Archives for October 2014

Happy Halloween

Audrey in paper macheBack by popular demand!

Okay, not really. But Halloween is coming, so I thought I’d bring my paper mache re-creation of Audrey, from Little Shop of Horrors, out for another viewing.

I had fun making her, although she had a tendency to keel over because of her extremely heavy head. A lesson for all of us, perhaps? Avoid having a big head??

Writing for HGTVGardens

mum from New York Botanical Garden Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival

Spider mum at the New York Botanical Garden Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival. Courtesy of Ivo M. Vermeulen/NYBG

I’m really excited to tell you that I’m now writing for every month!

I’m covering lots of different topics, like growing a corn maze (okay, you’d have to have a HUGE backyard to grow an entire maze, but I learned how The Rock Ranch, an agritourism destination founded by the late Chick-Fil-A founder, S. Truett Cathy, grows their maze. And I’ve got tips to share on growing a cornfield in whatever space you have).

I’m also putting on my girl-reporter hat to cover events like the stunning Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival at the New York Botanical Garden.

And my bookshelves are starting to groan, as I’m stacking up new gardening titles to read and review. Look for posts on a great new book about growing tomatoes and two books on fairy gardening (one is good for beginners, while the other is packed with beautiful photos of fairy gardens that range from the fabulous to the otherworldly). The reviews will go live over the next few weeks.

Check out my posts when you get a chance, and while you’re there, explore all the other cool stuff on!







Book Review: The Map Thief, by Michael Blanding


I’ve been posting book reviews for some time on and finally realized: why not share them here, too? Here’s the first, my thoughts on The Map Thief.

The subtitle of The Map Thief, by Michael Blanding, is “The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps.” It is gripping; I couldn’t put this down, despite its very detailed history of map-making and mapmakers. (I got bogged down in some of the names of the mapmakers, who worked from 1470 to 1860, and in the names of various map dealers, librarians, investigators and outright thieves. That’s why there’s a helpful list of characters at the front of the book.)

I was fascinated to know why the thief in question, a dealer named Forbes Smiley, stole so many rare, valuable maps and destroyed many of the atlases they were collected in, but of course his motive was an old and familiar one: greed. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine why a man who devoted his professional career to studying these historical gems could remove them from public access so callously.

Blanding’s book is filled with tidbits that made me curious to study maps myself.  Who knew that the notion that California was an island surfaced in the 1500s and persisted until Spanish king Ferdinand VI ruled in 1747 that it was, in fact, not an island? He had to outlaw future mapmakers from portraying it that way.

Many libraries only discovered their maps were missing after Smiley’s arrest, and not all have been recovered. Our public institutions have had to spend a lot of money beefing up their cataloging systems and security measures. How sad–our children aren’t safe in their front yards anymore, we have to strip off our shoes and belts to get on planes, and now our libraries have been violated and our freedom of access has been altered because of one man.

This is a fascinating book. I recommend it. Disclosure: my copy was provided to me by the publisher through a LibraryThing giveaway.

Beautiful, Useful Rain Chains

Rain chain from Rain Chains Direct

A chain of hammered copper cups. The cups are open at the bottom, so rainwater can flow through to the ground.  Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

I love watching water move, whether it’s at the beach or in a puddle stirred by the wind. I love the sounds of water, too, and sometimes I know it’s raining before I look outside, because I hear the water  gurgling down our gutters.

Recently we replaced one of those gutters – the ones my husband complains about, because they get choked with pine straw every fall – with a rain chain. It was super-easy to install. All we had to do was take off the downspout and measure the distance from the bottom of the gutter to the ground, so we’d know how long the chain needed to be.

Then we attached a gutter installer, a device that holds the chain.  You put the installer into what’s called the leader hole (the opening in the gutter that directs water to the downspout). Add the chain, tighten a bolt, and you’re done.

rain chain gutter installer, courtesy of Rain Chains Direct

Here’s the gutter installer. The chain hangs from the bar in the middle. You tighten the bolt to hold the installer in place. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

To keep the chain taut, we tapped a stake into the ground and attached it. Next I’ll put some rocks from our creek under the chain to help distribute the run-off, but you can also buy catch basins to match your chain. They don’t hold a lot of water, but they add to the charm.

And rain chains really are charming, although they’re functional, too. Best of all, they don’t clog, so nobody has to climb a ladder and dig out wet, decomposing leaves.

Rain Chains Direct

Rain chains come in many styles. Some look like flowers or small cups; others are lengths of single or doubled loops. This 100% copper rain chain has aged to a soft patina. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

All I need now is rain, since we’re currently in a drought. I’m looking forward to seeing the little copper cups on my chain channel the water to the thirsty shrubs around our foundation, and to hearing it splash and tinkle. I’m watching the skies for clouds…and watching…and watching.

Thanks to Rain Chains Direct for providing the rain chain used in my review.  The opinions are my own, freely and sincerely given.