March 2009: Around the House

March 2009: Around the House

Ready, set, grow

If April showers bring May flowers, March is the time to get prepared for all that growing. Repotting your plants before the onset of spring gives them a fresh start and encourages more vigorous growth; however, uprooting is undoubtedly traumatic for even the most patient of plants. To make the ordeal easier for your leafy friends, mind these repotting essentials:


1. First, ask yourself if it’s absolutely necessary to relocate. The whole point is to improve drainage conditions. Plants that are too big for their britches, sitting in puddles, or going quickly Sahara-dry are good candidates for a new pot, since these are red-light indicators that Sprout isn’t getting the best of his H2O.

2. If changing pots is unavoidable, pick a pot that is one size larger than the previous—about one to two inches wider and deeper—to give roots just enough room to sprawl. Drainage holes are essential, since leaving roots in standing water can quickly kill the plant.

3. Remember, all soils are NOT made equal—while plants with fleshy roots go for coarser soil (think chunkier Perlite or lava rock), others like finer, soilless mixes that are better at holding water for more delicate roots.

4. Be gentle but firm when coaxing plants of the pot. Tease out and loosen up the roots—don’t be afraid to cut off any large coils up to an inch—before potting on top of a few inches of new potting mix, and patting down as you fill in around it.

5. Post-transfer care means giving your plant a good long drink and keeping it away from direct sunlight during recovery. If all goes well, it’ll bounce back bigger and badder.—Lucy Zhou

Basic blue and white


More than an ode to dichromatic decorating, Carolyne Roehm’s A Passion for Blue & White is escapism at its best. Flip through and indulge in a world of old-fashioned elegance, full of frills, flourishes, embroidery, and antique china, with demure corner captions and plenty of cursive script. Certainly not for the nouveau riche.—L.Z.





Diamond storage


“Whimsy” can sometimes stray into “gimmick,” but not in this case. We think this sideboard has what it takes to be a member of your furniture family for a long time to come. It’ll perk up a staid dining or living room nicely. We spotted it at Kane Furniture.






Framing the question


Laura Roseberry, owner of Roseberries Graphic Design Associates, went looking in local stores for notable photo frames, and found these three options. As for the photos, that’s up to you.




Distressed-finish frame from O’Suzannah
“I have become most grateful for yellow this winter and this reminds me of summers on the porch,” says Laura. We love the way this one could swing shabby-chic or be at home in a modern setting.







Round cutout frame from Andrea Wynne Fine Furnishings
“This is sweet and has a cool tactile element as well,” Laura says. Though we’d relish the challenge of choosing an image for the circular frame, we think it might also look great framing a small mirror.






Silver frame from Signet Gallery
Emanating a kind of graceful luxury, this one has sentimental appeal for Laura: “This reminds me of the frame my mother had on her dresser which held a lovely portrait of my grandmother,” she says.







Bye-bye, Bambi

Faithful readers will remember that we’ve been constructing a cedar post deer fence over the course of the last few months. The vegetable plot (24′ x 36′) thus enclosed is also the main entry to the larger garden beyond—a magnificent beech dominating a handful of shrubberies and island beds underplanted with aggressive perennials and various ornamental weeds.


Ornamental grasses should be cut to the ground this time of year. New growth will appear from the crown of the plant.

Therefore, we elected to erect a custom-made structure with two gates (ah, the gates, the sorest trial of all) rather than just throw up some 2×4"s and string electric wire or plastic netting—all of which would keep out the deer, but would spoil the whole effect and give rather a ramshackle air to this prominent part of the garden.

That was the rationale at the time. Tallying up receipts for construction (final price tag published next month) and the first seed/plant order, while contemplating the purchase of straw bales, a soil thermometer and a few flats of globe amaranth to line the central path, I’m beginning to wonder if this project will ever be economically efficient.


• Sow poppies and larkspur

• Cut last of the grasses

• Look for dogwood sale

The ideal is a “closed-gate” operation where everything is recycled and nothing brought in. My fear is that I’m living an illusion that will lead to dependence on commercial consumption of horticultural products. If I want to produce my own compost to use as mulch instead of buying straw bales each year, should I buy a chipper or shredder to help compost faster? Where will it end?

The lower strip of galvanized wire is buried 6" to deter rabbits. After final contouring, I’ll sow poppy and larkspur seeds on the bare soil for a quick annual show this spring. The old garlic chive hedge uprooted during construction will be transplanted to the edges and the annuals allowed to go to seed for next year.

As soon as the ground can be worked, I’ll plant Jerusalem artichokes, bought as edible “sun chokes” at $3.99 a pound from C’ville Market, and sow early greens. Asparagus crowns should be available at garden centers by mid-month. All we await are the gates.

This is the time to cut the last of the ornamental grasses. Some of them stand up to winter better than others. Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), an aggressive seeder, is lovely to the end, but many a Miscanthus is bedraggled by now. All should be cut to the ground. Don’t leave 3′ of old dry stems, as I’ve seen around town; it’s not coming back from the dead stuff.

Rather, new growth will appear from the crown of the plant. Use shears or trimmers on large grasses, not neglecting to protect your eyes. Smaller ones can be cut with hand clippers. Plan your bulb order for next fall so you have something to look at next year in between the grass clumps. Or sow poppies and larkspur.

Preen Freak Alert: If you do not know what this means, please skip this paragraph and count yourself among the innocent. Those of you who know who you are, for God’s sake eschew this chemical pre-emergent and think of the watershed instead. Use hand-weeding, layering of newspaper and other organics with judicious mulch instead of poisoning the soil and water for your own ease.

The Charlottesville Dogwood Festival raises funds by selling well priced high quality balled and burlapped dogwoods ranging from 3′ to 6′. These small trees establish quickly and help propagate our iconic native. March 13 is the deadline for pre-orders. Sale takes place March 27. Contact or 961-9824.—Cathy Clary

Everything but the squeak


Heritage breed pork has entered the limelight in the last 10 years.

“You take that hog, I’m as good as dead!” screamed Natalie Portman’s character Sara in the film Cold Mountain. She knew that every part of that animal could and would be used for sustenance and homesteading. From the inches of snow-white fat (rendered into lard for cooking and baking) to the fresh meat (like chops, loin, and ribs) to the cured pieces (bacon, Virginia ham, and salt pork) to the bits of trim and fat that become sausage and salami, the homely pig provides provender aplenty. 


Hamiltons’ recipe serves 10, so cut it down if it’s just you and the chickens.

Pork chops

10 pork chops
2 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Marinate chops in thyme, garlic, sugar, oil, salt and pepper at least two hours. Grill or pan roast.

Apple-horseradish sauce
4 local apples, peeled, cored and halved
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3-5 Tbs. grated fresh horseradish
1/2-1 cup mayonnaise (Hamiltons’ uses homemade)

Poach apples in wine and lemon juice (be sure apples are covered with liquid in sauce pan). Once soft, let them cool, then puree and strain. Mix with horseradish and mayo. Serve cold; season to taste.

In the past 10 years, the commercial pork supply has been bred leaner and higher in protein, but quality of life and feed variety have been sacrificed to deliver “the other white meat” to the table. In the same span of time, “heritage breed” pork has grown in popularity. Locally, farmers and artisans keep pigs with such exotic names as Berkshire, Tamworth, and Ossabaw for their superior heartiness and meat quality. While these piggies may take longer to mature, and therefore cost more per pound, their divine swine flavor will get you through the winter. Local pork is available at The Organic Butcher (, 244-7400), and starting in April, at City Market.—Lisa Reeder













The handbook


Rarely does a book qualify as “equipment” in the kitchen, but the combination of photographs, technique, and recipes in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Meat equips any cook to tackle larger cuts of meat, as well as game and fowl. In addition to its cooking direction, Meat also offers a guided tour of animal husbandry in Fearnley-Whittingstall’s corner of England; he makes simple and sublime the connection between the farm and the plate. 

In our corner of the world, this single tome serves as admission to the wide world of meat that is grown and available locally. (Meat is available at The Organic Butcher, as well as at bookstores and online).—L.R.

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