Saturday, November 14, 2015

Vive La France ~~ The Gardens of Paris

The gardens of Paris have faced off the worst in history, yet they've survived and thrived.

Vive La France. 

We had the privilege of spending a fortnight in Paris, the City of Lights. 

The city is a garden. 

Every window box impeccable.  Each cobblestone a page from

It will take far more than a few track suited cowards to diminish the ancient beauty of that magical place. 
The gardens speak for the people.

Marche en avant. 


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Rehab Addict Detroit ~~ Brush Park Midtown Edition

Nicole Curtis is an artisan with a hammer.  She restores old homes to their "former glory" using repurposed materials.  Nicole doesn't update--she returns homes as close to an original state as her limited budget will allow. Many of her projects were on the brink of demolition, abused by fire, water and scallywags for years.

As a youngster settled in the rear seat of my parents' avocado Ford station wagon, I'd imagine living in the Victorian brick mansion at the
corner of Alfred and John R. 

My room would be the corner one with the turret--which I wouldn't have to share with my untidy sister.  I'd no clue the stately home was likely eviscerated even back then.  I just thought it enchanting.

As a law student, I'd pass the elegant ruins and envision the restorative possibilities of the crumbling, but still elegant structure.  Same for the beautiful city which seemed to be deteriorating along with it. 

Three decades later Nicole Curtis is transforming the way Detroiters perceive themselves--and their city. 

Selden Standard
Detroit was once a thriving manufacturing metropolis attracting those in search of the American dream.  My grandfather left school in the sixth grade to work a Pennsylvania coal mine.  He came to Detroit with his young family in search of a better life.  Retiring from Ford at the age of 60, Jack left this world owning homes in Michigan, Florida and Canada.  Last year his great-grandson opened one of the first "rebirth" restaurants in midtown Detroit.

The core city is reverting to the incubative stage that preceded the automotive boom.  The possibilities feel limitless.

Nicole's most complex Detroit project to date is the restoration of the iconic Victorian.  Comerica Park's sprung up at one end of John R. The Detroit Medical Center's new Heart Hospital at the other. 

The home was completed in 1878 for Ransom Gillis, a wholesale dry goods merchant.  It was designed in the Venetian Gothic style by architect Henry T. Brush and George D. Mason.

The entire block is now encased in a serious chain link fence with a construction trailer, staging tent and heavy-duty equipment. With any luck, the two additional boarded brick structures within the compound will also fall under Curtis' magical spell.

Restoring this iconic structure's not only
symbolic, it's synergetic.  Brush Park was already getting back on its foundation.   Just across the street from the mansion is a bustling community garden.

Midtown Detroit is undergoing an amazing regenertion. 

The back wall of a brand new restaurant perched on a downtown corner says it well -- "This Town Ain't for Weenies."

Detroit's not for everyone.  But everyone's not cut out for Detroit.

The address of Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis' Detroit midtown project is 205 Alfred Street, Detroit, Michigan. 

Look for the Rehab Addict Brush Park Project to be featured on the HGTV and DIY networks in 2016.

Townhouse Detroit

Related Articles:

Lafayette Greens ~~ Detroit Grows Up!

Living Green Roofs

Turn Over an Old Leaf ~~ How to Compost

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Crabgrass Makes Me Crabby

It's everywhere this year. 

The turf's two-toned. 

I've pulled up so many weedy clumps that it's started growing under my nails!  In the morning, or following a fresh rain, these green weeds stand up in my lawn like Rastafarian sprouts. 

What's up with crabgrass this year?  Is the lawn yet another victim of global warming?  Is climate change causing crabgrass to take over the yard? 

Probably not, but it's still annoying when the unruly clumps threaten to choke out the legitimate occupants of the front yard.  The cause is likely a combination of heavy moisture and interim bald spots, in our case caused by repair folks trekking  across the lawn in
early spring.

The good news is that crabgrass is an (uninvited) annual plant and will fully die once winter sets in.  Once  it's visible, it's  too late.  So, wait until next spring to prevent a reoccurrence.

The most effective chemical treatment is a pre-emergent application in the spring.  The best time to apply is just as the yellow forsythia blooms fall to the ground.

Later, when the clumps have already reared their ugly tasseled heads, deadening spray is the only answer--but it will leave large brown patches in the lawn and could be toxic to children and pets.

If the clumps have already turned up, dig out those which are the most visible or offensive and keep the rest cut back with the mower in order to avoid reseeding.  Then apply the pre-emergent in the spring. 

Crabgrass seeds take root when the lawn develops dirt patches, so the denser the lawn, the less likely there will be an incursion.  To avoid the use of chemicals, good cultural practices that increase lawn density are best--over seeding, core aeration to reduce compaction and dethatching work best.  Adjust the height of the mower to prevent bare patches. 

Start a to-do list for next spring, and deal with it then.  In the meantime, squinting helps. 

Related Blogs:

Turf Times ~~ How to Grow Grass From Seed

Why's My Dog Eating Grass?

Snow Mold ~~ What's That White Stuff On My Lawn?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Plants That Thrive Where the "Sun Don't Shine" -- Best Shade Perennials

LiguriaYears of trial and error in the shadow of giant oaks and towering spruces have bestowed some insight into the hardiest choices for those dappled gardens where sunlight's at a premium.

When we moved to our new home, Bill and I became the custodians of a shady island at the end of our driveway.  Moving from a riverside valley to the top of a sunny hill, the little island became the landing pad for most of the transplants who'd made the trip.

Now the median looks like a test site for Shady Acres.

shady garden path
On Independence Day we decided to free three frazzled blue hostas from a sunny patch atop the hill.

Thirty minutes later the trio had a shady home, anchoring the curved edge of our island garden.


Beneath a canopy of leaves and whorls, here's what's shines in the Midwest shade parade:

Shade Borders:

1.   Hosta:     Hosta's easy and low maintenance. With countless varieties the choices are limitless.  The plantain lily adds density and texture to any garden.  Leaves bow gracefully, adapting to the location. Spiked
blooms vary in color from stark white to lavender.  Noninvasive, hostas are best transplanted in the fall allowing the leaves to flow naturally into the new space by spring.  I've scooped out hosta root, tossed the base into a new hole, and covered the hosta with leaves while snowflakes swirled overhead.  Not recommended, but these late transplants survived and thrived, with minimal time to reestablish. 

White Cranesbill Geranium

2.  Geranium cranesbill:  Cranesbill sport lacy leaves and delicate flowers in shades of pink, white and lavender.   Like hosta, they're mounding plants, best suited for the front of the garden.  Sweet scented leaves assist in deterring mosquitos. 

3.  Heuchera:  Coral Bells add burgundy color and fare better in deep shade over newer lime and copper toned varieties.   Generally, the darker the color, the better the survival rate, and the less sun required.


1.  Astilbe:   Astilbe reaches two to three feet in height with pointed leaves that offer more movement than other shade plants.  Plume-like flowers in late spring come in pale shades of salmon, ivory, hot pink and dramatic red.  Astilbe needs no cutting back.  They arrive early in the spring and begin die back in late summer.  Astilbe establishes well with regular watering, but once committed resists transplantation.


2.  Monkshood:  The slender curved leaves resemble those of daylilies.  I transplanted some last spring, thinking they were Stella d'Oro.  Then soft purple blooms came as a pleasant surprise in late 

spring, lasting
through July. 

3.  Turtlehead:  With hot pink or white blooms on medium sized stalks, this fall bloomer is a favorite.  Also called the "lipstick plant" vegetation spreads slowly with little reseeding. 

Liguria / Rayflower
4.  Liguria:   Known as the Rayflower, sunny yellow blossoms emerge from the center of this rounding plant, offering drama in the shade.  Plant tones come in burgundy or green with opposing colors on the downward side of the leaf.  In a slight breeze all eyes are drawn to this underused plant.  Reseeds easily.

Bleeding Heart

5.  Obedient plant:  Thin stemmed with gathered pink or white blooms in early fall. This plant derives its name from the propensity to stay put when a stalk is put into place. 

6.  Bleeding heart:  One of the first spring bloomers, bleeding heart grow up to three feet across but die back to the ground each fall.  After the distended flowers bloom in mid-spring, the bushy plant can be shaped.  In the fall, leaves turn to bright gold.  Reseeds, but noninvasive. 

7.  Fern:  Feathery fern look fabulous by the second year of planting, but by the fourth year, fern's prolific ability to multiply means the rest of the shade bed is about to succumb, making it a high maintenance choice for a mixed bed.  Fern fares best in a mass planting area or hillside.  An exception is the dainty painted fern which spreads at glacial speed and offers unusual color and textural components.

8. Petasite:   A prehistoric looking perennial, dinofood's rarely found in nurseries.  The big-eared show stopper can be a bit pushy, but is easily contained.  Early in the spring, small chartreuse blooms appear atop the soil like psychedelic turtles.  By late spring, large
round leaves atop sturdy stems are the focal point of the garden.  You'll find these lovelies at reclaimed plant sales and garden shops specializing in native woodland plants. 

coral bells
A shady garden is capable of as much vibrancy and variety as its sunny counterpart, Still, no amount of fertilizer will cause a "full sun" plant to bloom in the shade, The absence of sun means less stress on the plant. 

Unschooled consumers may buy based upon apparent blooms rather than foliage.

It just takes a bit more effort to locate many of these dark lords as retailers tend to focus on higher volume sun lovers and a handful of old standards.

Still, there's nothing like a cooling breeze in the dappled shade on a blistering day. 

Remember, as trees grow taller the sun gets smaller--and shade progresses.

As the Girl Scouts say "be prepared!"

More For Shade Lovers:

Hosta La Vista!

Turtlehead and Other Fall Blooming Plants

Springtime Loves a Bleeding Heart

Friday, March 27, 2015

Impatiens 2015 -- Balsam Blight Update

Is it safe to plant impatiens or balsam in 2015? Are busy lizzies disease free this year? Are touch-me-nots still untouchable? 

It seems the moratorium should nearly be over.  The blight was expected to remain viable for at least three years, so some experimental plantings might prove benign in drier beds.  It would be prudent to plant in limited quantities to avoid re-infection.

Impatiens downy mildew likely began not in the home garden, but the greenhouse.  Still, once the affliction traveled home in flats, spores may have spread to the soil, then overwintered.

Consider the local climate.  Arid or moderate climates are a safer bet.  In areas like the Midwest, heavy snows and wet summers have caused all sorts of molds and spores to thrive.

Purchase flats from an established nursery even if it costs a
In 2017 Impatiens are still  not a "sure bet."
few dollars more.  Most garden sales outlets will guarantee or reimburse within a reasonable timeframe.  If the local flower shop isn't carrying busy lizzies yet, then rely on their research. 

Healthy impatiens are reliable, powerful in color, thrive in the shade and need no pinching back or tending.  Their presence has been missed in the
yard, but their absence caused shade gardeners to experiment with plants like begonia, coleus,
pansies, and new guineas. 

Diversity in nature minimizes the sweeping effects of disease and blight.

Whether or not the local experts have issued an "all clear" to the use of annual impatiens, a moderate mix with fellow shade lovers is best. 

This year there are two new mildew resistant strains, Bounce Pink Flame and SunPatiens Spreading Shell Pink.  Grown from cuttings rather than seeds, these youngsters were presumably bred in response to the downy blight. 

Postscript:  Impatiens downy mildew is still present.  In late summer and early fall of 2015 impatiens a/k/a bizzie lizzies again began to deteriorate after planting.  Sorry to report that impatiens are just not healthy enough to survive the duration of the season.  They're not recommended for the foreseeable future.  
2016 Impatiens Update ~~ The Blight is Back

More Articles of Interest:

Begonias are the New Impatiens

Coleus Revisited

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rehab Addict -- Detroit Style

Sometime around two in the morning my eyes pop open.  I listen to the soft snores of my husband and dog, yet sleep evades me.  After twenty minutes I eventually give in to my guilty pleasure-- On  Demand television

That's how I got hooked on Rehab Addict with spunky Nicole Curtis, a transplanted Michigander who unwittingly committed to the restoration of a neglected Tudor home inside the city limits of Detroit.  Having just renovated a Tudor north of the city limits, I took a special interest in Nicole's accidental project.

Snuggled in the spare room, I can watch whatever I chose..

Eventually pup Ralph sleepily joins me. 

Having blown through the complete inventory of Say Yes to the Dress, I stumbled upon Rehab Addict after my daughter spotted Nicole at the Detroit Metro Airport and told me about the show.

A single mom of a teenaged son, Curtis now calls Minneapolis home, but she commutes to Detroit frequently in order to spend time with family.  During one of those trips in the summer of 2014, Nicole found herself bidding on her phone for an empty home offered by the Detroit Land Bank. 

The DLB is an organization that has systemized the sale of abandoned homes inside the city limits of Detroit to a willing buyer who'll commit to improving the property within a specified period of time. 

About the size of a fifth grader, and equally as sassy, Curtis is a Jill of all trades when it comes to renovation--from digging ditches to scraping and painting exterior trim while perched cat-like on the roof. Hoping merely to help drive the price up, she unwittingly bought a nearly 3000 square foot English Tudor in the heart of the city. 

Partial to Englishmen and Tudors, I shared Nicole's goose bumps as she opened the front door for the first time, exposing a shabby, but elegant interior--just as I'd done two years before.

Bill and I spent a decade living in the midst of a progressive remodel of our first home--a white cape cod with black shutters.

Vowing never to live through construction again, we then fell in love with a hilltop Tudor which had been "renovated" in the eighties. 

No one should have renovated in the eighties.

We started all over again.

Moving in during a driving blizzard, we survived in one corner of the house for over a year.  Yet looking back, I wouldn't change one dusty moment.

Detroit is on the brink of its own reconstruction.  With Nicole's fervent belief in the city, the rest of the world is taking notice.

There's something special in this renaissance.  It feels different from past well-intentioned attempts.   

I'm uncomfortable with the interim fame of"ruin porn" addicts who photograph abandoned structures in the city through fancy filters for notoriety and profit.

Perhaps, with tiny Nicole's help, they'll run out of material and head elsewhere. 

Nicole's house is located at 571 East Grand Boulevard, near Belle Isle.  Word has it she may keep this one for herself. 

Take a drive past, toot a horn, or raise a fist.  Just don't interrupt Nicole.  She's busy working.

Each show ends with the reveal of a restored section of the gracious old home. Then Ralph and I head back to bed, visions of scaffolding dancing in our heads.

Rehab Addict is featured on HGTV.

Nicole's newest 2015 Detroit project is located in Brush Park, just north of Comerica Park.  For photos and background see Rehab Addict Brush Park Midtown Edition. articles:

Moving Day -- Transplanting Plants and People

To Hellebores and Back

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Snow Clouds

Life in the vapor vortex.  The deep freeze of 2015 has brought with it the typical challenges of living in the Big Chill. The garden's been under a thick layer of crusty snow for months now.  While the first cold snap brings a welcome respite from outdoor chores, by mid February most gardeners are itching to get outside.

One hundred year low temperatures make long term excursions too painful and the ground won't accept a spade for weeks.   But the blue skies beckoned one chilly morning and we couldn't resist.

Ralph the dog wisely chose to supervise from the doorway  

Bundling up we ventured out.    Recalling some YouTube videos of Siberian apartment dwellers, we decided to make our own vapor trails-- at sea level.  

The first try with tepid tap water failed miserably.  

Boiling water's the key.  

The result was spectacular.  Crackling drops of water sizzle in the clear cold air.  Backlit by sunlight the effect is lovely.  

Our personal cloud slowly drifts away.