First Place Furniture

My daughter recently moved into a new place, and for the first time has been quite inspired to decorate and personalize it.  To help out, I dug through the basement and offered her some Craigslisted treasures that she could use her creative powers to transform and beautify.  Unfortunately, I do not have “before pictures” but trust me, they were aesthetically doomed!  (What am I doing with a basement full of random Craigslisted furniture?  Don’t ask!)

side table This little side table, above, was many decades-old, scratched-up, dowdy brown wood veneer. It did, however, have nice details and trim.

Since her new room is on the small side, and since she wants to paint her walls a colour (either grey or mauve), she settled on white paint.

For a successful paint job on old furniture:

1.     First wash thoroughly with TSP to increase adhesion.  Rinse.  Sand with approximately 100 grit sandpaper.  Wipe to remove grit from sanding.  Using painter’s tape, tape off brass hardware feet in this case, or any parts that should not have paint on them.

2.     Then, paint with an adhesive primer such as Benjamin Moore Fresh Start primer.  We are never without a pail of this product in the house!  (Note, I really am not paid by Benjamin Moore; I just suggest the products I know and trust!)  I recommend turning furniture upside down and starting with the hard-to-reach areas for all coats of paint.  That way, when you turn over the piece, you will smooth out any paint that is runny or drippy and the visible areas will get the last look.  Let dry according to primer instructions.

3.     Then, sand again lightly to smooth and remove any bumps.  After this, we used a special paint intended for harder-wearing areas such as cabinetry.  Urethane Acrylic “Cabinet Coat” is a Benjamin Moore owned line of paints which replaces oil-based paints which were formerly used for cabinetry and furniture but are now banned in Canada for health and environmental reasons.  For more information check here.

4.     For best results, let dry according to product instructions then repeat the previous sanding and painting, always starting under the piece and finishing on top.  For furniture with drawers, only paint the sides of the drawers, which aren’t visible when the  drawers are shut, with one coat of primer or paint.  This prevents the drawers from getting sticky and difficult to open.

applying map to furniture

6.     My daughter liked the recessed surface of the small table and it inspired her to personalize the piece further by adding a map of places she’d like to do more traveling.  National Geographic is a good resource for this sort of thing.  Apply a map like this with adhesive spray. available from craft stores.  Before spraying, tape off the painted areas that will not be covered by the map, using low-adhesive painter’s tape so that the spray does not ruin the finish of the adjacent paint.

7.     Let dry, remove painter’s tape and finally, apply several coats of clear resin over the map to protect it from the inevitable effects of coffee mugs, keychains and so on.  Voila!photo 4

This sweet little sideboard had a multitude of colours on it, reminiscent of the 80s (cream with forest green and red). It had lost its cupboard doors long before I met it.  Staying inspired by the eternal words of a legendary decor guru:

Elsie de Wolfe

the same paint techniques were applied to this piece.  Daughter dear intends to find baskets to put inside the door openings for a chic, modern look, but in the meantime it is a handy home for a voracious reader’s ever-expanding collection of books.

Expanding upon the European travel theme, she then clipped photos and created a collage inside of each of the small drawers on this unit.

furniture project

The collage is finished by using a couple of coats of a water-based, non-yellowing sealer like the one at step 7 in this post.

So, for anyone moving into a new home, student housing or otherwise trying to live elegantly and make ends meet at the same time, cast-off furniture can be beautifully transformed to create a look of chic comfort.  I am looking forward to seeing the finished room!

These pieces are nice enough to last for many years of enjoyment and could move to a cottage one day when your ship comes in!

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Not Your Mama’s Onions

Allium, flowering onion, comes in a variety of sizes, heights and versions of purple, as well as bloom times.  Allium Giganteum is very tall and large and blooms slightly later than the ones shown below.  Allium Christophii, Star of Persia, is shorter with a larger flower and is a show-stopper in more compact gardens.

Allium English garden

Allium in my May garden

Allium have a stunning architectural look to them and can be a focal point of a calm, serene, modern-style garden or they can be an early spark of excitement in a classic English-style garden like the one in front of my house.

Allium in May

Allium are sun-lovers but tolerate a bit of shade.  Plant them where, once they are done their show, other plants will grow up in front of their fading foliage and let them blend in, for example, behind a boxwood hedge or a mid- to late-summer blooming perennial.  In my garden I have them behind daylilies, speedwell and Artemesia “Silver King” which are all still relatively short at this point in the season and have their moments of glory later than the Allium.  If you get the bloom times of the varieties co-ordinated, they pair stunningly with Nepeta, Catmintand are great for keeping squirrels somewhat at bay.

I don’t like to have too many things blooming with the allium; however I do love the look of gold foliage with their purple flowers.  Above you can see them with Goldflame Spirea and elsewhere in this garden but not in the photos Tradescantia “Blue and Gold”, Spiderwort, captures the morning sun like a jewel.

When designing gardens that I know small children will be living with, I try to incorporate allium for their ball-like, unique shape which I think is engaging for children.  What child can’t benefit from being drawn into nature a little more these days?  If you have enough, they also make beautiful cut flowers.

Giant Flowering OnionAllium English garden

Are you looking for garden ideas to complement a typical North American subdivision home?  Look for my next post in which I show the transformation of one such lot with lush and colourful foliage.

Allium Toronto

I design gardens in the Greater Toronto area.  Check out a few examples above under “Garden” and follow me on Twitter @patinaandcompan

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Endless Winter

Two years ago spring came early to Southern Ontario, with me posting snowdrops and forsythia buds ready to force indoors in the earliest days of February.  This year, it seems that winter will never end.  The minus double-digit temperatures have been almost constant for the past two months and there is so much accumulated snow heaped up in front of the houses that I am not even prepared to venture outside to take pictures of it for you.  It makes last year’s deep freeze look like child’s play.

Christmas decorating is long gone, Amaryllis blooms have faded.  While we wait for signs of life ouside, we have to content ourselves with making a little indoor spring to pull us through.

indoor spring planter

Spring bulbs are compatible with the remnants of winter decorating.  I kept snow-tipped faux evergreens and berries in this pot, together with variegated annual ivy that I overwintered indoors, and just added budding tulips from the local grocery store.

overwintering plants indoors

My sunroom is overflowing with plants, many of which are overwintering indoors as well, which allows me to sit with my hot tea and kid myself a little about the barren situation outside!

It is, however, a great time to give your indoor plants a little TLC, something that would never happen in my world if spring came early enough to go outdoors.

Did you have an unusually severe winter this year?  Hang in there, spring has to come eventually!

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Fall Garden Inspiration

This is the perfect time of year to get inspired about your fall garden.  Ontario and the East will soon be brilliant with fall colour and our gardens will be aglow in this vibrant backdrop.  In other parts of North America, however, the maples and other trees do not turn the same intense oranges and reds, so gardeners have to be more imaginative about getting fall colour into their gardens.

fall garden

Japanese Maples, blue foliage and grasses create dramatic contrasts

Last year, my mother sent me photos of her (always) new and improved garden in its fall glory, and I have saved them until now to share with you.  Frequent readers will have seen this garden before in my blog.

fall colour in the garden

Looking at this photo last week caused me to rush out and buy Japanese Blood Grass (foreground, centre). A terra-cotta pot containing one of the new, peachy heucheras and orange daisies (not visible) add more layers of personality and interest

Throughout her garden, I am struck by the way the blue-grey foliage is a dramatic accent to the fall colours–blue spruce varieties, blue oat grass and similar accents.

japanese anemone

Honorine Jobert Japanese Anemone, centre, one of relatively few flowering plants in this nonetheless very colourful fall garden

Japanese Anemones are wonderful fall flowers, for their delicate form and tough cold-hardiness.  They will wave their pretty blooms until a hard frost, unlike few other flowers with such a delicate look!

fall planter

Coleus, canna and friends with the visual softness of terra cotta

fall japanese garden

Small and large evergreens mixed in with fall foliage. Gravel and rocks add still more texture to this lush mix.

Grasses and Japanese maples are some of the major players in this display.  Notice that her backdrop is essentially composed of evergreens!

For more fall garden ideas, see this post and this one.

Who inspires you?  Do you have favourite plants to dramatize your fall landscape?  Please share below and click on the “follow” button, top right, to get my next landscaping or decor idea right in your inbox.

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Artsy Peonies

As if peonies aren’t stunning enough, my daughter has subjected her latest peony photos to  some artful tweaking, so I thought I would share these with you.

photoshopped peonies

Peonies bloomed for an unusually long time in Southern Ontario this year, due to the cooler-that-usual, overcast weather.  That’s good, though, as other dramatic summer flowers are late this year.

 coloured peonies

Don’t they look surreal?  Which version of the peonies do you prefer?

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Delphiniums are Mid-Summer Beauty Queens

For a dramatic, classic showpiece for the back of your summer garden, there are few plants more perfect than traditional delphiniums.

delphinium season

Delphiniums, centre, with Aruncus Sylvestris, Goatsbeard, at right

These beauties are in season right now. For a classic look, I like the “Black Knight” and “Pacific Giants” varieties, in a range of blues to purples.

With Daylily and Artemesia ``Silver King``

With Daylily and Artemesia “Silver King”

Although their main bloom season is June-July, cut them back and fertilize after their first bloom, and you will likely see a late, but less exhuberant show in September.

Irises, delphiniums, hardy geranium and Hemerocallis “Happy Returns”, Daylily

They pair well with all of the classic English Garden plants, but especially with white Campanula, Nepeta, Catmint and the spiky, bluish leaves of Irises that will have finished blooming.

What’s your favourite mid-summer garden show-stopper?

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Practical Spring Gardening Tips You May or May Not Have Heard

There are spring gardening tips and lists out there in books and in the blogosphere, as well as everywhere else.  If you need to know what to do next, go ahead and refer to any of those many sources.  Or check out my posts, like this one, on the same sorts of topics.

Spring flowers

This is my list of other tips: practical things I’ve learned that may or may not be standard advice, but that I think are worth considering.  I had intended to publish this post earlier in the Spring, but better late than never . . . .

1.     Spring comes on suddenly in much of Canada (Victoria readers skip to number three :) ), and your back and knees have been relaxing and losing strength and tone all winter–three to six months’ worth!  So take it easy.  Like a marathon runner, gymnast or weight lifter, pace yourself by beginning your garden work in small doses so as not to end up hurt and forced to watch the weeds grow from indoors.

2.   For the same reasons, take care of your skin.  Cancers have been on the rise since people had easy access to flights and could go from no sun exposure in a Canadian winter to  full day, all-out U.V. exposure in three or four hours.  Gradual exposure again is the word here.  Gardening is a great way to get a little colour and Vitamin D, but an easy way to get a terrible burn, especially the first few times you go out sleeveless.  (What did I do on the weekend?  Not telling.)

divide bulbs3.  Now down to the garden stuff!  Everyone tells you to divide your bulbs in the fall.  I am good at following directions.  The only problem is that year after year I would never get the job done because how would I ever know which patches of bulbs were which height and colour, or even where they were after three months of gardening and the disappearance of the decayed leaves?  So I decided to rebel:  I divide mine soon after they are out of bloom whenever possible.  That way I still remember what colour each patch was,where I need to locate the extras and which patches were larger.  Do they still come up?  They sure do!

prune shrubs4.   If you’re going to prune forsythia, hydrangeas, spirea or any other leafy shrub for that matter, note that you can really only see the stalks properly, and where they are too crowded, weak, crossing or badly formed, before the leaves are all on.  So run, run, run and take your heavy loppers out there before everything grows in and you can no longer see the form of the shrub!

5.  If you know me at all, you know that I love mulch!  I have mulched at almost times of the year, for sure.  However, the best time is right now!  I’m sorry to keep contradicting numbers one and two, but if you do this job now, you will be able to see where all your plants are because they have just come up.  Still, they are small enough that you can work around them and right up close to them, covering all the bare ground that you may not be able to reach when everything is fully out.

remove dandelions 6.    Dedicate the time you need to dandilions the minute they pop their intense little flowers.  Spring is the easiest time to get them; time spent when they first come up will reward you.  They are easier to pull now, before the ground dries out and they grow deeper roots.  They will quickly seed, and we don’t want each one to turn into a hundred more!  I love the Fiskars Stand-Up Weed Remover for lawns, an eco-friendly way to get those little monsters out whole.

7.    Get rid of your spent indoor bulbs by putting them in the garden while you still remember what colour they were.  For daffodils and crocuses, you can put them under the lawn if you like (put some bone meal in with them), so you’ll have a little interest next spring, before it turns green and needs mowing.  Why waste?

divide hostas and goatsbeard

Hostas and Aruncus, Goatsbeard, divide best before they are fully leafed out. Use bloodmeal to keep rabbits and squirrels from feasting on tulips.

8.   We put blood meal on our gardens in fall to scare away pests that like bulbs.  But in spring, it can be lucky if anything comes up–winter has washed the horrors of blood meal away, and bunnies have made a salad of your tulips, while squirrels simply dig them right out and toss them on top of the soil so that they die.  Unless you have a starving outdoor cat, you need to put blood meal on your garden again in spring, as soon as you see growth from your tulips!  Re-apply after rain.

9.   Looking ahead a little at things that happen every year:  it gets hot!  Really, really hot in the Toronto area, actually.   Who wants to be out there slaving in a hot garden in July?  July is the time to loll around your garden with an iced tea admiring your handiwork, so get on top of the heavy work (weeding, mulching, transplanting, etc.) between now and the end of the school year so that you can relax a little during the inevitable summer heat.

But if you don’t, then remember to drink lots of water.

divide solomon's seal early in spring

Solomon’s Seal will tip over if transplanted too late

10.   Seed, transplant and take cuttings now.  This includes any re-seeding of your lawn.  It is far easier to keep new growth and cuttings alive in the cooler part of the growing season than it is when it becomes very hot.  Then, hopefully by the time it gets hot,  they will have rooted and established themselves sufficiently to survive the harsher weather.  Little known fact:  it’s a LOT easier to grow new shrubs from  cuttings in a humid climate like Toronto’s than it is where summers are dry, like they are on Vancouver Island.  So look:  we do have something to be thankful to our climate for when it comes to gardening!

Note that you have a short window of time to divide or move taller perennials if you want them to stand up on their own.  If you do it when they have just come up and aren’t too tall yet, they will grow in nicely in their new homes; if you wait until they are more or less completely grown in, you’ll find they tip over and will require  more staking.

By the time I have this published, you will be in full-out garden mode, running to keep up with planting annuals and making things look nice.  Take care of these details “ASAP” in spring to make this summer’s gardening easier and more fun.

spring garden chores

Lots to do in this garden: dandilions, hostas to divide, bulbs to protect–before you can relax like my cat.

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