August 2009: Around the House

August 2009: Around the House

Fab under feet

Shopping for rugs is the home-decor equivalent of shopping for shoes: so much fun that it veers toward the addictive. Maybe that’s because what lies beneath has the potential to kick a room into a higher gear. Consider laying down one of these beauties on the floor of your choice.

Cow-hide Duke Collection rug from The Artful Lodger, $688

Indian-style Sara Qashgai wool runner from Kane Furniture, $277

Brown and white wool Morreni rug from Floor Fashions, $599

Mid-20th century tribal rug sourced from Iran’s Hamadan region by Sun Bow Trading Company, $2,850

Faux zebra Nourison rug in New Zealand wool from For the Floor, price available on request









Face off

You perch on your couch between the classical visages on this pair of pillows from Pillow Mint, reading The Iliad for the umpteenth time. You feel like you’re being watched. Maybe that’s no accident: These ancient faces have seen it all. Are you bold enough to stare back?





Fruit on the vine

It’s tomato time. What’s in your garden? Cataloguing hundreds of varieties from currant to beefsteak, The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table is Amy Goldman’s love song to that summer staple. You’ll find detailed notes on each variety, recipes (even desserts!), and plenty of portraits (yes, portraits): Each of these juicy beauties positively bursts off the page with personality.





Seeing something new

Each year, if I’m lucky, a new plant catches my fancy and all of a sudden everywhere I look I see something that’s been there all the time. Last summer it was smokebush (Cotinus), a medium sized sun-loving shrub with pleated plum-colored leaves and sprays of puff-ball flowers. It led me on to discovering complementary blue-flowered companions like dwarf plumbago and Russian sage.

Once you start looking, you may find swamp milkweed everywhere.

This year, it’s swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, which arose phoenix-like from the late winter burn pile at the edge of our meadow and grows abundantly along roadsides, ditches and hedgerows. Related to the bright orange butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), swamp milkweed is more modestly arrayed in dusky hues of pink and magenta that waft a soft talcum powder fragrance. It echoes the pink-tinged blossoms of the oak leaf hydrangea.

Like all milkweeds, Asclepias incarnata sustains a diversity of pollinators—butterflies, flies, wasps, bees and the like. Later in the season, angel-winged seed capsules break open to disperse silky clouds of airborne seeds. Nurture it where you find it at the edges of your property or in wild places, or make it a part of a native planting. Sandy’s Plants in Mechanicsville ( sells it wholesale, so area garden centers should be able to get it.

In addition to inspecting the local flora, late summer finds me making plans for a fall garden and new perennial bed. The first two weeks of August are prime time to begin succession sowings of carrots, lettuce, collards, spinach, mesclun and arugula which will thrive in the cooler temperatures to come. Try another sowing of zucchini and bush beans. Broccoli and cabbage plants, available from garden centers or started from seed by the prudent gardener can also be transplanted. Don’t let them dry out.

Lawn people, listen up: Late August and September is the time to do what needs to be done for a healthy greensward. Break out of the poisonous mindset of high-nitrogen spring fertilizing which does nothing so well as line the pockets of chemical companies and pollute the Chesapeake Bay. Adopt a dead zone and resolve not to feed it.

Fight the power instead and get a soil test from the extension agency (872-4580) so you know how much lime to add to maintain a proper pH (6.2), without which the grass will not grow happily regardless of how much fertilizer you pour down the drain. Divide lime applications over fall and spring to give it a chance to work down into the soil.


– Look into the milkweeds.

– Sow greens and late beans.

– Divide iris and peony.

If you have a compacted area, rent a de-thatching machine (basically a giant cleat) to open up the ground to air and water. Rake up the little pellets of soil and put them on the compost pile, then broadcast compost or other slow release organic fertilizer. Re-seed bare patches with a thin sprinkling of a fescue mix from the local co-op (bluegrass is too temperamental for us—does this look like Kentucky?), dust with straw and keep moist until it sprouts.

August is also the best time to divide those staples of the perennial border, bearded iris and peonies, which appreciate warm soil and a chance to establish roots before winter dormancy. I have a number of peonies that have become shaded and crowded as well as a patch of overgrown iris that’s distracting from the edge of a bed. Since they’re both sun lovers as well as spring blooming companions, they’ll make a fine new border in front of a low stucco retaining wall that gets afternoon sun.

Keep your eyes open and you’ll see all sorts of possibilities in the end of summer.—Cathy Clary

After the tornado

Here’s the scenario: soccer practice is in T-minus 10, Timmy and Tammy’s room is in shambles, and the cleats are MIA. While it’s probably too late to save you from pre-practice meltdown, there are plenty of strategies to keep kids’ rooms cleaner and more efficiently organized without additional hair-pulling:

1) Take a walk in their shoes. Get down and see for yourself what life looks like on their level. While folding closet doors, dresser drawers, and closet rods may be scaled for adult heights and hands, they can be frustrating for kids and discourage organization. Lowering clothing rods, using floor-level containers or baskets, and fitting furniture to kids’ proportions can make neatness more accessible.
2) Weed it out. Sorting through your child’s belongings to pick out outgrown clothing, old toys, and other abandoned items can help free up loads of space. Encourage your kid to donate unwanted items or host a garage sale for a lesson in charity or kiddie entrepreneurship.

3) Contain it. Making a system of tubs, crates or other plastic containers, with fun, clear labels, can make clean-up a game. Remember to keep more frequently used items accessible and easy to put away, while leaving higher shelves for stuff Tammy won’t usually need: Think porcelain dolls and Grandma-made sweaters.
4) Consistency is key. A clean-up routine will help avoid plunges and spikes in messiness levels. By making morning and evening tidying sessions sweet and simple—straightening the bed before breakfast, putting away toys and picking out tomorrow’s clothes before bed—you keep frustration low and cleanliness high.—Lucy Zhou

Millions of melons

The thermometer reads 100 but it feels like one million degrees out there—sunburn, mosquito bites and foot-burning tarmac have just one remedy, and it is a chilled, locally grown melon applied directly to the tastebuds.  Melons fall into two categories. The first is the well-known watermelon family, typically sold by the pound (and there are some whoppers!) and, in heritage varieties, sporting such colorful names as “Moon and Stars,” “White Wonder,” and “Sugar Baby.” The muskmelon family includes green and orange fleshed melons, and consists of regional favorites with unbelievably heady aromas and succulent flesh—check the City Market for Hales Best (dating from 1924), Pike and Sweet Passion.

Selecting a melon can be challenging. Look for firm, well-rounded flesh that yields slightly to your hand but lacks any soft spots or discolored rind. Do sniff the blossom end to make certain the melon is fragrant and ripe. If you have a large melon, play with some classic presentations from around the world, such as wrapping it in prosciutto (Northern Italian finger food) or spiking with fresh lime juice, chili powder and salt (classic Mexican street food). Refrigeration will make a cut melon deteriorate rapidly, so simply eat as much as you can the first time around or cover cut portions with plastic wrap and keep on a drip plate in a cool, dark place.—Lisa Reeder

Flavor shot

Summertime vegetables are often best when eaten raw, which keeps the cook sane, the house cool and the fresh flavors intact. To turn veggies into a meal, consider making a few vinegar purchases now that will serve you all summer long. When combined with quality sea salt, olive oil, and fresh herbs the varietal wine vinegars from Virginia Vinegar Works will leave your lips pursed and your tastebuds tingling. If you see them at the Charlottesville City Market or the Nellysford Market, ask proprietors Jay and Steph for a taste and let your imagination run wild.
This vinegar is handcrafted from Virginia wine, so consider using it as an addition to marinades, as a poaching liquid, and drizzled directly atop your homegrown tomatoes. (Visit, or browse the whole product line at C’ville Market,, 984-0545.)—L.R.