Archives for April 2012

Mini gardens in outdoor pots

I thought I would plant the big pots on my deck this past weekend, but it turned out to be 50 degrees and raining, so that didn’t happen.
But in order to have pots that look like this later in the summer:

it’s time to put in the little plants soon.

With about 4 hours of sun daily, I’ve found that shade loving plants are the most successful for me.  Over the years I have tried lots of things that didn’t really work and have accepted that full-sun lovers just are not in the cards for this spot.
The exception in the picture above is the sweet potato vine which took over the deck by the end of the season last year – four hours of sun seemed to make it quite happy.

What you see above that really thrives in a mixed sun/shade environment is:
Coleus – all the taller foliage in back. It gets purple spiky flowers late in the summer, which I pinch off to keep the foliage from getting leggy and thin. It comes in lots of colors and leaf shapes so you can out different ones.
Begonia variety – the star shaped leaf in the middle left. This was a tiny $3 specimen from Home Depot which I planted in June; the picture above was taken in late September. There are many wonderful varieties of begonia, the least interesting of which are the little waxed begonias, IMO. I like the more unusual ones. Angel wings are also nice.
Below the begonia is impatiens, a trusty shade lover which comes in many shades of white, pinks, peaches, oranges and reds. And below that, a vine with with tiny round green leaves, is creeping thyme, also bought from Home Depot. It did so well that I brought it in over the winter, so it will have a head start this year.
The big elephant-eared pink and green leaves are a variety of caladium – yup, Home Depot. The bulbs can be saved year to year so you don’t always have to purchase new ones.  The small purple flowers on the right are a streptocarpus plant that my mom gave me and it just loved it on the deck last year. It doubled in size and I brought it in to overwinter it; it wouldn’t survive outside and I couldn’t just let it die. It’s been flowering inside all winter in a sunny window.


The bigger the pot, the fuller it will look at maturity, and the longer it will go between waterings. The pots I use vary between 14″ (top diameter) and 22″. I got some of them on Freecycle, and some on Craigslist, as well as purchasing a few. But they’re expensive, and I’ve definitely scrounged around for free and cheap ones. Group them together for a lush look.

Make sure the pot has a hole for drainage. If it doesn’t, make one with a hammer and a chisel or something that will poke a hole through the bottom.

Start with rocks or gravel in the bottom to add an extra layer of drainage. A couple of inches will do.

I used bagged soil – you guessed it – from Home Depot. Not topsoil; that’s for garden beds and is too heavy. The biggest bags of potting soil I can get do the trick. Bags that say “professional” on them are usually a high quality mix.

Leave space between your little plants – they will get lots bigger! I usually leave a radius of 4-5 inches around each plant. That way the pot fills in well, but the plants have room to grow.

The rule of thumb for watering is that when the soil feels dry about an inch down under the surface, it’s time to water. Stick your finger in to feel the soil.  When you water, water thoroughly so the plants get a good drink, then wait until the soil dries out again. Caveat: in the high summer when it’s really hot day after day and it doesn’t rain often, you’ll need to water more often, possibly every couple of days. As the plants get more mature, the root systems are bigger and their water needs increase.

I have no compunction about taking out plants that don’t do well and replacing them with something else. Don’t be afraid to edit what you’ve done. Playing around with it is the way to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what you like. It will give you confidence. Have fun!

Ikat, that ubiquitous fabric

While I’m on the subject of ethnic influences in current design trends, I thought I’d post about the ikat fabrics that have been so prevalent for the last year or so. You see them on chairs and other upholstered furniture, like these:

Blue Ikat Chair from Urban Outfitters

Jewel Ikat Slipper Chair from Urban Outfitters

and in home decor fabrics:

Blue Ikat Fabric from Waverly Home Decorating Fabrics

and even accessories and clothing:

Bowls from Anthropologie

Dress from

So what is ikat, anyway?

Remember tie-dyeing? When you went to Michael’s to buy a white tee shirt and then bunched it up into little lumps held with rubber bands? Then you dipped the shirt into solutions of dye in various hues, and when it dried and the rubber bands came off, you had those star-like hippie-style patterns on the shirt.

Well, ikat fabrics are made by dyeing the threads before the fabric is woven. A wax-like substance is applied to bunches of threads in desired patterns, and the threads are dyed. The wax covered parts of the threads resist the dye, resulting in patterned threads which are then used to weave the fabric.
There are complexities to it such as whether the dyed threads are the ones held tightly lengthwise on the loom (the warp fibers) or the ones used to weave in and out of the warp fibers, creating the cloth (the weft fibers)  – or both the warp and the weft fibers, creating a more intricate and complex pattern, but basically that’s it.

The word “ikat” itself comes from the Indonesian language and means either “cord, thread, knot” or “to tie, to bind” depending on the context in which it’s used.
Although the word is Indonesian, the fabrics come from all over the world: Thailand, Cambodia, Central and South America, India, Japan, Turkey, revealing that the technique developed in multiple cultures worldwide, and each have their particular ethnic patterns.

What’s characteristic about all of them is the blurry-edged look to the designs that results from the individually dyed threads that are used in the weaving process.

Think of using one of these pieces as an easy, fun way to inject a fresh accent piece into your decor as you open the windows, put away the winter coats and freshen up for spring!

Ikat Embroidered Pillow Cover from Pottery Barn

Moroccan designs everywhere


Moroccan designs are everywhere lately – on wallpaper, on stencils for walls, on pillows and fabrics. I traveled to Spain with my family last fall, which makes me especially glad to see that these beautiful patterns have become so popular now. We spent a little time in Seville in the south of Spain, where the influence and architecture of the Moors, who ruled Spain for 800 years before the Christians took over, is very prominent. You can see in the pictures here that representational art did not exist at that time in Moorish culture. Intricate geometric and abstract patterns abound, however, often implemented in tile as part of the architecture of the buildings.

So, some examples of Moroccan design in their original execution follow.

But first: A very touristy picture to start with – this is us on a buggy ride tour of Sevilla (Seville to Americans) and outskirts:

And now for the design:

This is the Alcazar in Seville, originally a Moorish fort and later renovated as a castle for a Christian king, so that elements of both Islamic and Christian architecture are evident. This features in this picture (above) are purely Islamic, though. As is also true in the one below, a slightly fuzzy (sorry) image of a tiled wall, also in the Alcazar.

These intricately tiled walls are everywhere, many times sporting multiple patterns adjacent to each other:

It’s a total feast for the eyes. Pattern, pattern everywhere. And yet, the geometric nature of the designs makes the overall look appear somehow simple despite their complexity.

And now, turning to todays world, here are just a small sample of the many items I’ve seen lately for the home, all derivative of  – or simply reproduced –  Moroccan designs.

Eight-Pointed Stars Moroccan Stencil from Royal Design Studio. They have a whole category of Moroccan wall stencils. This one is called the Moroccan Key Stencil:

The Flutter rug from Anthropologie has an intricate pattern very reminiscent of these Moorish patterns, even if not strictly Islamic in origin:

This one is the Floral Fresco rug, also from Anthropologie. It too evokes the beautiful decorative tile work we saw so much of in Spain.

And a pillow from the Home Decorators Collection. Pillows are a fun way to add a touch of a design element to your home without making a big commitment. They’re relatively inexpensive, and easy to replace or recover when your tastes change.

I find all of these patterns very appealing, and I guess others do too, since we’re seeing them so prominently in decor these days. It makes me wonder what cultural influence is over the horizon. I’m going to enjoy this one while the trend lasts, since it brings back great memories of our travels!