Spring Beauty

 

We celebrate our New Year on January 1st, but Spring has been a symbol of new beginnings, and for some cultures, the new year, since ancient times. Our ancestors believed that there was a connection between the seasons, the moon and stars, and the magic of new life.

 

 

It’s easy for us to miss the change of seasons when we are busy commuting, working, and living indoors, unless we stop and pay attention. As an interior designer, I’ve always been inspired by the change of seasons, with new colors, fragrances, and the way the sunlight changes. Lately I’ve been inspired by the beauty of spring as I experienced it as a child.

 

 

On their winter trips to visit my grandparents in South Carolina, my mom and dad used to bring me back boxes full of camellia blossoms packed in soft green foliage to keep them fresh on the drive back to Connecticut. My grandmother had two camellia shrubs on the corners of her front porch. I loved the fragrance. They overlooked the Koi pond where the fish were dormant for the winter. That was always magic to me as a child–such a mystery when they came “alive” again in the spring!

 

 

One of my favorite places to experience spring is Middleton Plantation just outside of Charleston. Henry Middleton began the garden design in 1741, wanting to recreate the grand classic style popular in Europe at the time. The camellias bloom early there–red, pink, variegated–large shrubs bloom in beautiful walled gardens that even in winter hold the promise of what’s to come.

 

 

Grazing Sheep at Middleton Place – SC

 

I loved walking those paths and imagining the history of the antique house there, and the grand esplanade down to the river where the boats came in with supplies. There’s a little chapel there, too, and it’s a repository of Civil War history.

 

 

If you feel like taking a short road trip from New England, I recommend the gardens at Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware. Henry Francis du Pont’s museum there houses the finest American furniture and collections in the world–a lovely source of design inspiration!

 

 

Another beautiful spring trip to take is to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The legacy of Pierre du Pont, a relative of Henry Francis du Pont, the Gardens exist today to inspire people through garden design, horticulture, education, and the arts. They are a living expression of all that Mr. du Pont found inspiring, meaningful, and beautiful. If you’re interested in more botanical gardens to visit, a gardening site called sproutabl.com has a list of 50 gardens you shouldn’t miss!

 

The Pierce’s Woods Love Temple, a Pergola at Longwood Gardens

 

This is a wonderful time of year not only to enjoy the outdoors, but to use that inspiration to re-imagine your home! Think of using light, bright colors, bringing in fresh flowers from the garden, and refreshing the air in your house by opening the windows while spring cleaning.

 

 

No detail is too small to proclaim spring! The curtain tieback below is made from opalescent 1880s Sandwich milk glass in the shape of a flower.

 

 

Colorful artwork paired with bouquets of fresh flowers awaken all your senses.

 

 

Try changing your bed linens for a lighter weight and brighter look.

 

 

Floral prints remind us of the flowers outside our doors. This is a close up of a custom rug I designed for a Nantucket home.

 

 

A pattern doesn’t have to be floral to be engaging. Blue and white always sparkles, as in this beautiful Chinoiserie wallpaper.

 

 

Inspiration is everywhere! Take a walk outside and look around. Happy Spring!

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Spring

 

It’s important to have plans for special times in the future. We all need something to look forward to: a place we haven’t yet gone, new experiences to open our eyes and hearts, people we haven’t yet met. Some people keep a “bucket list.” One of the beautiful trips I have yet to make is fulfilling my dream of going to the Chelsea Flower Show, held each May since 1912 in London.

 

 

This year, the show will be May 23-27. Sponsored by the Royal Horticultural Society to inspire the best in gardening, the show is held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. If you can’t make it yet, you can do as I plan to do this year: watch the DVD of its first hundred years.

 

 

I know I’ll be there someday!

 

 

If you’re looking for a way to combine spending time outdoors in spring with enjoying the inspiration of stunning artwork, then you may want to head over to the New York Botanical Garden. From April 22nd through October 29th, the breathtaking work of Dale Chihuly will be on view. The photo above shows an installation of his work in the Atlanta Botanical Garden last year.

 

The Bridge of Glass in downtown Tacoma.

 

Chihuly is an American glass sculptor, considered unique in the field for moving glass into the realm of large scale sculpture. Three years in the planning stage, the Botanical Garden show features 20 installations as well as a display of his drawings at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery. 

 

The Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit at the world famous Space Needle.

 

He loves to go to the ocean and walk along the beach to find inspiration, something we have in common! “If you work with hot glass and its natural properties it begins to look like something that came from the sea,” he says. His work pairs beautifully with my beach house designs, as seen in the photo below. The magnificent blue glass pieces on the table are by Chihuly, intended to evoke the colors of the sea.

 

 

I collect Chihuly glass for myself, too. The beautiful Chihuly piece below is in a place of honor in my vestibule in my home in Connecticut.

 

 

Dale Chihuly has even had a rose named in his honor. As in his artwork, the colors of the rose are magnificent, with buds of pure yellow swirling open to a bright orange, with a finale of deep reds.

 

Rose named Chihuly, of the Floribunda class.

Don’t miss the Botanical Garden’s Chihuly Nights, when the installations are spectacularly illuminated. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

Organic Spring

 

Many of us grew up playing on lawns years ago that were soft underfoot, cushioned our falls, and smelled delightfully grassy after mowing. They were different in several important ways from today’s lush green carpets, however. According to Chris Baliko, co-owner of Growing Solutions in Ridgefield, CT, they likely were a happy mixture of grass, crabgrass, dandelions, and clover. Perfect for their time, but less appreciated today.

 

 

People often prefer their lawns to be “golf course perfect,” a standard unheard of until marketing efforts from the chemical lawn care companies began to be widespread. “Before the 1940s to 1950s, the more clover you had in your lawn, the more prestigious looking your lawn was,” explains Chris. “Marketing helped to shift our perspective of what a beautiful lawn is.”

 

 

A lawn that is always richly green, without a weed in sight, is often the result of the frequent application of chemicals that present some environmental problems. Rain can cause nitrogen runoff into Long Island Sound and other waterways, encouraging algae bloom and seaweed growth. Algae and seaweed use up oxygen, killing fish.

Long Island Sound is an estuary, a mix of fresh and salt water, that is home to dozens of species of birds, 170 species of fish, and more than 1,200 species of invertebrates. Historically, it has supported fishing for lobster, oysters, blue crabs, scallops, striped bass, flounder, and blue fish. You can read more about the problem here.

 

 

I believe that a healthy home should be surrounded by a healthy garden. Chris Baliko has helped keep my property a pristine, but beautiful, oasis. His organic program supports a healthy ecosystem with less reliance on potentially harmful chemicals, as seen in the photo of my house, above. Here are his tips for a healthy, organic lawn:

 

1.Get a soil test.

You need to know what’s going on in the soil from a chemistry standpoint, says Chris. A soil test will measure your soil pH, as well as the calcium/magnesium ratio, and the nutrient composition, taking the guesswork out of fixing any problems. One thing that Chris warns about is liming your soil every spring and fall, without being aware of the alkalinity/acidity levels. “One client was liming every year, and had a lawn so alkaline we had to add sulphur to rebalance it,” explains Chris.

 

2. It’s not just about fertilizers. 

 

It’s not as simple as changing from synthetic fertilizers to organic ones. The soil also needs to be aerated, as compacted soil is not good for the grass root systems. Growing Solutions also recommends adding compost to build up the soil. “If you have good soil, you’ll have a healthy lawn,” says Chris.

 

3. Apply the right fertilizers.

 

Organic lawns companies are not supposed to put more than four pounds of nitrogen down for each 1,000 feet of lawn, although many commercial lawn care products have double or even triple that amount. That causes a lot of green growth on top, but a lot of that nitrogen goes to runoff, plus you have to mow more often.  An organic fertilizer has 10% or less nitrogen content. The other nutrients provide the strong root system your lawn needs to look its best.

 

4. Set your mower blades a little higher. 

 

Chris recommends grass to be cut at a height of 3-4 inches.  That height doesn’t stress the lawn as much, and it keeps the soil a little more shaded from the sun. Crabgrass and weeds like hot, dry soil. Cool, shaded soil offers less opportunity for weeds to grow.

 

5. Rethink weed control. 

 

Growing Solutions suggests using corn gluten products to control grab grass as a pre-emergent, as crab grass is the one of the only weeds Chris doesn’t find beneficial to the lawn. “My personal opinion about weeds is that they serve a purpose,” explains Chris. “Dandelions, for instance, have a deep tab root which helps to aerate the lawn, provides space for earthworms to travel, and acts as a conduit for other nutrients, bringing them up to a level where the grass roots can access them.”

In addition, dandelions are known to be the first food for bees in the spring, making them an important part of a thriving ecosystem.

 

Clover is also good, Chris says. “Clover takes nitrogen out of the air and delivers it to the soil in a usable form. Organic lawns are going to have weeds, perhaps 10-15% of the total lawn.” He emphasizes that we need to return to an earlier viewpoint of what a lawn should look like.

In addition, Growing Solutions brews their own “compost tea” and applies it to lawns to add essential micro-organisms. Although not a fungicide, it helps suppress fungal issues in the lawn.

6. Leave moss alone.

 

People often call to ask what can be done to remove moss, but Chris says the best thing to do is to keep it. It’s green all year round and doesn’t need fertilizing or mowing–the perfect compliment to grass!

 

7. Reduce the size of your lawn.

 

There’s nothing more high-maintenance than a lawn. Chris recommends creating more garden and planting beds, which helps to reduce runoff, offers food and shelter for birds and bees, and adds beauty to your property.

People love the look of a green expanse of grass, and it’s a delight for children to play on. There are ways to have a lawn and contribute to a healthy eco-system, too. It takes a little planning, and the right help.

You can reach Chris Baliko at Growing Solutions here, or search for an organic lawn care company in your area.