaporates, the flowers keep their natural look. Allow several days for the process.

3. Oven drying is the process that works best when one wants to dry only the petals of the flowers. It does take attention, though, as the petals dry quickly. 

Gather petals from the flowers, place on a cookie sheet in a single layer, set your oven on low (my oven only goes as low as 170 degrees) and leave the oven door ajar. Watch carefully so the petals dry but do not burn. I've found that 12 minutes at 170 degrees works the best, but I also close the oven door. 

Carefully remove the dried petals from the sheet as they will be brittle and delicate. Place in a clean bowl or pretty jar. I process several sheets of petals at one time while my oven is still warm.

A mix of pale pink roses and peonies

I plan to dry the hydrangeas using the water drying method. However, both the yellow roses and the white hydrangeas are almost two weeks old and still looking fresh.
The pictures above are of the roses when fresh; below, their petals dried two days ago. From 6 fresh roses (Knock Out), the yield was 1 cup of dried petals. From the mixed yellow and pink roses, I have 1 1/2 cups of dried petals. At this point, you would add rose oil to the mix which duplicates the original scent of the fresh flowers, carefully mixing the petals so most of them receive some of the oil. A wooden spoon works well. 

The roses were a strong burgundy red but dried to the color seen here.

The pink and yellow roses kept their true color but dried to a paler version. I'm drying two more trays of rose petals as I write this.

I have four large Knock Out rose bushes in front of the house. For years their petals dropped, dried and blew away. No longer! I should have at least 1 pound of dried petals by the end of the summer.  

Note that this is not true potpourri which contains other ingredients. My favorite book for making potpourri, sachets, bath oils and dried flower arrangements is "The Scented Room" by Barbara Milo Ohrbach. The book is long out of date (published in 1986) but can probably be purchased on Amazon.

The rose oil can be purchased on line, but it's pricey. You can make your own, but you would need large quantities of petals...some for the dried roses and some for the oil extract.

  1. Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat.
  2. Pour a cup of oil in a glass jar. Grapeseed oil is a good choice. Olive oil (opt for the lighter kind) can work in a pinch, but I don't like the added aroma.
  3. Gently crush a cup of rose petals and place in the oil. Swirl the jar around to coat the petals.
  4. Cover the jar and place into the hot water. Warming the oil will help release the scent from the rose petals. When the water cools, you can move the jar to a warm area like a sunny windowsill.
  5. Leave the jar alone in the warm area for at least 24 hours.
  6. Strain the oil through a cheesecloth, pressing the petals to extract as much oil as you can.
  7. If you want a stronger-smelling oil, you can repeat steps 1-6 with fresh petals. You may need to repeat the process 5 or 6 times to get the desired level of scent.
  8. Pour clear oil into a dark bottle with a lid (dark glass will help block out sunlight and keep the oil more stable).
Please leave comments and let me know if any of these methods work for you.  Meanwhile, good luck!


Preserving Fresh Flowers, Part 1

Mother's Day is the busiest holiday for florists, and I love receiving deliveries from my daughters who live in other states and can't always be with us. However, these gorgeous bouquets last for a week, perhaps more, depending on the flowers. So, being the thrifty (aka cheap-skate) person I am, I like to preserve as many blooms as possible.

I hope you find the following information helpful in preserving your fresh flowers, whether from the florist, garden or local supermarket.

The Longest Lasting Flowers:

Rose ~ Vase life is 7 to 10 days, if you keep them in cool water. Buy roses with firm heads. Gently squeeze the bud and check for firmness. Always cut roses underwater (to avoid air pockets), then place in a water-filled vase.

Orchid ~ Vase life is 14 to 21 days. Trim Orchid stems and change their water everyday, or at least every second day. Remove all faded flowers.

Carnation ~Vase life is 14 to 21 days. Remove the leaves and petals at water level and below. White Carnations can be 'colored' by adding food coloring to the vase water. They slowly drink up the dyes and change color.


 Lily ~ Vase life is 14 days. Always carefully remove the pollen to prevent staining, using gloves or paper towel. Remove faded blossoms to encourage re-blooming. However, beware of lilies like the "Star Gazer" which has a strong scent and can be over-powering in small rooms.
Gladiolas  - Vase life is 14 days. Thin out and remove all the fading flowers as they die. Glads bloom from the bottom up so removing those spent blossoms doesn't leave an unattractive stem. I even like Glads when they're very short...perfect for tiny vases.

Chrysanthemum ~ Vase life 25 to 30 days, the longest of all cut flowers. Add clean water to the vase every day, trimming their stems about 1/8". Obvious, buy Mums with the longest stems so you'll have enough near the end of their life to still make a decent size bouquet. I've found that Spider Mums don't last very long, so I opt for the daisy-like ones, while violet and yellow Mums last longer than the white ones.

While those little packets of preservatives are handy, I like using my own liquid preservative. Here's the recipe:

1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon bleach
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 quart lukewarm water.


Iris, how I love thee...

"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”  
- Claude Monet

Pacific Coast Hybrid Yellow Iris courtesy of San Marcos Growers, CA.

I once had the very great pleasure of living in a house that came with an heirloom garden that was established by the previous owners, the Urbans. Reverend Urban was a retired Presbyterian minister but had been an amateur horticulturist for much of his life. We moved into the house in the dead of winter and had no idea of what lay in store for us the following Spring....hundreds and hundreds of bearded Iris on a terraced hillside in almost every color of the rainbow! It was a breathtaking sight then, and the images of those glorious flowers lives on in my memory over 30 years later.

White bearded Iris (Better Homes and Gardens)

Not only is the Iris a beautiful and elegant flower, is also bears an ancient lineage. It was the name of the Greek Goddess who guiding the souls of dead women to the Elysian Fields, and today Greeks still plant purple Iris on the graves of women. Iris also acted as a messenger between the gods and is personified in the rainbow.

 Indeed the Iris extends back further than the Greek culture. On Minoan ruins that date over three thousand years, Iris can be found planted in the background of aged and faded stucco reliefs. Iris appears in stone at Karnak in Egypt, and Thutmosis III (1504-1450 b.c.) had a garden built near one of his palaces to display the iris he had brought back from campaigns. Examples of the Iris can also be found carved into stone at the temple of Anon.
In France, the Iris is known as the Fleur-de-lis and has long been associated with the country's kings. A old French story tells of King Louis VII having a dream in which he was instructed to adopt the purple Iris as his symbol. Thus the fleur-de-lis became the symbol on the banners of France for nearly six hundred years.

The first bearded Iris of the season in our little courtyard garden.

Like herbs and other fail-safe plants, Iris are easy to grow and spread with ease. And for a very elegant flower, they need little more than a few hours of sun and occasional watering. With a genus of 260-300 species, Iris gets its name is from the Greek word for "rainbow", which refers to the fact that the plant comes in a wide variety of colors. Once called 'flag, it's a mainstay in country gardens, as well as in those glorious Spring bouquets so favored by flower lovers everywhere.


For information on the planting, growing, cultivation and dividing of Iris, consult the American Iris Society or join your local group. You'll never regret it!