September 2009: Around the House

September 2009: Around the House

The one decor book to buy

Standing tall at 464 pages, House Beautiful’s The Home Book is a big, hefty beauty full of practical advice suitable for both newbies and old hand home professionals. Jargon gets translated, designers consulted and quoted, and color broken down into paint swatches and playfully pinned fabric squares. With room by room advice and inspiration, this book’s got your home-design back. Available at New Dominion.






Winged thought

This gilt French wing fragment comes down to us wearing a respectable patina but no less power than when it was created in the mid-19th century. Find it at And George, $3,800.












Sit back and relax

The perfect gift and the perfect way to perk up an old couch, wingback or guest bed: Throw pillows are the icing of your house. Nothing could be easier than switching one out—why not have a different pillow for every season?

Crewelwork ladybug pillow by Bunny Williams from And George, $870

Mandalay straw pillow from Quince, $50


Surya pillow in linen and organza appliqué from The Artful Lodger, $55

DL Rhein Greek key design pillow from The Second Yard, $72


Jenna Rose screen-printed pillow from O’Suzannah, $72

Asian motif pillow from Pier One, $4.98


Thomas Paul linen pillow from Pillow Mint, $180

Ship pillow from Anthropologie, $98


Hand-embroidered pillow from La Bastide, $100

Wool and velvet crab hook pillow from Creme de la Creme, $52


Water 101

September starts out as late, late summer and ends up as early, early fall. Tomatoes continue ripening against all odds and this wet season has produced a clear winner down here in the hollow: Better Boy’s large smooth orbs have provided many hefty one-slicer BLTs, shaming Big Boy (embarrassingly small), Early Girl (devastated by blight) and a couple of heirlooms (Mortgage Lifter and Pink Caspian, consumed by blight). Lemon Boy is hanging in there.

When watering, let the water pool and perk a few times until it just sits there and doesn’t go down easily anymore.

Moderate temperatures and rain from tropical and afternoon thunder storms foster strong root growth, the sine qua non of plant health, making fall the preferred season for planting woodies. Shrubs and trees put in now will have many months to send out new roots to sustain them during the rigors of next summer.

Time, adequate water and good soil are essential to establishing new plants in the landscape. Automatic irrigation (what, me spend a couple of hours dragging a hose around?) and chemical fertilizers (shoot the nitrogen and weed killers and stand back) are futile, expensive short cuts that waste water and energy, pollute waterways and ultimately short-change plants.

Unlike compost, your basic 10-10-10 is made from petroleum, efficiently bypassing any nasty decomposition of organic matter and earthworm poop that might actually build an enduring lively soil. Automatic irrigation from overhead sprinklers washes a lot of driveways and when it does hit plants, either gets deflected by their bushiness (it ain’t gonna get those boxwood roots) or rots the crowns. Thanks to rational pricing of this finite resource, there are also water bills to consider.

So, if you take advantage of late season garden center sales and score a nice tree or shrub or some overgrown perennials, fluff the roots out to get them growing in the right direction and plant at soil level. Many people mistakenly plant root balls a few inches higher than surrounding soil thinking to improve drainage, but exposed roots only wick away moisture and prevent them from coming in full contact with the soil. Plant level, so water doesn’t pool on the crown, and you’ll be O.K.

The plastic green sacks you see on trees around town (Gator is a popular brand) hold 14 and 20 gallons of water and work very well for soaking single stemmed trees with large root balls, but the most efficient way to water everything else is with a watering can. Start collecting. They can be quite picturesque and provide good exercise as you lug them around the garden and improve your character.


• Judge the tomatoes.

• Don’t plant too high.

• Collect watering cans.

Slowly apply the spout to the base of the plant and let the water bubble down. A cunning little dam in a circle around the planting hole facilitates this. A couple of inches of mulch will hold moisture in, but don’t allow it to form a crust which will shed water.

Let the water pool and perk a few times while you kink the hose or turn off the shut-off valve (listen to music or a book in the earphones; look at the birds and butterflies), until the water just sits there and doesn’t go down easily anymore. Now you know you’ve saturated the root ball. Repeat on the next dry plant.

It takes longer on bigger plants than little ones, which is why automatic irrigation for any planting more diverse than a lawn is counterproductive. Soaker hoses can work on a monolithic bank of shrubs or groundcover, but you need to check frequently for leaks and monitor how much water is coming out.

It’s not rocket science but it does take time. Is there something better you could be doing with yours?—Cathy Clary

Cleaner carpets

Sure, you’ve been vacuuming religiously, but you’ve gotta face it: your carpet just isn’t as white as it used to be, and it deserves a thorough scrubbing before the indoor season begins. Throw on some gloves, have a sponge at the ready, and dive in.

1. Move or cover your furniture to prevent chemical stains on your favorite ottoman.

2. If you’re planning to shampoo your carpet, consider a dry shampoo (one that crystallizes into a powder) rather than a wet one, which can be difficult to rinse out, leaving sticky, grime-attracting residue.

3. Got spots and spills? Immediate cleaning is your best bet (remember to blot, not scrub, to avoid spreading), and be sure to test cleaning solutions on an inconspicuous area in case of discoloration or damage. Once you apply, work from the outside in and blot up the excess. For specific stain-fighting solutions, see

4. Carpets that are matted, discolored or full of dust are good candidates for deep cleaning. Many turn to the pros for this, but another option is to rent a carpet cleaner. Yet, beware: Results vary wildly depending on your operating know-how, resulting frequently in sticky residue, mildew, backing separation, and a slew of other problems. Follow directions and make sure that the chemicals you use are appropriate to the particular cleaner. Apply steady, even pressure across the whole area for thorough cleaning, and be sure that the carpet is dry when you finish to prevent mold.—Lucy Zhou

Rare fruit

It’s tough to raise perfect pears in Virginia, but some local growers are doing it—much to our tastebuds’ delight.

The miracle of a perfectly ripe pear may come along once or twice in a lifetime. The heady aroma, the yielding flesh, the graininess that melts in one’s mouth…small wonder that ripe pears have become the fruit of romantics, oft discussed but seldom found. Thin skinned, fragile-fleshed pears are harvested when tough to the touch; they chill in cold storage to develop flavor and texture, then continue ripening in transit and on the shelf. At home, underripe pears can be stored in a paper bag at room temperature to bring them to fruition—the top of the refrigerator is a favorite storage spot as it will keep them warm and free of bruises. 

Pears are very difficult to grow in humid environments, and in Virginia pears lack the secondary industries of juice, sauce, cider and vinegar that anchor apples as our largest orchard crop. Recently the cultivation of Asian Pears has become viable in Virginia, largely due to the commitment of producers such as Virginia Gold Orchard in Natural Bridge ( Their glowing, oversized fruits are not only raised organically, but are available in shippable 10-lb. boxes and can last in the refrigerator for up to a month.—Lisa Reeder

Champagne Pear Soup

L’Etoile passed along this recipe for an unusual early-fall soup.

2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 baking potato, peeled and cubed
2 cups diced bosc pear
1/2 cup brie cheese
1 cup champagne
dash ground coriander
dash white pepper
dash nutmeg
dash Tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup whipping cream

In a large stock pot, heat oil and butter. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Next, add pear, potato and champagne, then add spices. Simmer 10 minutes. Add stock, bring to boil, then immediately slow to simmer. Let gently simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Crumble brie and add to soup. Puree in blender in small batches. Return to pot, add cream and reheat—but do not boil—before serving. Serves 4.

Easy freeze

Among food preservation techniques, freezing preserves the most nutrients and is the gentlest on a busy schedule, requiring about half as much time as canning. However, the size of your freezer will limit your arsenal, and of course freezers eat energy throughout the year while Mason jars need only a dim, climate controlled shelf. In general, meats and fruits freeze easily, while vegetables require blanching for best results. If you plan to freeze the overflow from this year’s garden or the fruits from your favorite local farm, invest in a home vacuum sealer and freezer bags to protect your future meals. 

Home vacuum sealers are available at household stores like Kmart and Bed Bath & Beyond; prices range from $24 up to $180.—L.R.