Category Archives: Gardening

Tips for your historical home renovation

Photo: Opal Enterprises

Owning a home with historical value can be more rewarding than investing in new construction, but you may have your work cut out for you if the home has not had regular upgrades throughout the years. As you begin planning renovations to improve the exterior of your older home, keep the following tips in mind for great final results.
Think about resale value

When you think of areas to renovate, you should remember what drew you to the house in the first place. Historic homes tend to do well in the market, because they have their own unique charm capturing an era in the past. Therefore, your goal should be to retain your home’s historical feel while adding modern amenities and energy-efficient features. Not every contractor is capable of performing the specialized work.
Preserve key features and construction

Even in historical home renovations where the electrical and plumbing work must be completely gutted, it is possible to retain the basic construction and features of the house. Areas of natural wood or original molding should ideally not be painted or removed if they can be restored. It is possible to match historical looks with new materials for windows and doors that will optimize the functionality of the home while preserving the aesthetics of the exterior. There are window manufactures that specialize in architectural integrity of days past, Anderson windows for example has an entire line of windows dedicated to architectural excellence.
Know what is necessary

Before you start thinking about the look of your home, you will need to consider the renovations that are necessary to bring your home up to current building codes. Working with a trustworthy contractor will let you effectively plan your renovation with your style and practical needs in mind. Working with a contractor that has experience with historical community guideline, aides you the homeowner in the process.

Opal Enterprises has renovated historical homes throughout the western suburbs, specializing in constructions from the late 1800s and early 1900s. You can begin your renovation project with Opal Enterprises by visiting them online or calling 630-355-6557.


The Farmer and The { Florist } Interview: Sue Prutting of White Magnolia Designs

I’m sooooo incredibly excited to introduce you to my dear friend and phenomenal floral designer, Sue Prutting of White Magnolia Floral Designs. Sue truly is one of the kindest, most giving women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on this wild and wonderful flower journey. From the moment we first met at the Ariella Chezar Workshop in 2013, we bonded almost instantly. Soon after, we were inseparable. Sue and I started as “flower friends,” and have become “real-life” friends as well. Sue was right there beside me, lending a patient, supportive and encouraging hand at last year’s wildly popular Seasonal Bouquet Project workshops and again at all of our on-farm workshop this year. She and I are going to team up again on a road trip this fall to do the floral designs for a fellow farmer florist’s wedding in North Carolina. It is going to be epic! Sue is a fantastic floral designer and every time we’re together I learn so much. Sue’s beautiful, abundant designs have brought graceful elegance to weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, book signings and big events in the Washington D.C.-area and in select venues across the country.

Erin: Sue, can you share a little bit more about your business and your design style?

Sue: Sure! I guess I would describe my design style as garden inspired. It has a formality…or maybe an elegance to it because of the product I love to use, but also has a bit of a natural and wind blown look. Layers and layers of texture, branches, berries and vines, are some of my favorite elements. I primarily design weddings and events and my proximity to Capitol Hill has lead to some pretty cool assignments: really meaningful fundraisers, photo shoots, events for dignitaries etc.

Sue: One of the things I love about owning a business is that I have been free to morph my business model and reinvent myself as my responsibilities at home have shifted. As my kids have grown, I’ve been able to travel more and help other designers behind the scenes at their workshops. Teaching is a real passion of mine – sharing what I have learned and helping others grow is the best! Also, getting to hang out with some ridiculously talented people and continuing to learn from them, isn’t too shabby either. Working with you on the Farmer Florist and the Floral Intensive Workshops, meeting all of the attendees and getting to see them spread their wings has been a real highlight for me. Plus, I never laugh as hard as when I am with you Sister!

Erin: Garden and yard space is at a premium in D.C. With limited space, what flowers and foliage get prime real estate in your cutting garden?

Sue: It is really hard to get the foliage and flowering branches I love to use, so lately I’ve been focused on planting all sorts of bushes and even a few trees. I have about an acre to play on and have planted crab apples, viburnum, two types of nine bark, way too much spriea (if there is such a thing), mock orange, winterberry…all sorts of goodies. Developers in my neighborhood have been great about letting me dig up plants before they raise a house and clear the lot. I have lots of peony, hydrangea, grasses and some mixed perennial beds. Also, living in the DC area means you must have cherry trees and azaleas in your garden. The first week of May is an absolute color explosion in this area, and both do surprisingly well in arrangements. Next up on the planting wish list…garden roses.

Erin: I know that no floral designer likes being asked their favorite flower, because we all have at least 40 favorites. (Plus, our favorites change depending on the season–or the day, for that matter!) So, instead, tell me about a few of flowers and foliage that you’re smitten with this summer.

Sue: This summer, I have gotten a ton of use out of my ornamental plum tree. It has been great to cut the sweetness of the blushes and pinks that have been so popular. Some other favorites are beach tree foliage, thornless blackberry and this crazy wild rose that grows in my area. After an unfortunate poison ivy incident, I now look like a hazmat worker when foraging it. Finally, I’d say that my little shade garden has been a real workhorse for me this year. I’ve been loving Solomon’s Seal and especially Epimedium. It’s foliage lasts forever when cut and those little heart shaped leaves are soooo good in bouquets.

Erin: Like so many great floral designers, you switched careers to pursue this “creative operation,” as you describe it. I would imagine your background as a Clinical Social Worker helps in working with (shall we say) “discerning” bridal clients. How has this training influenced your business?

Sue: I think more than anything, I have empathy for the brides and the amount of work it is to plan a wedding. If things get a little crazy, I try to hear them through that filter and help them manage their stress. I think one of the most frustrating things you can ask a bride is “What is the vision you have for your wedding?” It really helps to break that question down into smaller bites – “How do you want your guests to feel when the enter the reception; like they are coming home? Blown away? Pumped up? Peaceful and serene?” It is my job to translate, and put to words what they are picturing in their mind. I think my training has also helped me to separate other peoples stress from my own and most importantly, I can keep a straight face no matter what someone says to me. 😉

Erin: You’ve traveled all over the country as a freelance designer. Can you share a favorite memory (or two)?

Sue: I worked on a wedding in Tennessee with Kate Holt of Flowerwild this summer. Climbing through the woods foraging with Kate and her team (which included Kim Sanders and Janelle Wylie) was a hoot! One night we went out to catch fireflies because they don’t have them in California. It was pretty magical. Noticing the beauty and the gifts that are right there in front of us each day is key.

Sue: A few years ago, I started traveling to train and work with other designers after I had what felt like a huge setback. I started to doubt what I saw as beautiful and needed to see my work through a different lens. Learning from designers I admire and trust, and then working with them has allowed me to do that. It has been so empowering. I think the climate in our industry has changed dramatically in the last few years. Professionals like you, Erin and Ariella Chezar, Sara Rhyanan and Nicolette Owen, Kate Holt, Françoise Weeks, Jennie Love and Holly Chapple, to name a few, have been so generous with their experience and information. That willingness to share what they know, be transparent and to connect growers and designers around the world through their workshops and social media has changed the face of what we do, and how we do it. This is a tough job and can be a little isolating, but now thanks to these women and others, it doesn’t have to be.

Erin: This column has become the place to confess floral foraging “adventures.” Any you’d care to confess?

Sue: Ok, here goes. My mom swears that I have been picking “roadsideia” since I could first walk, and she is probably right. I was forever coming home with a little bunch of wild violets, or black eyed Susan’s. Walking home late one night in college, I stopped to admire some bearded iris and made the mistake of picking one. I swear a woman must have been hiding in the bushes two feet from me, because as soon as I made that cut, I heard “Do you always take what you want” in a old craggy southern drawl. She seriously scared the crud out of me. I ran so hard and fast that I crushed the poor iris. Serves me right. I avoided that part of campus for the rest of my time at school.

Erin: I am counting down the days until we get to meet up in D.C. and then make the drive down to North Carolina to Sassafras Fork Farm, foraging along the way. We are going to create the biggest, baddest bouquets ever for Stephanie Hall’s wedding. I can’t wait! While we don’t want to spoil tooo many of the surprises we have in store for sweet Stephanie, would you like to share perhaps a little preview of what we’ll be doing down there?

Sue: It is going to be epic! Stephanie is building the most beautiful reclaimed wood, post and beam barn on her family farm. It will be an amazing venue for events in the future, and we get to decorate the heck out of it for her wedding. She is a sweet and trusting soul, because she has given us carte blanche to “do what we do best”. With 350 guests expected, dinner will be served family style on long vintage farm tables. Lots of platters and bowls on the tables means not a lot of real estate for flowers, so we are going vertical! We will be using all American grown flowers – from our own gardens, from Stephanie’s farm and from a number of flower farmers we will pass on our drive down to North Carolina. Plus, we will get to use tons of foliage from her farm, and maybe even a little roadsideia. I’ll be sure to pack you a hazmat suit.

Erin: I seriously cannot wait! It’s going to be absolutely amazing! Sue, from the bottom of my heart: thank you. Thank you for your kindness, generosity and for all that you do. I so treasure your friendship.

Sue: Right back at you Erin. I just love getting to live this life with you!

Autumn at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Autumn is once again a receding memory, growing dimmer everyday as we continue the inexorable slide into the darkest depths of winter… But try hard enough and it’s still possible to cast our minds back to a time when the trees still had leaves; when warm shades of gold, orange and red coloured the landscape; when the mercury didn’t sit so low in the thermometer.

I moved up to Edinburgh from Sheffield at the end of September. (I lived here for the best part of four years previously, while I studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh.) My flat is no more than a ten minute walk from the outstanding botanic gardens, which are one of my favourite things about living here. I paid the gardens three visits with my camera in one week soon after I moved in. How about some autumnal photographs then?


This towering deodar (Cedrus deodara) grows close to the East Gate. It is a beautiful and imposing tree, one of the finest in the gardens.

Looking up into the hefty crown of the deodar – how many branches? How many growth points? What tonnage of timber?

A neighbouring big, old sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) seems sadly to be in serious decline. The tree was rather sparsely foliated at the time of this visit, but at that point in the autumn natural leaf loss would have been premature. It’s a shame because it’s another fine tree. A major branch has a few old wounds on it, one of which sported a nice bit of fungus. It’ll be interesting to see how the tree looks in spring.

I came across these Pholiota squarrosa mushrooms growing at the base of a big European beech (Fagus sylvatica). They were also growing around the base of a nearby heartnut, a variant of the Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis). P. squarrosa is a parasitic white-rot fungus that attacks a wide range of host trees.

This mushroom was growing under a pine tree… …along with its wee pal.

This dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) in the Chinese Hillside part of the gardens was positively radiant. The needles – here so vibrantly illuminated – are now long gone, this being a deciduous species.

29th September 2013

This oak really stood out from the crowd!

A nice cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) growing in front of the 1960s glasshouses. At least this tree will keep its leaves all winter long.

3rd October 2013

Autumnal maple leaves.

On this visit I was quite keen to get some photos of the mushroom population. There weren’t so many of a big enough size to stand out as I strolled along, but if I just stopped for a moment to study the mulch that surrounds the base of every tree, there were far more mushrooms to be seen than most people would have realised. Perhaps these are waxcaps of some sort?

The distinctive spiny cupules of sweet chestnut. Apparently the nuts can’t attain their full size in the British climate, so the roasting chestnuts that appear in the shops for winter are imported from the continent. I had a bag of roast chestnuts at Edinburgh’s European Christmas Market last week – they were enormous and very tasty!

I’m fairly sure this is a hare’s foot inkcap (Coprinus lagopus). This mushroom is quite interesting; according to Wikipedia, “As the mushroom matures, the shape of the cap becomes more conical or convex, and finally flattens out, with edges curved upward. The veil is initially whitish, then turns to a silvery grey or grey-brown; it eventually splits up, becoming hairy (fibrillose). … In maturity the gill edges dissolve (deliquesce) into a black liquid. These mushrooms are evanescent, lasting only last a few hours before death…”

Busy in the Garden

The weather has been wonderful (it actually rained), and roses are still blooming (pictures coming),  but first, a brief update on a few projects.

William Shakespeare 2000 in its better days

Some of you know I have had a problem this spring with one of my two William Shakespeare 2000 shrubs. It has been in the ground for at least 6 years and growing very well.

This time last year

This year, something seems to have gone wrong. There were several possibilities (a few very scary ones), but I couldn’t put my finger on anything definite.

This spring: very little growth, small leaves going senescent, few and small blooms

My mind kept running in endless unproductive circles, and I decided to post some pictures on the rose forum to see if anyone had any suggestions. I realized it would be even more difficult for people to try to pinpoint the problem just looking at pictures and I appreciated greatly the effort some posters made to come up with ideas. At the end of the day, someone pointed out that my rose had a lot of blind shoots (growth not resulting in flowers), and I should prune harder. I pruned harder. Gulp.

I took out a few old canes, and brought the bush down quite a bit (after cutting out blind growth most remaining canes did not have viable bud eyes until this far down). Gardeners of sound mind do this in winter….

 Having survived the agony of subjecting an innocent rose to such drastic surgery so late in the year, I decided to tackle my next big project, Maréchal Niel. It is a lovely tea-noisette that, unfortunately, does not perform well on its own-roots for most people. Mine was absolutely beautiful for the first two years, with gorgeous blooms and clean, almost evergreen foliage.

In its better days

It actually reached the top of a 7-foot arbor and then started on a slow but relentless decline. The blooms balled all the time, there was almost no foliage and no new growth either. I thought I would dig it out and pot it up. Maybe it will grow for me as a big potted shrub, maybe not. My husband took it out today and, in preparation for potting it up, I washed the soil off the roots. Impressive root ball, isn’t it?

How did it manage to climb 7 feet? I still potted it up 🙂

Another thing that kept me busy today was trying to put together my last order for roses with Vintage Gardens. This nursery has been an amazing source of rare roses and kept my collector’s spirit alive for years. There are so many treasures that I enjoy in my garden solely due to the efforts folks at Vintage made in sharing these roses. Thank you, Vintage.

Mme Bérard, my favorite Vintage rose




Ulrich Brunner, fils


Prinzessin Marie von Arenberg




Mme Plantier


Julia Child and Wild Blue Yonder


Schön Ingeborg


Wild Blue Yonder


Souvenir de Mme. Boullet


Lyda Rose, ‘Benny Lopez’, Penelope, Crépuscule, Rosette Delizy




Sharifa Asma


Penelope and Crépuscule

Pretty Jessica


Sharifa Asma


Rosette Delizy


Climbing Cécille Brunner with a spray of Lyda


Pat Austin, Buff Beauty on the fence behind, and ‘Secret Garden Musk Climber’ trying to eat the house


Jude the Obscure


Memorial Day with Buff Beauty

These Care Tips For Different Types Of Gardens

Are you planning to start a landscape, plant, or flower garden? If so, consider the garden care involved. Some gardens are easy to maintain, while others are more complex and may even require hiring a service. Overall, outdoor gardening is very rewarding, with apparent outcomes: visual appeal or delicious and healthy organic veggies and herbs.


Landscape Garden

Landscape gardens are gorgeous but they take a lot of work – just a few weeks of neglect, and the idyllic area can start to look wild again. Landscape garden care depends on the complexity of landscaping and plants that you plan to grow. A simple landscape garden can consist of a pond, lawn, and a few types of decorative grasses. A more complex design can include: varied perennials, shrubs, flowers, trees, vines, fountains, waterfalls, and complex decorations. Some grasses and plants are easier to maintain than others, so do your research and plan accordingly. If you are not sure where to start, I suggest reading “Gardening for Dummies” or turning to a professional for advice.

Herb and Vegetable Garden

The complexity of herb and vegetable garden maintenance depends on thetypes of plants you are planning to grow. It can be a lot of work or easy as pie. For example, garlic is very easy to grow: plant the cloves in the fall and dig up your garlic in the spring. Other herbs that are easy to grow include chives and cilantro.

Talking about veggies, potatoes are easy to grow, but insects can be a serious threat and digging up potatoes is quite laborious. Vegetables that are very easy to grow include: rhubarb, corn, carrots, and beans. Remember that every edible plant and vegetable has its own character, growing requirements, and time. For example, asparagus takes longer to grow, broccoli prefers cooler conditions, and bamboo is very aggressive and difficult to manage.

Flower Garden

A flower garden will not provide you with delicious fresh organics, but it’s a true pleasure for the eye and senses. The easiest garden flowers and perennials to grow include: poppies, tulips, crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, snowdrops, daisies, foxgloves, garden mums, and garden phlox.

Seasonal Maintenance

Caring for any type of a garden is different in the spring, summer, fall and winter. Spring is the time to prepare seedbeds, rake, order seeds, sow and plant early species, protect seedbeds from birds, and harvest early crops. Spring is also the time for the first lawn mowing of the year. Summer is the time to dig out weeds and encourage the growth of plants by watering and using fertilizers. Autumn is the time to collect the crops, remove dead growth, aerate the soil, and later cover the lawn or garden with organic material for the winter. In most areas, winter months are a quiet time for gardens and lawns. All there is to do is watch for puddles and root out large weeds.

How To Begin Your First Flower Garden

Beginning your first flower garden can be a very rewarding and a leaning experience. With a few basic tips and a little simple planning, you can be on your to creating a natural environment that is relaxing and can enjoyed for years to come with your family and friends.

When planning a flower garden, and choosing a location, there is a little research that needs to be done. Gardens can be grown in many different growing conditions, poor soil or minimal sunlight. So don’t get discouraged if everything isn’t perfect where where you would like a garden. Soil can be amended, or improved, and there are a large varieties of plants that can can be grown from full sunlight to shaded areas.

Flower Garden

Soil is the most important part of any type of garden. It is the support system for plant life to grow strong and healthy. A good organic soil structure is one that will retain the moisture and nutrients that plants need to service, along with being a soil that drains well, remember that poor soil can be improved with organic matter.

When choosing an area for your garden, a flat ground surface is always the easiest to work on, but not always possible. A hillside is just a little more work and with a little creative imagination, they can be a very rewarding experience.

Beautiful Flower Garden

The size and the style of your garden are both very important decisions you will need to make before starting, or choosing plants. If this is your first garden start out small, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan ahead for expanding. Start out by planting the taller plants in the back or center of the garden and expand toward the front once you feel more comfortable gardening. One thing to keep in mind with a larger size garden is that you want to keep plants within reach, creating walks throughout the garden, along with keeping areas no wider than four feet so they can be reached from both sides will make the garden more manageable.

Flower gardening is a fun hobby that can be very rewarding, and an addictive one. Your imagination is the limit when it comes to growing your own personal flower gardens in your yard, patio, or even indoors. Container gardening is a great way to add to the decor of where you call home and even as a part of your edible landscape.

The Process Of Planting Tulips Can Be Also Easy

The process of planting tulips is not as daunting as many novice gardeners might think. Tulips are not the type of plants which require specialized attention or growth practices. Simple few things when done correctly can yield great results and the beauty that we want to see in them.

To get the best results when learning How to plant tulips, one should make sure that the bulbs comes from a healthy growing plant. This is the most critical first step in ensuring that the plant that will grow will be strong and will not suffer from plant diseases which might stunt its growth.


To ensure that your tulip growing project will be successful, the site where they will be growing should be prepared and made to the best possible standard that will ensure that the plants will grow and remain healthy. The soil that they are planted in should have some moisture to guarantee that the tulips will not dry up or lack the means by which they can assimilate the nutrients from the soil into the plant roots and up to the leaves.

Planting Tulips

After planting them in a depth that is twice the length of the bulb, the top soil at the exact point where the bulb has been established should be loosened to facilitate the tulip’s emergence. This is another aspect of planting tulips that one should take into consideration since if the soil is compact, the tulips will fail to push their way out of the soil and this will cause them to rot inside the soil. The results of growth of the tulips will also depend on the spacing from one another and how many tulips have been placed in each hole. This will have a direct consequence on the nutrient level that will be available for them.

Growing tulips requires that you monitor its condition every step of the way. This will eventually show in the success that the tulips will have in the final stage of harvesting. The soil used for planting tulips should be well aerated and should also be on a gently sloping land to ensure that the tulips will always receive enough light from the sun to enable them to grow well and have all the qualities that the gardener desires. Tulips are very beautiful flowers and growing them yourself allows you to actually see what it takes to produce them.